When I was ten, I won a big round of applause and a picture book about Dorcas at our church’s Bible study club. I was beaming with pride that day. I don’t remember how many memory verses I had mastered, but it was a lot, and I had outdone everyone else — even the “big” kids.
I wish I had kept that book about Dorcas. I also wish I could remember a single verse I had memorized. Apparently, I had lodged every one of those verses in my short-term memory. I remembered all of my verses that day — long enough to win the applause of the crowd and bring home my prize, but I can’t recite a single one for you today.
I had hidden God’s word in my heart in such a way that it couldn’t be found when I needed it.
When it comes to teaching my kids to memorize Scripture, I want to help them tuck the Word of God in their hearts — not so that they can stand before a crowd and earn a prize (though prizes are a good idea, in general), but so that they can call upon it in their time of need. When hard things happen in their lives – and they will -- I hope they will find consolation and healing balm in Scripture. The only way I can make sure they have His Word with them wherever they go is to help them tuck it into their hearts in a way they won’t forget.
I am not at my strongest when I am overwhelmed, scared, or heartsick. The day I stared at a positive pregnancy test just nine months after having my fourth baby (and this time it was twins!), the day my sister-in-law died suddenly of a brain aneurysm we didn’t know existed, the time I was wracked with unexpected grief after my beloved grandpa passed away — those are the days I needed God’s Word to bubble up for me like a rush. To wash over me and let my soul feed on it like a poem. Those are the kinds of moments when His strength really is made perfect in weakness, especially if we can call His Word into our life at a moment’s notice.
There is something beautiful about recalling a long piece of Scripture.
Sure, there’s a place for memorizing single verses on their own, but knowing the verse within the context of the bigger picture, couched in the full story, each sentence leading right into the next — there’s something unique and beautiful about that.
There are times for recalling John 3:16. But at the end of the verse, I either have to drum up another reference to recite a new one, or I’m stuck. If I have an entire Psalm or a good long chunk of Gospel tucked safely in my heart, I can feed upon it for a dark time, no matter how long it lasts.
Whole Scripture memorization is a gift I long to give my children because it will comfort them, console them, energize them, and carry them through life’s unexpected trials.
Where to begin?
It is actually easier to memorize a single long chunk of Scripture than it is to memorize a collection of short unassociated ones. Our brains were made to make connections. Rather than having to flip through a stack of cards or call to mind ten different Biblical references (was that Philippians 4:13 or Philippians 4:6?), simply choose one chunk and spend all of your time and energy on memorizing the Word itself.
Tips for getting started:
- Start small. Five minutes is all you need. Commit to spending five minutes a day (set a timer and just do it!). Simply read the selection aloud every day. This method is surprisingly effective. It’s so easy to implement, there’s really no reason you can’t begin today. Read the first verse over and over until you’ve got it firmly in your mind. The next day, add the second verse. Read the first and second verse over and over until it’s solid. Maybe this will take a few days — don’t get discouraged! Just keep adding verses one at a time, committing to only five minutes a day. You’ll be amazed at how much progress you can make this way.
- Begin with Psalm 100. It’s only five verses, but it’s a power punch of gratitude, and starting with it will do two things. First, it will show you how effective five minutes a day can be toward tucking God’s Word in your heart. Second, you’ll be reviewing it every day after you’ve mastered it, and doing so will normalize you to a state of gratitude and thanksgiving every day of your life.
- After you’ve got Psalm 100 down, try memorizing John 1:1-17. Don’t get overwhelmed by the length! Remember — you’re still just doing five minutes a day. John is the most poetic of the four gospels, and poetry lends itself especially well to memorization because it lodges into our minds in beautiful rhythm and imagery.
Once you have a selection memorized, review it every day. Just start speaking the Word of God while you blow dry your hair, move the laundry from the washer to the dryer, or set up the coffee pot. See if it doesn’t transform you. It’s a gift you give yourself, and a gift to give your children for the days ahead when you aren’t there to speak the Word of God at a moment when they need it.
What better gift could there be?
Sarah Mackenzie is a smitten wife, a homeschooling mama of six (including twins!), and the author of Teaching from Rest: a Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakable Peace. She writes about books, babies, and heaps of grace at Amongst Lovely Things and hosts the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, where she encourages parents to build up their family culture around books.