The Why and How of Scripture Memory

Like the rest of you who joined the Samuelson family in celebrating the life of Ruth Samuelson, and mourning her death, I heard the consistent testimony of family and friends to the effect her sustained practice of Scripture memory had on her life and character. I was moved as Ken told Angela and I as we greeted him during the family visitation that Ruth was the ‘very picture of sanctification’, and how the consistent and simple act of Scripture memorization was used so powerfully by the Holy Spirit in making Ruth holy.

As I’ve considered these things, I felt led to write down some thoughts on the practice of Scripture memory. Why me? Mainly because I expect there are a few of you, like me, who want to renew (or begin) the habit of Scripture memory in emulation and honor of our dear sister but may not know where to start. I’ve had reasonable success in the past in the practice of memorization, and so for what they are worth, I’m setting down a few thoughts and description of what I do.

Why Memorize Scripture?

Before I share a bit about my personal method for memorizing Scripture, I want to ground the practice in a few Bible verses. These verses are ones that remind me of why I memorize portions of the Word, and act as prompts to get back to it. Consider these verses as fuel for our engines when they sputter and seem to be running on fumes.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, ESV)

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:1-2, ESV)

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11, ESV)

For the careful reader, you’ll note that neither of these three references say anything explicit about memorizing Scripture. So, if you can find a better way than memorizing portions of the Bible to fulfill the above verses and the call to store up, meditate upon, and recall the Word from your heart, by all means do so! But since I don’t know what that is, I’ll move on to the method I’ve used successfully in the past and continue to use today.

How Should I Memorize?

A quick word on method. Methods are not principles, and it’s important to keep the distinction clear. The principle, as stated by Psalm 119:11, is to ‘store up your word in my heart’. The method can, and probably will, vary from person to person. So I offer the below as ones you can try. If one works out of the box, wonderful. If it doesn’t, consider how you need to modify it and then do so to facilitate your personal plan to memorize Scripture.

Ruth’s Method

As I was writing this blog post, Ken wrote a wonderful CaringBridge post, describing how Ruth used a system called MemLok to memorize 650 verses in her 25 years of Scripture memorization. In honor of Ruth and the work in her the Lord did through her commitment to Scripture memory, Ken is making available to anyone who wants one a free subscription to MemLok’s program. If you’re interested in receiving this wonderful gift from Ken, please click here.

My Method

If you’re wondering what another method of Scripture memory looks like beyond MemLok, I’m including the process I follow when I work on Scripture memory. It’s a bit of a hybrid of a few different plans/methods I’ve seen over the years, but it’s one I’ve found the Spirit use time and again to allow me to memorize and retain verses and passages over the last ten years or so.

Step One: Read verse aloud ten times

In this step, I force myself to put my eyes on each word, each of the ten times I read it. I’m engaging two senses when I do this, and it’s part of why I’m convinced of this method. As an example, the first Bible I used to memorize one of my core Bible verses (Romans 8:32), had this particular verse on the second line from the top on a lefthand page of that Bible. I can still ‘see’ it, even though I no longer have that Bible.

As well, I read at my natural reading pace and with the emphasis I would want to read with if I were reading to another person. This helps it feel more real to me.

Step Two: Say the verse aloud ten times

Some verses are so short, this feels tedious. Some verses are so long, I need to peek at the words on the page again early in the ten times (I’m looking at you, James 1:25). In these situations, I remind myself the end goal is what matters. The process is just here to aid the end, and I don’t get extra marks for knowing it earlier than ten times or being perfect each of the ten times without looking.

Step Three: Review, review, then review again (and again)

This is admittedly the hard part, but it’s the part that you and I both know makes or breaks memorization.

The best process I’ve found is to review the previous verses memorized before starting a new verse. I usually do this on each memorization day for a few days to ensure I retain what I’ve learned. Then I move from daily review to weekly, weekly to monthly, as the memorized verses sink in. A way to be less formal about review is to carry your verses in the form of index cards, or perhaps on your phone in memorization app if that’s your thing. I personally find having a formal review time during my morning devotions the most reliable way to do review, but however you choose to do the review, just be sure to do it.

If you want to learn by negative example the value of regular review, consider me. About 10 years ago, I made a memory project out of 1 John. It took me about 6 months, but after that period I had each verse memorized and could recite the entire book in about 15 minutes. Now? The verses look very familiar, and I recall to mind snippets of the book in ways I can’t do with others, but as time went on I stopped regularly reviewing and today I’d have to start from scratch if I wanted to memorize the book again.

As you follow Ruth’s wonderful example of the practice of memorizing Scripture, I hope these thoughts are of some help. In the comments section, maybe you’ll note how you’ve found a particular method helpful for you. Or perhaps you have a word on how you select verses/passages to memorize. That’d be a good post for another day, but for now, I pray that each of you would find perseverance in the memorizing and retaining of God’s Word, by the help of the Spirit, and experience a greater closeness to the Lord Jesus, the Word made flesh, through it.

 

Authors: Tom Queen and Rev. Dave Kulp

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