Undoubtedly one of the most remarkable women of the 19th century must be the hymnist Fanny Crosby; known for penning hymns like “All the way my Saviour leads me” and “Blessed assurance”. She lost her eyesight when she was only six weeks old due to an infection and yet, remarkably became the most prolific Christian hymnist in history, having written more than 8000 hymns. Yet what challenged me recently was the discovery that from the age of ten, she would memorize as much as five chapters of scripture a week. By the age of 15 she had memorized the Pentateuch, the book of Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, all four Gospels and much of the Psalter. This familiarity with the scriptures is evident when you read (or sing) any of the hymns she wrote. Charles Spurgeon’s description of John Bunyan could be very appropriately applied to her as well. Prick her anywhere and she bleeds the Bible.
But this raises a serious challenge to us. Though we might not possess the mental faculties that enabled this precious saint to memorize as much of the scripture as she did; all Christians should have some strategy in place to ensure that they are hiding God’s word in their hearts (Ps. 119:11). This is not some academic exercise, the spiritual equivalent of memorizing the periodic table. Instead, we should view it as a devotional exercise. In the verse above, David reveals why he hides God’s word in his heart – he does this in order that he might not sin against Him. David viewed the word of God as a means of grace. It had a sanctifying influence on him and so he laid hold on this grace by storing God’s word in his heart. In the same way Jesus prayed that the Father would sanctify believers through the truth of His word (John 17:17). Therefore as Christians we memorize scripture because we want this prayer to be answered.
For this reason I want to briefly suggest five tips that may be helpful to you as you seek to store up the precious treasures of the Bible in your heart.
- Have a system in place:
“If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. This might be a cliché, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true. Have some sort of system in place to make sure you are memorizing scripture on a weekly basis. This can be anything from printing out a scripture memorization plan from the internet to writing the scripture down on Post-it notes and sticking it on the bathroom mirror or your computer screen at work.
- Making use of technology:
Speaking of having a system in place, there are some very helpful scripture memory applications for Android and Apple devices. Personally I’ve been using the Remember Me scripture memory app for Android, because it’s simple and takes up very little space. But ultimately all you are looking for is something that will help you keep track of your progress and that will regularly remind you to memorize scripture.
Often the reason we find it so difficult to memorize scripture is because of our own forgetfulness. Not forgetfulness in the sense that we forget what we are trying to memorize, but the kind of forgetfulness that is brought about simply by the busyness of life. We have every intention of memorizing scripture, but eventually it just gets lost among the various things we have to do on a daily basis. This is why I think it’s never helpful to think of scripture memorization as a private pursuit. Get someone in the church family to memorize scripture with you. Not only will this help you to remember to memorize scripture, but it also provides an opportunity to meditate on and discuss a new passage of scripture every week.
- Using a font that is difficult to read:
This might sound counter-intuitive, but studies have shown that fonts that are difficult to read or less familiar can actually make it easier to memorize a given text. The brain is forced to think harder about the words on the page which leads to better retention of what is read. Try printing out the text you are memorizing using a font like Comic Sans MS, Monotype Corsiva or Bodoni. All three of these have been shown to aid memorization.
- Don’t lose sight of the goal:
Never forget that the ultimate purpose for scripture memorization is not the storing of information in our minds. Thinking of Jesus’ parable of the sower – we don’t simply want to build up a storehouse of seeds, we want the seed to germinate in our hearts and lead to fruit in our lives. This is where Psalm 1 is so helpful (and why it may be a good place to start your scripture memorization). David’s “righteous man” doesn’t just read the Law (a reference here to the five books of Moses), but he meditates on it day and night. As a result, David says, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (v.3)” Keep this perspective in mind as you memorize scripture week after week. As Christians we want nothing more than to honour the One who died for us, by living in a manner worthy of the gospel. Scripture memorization is a means to that end. Like David we must view it as a means of grace – a gift from God than enables us to live to his glory.
You don’t have to be a Fanny Crosby, memorizing five chapters of the Bible every week, but I do want to encourage you to start somewhere. Start small if you have to, but just start. There is no telling what the fruit will be in eternity if you just start storing God’s word in your heart today.