My short-term memory is not great due to some stupidly sinful choices I made prior to knowing Christ. Because of that though, memorization has always been an exceedingly difficult task for me. Part of this was due to the aforementioned stupidity of my own sin, but part of it was simply bound in up the fact that I became a Christian at the age of 21 and grew up in a non-religious home. I had no concept of much of anything regarding Christianity, save vague notions of what I grew up seeing culturally.
When I entered into seminary, much of what I was learning was brand new at the time. I had read the Bible voraciously, but I quickly found that there was much more to learn that would help develop the tool kit to better understand the Scriptures. The metaphor of seminary being like trying to take a drink from a fire hose was quite apropos for me. I had little concept of theology, so the various terms summarizing lengthy doctrines was like learning a foreign language. In church history, of course, I found it difficult to memorize the seemingly endless series of dates and events.
Greek was harder—Hebrew was even harder than Greek. I (not so) fondly remember when I was learning the languages, I would sit down for hours on end to memorize endless paradigms, conjugations, stems, the various grammatical and syntactical rules, and, of course, vocabulary. However, I finished the language courses, and all of seminary for that matter, with high marks.
So, here’s my secret to it all: there is no “secret ingredient.”
Many tend to believe things like these (and even something like getting a PhD) is reserved for the “smart ones,” whomever they may be. The reality is that you don’t have to be all that intelligent or have a great memory to memorize Scripture. You don’t need these things to retain information about church history, theology, the biblical languages—or even to get a PhD for that matter. You just have to be diligent and relentless with yourself.
Much like every other spiritual discipline, there’s no “magic formula” to memorizing Scripture. To be sure, there may be some practical nuggets of wisdom found in certain practices where the task can be easier. For example, you can start with a small verses like John 11:35 and gradually make your way towards memorizing entire passages or whole books, but those practical tips will only get you so far. These things might give you a temporary boost in confidence as they help in the more pragmatic aspect of it, but the deeper issue is often not a lack of knowing how to do something the best way. It’s a spiritual issue.
Blog posts, books, podcasts, etc., may abound on topics like this, how to have a better prayer life, how to be more faithful in your intake of scripture, how to be a godly man or wife, how to be a godly worker, how to read more books, how to make the best use of your time, how to be a good evangelist, and more—but they are all less than worthless if our worthy goals aren’t matched with the determination to see it through and actually do these things. In other words, without the resolve to do something, especially when that “something” gets particularly difficult to do, good intentions will fall to the wayside as we go the easier route.
Where we tend to get caught up on things is that we expect them to come naturally and easily. For some, this might be the case—but for most people, you have to struggle through it, which is much like everything else. You have to fall off a bike a few times before you can steady yourself and finally enjoy the ride. You have to fumble over your words when you witness to someone about Christ for the first time. You have to re-read the same line twenty times before you finally move on to the next paragraph. You have to take “baby steps” along the way in everything and that’s truly ok, because either way you stretch it, you’re being faithful to Christ’s commandments. How you do something is not particularly important, but that you do it is, and you’ll find that the Lord is exceedingly kind and blesses you in your efforts along the way.
In the end, that’s the best tip I can give you. Be faithful. Struggle through it. Keep at it. Persevere. Cultivate the godly discipline of failing miserably at something but getting back up time after time without letting it defeat you. All the while, entrust yourself to the Lord and ask that He help you. Pray that God would give you a mind to memorize the Scriptures—and then stubbornly resolve to memorize a passage until He gives you such a mind.
If you’re looking for a shortcut though, you’ll find time and again that with most every spiritual discipline, there isn’t one. And that’s perhaps where our fundamental issue lay; we live in a time where instant gratification can be found virtually everywhere, and we expect that same thing when we embark on things like memorizing Scripture. When the “going gets tough,” we drop out, not because the task is impossible, but largely owing to the fact that we’ve not cultivated the discipline of struggling through something through much toil. If the ground is cursed, we ought to expect that tilling it won’t come easy.
With that said, I leave you with the wise words of Ronnie Coleman, “Everybody wants to be a bodybuilder, but nobody wants to lift no heavy-[expletive] weights.”