Scripture memory doesn’t save; only Jesus can do that. But I’m convinced that the practice of intentionally memorising the Bible is a habit of grace that is worth cultivating for God’s glory, and the good of His people.
To encourage myself and others with this, I’ve interviewed a few people that I respect and look up to, learning from them what they do, what they don’t, how they struggle, how they persevere with the spiritual discipline of scripture memory.
“I have stored up your Word in my heart
That I might not sin against You.”
– Psalm 119:11
One of the things that came to mind when I first met David Chang was: “Wow! Check out that hair!” But crazy hair aside, Cheryl and I have really appreciated getting to know him as a friend over the years. David is currently a member of Trinity Reformed Baptist Church in Hamilton, and works for the Waikato DHB as a Speech Language Therapist. So he thinks about words and speech all day long!
David kindly took some time out of his schedule to chat about the blessings of scripture memory.
1. Share with us a Bible passage you’ve memorised.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and holy lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” – Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
2. What are some passages that you’ve committed to memory?
- Romans 8:1-17
- Ephesians 1-2
- 1 John 1-2
- A few of the Psalms!
3. What convinced you to start memorising Scripture?
My first extended passage that I memorised (Romans 8) was because it was such a critical chapter of Christian living. I was really strengthened and encouraged by it and wanted to commit it to heart.
The first book I memorised (Philippians) was because The Resurgence (Christian blog site) posted a challenge in December 2010 to memorise the book of Philippians by Easter 2011. A friend then started a Facebook page to encourage a bunch of friends to take up the challenge.
Since Philippians, I have just sporadically decided to commit texts to memory, both individually and with friends.
4. How do you choose which passages to memorise?
I have not been particularly systematic in selecting passages to memorise. However, here are some reasons that have contributed to picking a text:
- Passages that are currently being preached through at church.
- Passages that have been a great reminder/encouragement to me during a season of life.
- Passages that friends have wanted to memorise together.
And so far, all of the above also meet the vague criteria of not being overly long (e.g. Not the whole Gospel of Matthew/Mark/Luke/John) to memorise.
5. Do you suggest memorising whole books of the Bible or selected verses? What are the pros/cons?
There is a place for both:
+ You revisit the same books over and over and over again, that you become very familiar with the text – the flow of the arguments, the themes, the emphases. At times I have found that I am so familiar with the text that I can identify with the thoughts and emotions of the author as he writes to the point that the way he thinks and his priorities start rubbing off on me.
+ You understand passages in their correct context, and start using/applying them in appropriate situations.
– Some books are just too big to commit to memory – they will take a very long time.
+ You can bring verses to mind that cover a range of topics – from verses that address different aspects of theology, to verses/promises to cling to in different circumstances.
– It is easy to accidentally strip these verses of their context.
6. What are some of the blessings you’ve experienced in committing Scripture to memory?
I have found that while I am memorising a particular text, the text will often very naturally come to mind as I go about my day and I’ve come to see how particular texts are relevant to different situations – even in situations that you have never thought of.
For example, while I was memorising Philippians, Phil 4:6-9 was a great reminder to me when I wrestled with something that made me anxious and stressed. People often think of Phil 4:6 in those situations, but the fact that I had vs. 8 + 9 also committed to memory reminded me that, a lot of what made me stressed/anxious were actually uncertainty of the future or things that “could happen” and helped me to redirect my thoughts to things that were “true, honourable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, or worthy of praise”.
Also, I’ve grown in my love for some of the ‘less-famous’ passages of the Bible, simply because you see how these texts can be as edifying as the “famous” passages.
Also, during times of memorising scripture, the text that I’m memorising can often just roll off my tongue in my interactions.
7. OK – walk us through your step-by-step method of memorising Scripture.
My method has evolved through the years, but if I was to pick a new text to memorise tomorrow, this is what I would do:
- Read through the passage twice a day for two weeks. This helps significantly in becoming familiar with the text, the argument and how the author/translators phrase things. While this may initially feel like a waste of time because you want to just get stuck in, I have found doing this helped make the memorising easier and quicker.
- Start at the beginning. Cover the text and try and recite as much as I can – if I completed step 1, I am always surprised with how much is already committed to memory.
- Uncover and check whether you were correct. If so, repeat again. If not, repeat again.
- Once I correctly recite the passage 2-3 times in a row, I add the next sentence to the end and try and recite the whole text from the beginning (Repeat 2-4).
- If it is a long passage, I do some chunking. When I reach a natural break (e.g. end of a chapter), I stop adding to the end of what I have already memorised (as in step 4), and just start afresh from the next section.
- Once I’ve memorised each “chunk” I try to tie them together by reciting the whole passage.
“… We are often in the habit of filling in these “empty” times with social media, but it can surprise you how much you can achieve in these times.”
8. What are some practical tips you can share that can help us be more successful with Scripture memory?
- Keep track of verses by counting with your fingers – this avoids awkwardly adding of numbers as you recite passages which can disrupt the flow of the text. While this may not be as helpful (compared to saying the numbers out loud as you recite) when people ask you to immediately recite a specific verse, it is surprising how effective it is. It also helps with recognising if you’ve missed a verse while you’re reciting.
- Step 1 in the above question – reading through the passage quite a bit before you start is surprisingly effective.
- Recite together! Find 1-2 other people and do it together once a week. It can take just 30min. I did this before church with two other guys once, and it was very enjoyable.
- Try and recite in your “empty” times. The good thing about reciting Scripture is you don’t actually have to use your eyes or hands that much – so you can do it when you’re stuck in traffic, waiting at the bus stop, riding the bus, sitting on the toilet, when your eyes are tired and don’t want to look at anything, showering, walking, etc. We are often in a habit of filling in these “empty” times with social media, but it can surprise you how much you can achieve in these times.
9. Any other words of encouragement for those of us having a go?
- Pray, pray, pray. Our God is Sovereign and in control of all things, including our brains. Ask for his help.
- Just get started – the idea is more daunting and seem more impressive than it actually is. If you commit to it and do it regularly, it is probably not as hard as you think.
- Take your time – some people are better at memorising than others – but everyone can do it!
Resources and helps: