Why Memorize Scripture?

final memory photo For the first time in my adult life, I have a piano in my living room. I’ve owned the piano for almost two years now, but have kept it stored in the garage of my rented townhouse, awaiting a house with room enough for a piano in the living room.

I’m sitting at the piano with a stack of sheet music I haven’t seen in eleven years. My mom brought over three boxes of this music after I complained to her of having nothing to play beyond “chop sticks” and hymns. Flipping through the music, I sight read a line here, a piece there, stumbling through the parts my brain can’t quite decipher at the pace my fingers want to play.

Then I come across a piece I recognize. Its pages yellow with brittle edges and a rip dividing the second page, the volume containing this French Suite by Bach seems ancient. Eleven years ago, I performed this piece as part of an audition for a college scholarship I didn’t get. Then I went off to college and stopped playing the piano on a regular basis. This French Suite may seem ancient, but it’s actually the most recent piece I’ve performed from memory.

Eleven years has left me unable to remember how the Suite sounds, so I open to the start of the piece and begin to sight read. The beginning is simple enough, the right hand playing straight forward sixteenth notes while the left plods along with eighths at an easy pace. I smile as the familiar tune fills the room. I remember how the music is supposed to sound now, and I hum along in my mind.

Then I hit the fourth line of music and abruptly stumble over the notes as the once predictable right hand sixteenth notes dissolve into an unexpected series of trilled dotted eighth notes and the left hand simultaneously doubles its pace. I stop and backtrack a few measures and try the passage again. Once again, my fingers stumble. I slow to a snail’s pace and pick through the notes one at a time, but my fingers just aren’t connecting with the message my eyes are telling my brain to send them. What’s even more frustrating is I can hear how the passage is supposed to sound in my brain. I can even sing it. But I can’t play it. Or can I?

Backtracking once more, I try the passage again. But this time, when I near the stumbling place, I close my eyes. I don’t try to read the music. Instead, I turn inward, listen to the passage in my brain, and let my fingers fall where they feel comfortable. To my amazement, I am able to play the passage perfectly with my eyes closed! My eyes and my brain may fail to interpret the notes written on the page, yet my fingers, seemingly independent of all conscious thought, continue the song!  A piece of music I worked to memorize over eleven years ago has quietly stuck with me. Despite neglecting it for years, I can still play it due to the amazing gift of memory.

Memorization can often feel pointless in today’s age of instant media access. In fact, many parents with children in Christian schools complain at the amount of homework time spent daily on pointless “memory work” assignments. Why memorize a Bible passage when a Bible is nearly always available? If we don’t have a hard copy nearby, we can simply use google on our smart phone to look up the passage. We can install a Bible app! We can then text it directly to the person asking about the passage or read it aloud to them. With a few taps of a screen, we can bring up any hymn, any music video, any sheet music, or any chapter of the Bible along with essays, commentary, and other resources to help us explore and share our faith. So why memorize? Does God’s command to commit scripture to heart really apply to us today?

I share the story of remembering the piece of music with my eyes closed with my mom and she says she isn’t surprised. Music and verses memorized when young often stick with people for a life time. In fact, Alzheimer's patients who are unable to recognize friends or loved ones and who cannot recall what they had for breakfast can often still recite full Bible passages and sing hymns by heart. Memories related to music, love, and faith are the very last to go. Shouldn’t we be working hard to solidify these memories in our children so they carry them with them always to the very end of their lives? If the fate of disease should befall them in old age, if their eyesight fails to the point they can no longer read, if their hands are no longer able to operate pages of a book let alone a smart phone, if their brains falter and they are no longer able to process or understand the people around them, scripture will remain in their hearts due to the gift of memorization. Use this gift, and share it with your kids!

Rote repetition is one way to memorize Bible passages. Another way to help your children memorize Scripture almost effortlessly is to sing it! I can’t tell you the number of times my brain is triggered by a word, a phrase, or a tune, and unwillingly launches into an entire scripture verse thanks to my years spent working at a Christian summer camp where scripture was sung. Pair your favorite verses with silly tunes and sing them throughout your day with your kids on a frequent basis, and those verses will stick in their minds. Did you know there are almost fifty direct commands to sing in scripture? Here are a couple:

Ephesians 5:19b “Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Colossians 3:16 “let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

First and foremost, sing in your heart. And, if you have the ability to do so, sing out loud! Use the gift of song to teach and admonish one another and your children. Use it to aid in the otherwise monotonous task of memorization. God knew what He was doing when he made tunes “catchy” for us humans! Give your kids the kind of ear worms you want to still be resonating in their ears in 80 years.

Got any fun methods of memorizing Scripture? We’d love to hear them!