I was taught to make bread by a college friend who had grown up as a missionary kid in Istanbul. As she so lovely imparted the ancient wisdom of bread making to me, she related stories of her father’s well known distain for “American-side bread.” On one occasion her mother had purchased some of our white, fluffy bread from the grocery store in an effort to save time. As soon as her father became aware of the “imitation to real sustenance” he, noting it was just a bunch of air, compressed the entire loaf into a lump the size of a softball and enthusiastically threw it away.
This same friend also invited me to a Ladies’ Bible Study that was held in her dorm room. I was newly married and lived on campus with my husband but had missed the deadline to be able to sign up for classes before the semester began. I went, looking for the opportunity to meet others, particularly like minded believers. Here, this sweet friend turned to me one Sunday afternoon and asked, “What are YOU memorizing?” “Oh, I’m not a student yet.” I replied. I quickly realized by her expression that she was not talking about school. This dear friend was, in fact, asking me what specific Word- from God’s Word- I was making the effort to hide in my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I have revisited that exchange in my mind. The experience was profound and humbling as it likely should be to all of us. It was considered automatic that a self-proclaiming Christian would take seriously the memorization of God’s Holy Word. Should it only be important to the select few who come and go through countries more hostile to Christ? Should it also be as important to us? Shouldn’t we also look at the easy, bleached, soft, unsubstantial, air filled bread of nominal Christian Culture and be repulsed? Even if it is only because we are aware of the Bread of Life which holds weight, and substance, and pure unadulterated joy? I hope your hungry.
“I will hide your words in my heart that I may not sin against you.” David says in the Psalms, and he’s on to something! We all know the old adage, “You are what you eat,” but here, David points out that we are what we think, and our lives will inevitably run in the direction of those thoughts. The mind is a garden we must cultivate. We are responsible for the kind of seeds we sow into the furrows of our mind. Whatever we allow to take root in our mind will produce more of the same kind, a grove of ideas. It takes training to hold every thought captive. Having scripture firmly planted in our mind will grow truth; God breathed, God inspired words that live inside our memory and change us for the better.
If I am struggling, and harbor anger against my neighbor, what verses are there for me? What scriptures promote peace, a positive attitude, or humility? I need these all, in real time, everyday. We need to put them in a place the Holy Spirit can use them, a place that is secure, somewhere in the forefront- and that place is the mind.
Dwelling on Scripture in this way helps us to understand the ideas and concepts of character and virtue found in the Bible and cements God’s Truth within our heart. Until the words are hidden in the heart, they will likely be unable to be used by the mouth. The Church today, too often, lacks power because it lacks USABLE WORDS. We are Scripturally illiterate–babies who are being spoon fed milk because the effort of feeding ourselves seems too strenuous. We are not meant to be perpetually nursed. We must begin to eat for ourselves.
What are some of the other benefits to memorizing Scripture? Memorization strengthens and fortifies our faith, it prepares us for witnessing and counseling opportunities. It gives us a common language and helps us to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit within us. Memorization also stimulates meditation on God’s Word. It’s hard to not think about something you are memorizing. Both of these disciplines are used to wash us with the Word of God and deepen our communion with the Father.
With all of these benefits why do we still struggle? I believe we fail in memorizing Scripture simply because we have believed the lie that we are incapable. Perhaps we simply lack the seriousness necessary to succeed. Let me encourage you then, that you can memorize Scripture.
I used to work as a teacher in a Classical Christian school. For ALL of our students it was required work to memorize scripture each week from the King James Bible. It was impressive what they could remember! Here is an example: Over the course of four years, starting in third grade, the students are responsible for committing to memory 139 sections of scripture that contained over 300 verses. Some of those included the Beatitudes from Matthew, the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23, and the Magnificat. They also memorized the names of all the books of the Bible, the tribes of Israel, and the Disciples. Can I tell you that EVERY child proved more than able! Now, it wasn’t always super easy, but they always had it by the time I was to grade them, and I don’t think it’s because my students were young. As adults, we memorize new music, news, facts, and information for work on a regular basis. If we are honest, we can memorize Scripture if we want to.
Some of us have an honest desire to learn, but have neglected to approach it with the same rigor we would our academic or professional endeavors. If you are just starting out with Scripture memory I would suggest setting some solid goals. Ambiguous and undefined goals help no one. They neither give you something to work towards, nor allow you the satisfaction of celebrating what you do retain. It doesn’t have to be complicated, start small and work your way up, one verse at a time. Memorize it EXACTLY, and don’t forget to learn the reference as part of the verse! It actually helps to have an objective standard of measurement. If the goal is unclear you are more likely to lower the standard or even quit. Also, be sure you continue to review a passage until you know it well enough that it can be said without thinking. Even if it takes a month, say it until it’s automatic. If you don’t feel confident you will never use it in a conversation.
Still skeptical that it’s possible for you? Use music to learn Scripture. There are tons of resources created for you to “sing the Scriptures” in order to learn them. There are channels on Spotify, Pandora, and even You-tube if you’re interested. Use the Leitner System, journal scripture or write them out, use word pictures to help, pray the text, or just repeat it over and over again stressing different words each time around. Make it fun. If you enjoy it, memorization comes more naturally. Making it an enjoyable experience is the best thing you can do for yourself. Treat it as something you GET to do. Make sure you have a plan in place, set up some accountability, and review daily. Do what you can to minimize distraction and don’t worry if it takes some time to be proficient. If you find yourself struggling with a specific passage, try a different translation. Many people prefer the KJV or NKJV because it has an undeniable rhythm or cadence to it. This can help you with memorization but it may also be a hindrance if you have trouble reading and understanding the Old English. When choosing a translation be aware that most fall under one of 4 categories; Word-for-Word, meaning-for-meaning, thought-for-thought, and Paraphrase. I would recommend choosing a word-for-word translation specifically for scripture memory.
If you have not yet discovered the delight of God’s own words to us, pray and ask that it be made known to you, open your Bible, and read. Ask God to direct you to the Scriptures He would like you to memorize. It may also be necessary to confess a lack of desire for God’s Word. Ask God for a change of heart and be diligent to continue your intake of His Word. God is our hope, and in the business of changing hearts. He can handle our honesty and cure our apathy. He wants only what will make us happiest, our sanctification, and transformation. He is our Joy; and what we delight in, we will think about.
Picture and post by Melanie Barnfield. Melanie Barnfield is an artist, closet introvert, wordsmith, and lover of Christ. She has been married 14 years to the love of her life, and has been blessed with 5 beautiful children. Residing in Benton, IL, she is an avid reader who enjoys teaching, gardening, and photography.