My Scripture Memory Project
“I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11).
I don’t know when I first heard that verse, but it must have been more than a half-century ago, when I was a young boy attending a Baptist church in Russellville, Alabama. Back then we had “Sword Drills,” a competition where boys and girls would see who could find assigned passages fastest. We lined up, were given new Bibles (so no one had an advantage), and then came the commands: “Attention.” “Draw swords,” which meant placing the Bible in your right hand, with your left hand on top (but not with the thumb hanging over the edge. That would be cheating.) Then the verse would be announced, something like “Isaiah 53:6.” Then the command: “Charge.” You opened the Bible to the passage, put your finger on the verse, and then stepped forward. First one forward with the correct passage wins.
I never won. If my memory serves me, I think the girls were better at that than the guys. Sometimes it happened at warp speed Before the word “Charge” was finished, someone would step forward before I could even get my Bible open. How is that possible? I still don’t know.
I thought about that as I sat down to write a few words about Scripture memory. As the above makes clear, I was never very good at the “Sword Drill.” But I’m sure I learned quite a few verses along the way.
In the decades since then, I have done a lot of Bible reading, and a lot of it has sunk into my soul. A year ago I decided to start memorizing Scripture as part of my daily quiet time. I had no particular goal in mind, so I started out with Psalm 1.
Here is what I memorized in 2016:
My plan was simple. I decided to take a few minutes each day and recite a few verses out loud. I found it helpful to stand up, walk around, and make up motions that go with the verses.
Sometimes I make up a song and sing the verses out loud. When I’m home, I go upstairs to our spare bedroom, look in the mirror, and wave my arms while reciting the verses. Thankfully, there is no video of those sessions. But I found that adding physical movement helped imprint the verses in my mind.
I didn’t have a schedule and felt in no hurry. After all, I was doing this for my own benefit. If it took a week or two to memorize Psalm 149, then so be it. I used the 1984 NIV and the ESV and added my own translation at certain points. To be honest, no Awana program would accept my memory work because I veer from one translation to another, and I’m not trying to be word perfect. For me, Scripture memory is more about getting the flow of a passage into my mind.
Here’s the truth of the matter. If you came up to me and said, “Quote 1 Thessalonians 3,” I couldn’t do it. At least not on the spot. For one thing, I didn’t start out memorizing Scripture to quote it to anyone else. But the greater challenge is recalling what I have already memorized. As the years roll on, I find that my mind doesn’t work as quickly as in earlier days. So at this very moment, when I think about 1 Thessalonians 3, I can’t quite get it to come up on my mental screen. It feels like a box of sweaters I packed away on a shelf that is just out of reach. I know the box is there, and I can stretch and feel it, but can’t quite grab it. But if I get a small stepladder, I can reach it. Reviewing is like getting that stepladder. When I start to review, the whole chapter comes back to me, bit by bit.
Now what is the point of all this? Mostly to report on what I’ve done, and to encourage you to venture out in Scripture memory in 2017. We know that God’s Word hidden in the heart guards us from sin and makes us strong in our faith. I would not venture any evaluation of my own spiritual life except to say that memorizing the Word has given me new confidence.
Maybe you don’t want to memorize big chunks of Scripture. That’s fine. Most Scripture memory programs start with individual verses. The Navigators have a program called the Topical Memory System that goes back to the tradition established by their founder, Dawson Trotman. Word of Life offers a Scripture Memory Verse Pack that covers many of the same verses. The Awana program features Scripture memory for children. There are many other useful plans.
I’m not advocating any particular system. Any plan that helps you memorize Scripture is a good one. But if you are looking for a way to deepen your knowledge of the Word in 2017, may I suggest that you pick a passage, find a mirror, stand up, say the verses, and start waving your arms. It will do you a world of good.