Wednesday, May 23, 2012

why you shouldn’t memorize Bible verses

Well, actually, you should. But I got your attention, didn’t I? And I want to suggest there is something even better than memorizing Bible verses. Here it is: memorizing Bible passages.

I can almost hear you sigh. Who wants to be told they should memorize more of the Bible? If you’re anything like me, you tried to learn some Bible verses once, and you’ve forgotten them all, except a few stray words. And now I’m telling you that you should learn whole passages?

Yes, I am; but it’s not really a case of “should”. The Bible never tells me that I have to memorize this much this way. Memorizing Bible passages (and even whole books) isn’t really work to me. It’s joy. And that’s from someone with a terrible memory, even at my sparkling best. I did the bulk of my Bible memorization while I was a brain-dead sleep-deprived baby-toting mum. I’ve been doing this for years now: years of revelling in the best words in the world. I’m not asking you to take up a difficult duty, but inviting you to a feast (Psalm 119:103).

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are easier to learn. They stick in your head in a way that individual Bible verses are never likely to – at least if your brain is anything like mine. That’s because they come with meaning attached. They come with context, and meaning opening like a flower, and movement and mystery and structure and poetry and – did I mention meaning? They’re not just stray bits of information floating around an overloaded mind.

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are more useful to remember. Instead of a single nail, they give you a shelf to rest your thoughts on. Instead of a dot point, they give you an argument to wend your way through. Instead of a hut, they give you a mansion where you can lay your anxieties down to rest. They give you expressions for your praise and poetry for your laments and words for your encouragement. They give you food for reflection and prayer when you can’t sleep or when you’re going for a walk or when you’re waiting for the bus.

Why passages, not just verses? Because they are a lot more fun to recall, so you’ll recall them a lot. Because they’re full of meaning and sweetness, you’ll call them to mind again and again; and this will drive them so deeply into your heart that you will never forget them. You’ll do most of your memorizing when you’re not memorizing, just recalling your favourite passages, in the same way that you remember a special place, your greatest experience, or the face of a lover or a friend.

Have I convinced you? Have I even begun to convince you? I hope so. Because this is the first in a series. Next time, I’ll talk about the what of Bible memorization (which passages would be good to learn first?); then the how of Bible memorization (how on earth do I get those passages into my sluggish brain?); and, finally, the why of Bible memorization (what’s the point of all this anyway?). If going from what to how to why sounds a little backwards, yes, it is. But you’ve heard it often enough around the other way around. So I thought I’d shake things up a bit.

Why passages, not just verses? Because God has invited us to a feast. Let’s not stop at the hors d’oeuvres.

What’s your experience (if any) of Scripture memorization? How well do you remember what you learned? And how do you feel when you hear the words “Bible memorization”:

a) jumping for joy (I can’t wait!)
b) yawning widely (I’ve heard this before)
c) bewildered (No-one does that any more!)
d) guilty and anxious (I know I should, but it all sounds too hard.)?

Be honest!

This post first appeared at The Briefing.
image is by chefranden at flickr


Mel said...

I think I'm in this bewildered state; 'how do I get it to stick?' I'll keep trying... I like propping my bible in my recipe holder!

Jean said...

Hi Mel! Hopefully I can help out with that when I suggest some ideas for memorizing in a few weeks. Different methods suit different people. But I think propping your bible in your recipe folder is a great idea and half the battle! If you're seeing and reading God's word often, you'll start to remember it. Even if it's not the exact words, the Bible will make its way into your heart and mind and change you. God says so, and he doesn't lie! :)

Sarah said...

Probably D for me. Although at uni I had to memorise scripts for theatre classes (a lot of lines if you're an understudy for multiple parts!). That just shows I think the issue for me is laziness. I find putting chunks of Scripture on little cards near the kitchen sink (or anywhere where you spend a lot of time) helps.

Petrina said...

Can I be A & D at the same time? I love it and get enthusiastic every so often, but (like so many things) the momentum seems to die.

My very long term goal is to memorise Romans. I've been working on it (on and off - see above!) for about 3 years, and I've got chap 1 down and chap 2 almost there.

Kath said...

Hi Jean,
I've been enthused about learning bible passages in the last 12 months, but my efforts wax and wane. I have great memories of learning Romans 12 on a summer mission when I was at uni. So I started memorising Romans 8 a few months ago. I am bogged down at verse 10. Looking forward to your tips and hope to get going again:)

Anonymous said...

Likewise, I started Romans 8 on the train to work some 6 years ago (more uplifting than chapters 1 and 2!), and I did find that the repetition of it made the meaning more clear in a frightening way ('those led by the sinful nature cannot please God') but the wonderful truth of being adopted as Sons of God was a relief to sink into.
So I'm looking forward to your suggestions for passages to memorise, and perhaps some work together on it?? :)
Caroline E

Jean said...

Work together on it...hmmm...good idea, any ideas how to make this work?

I'm learning Colossians at the moment: you could join me! :)

I did learn Romans 1-8 once, and it's Romans 5 and 8 that stick in the head. Also bits of 1 and 3, probably because I've studied them a few times. Wouldn't mind re-learning it.

Anonymous said...

I think I'm a mixture of a & d too... Really looking forwards to the how section of this series... I love the idea but have struggled in reality when I've tried before! :)

michael and karen said...

Hi Jean,
I'm a long time reader but first time commenter!

we had a few things challenge us about this last year. My brother in law has been teaching his daughters (then aged 9,7,5,3) to memorise passages. They came to stay and my sons (14, 12, 9, 5) were amazed at their cousins being able to recite Philippians 2 and Hebrews 1. My boys wanted to do it too! And then at youth group at church the leaders challenged the kids to learn Colossians 3 (with a CD prize if you could do it) so we took it on as a family challenge.

After dinner we would make up crazy actions for the next couple of words and then practice the whole thing. It took about 6 months but we all made it! And the wonderful thing was that it has become part of our family 'language', so recently my 10 year old said 'Í'm trying to forgive, as the Lord forgave me'- quoting directly from the verse. This year we're doing 1 Peter 1. I'll add your suggestions to our list!