bible

By Chuck Lawless

I still remember the first Bible verses I memorized, even though I memorized them decades ago (and in the King James Version, for that matter):

1 John 4:8 – “He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.”

John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

I was a young believer saved out of a non-Christian home, and the Bible was new, fresh, and alive to me then. I would be dishonest, though, to say that memorization is as easy today. I often must remind myself of why memorization matters.

  1. The Bible is the Word of God. Church leaders know this fact, but we don’t always treat the Word with this level of respect. I am particularly burdened by this reality because I’ve been with many people of the world who have little access to this Word. Should not North American believers – who often have more Bibles in our homes than people – be especially grateful? Should we not want to know God’s Word so well that it dwells in our hearts?
  1. Jesus modeled for us the power of knowing the Word. Three times on the Mount of Temptation, Satan tempted Jesus – and three times Jesus countered him with the Word. In fact, He quoted the book of Deuteronomy (without, it seems, using a concordance or a Google search)! How many of us could readily quote from that book, especially in a moment of agonizing temptation? Jesus showed us that the Word – all of it – has power over the devil.
  1. Hiding the Word in our heart helps us to avoid sin. That’s what the psalmist told us:
  • “In addition, Your servant is warned by them [the ordinances of the Lord]; there is great reward in keeping them.” (Psa 19:11)
  • “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping Yourword. I have sought You with all my heart; don’t let me wander from Your commands. I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.” (Psa 119:9-11)

The Word of God teaches us, rebukes us, corrects us, and trains us in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Only when we treasure it in our hearts can we most powerfully fight the sin that so easily entangles us (Heb. 12:1).

  1. The Word drives the garbage from our minds. I’m over 50 years old, but I still occasionally remember images I saw as a teenager. If I allow those images to linger, I’m asking for trouble. Here’s the good news, though: through the Sword of the Spirit (the Word – Eph 6:17), we can capture every thought for Christ. Satan cannot hold our minds in bondage when we wield the Sword.
  1. Memorizing the Word can help prepare us for the mission field. Whether as a short-termer or as a career missionary, you may go to a place where having copies of the Bible is risky. That danger may be even greater for the people you are trying to reach. If your knowledge of the Scriptures is limited only to what you can read in the moment, you may limit your outreach opportunities.
  1. The day may come when we have little or no access to the Bible.  I am, of course, speaking more to North Americans here. Much of the world already faces this situation. We cannot know when that may happen in our context, but nor can we assume it won’t happen. If that were to occur, how much of the Word would you know? How much of your teaching would be affected? We need to know the Word so well we can teach it without a written text in front of us.
  1. Memorization review requires daily time with the Word. That’s the nature of memorization – if we don’t do it every day, we forget what we memorized. Even a few minutes a day to review biblical texts can strengthen our walk with God.

This semester at Southeastern Seminary, I am teaching a class on discipleship and Christian growth. One topic we are covering is scripture memorization. Let’s help one another with this task.

What obstacles to memorization do you face? More importantly, what strategies have you found effective?


Chuck Lawless currently serves as Professor of Evangelism and Missions and Dean of Graduate Studies at Southeastern Seminary. You can connect with Dr. Lawless on both Twitter and Facebook.

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photo credit: AhmadHashim via photopin cc

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Comments

  1. Walter Price says

    Chuck, 6.5 yrs ago I began the practice of memorizing every text from which I preach, whether 1 verse of whole chapters (I normally don’t preach short passages). This was after almost 30 yrs of ministry. If I had only begun when I became a pastor, think of all the Word that would be “stored up” now. Thanks for a great article.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Great idea, Dr. Price. Thanks for the encouragement for young pastors — and for older ones like me!

  2. Craig Williams says

    I am a pastor that is between churches, but I am volunteering my time at a church for which we have joined. I am working full time with a second part-time job in order to pay bills. We homeschool our children and my wife does a fantastic job of memorizing Scripture with our children. I love the Word of God. I love memorizing Scripture. But it does not mean I do it regularly. I also love mountain biking. I got into mountain biking through a friend and when I was in a ministry position we would go out 2-3 times per week in the morning together. Now with me working and due also to a job change with my friend we cannot get out together. And I, I no longer go mountain biking. I still love mountain biking just as much, but cannot find the time to go. Boy do I miss having to meet someone and go without excuse. Did I say I love memorizing Scripture? I do, but I don’t. I know deep down that even I (just because I am a pastor does not mean that I don’t struggle with these things too) need someone to hold me accountable, and to challenge me.

    But one thing I have learned, I cannot wait for that person who would hold me accountable to come to me. I need to seek out others to challenge them, to hold them accountable, to love them enough to see them grow in Christ. Thank you for this article to share as I find that person today (it is vital enough that I cannot waste time). Thank you for the reminder. I pray that I as well as everyone (all believers) who read this start today and end the excuses and find someone to hold him or her accountable.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Craig,
      I just prayed for you to find that person. If you can’t find that person locally (I suspect you can), you can always do something via Skype or google hangout with someone from a distance.

  3. Ron Harvey says

    No body does this better than my friend Walter Price. When I hear him preach I know he has been immersed in the Word all week. One of the keys I find in memorizing scripture is to memorize like when I use to do theater; while doing lines I would walk an area like a stage and look between my script and the pretend audience. I would do lines with someone else who would listen. When I had it memorized I would recite it with distractions in rehearsal. This method has helped me tremendously.

