Conquering Excuses for Scripture Memory

I began committing the Bible to memory just a few weeks after my conversion to Christ during my junior year in college in 1982, so I have now been memorizing Scripture for more than forty years. I can easily say this has been the most beneficial spiritual discipline in my life.

Day after day, Scripture memory keeps my mind on the glories and details of God’s perfect words rather than on the muck that the world, the flesh, and the devil would have me wallow in. Since I have been so lavishly blessed by this practice, I regularly advocate it to my brothers and sisters in Christ. Almost without exception, they genuinely want to memorize Scripture. They see the obvious blessings. Even still, many also confess to a regular pattern of making excuses for not beginning (or continuing) the practice. And we shouldn’t be surprised, for Satan wages war against everything the Spirit leads us to do in our journey toward Christlikeness — and all the more if that work is so threatening to his dark empire.

So, what kinds of excuses have you raised against Bible memory? Let me list some I’ve heard (and fought personally) again and again, and then attempt to help you over each one. My desire is to fill your arsenal with weapons of righteousness that have the power to demolish Satan’s strongholds against this beautiful labor of Scripture memorization so that you will be equipped to take every rebellious thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).

1. “I don’t have a very good memory.”

The human brain is perhaps the most complex and astonishing physical creation God has made. It has as many neural interconnections as there are leaves in the Amazon rainforest!

Part of that amazing creation is our memory — the ability to recall the past so we can live well in the present. If you are able to read this article and understand it, you have a good enough mind to memorize Scripture. While you may not have a world-class memory (or even a memory as good as some of your friends’ memories), you have a much better memory than you think you have.

Consider that you have countless facts committed to memory: the vast vocabulary your parents taught you, the words to countless songs stuck in your head (even songs you hate), people’s names, their birthdays, capital cities, street names, and so on. If your mind can hold all of that information, sometimes over decades, it has the power and capacity to begin storing up the words of God. And beyond the capacities of your mind, Christ can right now open your mind so that you will understand and remember more of his word. Ask the Lord to do this for you!

What’s more, your memory ability will grow the more you invest in this discipline. No matter where you are now, you will be better a year from now if you put in the effort.

2. “It will take too much time.”

God has entrusted time to us as a stewardship. “This is the day that the Lord has made” (Psalm 118:24). God wrote all the days he has ordained for us in his book before one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). On judgment day, we will give an account to him for how we spent the moments of our lives. So, the excuse that Scripture memorization will take too much time is really just an admission of bad priorities. We haven’t ordered our lives or our schedules wisely — that is, around what’s truly most important.

We often say we’re too busy, but we’re busy doing what we’ve chosen to do. Even if we’re compelled by circumstances beyond our control (for instance, working at multiple jobs to support our family), we still have plenty of time to pause and commit something God has said to memory. Then, the more Scripture begins to transform our priorities, the more we will want to invest our time, energy, and resources in those things that most glorify God. And immersing our minds in biblical truth is one of those mosts. Memorizing Scripture is blue-chip stock, promising dividends both in this life and in eternity.

3. “I’ve tried it before, and it didn’t work.”

I understand that Scripture memory is hard, and many of you have made attempts (maybe many attempts) in the past. I’ve said for years, though, that the enemy of Scripture memorization is giving up. Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow so that his disciples would “always . . . pray and not lose heart” (Luke 18:1). I would exhort similar tenacity when it comes to memorizing the Bible.

The words in these pages are not idle words for you; they are your life (Deuteronomy 32:47). “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). This practice will feed your soul for the rest of your life — if you don’t give up.

4. “I read the Bible every day. Why should I memorize it?”

This is a good question. I do not look at Scripture memorization as a replacement for daily Bible reading, but rather as a supplement. In addition to slowly memorizing books of the Bible, I read through the entire Bible once a year. The two habits together provide knowledge in breadth and in depth. What Scripture memory adds is deep meditation on passages and the ability to recall them with accuracy in vital moments — in temptation, evangelism, counseling, teaching, prayer times, and so on. Whereas regular Bible reading shapes the overall landscape of our minds, memorization cultivates richness and precision.

5. “I might become prideful.”

Some time ago, I made this painful discovery about myself: I am already deeply prone to pride. You may have made a similar discovery about yourself. There’s some pride in nearly every decision we make and every action we take. The powerful working of the Holy Spirit alone can make us truly humble in Christ — and how does the Spirit work? He uses the words of God. No doubt, if we make good progress in memorizing Scripture, we will be tempted to boast about it. To combat that temptation, I recommend memorizing a few key verses to help keep such sinful pride in check, verses like James 4:6, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

My dear friend, I am so grateful that God has led you to consider this marvelous discipline. The benefits are endless, but I’ve focused instead on the obstacles. I’ve sought to help you overcome excuses that the devil will put in front of you to hinder you. If you trust Jesus and stick with it, I promise that God will bless your hard work for his glory, your own joy in him, and the souls of others.