Growing up, the church rewarded me for memorizing scripture. I remember gaining fame and fortune as the junior camper who memorized 1 Corinthians 13. Committing the “love chapter” to short-term memory earned me multiple invitations from girls to sit by them at the Sadie Hawkins Day Banquet — in the chaperoned camp cafeteria, of course.
Beyond this, several years of memorizing AWANA verses, songs, and pledges ensured that I had enough bucks to basically do all my 1986 Christmas shopping at the AWANA store. Later, I earned a plethora of points for reading, memorizing, and evangelizing, ultimately landing me on back-to-back TOP 10 TEENS annual church trips to the new Mall of America and Six Flags Over Texas.
Memorization certainly proved profitable on an earthly level during my childhood! However, I see that God has a sense of humor in that my first memorization quest of 1 Corinthians 13 embodied a very shaping truth, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, reasoned like a child. when I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Cor. 13:11).
As you might imagine, once the rewards ended, the scripture memory slowed until a long-term mentor of mine discreetly began showing me passages of scripture posted around his family’s home. He had posted them wherever he spent any amount of idle time; next to the exercise equipment, by the kitchen sink, in the bathroom, on mirrors…the same set of verses were everywhere. I recall that he was memorizing his way through 1 and 2 Peter. I was both encouraged and challenged as he humbly rehearsed his verses to me. There were no external gimmicks or prizes, no AWANA bucks, no Sadie Hawkins banquets, and no trips to malls or amusement parks; this guy was memorizing scripture for the sole purpose of being a godly man, husband, father, and church leader. The very things that I aspire towards.
As God continues to shape me, I have come to experience that scripture memorization creates a literal mental matrix through which we process all of life’s situations. God’s word is a specific revelation of His great love for us and it is by His word that we have wisdom and discernment to have greater excellence in our decisions, regardless of the circumstance or earthly affirmations. The following are some scripture memory insights I have gained along the way. I certainly hope that they will serve you well in your walk with Christ.
Start with a realistic “stretch goal”. Memorize your favorite chapter or a shorter “narrative” book, such as 1, 2, or 3 John or even Titus. These books are letters and the flow of their thought reads like a conversation.
Memorize paragraphs, not verses. When memorizing chapters or books, keep entire thoughts together. A typical chapter may have four or five paragraphs and it is very possible to memorize two paragraphs per week. Usually, that will amount to about 8 to 10 verses.
Remove distractions. This is perhaps the most challenging thing to accomplish! Use a printed Bible, not an app. Turn your phone on silent. Go to a room or place with no T.V.’s, computers, devices, radios, etc… Make sure you can focus on the single task of reading, memorizing, and reciting scripture.
Pray the scripture you are memorizing. Even when verses are not written as prayers they contain truth-filled principles which serve to align our prayers and requests with God’s will. Time spent praying scripture will help embed the passage you are memorizing into your mind and heart in meditative ways.
REPEAT! REPEAT! REPEAT! The key to long-term scripture memory is repetition. Redeem time at home by posting your memorization verses around your home, especially in places where you have idle time. Repurpose your driving time by shutting the radio off and reciting verses while you commute.
Invite accountability. I have found great joy in memorizing with a “memorization partner”. Though I do not have one at this time, the greatest fruit of memorization has come when memorizing with another person. Also, you can set yourself up for publicly reciting passages. Nothing creates accountability more than making your goal known to others!
Determine the best translation from which to memorize. Some translations are intentionally choppy, serving as a more direct translation from the original languages to English. Others have an easier flow while maintaining a literal translation. Here’s a governing principle: Though I personally grow through scripture memorization regardless of the translation, whatever my ministry context, I simply do not want people to focus on the version, but rather on the Word of God. Therefore, I have tried to choose a version that will not be a stumbling block for those whom God has granted me to serve.
I am not sure what you are currently learning in your devotional life, small group, or discipleship relationships, but I would encourage you to add scripture memory to the mix. It is my prayer that all Christ followers would taste of the fruit that comes from intentionally hiding God’s word in their heart.
Jim Capaldo, District Executive Minister
Jim Capaldo is District Executive Minister for Converge Heartland.