Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:4-7

10 November 2010

Good courage for memorising Scripture

Now, speaking of John Piper and memorising Scripture, I have said before that I think memorising Scripture is important.  Really important.  But I don't do it.  I have small spurts of enthusiasm for this task but they are short lived.  I find memorising Scripture really difficult.  For one thing I just plain have a bad memory - which would probably be improved for taking up this type of activity!  And I am conscious of the fact that I don't pray before trying to memorise Scripture - and I expect Satan would quite like to see all of us defeated in this task.

But the other reason I struggle - the reason I give up before I have even started - is that I don't retain a lot of what I memorise over the long term and this discourages me.  At my best I had the aim of memorising two verses per week.  For a while it is possible to memorise, review and retain a stash of verses. But it soon reaches a point where the number of verses to review becomes too great and then I give up.  If I can't review them I won't be able to remember them.  And if I can't remember them then there is no point in trying to memorise them in the first place.

John Piper memorises Scripture every day during his quiet time.  If that was only one verse per day, that would be 365 verses a year!!

So I was relieved and encouraged to read this John Piper's response to the question, "How do you keep from forgetting Scripture after you've memorised it?"  Said John Piper...

I don't. But practically, what can you do to keep it as long as you can? There is only one word. Review.

Review, review, review. There is no way to memorize Scripture that keeps you from losing it. Some people don't lose anything. Some people have traps in their head that just hang on to it. But only 1 in 10,000 people can do that. Average folks like me have to work real hard to memorize the first time, and then recurrently review to keep it. So I memorize verses every day, and I forget them every day.

This morning I re-memorized a verse. I finished Deuteronomy and ran across a verse that I memorized years ago. Maybe I memorize it once a year, because I read the whole Bible once every year.

The verse is Deuteronomy 33:26. "There is none like God, O Jeshurun, who rides through the heavens to your help, and through the skies in his majesty." So, I've got it memorized. I probably will forget it in a week. That verse is hard for me to remember.

I've memorized that verse probably five times in five years. I forget it because I don't use it as often as some verses. So, I jot it down on a little piece of paper and carry it in my pocket, pulling it out during the day once or twice. If I try to nail it so that it is useful for me over the long haul, I keep it and review it.

A practical thing I would suggest for people to do, is decide what cluster of text they want to always be at their disposal. For me I could name Psalm 46, Psalm 23, Psalm 1, Romans 8, 2 Corinthians 5:21, a cluster of texts surrounding justification, 1 Peter 4:11—"let him who serves serve in the strength that God supplies, that in everything God may get the glory through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the dominion forever." This is the most quoted verse as we move into worship at Bethlehem.

So for my soul, for the warfare of my life, and for ministry in hospitals and counseling sessions, I want a cluster of texts at my disposal. Decide what those are, put them on a piece of paper, and review them until you have them down. I'll give you a little story.

My first or second year of pastoring I was called to the hospital—quickly. I went without my Bible. Rollin Erickson's wife just had a heart attack. I walk into a room of probably 20 family members that didn't know if she was alive or dead—as she is in surgery. Rollin gave me a big hug and said, "John, give us a Word from the Lord." Now, if I had my Bible I would have opened it to a Psalm or something. I didn't have my Bible, and for whatever reason at age 35 my mind went blank.

I felt so humiliated. It was horrible. Here are 20 people, and the husband of a dying woman says, "Give us a Word from the Lord." I can't even remember what I said. I probably said, "Let's pray," and tried to paraphrase some Scripture. I went home and got on my knees that afternoon. I said, "Lord Jesus, that will never happen again." I opened to Psalm 46—"God is our refuge and strength." I have been able to quote Psalm 46 verbatim for the last 28 years. I decided that Psalm 46 is going to be in my head because it is so useful all the time.

The answer is, review. But don't try to do that with every verse you learn. You should be learning hundreds of Bible verses by heart, and forgetting 90% of them. But then you get to them again and relearn them, and they are still with you because you learned them once. Somehow they will function to get out into your life.

But really nail down a cluster of soul strengthening words.

That is a great comfort.  Time to get back on the horse.

HT: Desiring God.


Sarah said...

I hear you! I try to memorise Scripture, but get so discouraged when I fail to retain it. Yet sometimes I can just pull a random verse out of nowhere, and I know it's the Holy Spirit at work there, cos it sure aint me! I think my problem may be laziness and giving up too easily. I used to memorise pages and pages of scripts when I studied acting at excuse there!

Also, it's good to know that different people memorise things in different ways. Are you an audio or visual person? Maybe an audio version of the Bible might help? xx

Meredith said...

Definitely a visual person - to the point that sometimes I can hear a Bible passage being read out aloud and not be able to pick it and then see it in print and be able to tell you chapter and verse!! THAT visual!!

I expect verses memorised are not lost entirely. They just get moved into the back blocks of the mental filing cabinet and are harder to retrieve - and for one with a poor memory, they shift to the back of the filing cabinet pretty quickly. And I think if I worked harder in this area then more would stay at the front of the filing cabinet, ready for use. I also think John Piper is suggesting that verses "memorised" more than once are more easily memorised on the second and subsequent attempts, which is heartening.

And thanks be to God that the Holy Spirit brings to mind verses we have read and learned, no matter where they are filed.