(Written by GB Howell Jr.)
Memorizing God’s Word—it’s a goal that many set for themselves, especially at the beginning of a new year. David Kennedy, who works at Lifeway, has for several years been memorizing verses and chapters. To date, he has memorized 15 complete books of the Bible.
David, how did you get started memorizing Scripture?
Let me say that I am only one person—not the final authority. I offer what little I may know. From the day I got saved, I had an instant thirst for God’s Word. Reading the Bible was part of my daily life. But reading was not memorizing.
Memorizing began when I started losing the center vision of my eyes due to the onset of ocular histoplasmosis, a condition that produces an effect similar to macular degeneration. I had this sudden, unsolicited inability to read the Word. Large print Bibles weren’t large enough! At the time, the only audible forms of the Word were vinyl records, which were difficult to use. Before things got any worse, I worked to get as much Scripture in me as possible. I was DESPERATE! In a week I had memorized Philippians and Philemon.
How do you memorize text?
For the person just starting, memorize what you’d like or what the Spirit has laid on your heart. Do one verse. Repeat it until you know it as well as you do your phone number. If you are trying to do a series of verses, learn the second verse the same way. While you are at it, memorize the chapter and verse number, its address. Put them together. Drill.
How do you retain what you have memorized?
Memorization is one thing—retention is another. I’ve had the honor of speaking to several who’ve memorized multiple lengthily passages; each has affirmed what I have learned—review is essential to retention. Proverbs 6:21 instructs, “Bind them continually on your heart!”
I use are a myriad of procedures to keep some order to what I have memorized. I have a listing of places I commonly make errors. This list contains the verse in its correct form along with the location of the verse on the page. R for right hand side of the page, L for the left.
For reviewing, I have a regular process. Step 1: I begin by reviewing the corrections of the mistakes I made the last time I recited the text. Step 2: Then I record the text, as best as I can, from memory. I have a small pocket-sized digital recorder that works fine for this. I will quote and record the text during my 30-minute commute. Step 3: After I record what I remember, I listen to it comparing it to the written Word. And I keep a running schedule for when I review specific texts. It works.
What misconceptions might someone have about memorizing Scripture?
Ah, that’s an interesting question. Some people believe memorization is a special gift. It IS a gift—like walking, talking, seeing are gifts. But memorization is not a special gifting; it’s a manifestation of the love that someone has for Jesus Christ.
Additionally, some people believe they have to be like someone who has memorized lengthy passages. They may say, “I can never be like him or her.” Those who memorize Scriptures cannot make such comparisons. Second Corinthians 8:12 says, “according to what a man has, not according to what he does not have.” We are not in a competition here! Do what you can!
I seriously believe that if a person makes a front-burner effort to memorize the Word and in a year’s time all he or she gets is I Thessalonians 5:16, “Rejoice always” or John 11:35, “Jesus wept,” that person has done a commendable thing. That individual was very faithful in that effort. And based on Luke 16:10, this believer will become faithful in more. This increase is based on what I refer to as a memory muscle. It’s like increasing an arm’s tone or strength, even without even increasing its size. Similarly, the ability to hide His Word gets stronger.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to memorize Scripture?
First, they need to remember that the number one qualifier, enabler, and equipper to memorizing the Word is based on Psalm 1:2, “But his delight is in the Law of the Lord, and in His Law he meditates day and night.” Memorizing has to become a passion! For a sports fan of any team, the trivia about that team is demonstrated in various levels. For one who is a co-participator in the risen Lord, He is our primary interest, passion, and love. His interests become our interests—whether it’s people, His Word, evangelism, or other aspects of living a God-honoring life.
My second piece of advice is to practice what I call pictorial or placement memory. We visualize the text on the page, as in, “That verse is in the lower left hand of this Bible.” Understand that this does not require a photographic memory.
Related to this is my third piece of advice; a person has to make an initial, yet lifetime decision to use a particular translation, version, and format of a Bible from which to memorize. I cannot emphasize this enough! Since a Bible can wear out, a memorizer needs to purchase multiple copies. My suggestion is that you get two or three, identical, good study Bibles. Later, you’ll be glad you did.
Finally, be ready to work hard. Is this difficult? For me, absolutely! For someone smarter, this may be a lot easier. Regardless, though, the work has rewards as implied in Proverbs 14:23 “In all labor there is profit.”
So what’s my encouragement? Start your journey. Start the joy of a renewed mind. Start the delight of having instant accessibility to various parts of God’s Word. Start to learn His language, His native tongue so as to speak, to aid you when He speaks. And as we travel, we are only scratching the surface of the inexhaustibility of His infinite wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and character. Go for it!