A three-course banquet of Bible memorization

This is the second post in my series on memorizing Bible passages. You can read part 1 here.

flickr: chefranden

A couple of weeks ago, I invited you to commit Bible passages to memory. The fact that you’re still reading encourages me a lot, because I know that memorizing the Bible – especially whole passages! – isn’t popular:

Once, I thought that memorising anything longer than two verses was for old people or super holy people. – Anna

In my late twenties was challenged by some Navigator friends to memorize Scripture…I thought they were saying that because Navigators sell Scripture Memory courses. – Duncan1

When I encourage people to memorize the Bible, I sometimes feel about as popular as a peddler of bad-tasting, expensive medicine. And yes, this is medicine for our sickly souls. But memorizing Bible passages isn’t just medicine: it’s sweet-tasting food that will feed and nourish us and others for years to come (Psalm 119:97-104). God’s word is a feast, not a box of pills.

Today I want to tantalize your spiritual tastebuds with a three-course banquet of Bible memorization. In other words, I’ll talk about the “what” of memorization: what kinds of passages should we memorize? Here’s our menu (you’ll notice that the third course isn’t actually Scripture, but it’s worth devouring all the same):

  • Psalms
  • Bible passages
  • hymns and songs.

Here are some of my favourites in each category to get you started. This is not in any way an exhaustive list! I’ve chosen these because, of all the passages I’ve learned, they’ve stayed with me through the years.

Entree: Psalms
When your emotions are out of order, memorize a psalm.2 When you need to express wonder, fear or grief to God, memorize a psalm. When you want to recall God’s mighty acts of creation and salvation, memorize a psalm.

Like most poetry, psalms are relatively easy to remember. When he was young, my husband performed the remarkable feat of committing all 150 psalms to memory, including Psalm 119. I’ve never made it that far, but I find it helpful to memorize a range of psalms so I have one on hand for different situations and moods.

Here are three ways the psalms have helped me. If you want to learn some psalms, you might like to start with some of the ones I mention.

  • The psalms reshape my emotions. There have been black times in my life when a psalm was my lifeline (Ps 103, 130)3 and anxious times when only a psalm could soothe my fears (Ps 23).
  • The psalms give me words to speak to God. They help me express longing (Ps 42, 84), confession (Ps 51) and praise (Ps 148).
  • The psalms grow my faith. They give faith sold food to chew on (Ps 1, 139) or help me to rest quietly in God (Ps 121, 131).

Flicking through the psalms, it’s clear I’ve only begun to absorb the riches they have to offer. Maybe my husband’s idea of memorizing them all isn’t so crazy after all; but I doubt my brain’s capacity is that big. Still, I’ll keep packing more in!

Which psalms have you found particularly helpful over the years?

Main course: Bible passages
You could memorize any Bible passage and it would yield unexpected delights and satisfying goodness every time you call it to mind (Matt 4:4; 2 Tim 3:16-17). But unless you have the memory of the proverbial elephant, I doubt you’ll memorize the entire Bible any time soon. So how do you choose which passages to learn?

I usually memorize passages of about five to fifteen verses: not too many to be intimidating, but enough to give me something satisfying to chew on. (I also learn whole books, but that’s another story, and I hope the next post in this series will equip you to do even that.4) Here are six kinds of passages I’ve found particularly helpful. You might like to use these categories to choose what to memorize:

  • passages that help me fix my eyes on Jesus – John 1:1-18, Philippians 2:1-11; Colossians 1:15-20
  • passages that pack great truths about God and the gospel into a small space, growing faith, assurance and joy – Romans 5:1-11; Ephesians 1:3-10
  • passages that equip me for obedience and the battle with sin – Mark 8:34-38; Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 6:10-20
  • passages that address my particular struggles, like anxiety (Matthew 6:25-34, Philippians 4:4-9) and discontent (Philippians 4:12-13)
  • passages that give me hope and comfort in suffering – Psalm 73:23-26; Romans 8:28-39; Hebrews 12:1-13; 1 Peter 1:3-9
  • passages that give me words for my prayers (Colossians 1:9-14) and my encouragement of others (2 Cor 4:16-18).

There’s not a lot of Old Testament on my list, except for the psalms. I’m eager to learn Isaiah 53. I’d also love to learn more of the New Testament, from Matthew 5:3-12 to the last chapters of Revelation. All in good time!

What passages would you add to my list?

Dessert: Hymns and spiritual songs
While most hymns and songs aren’t directly from the Bible (unless you count Scripture in song) they’re well worth memorizing, along with Christian poems, prayers and other kinds of writing. Often when I pray, I start by singing or reciting a hymn; this is helpful when I struggle, as many of us do, to put my adoration and thankfulness into words. (Col 3:16)

When I select a song to memorize, I don’t usually pick a modern chorus: I choose one of the grand old hymns, bursting with great truths about God and the gospel. How rich we are if we fill our minds with great words about God from the past, words that speak through time as well as space! Here’s a selection of timeless hymns I’ve learned that have encouraged me.

Before the throne
Crown him with many crowns
My song is love unknown
Before the throne
None other lamb
When I survey the wondrous cross
I cannot tell
Be thou my vision
Be still my soul
My hope is built on nothing less

The only reason And can it be isn’t on my list is that I don’t find it very singable, which is an important quality when choosing hymns to memorize. And even as I write this list, I think of others that should be included, like Amazing Grace, Rock of ages and It is well with my soul. Clearly, it’s time to learn some more.

