Memorizing the Scriptures not only molds our minds, but leads us to learn our Lord’s voice. As we listen over and over to the voice of the Shepherd, we accustom ourselves to his timbre and intonation. The more we hear his accent, and put it to memory, the more ready we are to know his voice, and follow, when he calls. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).
The process of memorizing can be can a profound opportunity to make sure that we “do not refuse him who is speaking” (Hebrews 12:25). Here are five simple tips for doing a February refresh on Scripture memorization.
1. Diversify your picks.
You can memorize whole books, or whole chapters (Romans 8 is a great starting point, or Philippians 3) or big chunks, or key sections. My preference over the years has become key sections (say four to seven verses, like Titus 3:1–7) that I come across as I’m moving through a Bible-reading plan. It’s often a section I find so densely rich that meditating on it for just a few minutes feels woefully inadequate. To enjoy more of its goodness, I need to put it to memory. (If you’re looking to get started on a few key sections to memorize, try Colossians 1:15–20, John 1:1–14, Hebrews 1:1–4, Philippians 2:5–11, or these short lists of “gospel passages” and “gospel verses.”)
2. Take it with you during the day.
Write it down or make it prominent and easily accessible on your phone. I wouldn’t suggest quarantining your memorizing to a certain slot in the day, but unleash it into all of life. Play an audio recording in the car, or look at a piece of paper while in line. Put a text on your home screen so you see it when you look at your smartphone.
3. Seek to understand, feel, and apply.
Resist the urge to see simple memory as the goal. Learning the text by heart is secondary; taking the text to heart is primary. Don’t memorize mindlessly, but engage the text, its meaning, and not only its implications for your life, but what effects it should have on your heart.
4. Turn your text into prayer.
Personal and corporate prayer times are a great time to exercise what you’re memorizing, and see and feel it from a fresh angle as you turn it Godward and express its significance for others.
5. Memorize in light of the gospel.
Finally, let the truth of Colossians 3:16 shape your memorization. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” The “word of Christ” here, or “message of Christ,” isn’t first and foremost Scripture, but the gospel. So, in other words, memorize in light of the gospel.
Memorizing Scripture, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily Christian. Jesus spoke with Jewish leaders who had memorized more of the Old Testament than we ever will, and he said to them, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). And Paul spoke about Jews who intimately knew the Scriptures, but
their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (2 Corinthians 3:14–16)
Whether we’re memorizing texts from the Old Testament or the New, this is our need again and again: to turn to the Lord. In our memorizing, whether whole books or chapters or passages or single verses, we always must keep in mind Jesus’s great lessons in Luke 24 about Bible interpretation: “he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27); “he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and that “everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44–45).
A revised and expanded version of this article now appears in Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines (Crossway, 2016).