  4. Heartspeak says

    I was fortunate to have been encouraged to do scripture memory in my youth. I never did it extensively but I do have a pretty good ‘library’ although it may not be word perfect. I at least have a pretty clear understaninding of various verses but when talking with others, I will always revert to the written verse to ensure accuracy.

    The Apostle Paul gave me great freedom from having to remember exact chapter and verse when he says “it says somewhere….” (I know, I know they didn’t have chapter and verse back then)

    Seriously, one of the greater impediments to scripture memory for me was with the proliferation of a large variety of ‘versions’ and translations. When KJV was the gold standard, it wasn’t an issue. As I’ve been in various churches that have used one translation or another, it became easier to forego memory because I never knew what the new standard was going to be. (yup, excuse).

    It seems that the NIV has become more widely used theses days. What version do you memorize?

  5. Chuck Lawless says

    I’ve faced the same issue you have, Heartspeak. I generally use one of 2-3 versions when I’m studying (HCSB, NASB, ESV), and I memorize from whichever version I’m studying. That does make it a bit confusing at times, though.

  6. says

    Dr. Lawless this is a great article. Can I ask what is 1 – 2 Scriptures you would encourage young Church Leaders to memorize as we face the challenges that comes with ministry? Thank you for writing and sharing with us these great thoughts.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      There are many of course, but here are two I wish I’d memorized then. Psalm 119:9-11 is a call to personal holiness through His Word. We often memorize these texts but don’t apply them. The second text, 2 Chronicles 20:12, might surprise you. It’s the cry of a king who feels overwhelmed and doesn’t know what to do–BUT HE KEEPS HIS EYES ON GOD. Many times I wish I’d kept my eyes on God rather than just give up — or worse, try to fix things in my own power.

      • Hughey says

        Those are two of my favorite verses. I came across 2 Chronicles 20:12 a few years ago in devotion, memorized it, and the Spirit has faithfully reminded me of it so many times in need.
        Thanks for the article, Dr. Lawless. Good encouragement. Especially #4 and #5, for me.

      • says

        Thank you Dr. Lawless for sharing those. The 2 Chronicles 20 passage is a great suggestion and I can see how times in ministry and life, this one would speak to your heart in mighty ways.

  7. Jeremiah Marshall says

    I was never the person that quote the most scriptures and it use to discourage me because I would secretly compare myself with those who could. Although my initial quest for memorization was pure, it changed into competition and self-edification. I had to go back to the basics of just wanting to build a relationship with God in an intentional manner through reading, living and striving to memorize the scriptures.

    It is still extremely tough for me to remember them but I do remember them one word, one verse, one chapter then one book at a time. Keep me in your prayers in this area of struggle.

    • Chuck Lawless says

      Thanks for the honesty, Jeremiah. I encourage folks to learn one verse at a time as the verses grab your attention in your devotional time — and don’t worry about making sure others know. Just prayed for you.

  8. says

    The good tradition int he Lutheran Church was two years of confirmation class (about ages 13-14) with memorizing not only Martin Luther’s Small Catechism, but tons of Bible passages (KJV) . At age 88 many of the KJV words of God are “hid in my heart” (and mind) and spilled out for many an antidote for the attacks of the devil, the world and my flesh, and for positive encouragement in following Christ.

  9. says

    Thank you for this article and the exhortation, Dr. Lawless. Indeed scripture memorization is incredibly important and I realize that more every time I speak to people in evangelistic contexts or when talking to someone who is struggling with sin, a lack of assurance, etc. I believe that if we focus on how we’ll be able to help others through scripture memorization, it will make it even easier. Of course, we reap the personal benefits like the ones you outlined above, but we’re also preparing ourselves to better serve others, both Christian and non-Christian.

    As far as strategies go, I have a bit of a routine that I do when learning a new passage:
    1) Read the passage out loud at least 10-20 times back-to-back
    2) Either write it out by hand or type it
    3) Begin trying to read it out without looking at the text. Refer back to the text if necessary. Repeat 10 times.
    4) Try to write it out or type it without referring back to the text.
    5) Rinse and repeat.

    However, I’ve found a system called “Scripture Typer” (the web version is free, I think you have to pay for the iPhone app) that has really helped me. It actually works faster than what I outlined above and makes it really easy to go back to review passages and check your progress.

    I’ve also seen a system for memorizing entire books that I’d like to try, Lord willing.

  10. Chuck Lawless says

    Thanks for the practical suggestions, Madison. That’s what I want us to do — help each other learn the Word.

  11. Hal says

    One of the easiest ways I’ve found is using the first letter of each word in the verse as a fast way to write out the verse, then using the letters as memory clues to go over the verse repeatedly. Our kids in AWANA really do well using this method. John 3:16, for example: F G S L T W T H G H O B S, T W B I H S N P B H E L.

  12. says

    One of my favorite instructors at the school I attended would come to class with nothing. He wouldn’t have any notes or a BIble. He had both memorized. It was an amazing thing to watch. He could even tell you what side of the page it was on. I want that. I am a new preacher, only about two years out of school. This article has really inspired me to work even harder on memorization. Memorizing comes easy for me, where I struggle is keeping it and remembering it two or three weeks later. Thank you for your encouragement to know God’s word. God bless :)

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