When you think about memorizing the Bible, do you feel guilty and defeated? It’s one of those activities that you know is good for you but that can be hard to do consistently — like praying or exercising or eating well or managing money wisely.
With the New Year here, I want to encourage you: you can memorize Scripture this year. It does not take superhuman skill or fanatic devotion to write God’s word on your mind and heart. It requires some passion, planning, and persistence. But before I give some suggestions for Scripture memory, we need to address three of the main reasons Christians don’t consistently memorize the Bible.
1. I don’t have time to memorize the Bible.
Are you wisely stewarding the time God gives you? To answer, it’s helpful to consider a time-management grid:
If you are typical, then you want to spend more time in quadrant 2, but you actually spend most of your time in quadrants 1 and 3. What is urgent dictates what you do.
And when you feel pressured to complete urgent tasks, that tempts you to unwind by escaping to quadrant 4. Perhaps you fritter away time by consuming social media candy — a cat video, a feel-good story, so-called “breaking news” about a celebrity you don’t really care about. Social media can be like a magnet in quadrant 4 that constantly pulls you in and keeps you longer than you want to stay.
That’s why productivity gurus emphasize that you should do important things first. Stephen Covey often demonstrated this in seminars by placing a large clear cylinder on a table along with some big rocks, medium-sized rocks, little rocks, and sand. The big rocks represent items in quadrant 2. The only way all the items could fit in the cylinder is to put the big rocks in first and the sand in last.
For a Christian, memorizing the Bible goes in quadrant 2 — important but not urgent. I’m not going to repeat reasons you should memorize the Bible — including big chunks of the Bible. But if you really believe that memorizing the Bible is important, then it should be part of your daily routine. It’s one of the big rocks.
If you need help revamping how you organize your time, read Tim Challies’s Do More Better: A Practical Guide to Productivity.
2. I don’t feel like memorizing the Bible.
We often don’t feel like doing what we should do.
Kids don’t always feel like doing their schoolwork or household chores. But parents try to train their children to consistently do what they’re responsible for. Parents don’t always feel like shepherding their children well when they’re squabbling. But that’s what faithful parenting entails. A physically healthy employee might not feel like going to work. But responsible people go to work whether or not they feel like it.
I don’t always feel like keeping a disciplined plan for strength training and eating, but I’ve consistently done it for about the past year and a half. It’s now ingrained into my routine to the point that it’s automatic; I don’t deliberate whether or not to do it each day. And I’ve grown to enjoy it more and more. I know it’s good for me, I’m feeling better, and it’s improving my health and energy level so that I can serve others better.
It takes discipline to do what we don’t always feel like doing. A strategic way to approach those activities is to develop healthy routines. That’s a way to fight for joy. We exist to glorify God by enjoying him forever. We most glorify God when he most satisfies us. And memorizing the Bible is one of the richest ways that God satisfies us.
The main reason to memorize the Bible is not to accumulate more data in our brains. It’s a way for us to enjoy God. Activities such as prayer and Bible reading and Bible memory are spiritual disciplines or means of grace. They are activities that God has designed to satisfy us with God himself.
If you need help revamping how you practice the means of grace, read David Mathis’s Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines.
3. It’s hard for me to memorize the Bible.
Do you know your birthdate? Your phone number? Your address?
There are certain facts that you have already memorized. You may even memorize some information without trying to — such as recipes you often use, statistics about your favorite sports teams and players, biographical information about your favorite actors or musicians, or jingles from commercials you heard as a child. God has given you an amazing mind. And your mind includes the capacity to memorize.
Your mind is like a muscle, and memorizing is mental exercise. Memorizing is to your mind what working out is to your body. Memorizing makes your mind stronger, healthier, sharper, more energetic. And the more you work at memorizing, the better you get at it.
Memorizing Bible passages is hard work. But it’s not that hard. You can do it.
If you need help with strategies to memorize the Bible, check out my article “11 Steps to Memorizing an Entire Book of the Bible” and Joe Carter’s five-part series on using memorization to increase Bible knowledge and develop a sanctified imagination.
How Can I Start?
1. Start small. Something is better than nothing — even if it’s spending just sixty seconds a day memorizing. You may not be able to run a marathon today, but could you walk a lap around the track — just a quarter-mile?
2. Choose a feasible plan. Here are three plans to consider.
First, you can memorize passages that others have helpfully collected, such as the Topical Memory System by the Navigators or Fighter Verses by Truth78. (My wife and children memorize Fighter Verses with our church. Some of our friends recorded the passages as songs to make them more memorable.)
Second, you can memorize a small book of the Bible (such as Ephesians, Philippians, or James) or a small portion of the Bible (such as Psalms 1–2, Matthew 5–7, Romans 8, or Revelation 21–22).
Third, you can memorize a collection of passages that produce delight, comfort, and awe or that help you fight a particular sin (such as anger, anxiety, bitterness, covetousness, impatience, joylessness, judgmentalism, laziness, lust, pride, or worldliness).
3. Stick with it. Set aside a small block of time every day to memorize the Bible, and don’t miss a day for 100 straight days. Be consistent. On average it takes about 66 days for a behavior to become automatic.
4. Memorize with someone else in your church. Team up with a friend or a group of friends in your church, and be accountable to each other as you memorize.
With God’s help, you can consistently memorize the Bible this year. Godspeed!