A couple of weeks ago, I was reading the Bible at lunch, and I came across Romans 12. â€œWhat a great chapter,â€ I thought to myself. â€œI ought to memorize this.â€
Bible memorization has been on my mind lately, ever since Tom Meyer (a “Wordsower”) recited all of Jonah and Nahum to us at church. He did a nice job, articulating the story of Jonah, especially, with lots of dramatic flair. â€œI wonder how hard it would be, to do that?â€ I mused to myself.
When I was a young lad, I had a great memory. One year I memorized more than 600 verses (on sheets of twenty-five at a time) so that I could earn money to attend a Christian camp. It used to be that if I scanned a page of print carefully, I could see a picture of the page in my mind for some hours afterward, and could literally read the words off the page in that memory picture.
This is true no longer. These days, memorization takes substantially more effort, both up-front, and in terms of maintaining the memorized passage.
In a family with five children, there are always relational challenges, and some even among the kids. Thinking particularly about verse 18, which talks about living in peace with one another, I issued a challenge to my older three children: â€œIâ€™ll pay a dollar a verse for memorizing Romans 12, and a five-dollar bonus to anyone who memorizes it before me.â€
“I’ll pay a dollar if you’ll slow down, Daddy.”
Rachel and Daniel are eager to go on a youth group retreat (their first since joining the lofty ranks of Middle School), so they jumped on it, burning the â€˜midnight oilâ€™, memorizing in their beds. Daniel had the first eight verses down at breakfast the next day, and so I knew I would need to move fast if I was going to be a credible threat.
Joshua disdained the monetary prize (flush as he is with cash from lawn-work) but casually memorized the whole passage in one sitting. He was reciting it happily (and a bit ostentatiously) to himself as he biked off to do some lawn work. Sometimes we think he was accidentally swapped for some other child in the hospital. I can just imagine a set of wealthy and successful parents as they scratch their heads at their slap-dash, irresponsible son. “Maybe he takes after your Uncle Erwin,” confides the Dad to his wife.
Joshua, try Psalm 119 and get back to us.
Rachel keeps her cards close to her chest, but I think she is nearly done memorizing the passage. Kathy and I were out in the backyard yesterday evening, and my oldest daughter was inside, washing some dishes. “Do not repay anyone evil for evil â€¦ ” we heard her shouting, trying to make herself heard over the rush of the water and the clanging of the pots and pans. â€œBe careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody … â€ she bellowed. Apparently Joshua was checking her progress.
Even the little two are picking up on it. â€œDo not be overcome by evil … but overcome evil with good â€¦â€ they sing, as they run across the yard.
Where are the brakes on this thing?
It seems nearly every day, someone asks me, â€œSo, Dad, how much do you have memorized?â€ All the little ears perk up as I clear my throat nervously. â€œWell, letâ€™s see â€¦ Romans 12:1-21.â€ There is an embarrassed silence, and then another silence after that.
Finally one of them speaks up. â€œUm, is that all?â€
I try to maintain a haughty dignity. â€œYep. Iâ€™m still getting started. I do know the last verse, though.â€ I launch into song, accentuating my point with excessive volume: â€œDO NOT BE OVERCOME BY EVIL â€¦ ”
They shake their heads, sadly, fingers in their ears. â€œYouâ€™re not doing very well, Dad.â€
Truth be told, I donâ€™t really mind losing the wager. Iâ€™m glad to help the kids raise money to go on their retreat, and Iâ€™m delighted to incentivize Bible memorization in the lives of my children. I guess what irks me is how easily they leave me in their dust. I try to stall them, insisting that they recite the passage word-perfect. â€œAfter all,â€ I tell them sententiously, â€œthe scripture is worth our best effort, since it is the living Word of God. We dare not corrupt it by sloppy memorization.â€
â€œDo pauses count?â€ Rachel asked me. â€œNo, but if I have to tell you a word (or correct a wrong word) then that counts as an error,â€ I told her. Already Daniel is down to five or six minor errors in the whole passage.
Some people might think it inappropriate to pay kids to memorize scripture. One of my favorite pastors was once challenged about this:
â€œIsnâ€™t it sort of crass,â€ a woman asked him, â€œto pay your kids to memorize? Shouldnâ€™t they be motivated out of love for God and respect for the scriptures?â€
â€œWell,â€ he answered gently, â€œthat’s an interesting question, but let’s look at it pragmatically. My kids know hundreds of verses. How many verses do your kids know?â€
This boy knows a lot of verses.
If youâ€™re a grown-up like me, and your head is already full of the things you need to know to work, or to raise your family, then youâ€™ll have to apply some clever technique to overcome your handicap.
I have three strategies that I use:
- First, I read the passage over several times, trying to fix the picture of the page in my mind, the way that I used to when I was younger. It doesnâ€™t work anymore, but I seem to be unwilling to try my other two strategies until Iâ€™ve proven that this one is no longer effective. I think it helps a little. Maybe.
- When that doesnâ€™t work, I try copying it down, either writing it by hand or typing it. I look at each sentence and then try to type it from memory, going back to check after Iâ€™m done. This usually gets me to the point where I have the passage mostly memorized.
- To get a passage word-perfect, I resort to my third technique. I write the passage on our whiteboard (or as much of it as can fit) and then I recite it repeatedly. Each time I finish reciting, I erase a word or two. Pretty soon, Iâ€™m looking at an empty whiteboard and am able to recite the whole chunk of scripture.
How â€˜bout you? Do you memorize scripture? How much, and how often? What techniques do you use? Do you pay your kids to memorize, or do they do it for free?
Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to Godâ€”this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will isâ€”his good, pleasing and perfect will.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.
Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. -â€“ Romans 12:1-21