Memorizing Scripture

A few Sundays back, our pastor said he’d be preaching out of John, and my heart leapt.

You see, a long time ago, when I was a kid, my parents paid me for any chapters of Scripture that I memorized. The deal was a 10 cents per verse for a complete chapter. Better yet, one month later, you could recite the chapter again for 5 cents per verse, and on and on for 5 cents per verse at one-month intervals.

I was too young to get a job, and the only other way to earn money was to do housework. I still reject housework if I have a choice!

So I memorized a lot of Scripture as a kid. I started with chapters in the Psalms and Philippians and James and Romans. But around my Freshman year of high school, I tackled John.

And that’s why my heart leapt when I found out he’d be preaching from John. I recited the chapters in John many times as a kid. My little notebook says I completed John 6 six times in 1979. Now, the second time I’d memorize a chapter, it was almost as difficult as the first time. But by about the sixth time, I think it moves to a different storage area in your brain. It becomes part of you.

I managed to keep quiet for a week. But the next week, Pastor Ed had someone else read a long passage from John 5. I couldn’t keep quiet any longer. If he was going to use long passages from John, I wanted to get to be the one to recite or to read (if that would be less distracting). So last week, he let me recite a portion of John 6.

But he also planned to interview me. So I’ve been thinking about what I’d want to say, and of course didn’t get a chance to say that much of it. (That was fine. I didn’t want to it to be about *me*. I just wanted to get to recite that beautiful passage.) So that’s why I’m writing this blog entry — to get more of that out.

I think I’ll start with something he said he’d ask me about, but didn’t get the chance to.

WHY memorize? What are the benefits?

1. First, it puts the Word of God in your heart.

I firmly believe there’s a reason they call memorizing “learning by heart.” For that matter, I thought it was funny that the next day was Dr. Seuss Day at my library. We were going to have people reading Dr. Seuss books all day long in the children’s area. I find that it’s hard for me to keep quiet when people read Dr. Seuss books, because I’ve inadvertently memorized so many of them — and they are in my heart. I want to chime in. Same with chapters of the Bible that I’ve memorized.

2. God’s Word doesn’t return void.

Unlike Dr. Seuss, I do believe that God’s word will bless you. In spite of yourself. I tell people that my parents paid me so they know my motives were completely crass. And yet memorizing those chapters blessed me, in spite of myself.

3. It gives the Holy Spirit something to work with.

I do believe God speaks through Scripture. There are a lot of chapters that I’ve only memorized once, and now I barely even remember what’s in them. But they are in my mind somewhere. God’s Spirit can bring them to mind, because they are in my mind.

4. Memorizing chapters gives you the thread of Scripture.

My parents got the idea of memorizing whole chapters from the Bill Gothard Seminars. In my experience, that was one of the best things about the whole experience. It was memorizing chapters that made it dawn on me that the Bible actually said something. Maybe I’m a little slow, but just reading it never was as clear as what happened when I memorized a whole chapter, when the train of thought would help me figure out what was coming next.

The one exception to that is the last half of the book of Proverbs, which seems to be mostly random in organization. But most chapters in the Bible do have a train of thought. Memorizing the chapter forces you to figure it out, and you feel like you have an inside track on the writer’s thinking. This was especially clear in Romans, with a long logical argument. But it’s also lovely in the Psalms, where the Psalmist tends to go through a process of feeling despairing and then remembering that he can trust God. And so on, in many other books. In John 6, for example, you’ve got the beginning where Jesus multiplies bread, the people asking him about manna, and then His claim to be the bread of life. When you memorize the whole chapter, it’s easier to notice the themes.

The other question on which I’d like to expound an answer is: HOW?

Now, I did get to say that once before, I recited in church, and I had some people say, “I could never do that!” That is exactly the response I *don’t* want!

The key, for me, is memorizing by TIME. Nowadays, as an adult, I just spend 10 minutes per day memorizing. (As a kid, when I didn’t have a job, for years I spent an hour a day. That’s why I made so much headway. Remember: I got paid!)

So ask yourself: Can I spend 10 minutes a day memorizing? It’s not about talent. It’s about time. Trust me, if you read a chapter over again enough times, it’s going to start to stick in your head. Maybe when you first do it, it will take longer, but eventually, something’s going to stick.

