Memorize Scripture?


In the early days of my relationship with Jesus, I was introduced to the spiritual discipline of memorizing scripture. While I have to admit it has waned in recent years, that investment was life-changing.

I think I’ve heard most of the negative reactions to this discipline such as:

How legalistic!
The Trinity is not the Father, Son and Holy Bible!
This is so “modern.” To focus on propositional truth in such a way is too passe.’
Memorizing is just a pretext for proof texts.
You gotta be kidding …this is too fanatical for me.

Early each Monday morning when I am in town, I meet with a small group of businessmen who are committed to seeking God and growing together in what it means to be followers of Jesus. Several months ago, I introduced the concept of memorizing scripture to the group.

It has been a surprisingly difficult undertaking for these men. These are people with MBAs who read stock quotes in their dreams. They have remarkable skills in finance and demonstrate business acumen that leaves me in the dust. Yet some have an aversion—even an emotional/mental block—to committing one verse a week to memory.

On the other hand, the ones who persevere in the discipline experience a remarkable transformation. God invariably uses what they have tucked away to influence their behavior, realign their thinking and transform their character. While not the only way God speaks, having scripture resident in the subconscious provides the Spirit of God a powerful tool through which he can communicate throughout the rhythms of everyday life. Memorizing scripture is a small investment with an enormous return.

I believe one of the big reasons most people shy away from this discipline is that they don’t know where to start. They need a structure. That’s why I usually encourage a person to start with the Topical Memory System published by NavPress. For those that want something more visual, Memloc has proven to be an effective tool.

However we cut it across the theological spectrum, there is no way around the benefits described in the longest chapter in the bible—Psalm 119—about a mind and heart that are enamored with the Word of the living God. And there is no better way for that to happen then to have portions of it committed to memory.

The Topical Memory System – (Navpress)

2 Responses to “Memorize Scripture?”

  1. Think Christian » Blog Archive » Memorize those verses Says:

    [...] Sam Metcalf talks about the benefits of Scripture memorization over at Under the Iceberg. [...]

  2. Caspian's Friend Says:

    “Wait! Let me get that into my BlackBerry….”

    I found your site thanks to Think Thanks for your article.

    As for the TMS, excellent choice, in my opinion. It was a huge help to me in college.

    You noted a challenge to scripture memory, and I have experienced that challenge as well. I would like to note an additional challenge: our societal conditioning. (whoa. fancy sounding, eh?)

    That is to say, our culture, with its very high literacy rate and with its information capturing technology, removes the “burden” of memorizing anything. In fact, quite the opposite. An extremely important skill today is that of “skimming.” How often are people caught off guard because they didn’t really read that email, but rather skimmed it. Given the fact that 300-400 emails a day is normal for me and most of my co-workers, I can understand why it happens. (It is true that most of the emails I receive, I delete without opening, but just going through that many subject lines tends to numb the brain…)

    Here’s an example of the conditioning against memorizing anything: someone starts to give me directions to their home. About half way through, I stop them and say “I’ll never remember all of that. Wait, I’ll write it down.” Actually, what I usually say is: don’t bother with directions, just give me your address and I’ll get a map off of

    Or how about this situation: when I am in a meeting, I am given a printout, there is typically a PowerPoint presentation to watch while the speaker speaks, and I know that if I miss anything during the meeting, I can always down load the notes and possibly even a video of the meeting later. So why remember anything from the meeting? I can always review its content later if I feel like it.

    At church, if I like the message, I can pick up a CD of it on the way to my car. Or, I can sit at home at my PC and watch a streaming video of the entire sermon. So why memorize anything that was said?

    I am told that in Jesus’ day the opportunity to write something down was very rare, compared to our society. What that means, I suspect, is that if a rabbi came to our region, and I left my trade for the day and walked for miles to hear him talk about “blessed are the poor” and “would you give him a snake?” and “the man who built his house on the sand” etc. and I had no ability to take notes (and no chance of buying the CD), I would instinctively be motivated to memorize at least some of what he said.

    I am told that about 5% of the population could read in Jesus’ day. But even for those who could read, who learned perhaps through Beth Sader, memorization was still a highly valued part of their training. Children were taught to memorize Torah starting at age 4 or 5, according to Ray Vander Laan (

    Today, we never memorize anything. Memorization goes against our cultural conditioning.

    All the more reason to memorize! For I suspect it will bring back a very important need for the human soul: meditation.

    Thanks again for your article!

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