The why and how of memorizing Scripture

  • Cassie Watson
  • 9 December 2019

Memory verses are a staple of many church programs, especially those for children and youth. I’ve yet to attend a youth group camp or conference where we didn’t memorize a passage—often by setting it to music and adding embarrassing dance moves.

Knowing individual Bible verses is certainly valuable, but I’ve benefitted even more from memorizing larger chunks of Scripture. Why is this a worthwhile pursuit?

Memorization aids meditation

We’re most shaped by Scripture when, instead of simply reading through a passage once or twice, we dwell on it deeply. In my Bible reading time I meditate on what I read by journaling; mulling things over on paper helps me to think more slowly and carefully.

I’ve found it helpful to incorporate Scripture memorization into this process. Committing a passage, chapter or whole book to memory forces you to slow down. The more effort it takes, the more time you’re spending in God’s word. This will help those truths to take root in your heart as well as your mind.

Scripture is your weapon in the fight for holiness    

The author of Psalm 119 writes:

How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:9–11)

We live obedient, holy lives by walking according to the Scriptures. That sounds simple enough, but I’m sure at times you’ve felt the disconnect between the Bible passage you read over breakfast and the temptation that assails you at noon. Sometimes there simply isn’t time to pull up a Bible passage before the sin takes you down.

But if you have God’s word in your mind and heart, like the psalmist, you’ll have weapons with you all the time. The Holy Spirit will take what you’ve stored away and bring you those powerful, God-breathed words when you need them most.

It trains your heart

When you intentionally spend time and energy on something, you’re teaching yourself that it’s important. As I’ve memorized portions of Scripture and noticed the Spirit using them in my life, I’ve grown to love and value the Bible more.

You won’t always feel like putting in the hard work. I go through seasons where I’m more dedicated to memorization than at other times. But it truly does help me to meditate upon God’s goodness and obey him. Over time, my heart has resonated more and more with these words from John Newton:

Precious Bible, what a treasure,
Does the word of God afford!
All I want for life or pleasure,
Food or medicine, shield or sword.
Let the world account me poor,
Having this, I want no more.

How to get started

Pick your book and translation

Start small and simple. Pick a short book of the Bible—I went with Colossians, but you could choose something even shorter.

Give some thought to the translation you use. For the sake of consistency I decided to memorize all passages from the ESV version, since that’s the one I read the most often. Sometimes I wish I’d gone with the NIV—the ESV tends towards longer, more complex sentences, especially in Paul’s writings. It might be easier to comprehend and memorize a simpler translation.

The most important thing is to pick a book or passage and translation that you understand. Memorization isn’t an end in itself; you’ll only get value from it if you grasp what you’re reciting.

Buddy up

There’s a reason why those memory verses at camps and youth groups are so popular: when we learn with others, we’re more motivated and accountable to work at it.

It can be helpful to memorize Scripture alongside a likeminded friend or group, such as your Bible study. You can divide up the passage with verses to memorize each day according to a schedule. Or you can simply cheer each other on and discuss what you’re learning, even if you go at different paces.

Make it a habit

One memorization habit I’ve started is to write down a Scripture passage in my prayer binder each month. I pick something from my Bible reading and read over it regularly so by the end of the month I’ve generally committed it to memory.

You can link your memorization to your Bible reading, if that’s going to help you be more consistent. As an added benefit, if you memorize a book you’re studying you’ll learn faster and probably find your meditation to be richer. But if you’re already pressed for time in your Bible reading sessions, keep your memorization separate.

Linking memorization to an activity you already do every day can keep you on track. Perhaps that’s your train journey to work, or when you’re walking the dog. I like to review what I’ve learned and commit an extra verse or two to memory before I go to sleep.

In addition to setting aside specific, regular times for memorizing, you can use whatever time you find throughout the day to recite what you’ve already learned. Sometimes I’ll go on a walk, leaving my headphones behind, and run through what I’ve memorized in Colossians so far. It helps me pray to God as I recite it too. The more often you review, the easier it will be to retain.

The effort truly is worth it. When you’re equipped with a storehouse of Scripture in your mind and heart, you’ll find Paul is right when he writes:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16–17)