A friend of mine recently challenged me (along with other friends of his) to memorize a chapter of the Bible between now and August 31st. The challenge arose from this article by Greg Morse, in which he writes:
Individual verses and smaller sections are daggers. Although the shortest in the soldier’s arsenal, these are for hand-to-hand combat. As in medieval times, the dagger was a last resort, a defense against ambush. Direct and to-the-point, daggers are golden promises found in Scripture to support when Satan assaults us unexpectedly. For example, in a moment of sexual temptation, “Flee!” can save your life (1 Corinthians 6:18). Every Christian soldier needs daggers.
Chapters, or larger sections of Scripture, are swords. Although longer and requiring more effort to master, swords were the medieval soldier’s most useful weapon. Swords were offensive and carried by those expecting war. Broad swords (texts) are not only made up of daggers, but sharpen each dagger with context. The chapter draws you into the author’s thoughts and makes greater, deeper sense of the individual verses. A dagger will save your life in a vulnerable moment, but you wouldn’t head into war without a sword. Memorizing chapters prepares us to go on the offensive against the enemy’s ranks.
I’ve picked up a few “daggers” along the way, but memorizing a chapter sounds daunting. For that matter, intentional memorization was something I resisted a good part of my life – and not just Bible memorization. I think it started in High School when I was required to memorize the Prologue to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales… in Old English. A crazy thing is that, over 30 years later, I can still roll straight into “Whan that Aprille with his showers soote” without much pause to recall.
At several points later in my life, after I became a Christian and several people discipled (or attempted to disciple) me, I was challenged to memorize Bible verses. But I continued to resist. It told myself it was too difficult. I assured myself that memorization is for “super Christians.”
But when my 5 year old daughter started memorizing Scripture as part of her involvement in a local church ministry, those excuses suddenly sounded lame.
Let’s face it, most of us don’t have nearly as tough a time memorizing as we tell ourselves we do. We can sing the lyrics to our favorite songs (and for some of us, even the lyrics to songs we dislike but have gotten “stuck in our heads”). We’ve got our favorite jokes. The favorite quotes from a movie, play, book, or even political speech. We can pull up folk proverbs like “God helps those who help themselves” at the drop of a hat. Many of us have even memorized portions of Bible verses like Leviticus 19:18b, entire verses like John 3:16, longer passages such as Matthew 6:9-13, or maybe even entire chapters like the 23rd Psalm.
What are the common threads between those words we memorize successfully and those which don’t stick? I can think of a few:
- Importance: The words were of worth to us, whether emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, or even physically.
- Intensity: We were focused upon the words – voluntarily or involuntarily – in an acute manner.
- Immersion: The words were repeated with appreciable frequency and over some period of time.
- Impact: The words connected to an experience, triggered an emotion or ideal, spoke to a need, that collided with our lives in such a way to change our direction.
Now not everything we memorize meets all of these criteria. I’ve never been much of a fan either of hot dogs or bologna, and neither hold much impact or importance to me or my life. However, due to years of immersion in my youth through radio and TV advertisements, I can sing the two associated jingles from Oscar Meyer by heart… and some of you can sing (or are now singing) them also.
Immersion also has much to do with the fact that, while I was in military aviation, just about everybody in the squadron could spit out major sections of certain movie scripts, verbatim. One needed only to start a line – “I feel the need…” or “They can take our lives…” – and a comrade would finish it. And other memorized lines weren’t even military or aviation-related. Many contemporaries of mine need only the prompt of “One hen…” to spend the next few minutes reciting, verbatim and in unison, a version of Jerry Lewis’ nonsensical announcer’s test.
On the other hand, immersion was not required the first time I read the opening line from Douglas MacArthur’s speech at West Point: “Duty… Honor… Country… These three hallowed words reverently dictate what you ought to be… what you can be… what you will be.” The importance, impact, and intensity of these words led me to memorize them almost immediately.
Some of those snippets, or even soliloquies, remain with me to this day.
If we we truly believe that Scripture is the Word of God, we believe in its importance. That importance should lead us to intensity and immersion in that Scripture. And that will result in impact.
That realization is what led me to begin memorizing verses from the Bible. I started with some of the classic verses that pertained to the basic salvation message and Christian life. I continued with the Navigator’s “Topical Memory System.” But it was not until many years later that I first intentionally attempted memorizing a chapter (adding Psalm 1 to the Psalm 23), doing so with my kids in song.
Since then, I’ve memorized a few other Psalms, but never any of the “prose” chapters. In answer to my friend’s challenge, I am now working on James 2.
Will you join me in memorizing a chapter this summer? If you need a suggestion, consider these from Morse’s article:
How to Pick Your Swords
So, how do you pick what to memorize? I suggest the following:
Pick chapters that aim at specific sin struggles. If busyness tempts you, memorize John 15. If adultery tempts you, memorize Proverbs 5. If apathy to the word tempts you, memorize Psalm 1. Pick specific swords to decapitate your sin.
Pick chapters that will minister to particular people in your life (see number three above).
Pick chapters that more explicitly display God’s majesty. One way to consistently pop the helium balloon of your own ego is to memorize texts that behold your God. Texts like Isaiah 40 or Revelation 5 humble the creature before his Creator.
Pick chapters that remind you of the life to come. Select swords that remind you that you are not home. Linger with founding pilgrims in Hebrews 11 or catch a glimpse of that coming day in Revelation 21.
Pick chapters that have gripped you. The Spirit grips individuals in specific ways. People have life-verses. I believe in having life-chapters. If the story of the prodigal son grips you, do not let it linger outside your heart as the elder brother. Memorize it and bring it into your home.