If I had walked in late to the final plenary session at the inaugural Cross Conference, I would have simply thought I was listening to an impassioned sermon. But Pastor David Platt’s point in that session was to demonstrate that Scripture itself can be preached and the word of God should evoke a response at least as great as a majestic song or a moving sermon. And he illustrated his exhortation by reciting the first eight chapters of the book of Romans in front of an audience of thousands…word-for-word…from memory.
There’s no magic to memorizing long passages of Scripture. It takes hard work, but anyone can do it. I first discovered a method for memorizing large portions of the Scripture from the Desiring God website. I’ve used this memorization strategy to recite dozens of verses at a time, so I know it works. If you make the decision to spend about 10 minutes everyday to following these simple steps you’ll be on your way to memorizing whole books of the Bible.
A .pdf entitled, “An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture” by Dr. Andrew Davis provides the framework. In this short paper, Dr. Davis argues that memorizing whole books of the Bible is better than memorizing one or two verses here and there. “Most of Scripture is written to make a case…there is a flow of argumentation that is missed if individual verses are memorized. Furthermore, there is also a greater likelihood of taking verses out of context by focusing on individual verses.” So, the author advocates memorizing chapters of the Bible verse-by-verse without skipping those parts we perceive as “unimportant”.
Principles for Memorizing Scripture
Before we go further, the good doctor gives some principles for Scripture memorization:
- Review Old Verses—“Work before play!” says Dr. Davis. Make sure you refresh yourself on what you’ve already learned before moving on to new verses.
- Repeat Over Time—It is more helpful to say a verse once a day for 100 days than to say it 100 times in a single day. So repeat these exercise once daily over a long period.
- Memorize Verse Numbers—You’ll be less likely to skip verses and more easily cite them if you memorize the verse numbers (e.g. 1:1 = one-one) as if they were part of the verse.
- Photograph with Your Eyes—Memorizing is taking mental pictures and remembering them. Pretend you are taking a picture of each word to help you memorize them.
- Say It Out Loud—Remembering how words sounds will help you embed them into your long term memory. You can also practice inflection when you say them out loud to help you get the sense of the text and remember it better.
So how do you do it? What’s the actual method? It’s pretty simple.
- Day One: Read the verse aloud 10 times. Be sure to say the verse number each time (e.g. Eph. 1:1). Then cover up the words and recite the verse from memory 10 times.
- Day Two: Recite the previous day’s verse 10 times. Then do the new verse of the day. Read the verse aloud 10 times, (say the verse number; e.g. 1:2) then cover up the words and recite it from memory 10 times.
- Day Three: Recite the previous day’s verse (Eph. 1:2) 10 times from memory (include the verse number). Recite all the old verses together (e.g. Eph. 1-2) ONCE. Then practice the new verse of the day (e.g. Eph. 1:3). Read the verse aloud 10 times. Then cover the words and recite the verse 10 times from memory.
- Day Four: Recite the previous day’s verse (Eph. 1:3) 10 times from memory (include the verse number). Then recite all the old verses together (e.g. Eph. 1:1-3) together ONCE. Practice the new verse of the day. Read the verse aloud 10 times. Then cover the words and recite the verse 10 times from memory.
This process continues throughout the entire chapter and book. Dr. Davis says that reciting the entire book of Ephesians will probably take you 15 minutes or less.
Reflections after Using the Method
As I’ve used this method, I’ve developed a few reflections. First, there will be days when you don’t feel like memorizing. Just like exercising or eating right, sometimes you won’t feel like putting forth the effort. Do it anyway. Push through. It helps to make a calendar and check off verses as you memorize them.
Second, you’ll be tempted to skip steps in the process. You’ll want to speed up that day’s session or you’ll think you’ve got the previous verses memorized so well that you don’t need to practice them. But shortcuts end up costing you more time. You’ll soon discover that whatever part of the process you skipped will be the part of the chapter that you struggle to recall the most. So take the time to go through all of the steps every day.
Third, you’ll experience incredible residual benefits from memorizing extended portions of Scripture. I find that it’s easier to memorize other bits of information when I’m consistently memorizing Scripture. I suppose it’s simply exercising that section of your brain that helps. Whatever the science behind it, I feel mentally sharper when I’m memorizing the word of God. I also get to meditate on God’s word throughout the day. I think about the inspired word much more throughout the day when I memorize it rather than simply reading it. Lastly, the word of God truly becomes a sword for spiritual warfare. Verses of the Bible will jump into your mind at just the right moment when you’re facing temptation, ministering to another person, or sharing the gospel. It’s amazing how God will use His word, for His purposes, in His timing. All we have to do is keep the word readily accessible in our minds.
You don’t have to start by memorizing an entire book. Commit to memorizing a single chapter. If you’re like me, you’ll be hooked and want to keep going. And pray that God would bless your efforts. He wants you to know His word. As He says to Joshua, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success (Joshua 1:8). Happy memorizing!