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Invest!—Memorizing Scripture

January 19, 2014Filed under theology#devotionsMarkdown source

I have made it my goal to write short posts reflecting on my devotional reading every day. These posts are composed off the cuff, in 30 minutes or less. The following is one such post. Before writing this post, I read: Colossians 1:1–12.

Tonight, I am pausing from my normal discussion of the passages I’ve been reading, to discuss instead how Jaimie and I have begun memorizing Scripture together this spring.1 Both of us have been persuaded of the value of memorizing Scripture for a long time (since before we met, and indeed since before we were in college).2 Jaimie’s private Christian school included Scripture memorization as part of its curriculum, and the church at which I grew up likewise emphasized it as a useful discipline. Accordingly, both of us learned at relatively young ages to practice memorizing verses from the Bible. We may not have been AWANA champions, but both of us have a good bit of the Bible stored in our memories.

During college, as I studied the Bible and studied hermeneutics, I became increasingly convinced that the approach I had been taking to memorizing Scripture was, if not exactly unhelpful (learning the Bible is a good move, full stop), nonetheless not nearly as helpful as it could be. Specifically, my emphasis on memorizing a verse here and a verse there—even when I went so far as to memorize the whole sentence—seemed to me to prevent me from really remembering the full meaning of the passage in question. Several times, I discovered that a verse I had memorized meant something other than what I had thought, as I studied its context carefully. It did not take but a few of these incidents for me to decide that I wanted to try something different. Accordingly, I decided to stoip memorizing individual verses or short passages, and to try instead to memorize a book of the Bible. That way, every single verse would automatically be in context for me.

You are probably thinking I was crazy, and/or (for those of you who know me well) that it is a typically over-the-top Chris Krycho thing to do. In some ways that might be true, at least in the details of my implementation: I jumped in with Hebrews, since it is one of my favorite books in the Bible. Things were actually going fairly well with that project; I had succesfully memorized up through chapter 7 and was working on verse 8… and then I graduated from college. Suddenly, the 15–20 minutes each day in which I had been accustomed to walking around on campus—the time in which I had been practicing my Scripture memory—was gone. I fell out of the habit, and never finished memorizing the book.

Fast forward three and a half years. Jaimie and I moved to North Carolina, and we started attending and soon joined First Baptist Church of Durham. During our membership class, we received an interesting little booklet written by our senior pastor, Andy Davis, An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture. Curious, I read through it that evening. Pastor Davis outlined there both the benefits of memorizing Scripture and—to my surprise and interest—basically the same concerns I had had about memorizing individual passages out of context. But then he did something profoundly helpful: he also provided a practical, straightforward system to help people learn to memorize extended sections of Scripture (i.e. books). And not just crazy, over-the-top, intense people like Chris Krycho. Ordinary, not so strange people.

Last fall, Jaimie and I started trying to memorize Philippians together. However, we did not have a system or a plan, and the attempt ended up going off the rails. We were moving at different paces, we were not helping each other review, and the whole thing eventually just sort of slid to a halt in the face of our busy lives and our lack of a plan. As part of our start to the new year, though, I suggested that we look at Pastor Davis’ materials and see if they would work for us. As it turns out, they do—they work really, really well.

Jaimie and I are 12 verses into Colossians 1, two weeks along. The system, simple as it is, has been easy to keep up each day, and has helped us stay in sync. We review together pretty much every day, and it has been a real joy. Picking a shorter book helps a lot, too: it feels more doable. By the time our next child is born in early June (Lord willing), we will have finished the book and be reviewing it.

The basic system itself is simple:

  • Pick a book. (Start short. Dr. Davis recommends Ephesians, and I certainly wouldn’t go longer than that.)
  • Day 1: read 1:1 ten times out loud, then repeat it ten times from memory.
  • Day 2: repeat 1:1 ten times from memory, checking the text if you need to. Once you finish that, read 1:2 ten times out loud, and then repeat it ten times from meory.
  • Days 3 and following: repeat all previously memorized verses once from memory. Then repeat the previous day’s verse 10 times from memory. Then read the next verse ten times out loud, and then repeat it ten times from memory.

This way, one always reviews previous material in the book, but without it taking overly long. For example, on day 6, one would review 1:1–5 from memory, say 1:5 another 9 times out loud from memory, read 1:6 out loud ten times, and then repeat 1:6 ten times from memory.

To be honest, this system works far better than the approach I had been taking on my own, both when I was memorizing Hebrews years ago and when I was working on Philippians last fall. The specific, active repetition helps solidify the verses in my head, which is important, especially because there are some verses that are just hard.

Pastor Davis outlines a good deal more in his booklet, including arguing for the value of memorizing Scripture, why tackling longer stretches is helpful, and discussing both how to learn longer books and how to remember the books one has already learned. I commend this approach to you, even as I urge you strongly to consider making Scripture memory a regular spiritual discipline.

  1. We actually tried starting this in the fall. It didn’t work out so well. Keep reading.

  2. If you are not persuaded, I am not here going to make a full attempt to persuade you. Suffice it to say that I find it enormously helpful to have God’s revelation stored up in my mind—I find that the Holy Spirit often uses it to convict me or encourage me throughout the day, and that it is incredibly valuable in interacting with others, whether building up fellow believers or speaking with those who do not believe.