Here’s how I tackle a new chapter:

1. First, I go through the whole chapter and memorize each verse, one at a time. This takes a long time. Depending on the chapter, I might only get a couple verses memorized in 10 minutes. (Though some chapters are definitely easier than others. If you’re new to this, I recommend starting in the Psalms.) At this point, sometimes I still think, Why am I doing this? I will never learn this whole chapter! Sometimes I am completely unimpressed with myself for barely learning one verse in 10 minutes. But I’ve learned from experience that if I continue on, eventually I’m going to know this chapter.

2. Still going through verse by verse, I won’t necessarily remember what I learned the previous day on the next day. No worries. I just start where I left off, and don’t try to review yet. It’s in there somewhere. I go through the whole chapter, just knowing that I can say one verse at a time. (When I was a kid, I typed the verses on cards and turned them over and checked. Now I use a bookmark covering the words. I say the verse aloud with it covered, and then read it and see if it matches what I just said.)

3. By the time I’ve learned all the verses once, I’ve probably completely forgotten the ones at the beginning. No worries. Next, I go through the chapter and memorize sections or paragraphs. How long a section is depends on the chapter. I try to go with a group of verses expounding on the same thought. How many sections in a chapter depends on how long it is. Using my bookmark, I’ll try to get where I can recite the whole section without making a mistake. Then I’ll move on to the next section.

4. Finally, I try to memorize the entire chapter. This still can take many more days, but is the part that solidifies it. My little “rule” is that I consider a chapter “done” when I can start out in the morning and recite the entire chapter (moving with my bookmark just behind the words I’m saying) perfectly. I usually have my quiet time in the same passage as where I’m memorizing. So if I make a little mistake on some small word at the end of the chapter — I decide God wanted me to spend one more day in that chapter!

When I can say the chapter perfectly when I first start the day, that’s when I write it down as memorized. Then I check my notebook for which chapter to memorize next. (I have a whole elaborate crazy system because I’m the sort of person who loves lists and elaborate crazy systems.)

A key? THERE IS NO RUSH! You will be blessed by the very time you spend doing it, so what’s the hurry? There is no shame in taking a month or more to learn a new chapter. Think of it as a month meditating on and living with those words. (In fact, sometimes I’m a little disappointed when I review a chapter like one of the shorter Psalms and finish with it in just a couple days.)

5. Reviewing.

One of the brilliant parts of my parents’ system was the reviewing a month later for half price. Because somehow forgetting about it and then coming back to it solidifies the words more than if you tried to keep them at the front of your attention all the time. The second time I memorize a chapter is usually exactly as hard as the first time. The third time, a little bit easier. The fourth time, a little easier still. And somewhere around the fifth time, it’s just a matter of brushing up. It’s etched somewhere in my brain. That’s why it was super easy to brush up John 6, which I have memorized a total of eleven times, according to my little notebook.

So you see, it’s not that I’m some sort of genius who can look at something and memorize it. I’ve put in time. And not even because I’m noble, but because I got paid! However, I continue memorizing as an adult, because that minimal time commitment yields blessings a hundredfold. It’s so worth it.

So what I’m trying to say is: Consider spending a little bit of time memorizing chapters of Scripture. Trust me, it’s worth it!

I recommend starting places like the ones where my parents started me: Psalms, James, Philippians, or I John. If you want to memorize a gospel, John is much, much easier to learn than the other three (because of the long speeches which are easier than a sequence of events), though the chapters are very long.

Have I made it clear? I have memorized lots of Scripture, not because I have some sort of miraculous talent, but because I’ve spent lots of time on it. And I respectfully submit that other people might find memorizing chapters of Scripture as hugely worth it as I have. Let me pass on the tip that Bill Gothard gave my parents: Memorizing chapters of Scripture will bless you. Try it and see!

And that’s why I don’t want to keep quiet when there’s a reason to recite one of these passages of Scripture that’s in my heart. I think of reciting some of my favorites like Romans 8 or Isaiah 40 or Psalm 18 as something like singing songs of praise. God’s Word is beautiful, and when I get to recite I get to express some of that beauty straight from my heart. What a privilege!


  1. How can I print or forward this to some friends? I want to send it to Elisabeth Powell Mosser and Aura (Aurita) Rivera Chacon and her sisters. I really believe in scripture memorizing !!!! Elisabeth has six children now.

  2. Elizabeth has six children?!? But she’s a little girl herself!?! (I feel old now.)

    The easiest way is to copy the link:

    Otherwise, I suppose you can select and then copy with Ctrl-C. Since there’s no pictures, that would get everything.

    Thanks, Jeannette!

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