I was recently talking to a man in the South Western Region who told me he had memorised 16 per cent of the Bible. He said, “I don’t know if this is useful, but I reckon memorising the Bible is pretty good. I’ve memorised 16 per cent of it.” He then listed off some of the books of the Bible he has memorised!
I grew up in an era where we memorised verses from the Bible, and I reckon it’s time to bring it back. I haven’t specifically gone and memorised a verse in a couple of decades but I remember at Sunday school and youth group we would do so. Let’s not be afraid to get people to memorise Scripture, or to memorise it ourselves. I think that will do well for us as we go through life.
There was a man I was pastoring who had dementia. As his condition worsened, he was moved into care, and so I used to visit him in the nursing home. By the end, he couldn’t have a full conversation anymore. He would start a sentence, but couldn’t remember how to finish it. He just could not converse. He remembered little.
I decided one day to also take a Prayer Book and hymn book, along with my Bible. When I visited him, I read out a prayer book service and we sang a hymn or two. As I started reading the Prayer Book service, his eyes lit up and he knew it word for word. While he couldn’t say a sentence, he could recite all of the Prayer Book services because he had gone over them again, and again, and again.
When we sang hymns together, he knew the words to every verse. Some of those hymns have six verses! These hymns had deep lyrics and, of course, the Prayer Book services are theologically rich and Scripture-soaked. I’m not advocating for Prayer Book services only or sticking to the same three hymns for decades, but I’m fascinated by what it showed.
When something is so ingrained, even if at various times it might become mundane, at that end-of-life season for him it was what brought him comfort. As soon as we read from the
Prayer Book or sang hymns, tears would roll down his cheeks.
It seemed clear to me that not just the familiarity of the words but the living, lasting truths of Scripture were giving him comfort at that moment.
Of course, I also read Bible verses to him – popular ones such as John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 – but also lesser-known ones. And because he came from an era of Bible memorisation, he could say those as well (albeit from the King James Version) and this, too, would move him to tears.
When I’m old and have dementia, and the young minister from church comes to visit me, I hope he reads the Scriptures to me. And I hope they are so beautifully ingrained in me that I can recite them with him and be comforted by the promises of God, as my friend was.
I know in this day and age we’ve all got the Bible app on our phones, and it’s not often we’re without access to the words of God. But when you can’t read, when you can’t use a phone, when you’ve only got what’s in your brain, you couldn’t do any better than have it full of God’s word.
I’m no poster boy for memorising Scripture, unlike my 16 per cent friend. I don’t engage in the specific activity of memorisation. But I do remember it as I study it deeply, which forces me to read a passage many, many times over. I find the better I understand the passage, the better I can remember the key verses.
However you might go about it, though, it seems like such a good thing to do intentionally. So let’s bring back Scripture memorisation and encourage others to do the same.
Peter Lin’s top tips for Bible memorisation
1. Pick a verse(s)
Understand it in its context
Repeat for a week.
Test in a month.
2. Choose one verse a month
This could be from the studies you are doing in your Bible study group or youth group, etc. Ask your group to test you each week for that month.
3. Listen to Colin Buchanan songs!
4. Reward yourself
This could be with doughnuts or gelato (or both) when you can remember your memorised verses a month later.