What hymns and songs have I forgotten?

So there you have it, a three-course banquet of Bible memorization. Don’t be overwhelmed by the number of passages I’ve suggested: this is the fruit of twenty years of memorizing the Bible. Just start by learning a single passage. Every bit of God’s word is packed with sweetness and sustenance, and those few words will continue to feed you abundantly twenty years from now.

I’m going to talk about the “why” of Bible memorization soon. But the best argument for learning Bible passages is to commit one to memory and seeing what comes of it. I’ll make you a promise: once you’ve done that, you won’t be able to resist learning more. Tell me how it goes!

  1. From the comments on my post Why you shouldn’t memorize Bible verses.
  2. See Chris Brauns’ post In the wrong place emotionally? Memorize a Psalm in order to be moved.
  3. See my posts Psalm for the discouraged part 1 and part 2.
  4. You’ll find one useful method in Andrew Davis’ An approach to extended memorization of Scripture.

15 thoughts on “A three-course banquet of Bible memorization

  1. Pingback: A three-course banquet of Bible memorization | The Briefing | Christian Dailys

  2. Thank you so much for your encouragement to commit passages of scripture to memory. A friend and I are working on memorizing the whole of Colossians together. It’s a bit daunting, but enormously helpful to keep each other accountable for our progress, doing two verses each week.

    I really want to commit the Psalms to memory too. I’ve been looking for a good recording of the Psalms set to music, in which the words are clearly audible to help with this. Music is such a great help in memorization, and helps to make the task more enjoyable too. Can anyone recommend a recording I could use?

    • The music group from Australia, ” “Sons of Korah” are amazing! Their mission is to put the Psalms to music, word for word. Their albums are very powerful and will make memoring the Psalms so much easier. And it’s helping my small childern to memorise them as well, without any effort.

      You can find them at most Christain bookstores. And this is their website: http://www.sonsofkorah.com/

    • I’m memorizing Colossians too! =) I didn’t realize until months into it that one of the reasons God’s having me work on this epistle is because I am so prone, as the Colossians were, in trying to add rules to the Gospel of Christ! God knows me much better than I know myself. =)

      For Psalm 119, the one by Shephard Music is good: http://www.shepardmusic.com/ps119cd.php
      There are also FREE Scripture songs of the Psalms on public domain: http://www.pursuinglife.com/scripture-songs.php
      Also free are songs from Galatians and Philippians from Covenant Life Church’s Scripture Memory Project: http://www.covlife.org/ministries/music_and_worship/scripture_memory_projects

      • And me too! It’s a wonderful book: I love the way it puts Jesus left, right and centre. I also love the way, as you say, Kerry, that God’s word remakes us in unexpected ways. You learn a book for one reason and find it changing you in many others! So many riches that we miss when we skim through it.

  3. For the technophiles, this iOS app looks like it might be helpful for learning Bible passages (if you can tolerate listening to your own voice):


    The idea behind the app seems logical. Here’s the app description:

    We believe that the best way to memorize something is to HEAR it over and over.

    Why? Because hearing it means you don’t have to actively read it. Instead you listen and soak it in – paying attention whenever you can. Now you can be memorizing while you drive or while you work.

    Furthermore, when you hear the text spoken with your tone, inflection, and rhythm it will be especially natural for you to listen and SPEAK/THINK ALONG. When you start to memorize portions of it, bump the skill level up to “EASY”. This will periodically fade the audio out for a small amount of time, leaving you a chance to really test your ability. No worries if you get it wrong, the audio will fade back in and your learning continues.

    We really encourage people to stretch themselves to learn scripture in chapters instead of verses. This may seem impossible, but think about this… how many songs do you know word for word? Of course a song is more fun to listen to, but it demonstrates the power of hearing something over and over again.

  4. I’m currently using the Fighter Verses app to memorize. It only has a few verses at a time but is pretty good to help you – with various quizzes.

  5. So many times I’ve wanted to memorise passages, but haven’t known where to start, or have tried and then other stuff got in the way. Definitely looking forward to part 3!

  6. Whilst serving on themissionary ship the Dolous (part of OMF) I started a bible memory course. I was amazed that over twenty crew signed up straight away. People were hungry to learn. Where did we begin? Sermon on the Mount. All of it. In no time at all people had memorised Matthew 5 then moved on to 6. We have a memory we just let irubbish be used instead of our God given brain. Memorising scripture is crucial.

  7. Memorizing Psalms have been so good for me. The last six months have been among the loneliest and darkest in my life and have left me crying out to God to meet the deep needs of my heart. It really helped me to join my voice to the Psalmists especially, 27, 42 & 43, 63 and 16. In the process of learning them and reviewing them the truths have somehow changed my outlook.

    • Thank you, Alice, I haven’t been exactly where you have been, but the Psalms have also been my lifeline through my darkest days, and have transformed my outlook with their sure and winsome touch.

  8. Pingback: Una Mezcla Heterogénea de los Métodos de Memorización de la Biblia (y una Manera de Aprender Libros Enteros) « El Evangelio Segun Jesucristo

  9. Pingback: A smorgasbord of Bible memorization methods (and one way to learn whole books) | The Briefing

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