Often people come up to me after I preach and say: “My, you have a wonderful memory. I wish I could memorize like that! God has really gifted you with a great mind.” I want to cry! Now don’t misunderstand, I am what I am by the grace of God! Paul said: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).
Usually, I respond to those comments with: “Well, I have a photographic mind, but I ran out of film a couple of years ago.” They laugh, and that’s the end of the conversation. But before you read any further, let me share with you the real secret to memorizing Scripture – time and work. Don’t stop reading, because I think in the next few minutes I can make that “time” effective and the “work” enjoyable.
Let me tell you first how it all started for me. When I went to college I decided after an enjoyable freshman speech class to minor in it. I did it because I thought it would be fun, not because I thought I would ever use anything I was about to learn. That minor in speech required me to be in the college dramas twice each year as well as do poetry and monologues in various Vesper services and the like. I was also required to do a recital at the end of my senior year. This required me to do a lot of memorizing. I was in the plays “As You Like It,” “Hamlet,” “The Robe,” “Julius Caesar,” and my favorite – “Cyrano!” My German nose helped me land that part! In “Cyrano” alone, I had over 1500 lines to memorize and as I always say, I had to know “when” to say them, so I had to memorize the lines just before mine too! For my recital, I did the comedy, “Teahouse of the August Moon.” I loved it all and would do it all again if I had the chance.
But by the time graduation rolled around, my brain was fried! It couldn’t hold any more “memory,” and, so, for the next four years, I did not conscientiously memorize anything! But, I was always convicted that I should be memorizing. I would listen to preachers quote portions of Scripture and think – I could do that. I was busy in revival work: writing sermons, preaching, winning souls, helping churches, being a husband and dad, etc., and so excused myself from any further discipline in the “study” area. But the Holy Spirit kept reminding me: “If you could memorize Shakespeare – you can memorize Scripture.”
In October of 1978, we were holding a Christian School revival in Coleman, Wisconsin. I preached several times during the school day to various age groups, but there were no services or activities in the evening. The town of Coleman at that time had a population of 300 and when five o’clock in the evening rolled around, the town shut down. Stores were not open, people disappeared from the streets, and everything became extremely quiet. I was bored to tears! My wife and I were traveling in a 25 foot trailer. Our oldest son, John, was just a little over a year old. The first night after supper, I went to the gym and shot some baskets for a couple of hours, but there’s only so much fun you can have by yourself. Finally, after a couple of nights of this, I announced to Diane that I was going inside the school to memorize some Bible verses.
The only reason I did it was because I was bored and needed something to kill time. As I sat there that first night contemplating where to start, I realized that almost every week in revivals, I would preach a message on the subject of hell. So, that’s where I started. In the next couple of hours, I had memorized about ten verses on hell and was pretty proud of myself. It was kind of fun to “preach” them as I would memorize them in the big gym that would make my voice sound more powerful than it was. I got so excited about it that the next night I went back inside and went at it again. By the end of that week, I had memorized about thirty verses on hell, including the entire passage in Luke sixteen about the rich man and Lazarus.
I really didn’t plan for it to go any further than that. I had killed some time with something profitable and knew that I would probably not have too many weeks where I would ever be that bored again. Our next revival was in Hadley, Michigan and when we arrived, the Pastor informed me that Monday evening would be Awana Parent’s Night and that several unsaved couples would be there to watch a short program and then I would preach. I was excited about the opportunity to preach to a good number of lost people (there were eighteen visiting couples there that night), and I decided to preach on “Hell.” But for the first time in my life, instead of reading the verses from the Bible in my message, I quoted them. I can’t explain the power and life I felt in those words – which were not mine – but God’s! For the first time in my ministry I felt like I was preaching “the Word.”
I believe there were twelve adults who trusted Christ in that service! The next morning, I was up at four – memorizing verses – and I’ve been hooked on the power of God’s Word ever since. But long before I ever discovered this potential – God wrote: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:” (Deuteronomy 6:6) “Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18). “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Psalm 119:11) “But what saith it? The word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart: that is, the word of faith, which we preach.” (Romans 10:8) “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . .” (Colossians 3:16).
Regardless of what this world teaches about success, God makes it clear that success only comes from one source: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.” (Joshua 1:8) This is the only time you’ll find the word success in the Bible and God states that it comes as a result of meditating on His Word. You can’t meditate on something you haven’t put in your heart!
There are many good “plans” out there to help you memorize, but let me share with you what has worked for me. It’s a little bit unique, but remember – “time and work” are the key. The Biblical principle is “what you sow is what you reap” so you’ll get out of this in exact proportion to the time and energy you put in to it.
This article is an excerpt from Appendix 1 of Homiletics from the Heart available from Striving Together Publications.
This part one of this article. Please click here to read part two, three, or four.