Sunday, February 21, 2010

How to Memorize Scripture

Have you ever had this experience?
After a sermon, my friend said, "I'm not sure I believe that..."

I replied, "There's a verse about that, actually Jesus told a whole parable..." and I pulled out my pocket New Testament. "It's in Luke 15 I think, or was it Matthew 15?" I muttered. "Something 15, anyway" I kept flipping. "Maybe Luke 14..." etc.

Don't you hate that? The scenario came up when I gave an abbreviated version of this posting. Given a concordance, a topical Bible (or an online equivalent) you can look them up at home, but it's nice to have them available without a computer or your library. The Bible is also available for portable electronic devices like smart phones or a Palm Pilot, if you have the device or discretionary cash (I hope you've already given generously for relief, evangelism, development, and your local church).

But if you don't -- and even if you do -- here's what I suggest: Scripture memory! Shortly after finding Jesus, I memorized five short passages (1-2 verses each) that the Navigators called "Beginning with Christ". This commentary by LeRoy Eims gives and explains the verses. I think the version I memorized was the New International (NIV), which really was new at the time (late 1970s). Anyway, from there I memorized the 60 verses of the Topical Memory System, which was a great start.

If you follow that path, which isn't a bad one, you'll memorize some important verses on a variety of topics. The verses come pre-printed on small cards, and you can buy or make a little pack to carry them around in -- to review while riding the bus or waiting for traffic lights for example. This saves the conundrum of what to memorize next, and the bother of writing them down yourself. And if you have poor penmanship, they also save the trouble of decoding your scribbles. An example card is at right.

The other thing is they come with some helpful instructions, like saying the reference before and after you repeat the verse. This helps your brain to keep the reference (Galatians 6:9-10) together with the text of the verse ("And let us not lose heart..."). The cards are also printed that way, as you can see.

What's the downside? Well, you memorize the verses they thought were important, which might not be the verses that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to you about. Also, if you're not finding the verses yourself, you might forget to look at the context. And to tell the truth, I think the Navs sometimes don't have the point of the verse right. Prayer, for example, is the topic at the top of the card for John 15:7: "If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." But is this verse about prayer? If you just memorize the card and don't think about what came in John 15:3-4 or John 15:5-6 or John 15:8, well, it's still a great thing to memorize John 15:7. But much better to understand this verse as part of his message about abiding (as the King James says) and bearing fruit: having a life that means something. The way I read 15:7 is this:

If you're really "plugged in" to me 24/7, not trying to run on your own power, is that your life will be meaningful, like a tree heavy with fruit. Part of that is your prayers will be in line with what I'm doing in the world, and you'll naturally ask for what I'm already doing -- then you'll see it happen!

So although I think the pre-printed cards are great for getting started in Scripture memory, I'm not sure I'd recommend going much beyond the 60 verses in the TMS. The Topical Memory System can help you get into the habit: memorize two new verses a week for 6-7 months. Every day review the 12 verses you most recently learned, as well as 12 others (rotate this latter set through all the verses you have memorized, which is easy at first). But if you look at the verses in the TMS and decide they aren't what you're really excited about, I'd go for the gusto and make up some of your own. The one at right was from the 1980s, when I memorized most of Ephesians chapter 1 (thus the ellipsis), which is a great chapter by the way; I highly recommend it.

That's what I know about Scripture memory. And a true confession: I don't do the daily review any more. Got lazy I guess. I should take that up again -- maybe for Lent?

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