rebelling against low expectations

Do Hard Things: Scripture Memorization


Those who have browsed our booklist may have noticed that we are currently reading through John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God.

Unknown to us (until yesterday), our older brother (Josh) and CJ Mahaney have also been reading through the book.

We were talking about When I Don’t Desire God with our family a few days ago and Brett mentioned that he thought it may be Piper’s best book. It turns out that we aren’t the only people to think that (and we’re in good company). As Josh shared:

Yesterday CJ told me it’s his all-time favorite Piper book and that he was reading it again. Now there’s an endorsement!

It also turns out that Piper’s book convicted older brother and younger brothers in the same area: Scripture memorization. We echo Josh’s words:

This is an area I have desired to grow in and been frustrated about. Thankfully, Piper gave more than a reminder, he provided practical help.

Here are some of the quotes Piper shared that cut to our hearts:

Charles Spurgeon: “It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you.”

Dallas Willard: “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our mind with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How did it get in your mouth? Memorization.”

And this passage, with an excerpt from The Pilgrim’s Progress:

One of the greatest scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress is when Christian recalls in the dungeon of Doubting-Castle that he has a key to the door. Very significant is not only what the key is, but where it is:

“What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and Hopeful immediately cam out.”

Three times Bunyan says that the key out of Doubting-Castle was in Christian’s “chest pocket” or simply his “chest.” I take this to mean that Christian had hidden God’s promise in his heart by memorization and that it was now accessible in prison for precisely this reason.

This is how the promises sustained and strengthened Bunyan. He was filled with Scripture. Everything he wrote was saturated with Bible. He pored over his English Bible, which he had most of the time. This is why he could say of his writings, “I have not for these things fished in other men’s waters; my Bible and concordance are my only library in my writings.”

Brett and I are pretty good at memorizing. We’ll memorize our favorite scenes from a movie in a single viewing. We’ll memorize songs. We’ll memorize jokes. We’ll memorize tongue twisters. We’ll even memorize how to say “super-cali-fragi-listic-expi-ali-docious” backwards. For us, and indeed, for most young people, memorization is not all that strenuous and will never be easier.

Nonetheless, I’m ashamed to say that of all the things we have stored in our minds, readily available, very little is Scripture. The verses and passages we’ve memorized in the past have been slowly crowded out of our minds by trivial “stuff.” Consistency, meditation, and dedication (the hard, little things) have been sorely lacking. Thus, instead of the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” we are often left with an empty scabbard. Movie lines are a poor defense against temptation.

John Piper puts forth the following challenge:

Let me be very practical and challenge you to do something you perhaps have never done. If you are not a memorizer at all, shift up to memorizing a Bible verse a week. If you only memorize memorize single verses, shift up to memorizing some paragraphs or chapters (like Psalm 1 or Psalm 23 or Romans 8). And if you have ventured to memorize chapters, shift up to memorize a whole book or part of a book. Few things have a greater effect on the way we see God and the world than to memorize extended portions of Scripture.

Brett and I are taking the challenge. We call on you, our readers and friends, to join us. Nothing will better ground and equip The Rebelution than for “the word of God dwell in [us] richly” (Colossians 3:16). We have stressed that strong, godly character is becoming more and more critical in our world today. How then can we ignore Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you”?

Don’t be deceived, this will be very hard. The enemy and our sinful flesh will fight and discourage and distract with all their might. But we can do this through Christ who strengthens us. Let us each set a goal and a deadline. It is not a contest, but we do want to “stir up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24). Memorizing a whole chapter in a week is good. Developing a daily habit of Bible memorization, meditation, and review is even better.

Brett and I have started working on Romans 8. Once that is completed I would like to start working on Isaiah 53. We are using the methodology that Piper and Josh recommend for memorizing extended passages, which can be found online here. By God’s grace, I would like to have both passages memorized before we leave to drive down to Sacramento for the Rebelution Tour next month.

The comments section is open for questions, discussion, and encouragement. What do you plan doing in light of this challenge? How has God used the discipline of Scripture memorization in your life? What tricks do you use to help you memorize?

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About the author

Alex and Brett Harris

are the co-founders of and co-authors of Do Hard Things and Start Here. They have a passion for God and for their generation. Their personal interests include politics, filmmaking, music, and basketball. They are both graduates of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia.


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  • This is a great reminder. My parents have always stressed Bible memory. Almost as soon as my siblings and I could talk, we would begin memorizing scripture, usually Psalm 23, and gradually move on to longer passages. A few years ago we stopped memorizing as much, but have been back into it for a few months now. I am currently working on Acts 1. I have found that if I write the verses down in a journal or notebook, they seem to stick better. When we were little, my Mom had us draw pictures representing the verse, and she would write the verses below the pictures. Most of those old drawings look a lot like scribbling to me now, but they actually helped when I was younger! I think having accountability is very helpful, as well. After our morning devotions, my family pairs off and we say our verses to each other. My Dad tries to hear each of us at least once a week. Thank you for posting the link to the memorizing strategies – reviewing previously memorized verses is not something I have been faithful in, but is is sooo important. I have often told myself that I don’t need to review verses because “God will quicken it to me when I need it.” But that is really just an excuse to not “do hard things” (in this case, “rememorize” scripture).

  • I am excited by the approach given by Dr. Andrew M. Davis! Memorizing scripture is an extremely hard thing for me, but one I have always wanted to be efficient in. It has amazed me that some people (including one of my friends) could memorize entire books of the Bible. Thank you for reminding me to set goals in the area of scripture memorization!

  • This is a really good challenge! My parents have also stressed Bible memorization from the time I was very young. My mom also set many verses and passages of scripture, to songs. I find that singing something really helps one remember it! She’s set even Psalm 119 to different tunes, and by singing it, I learned all 176 verses! It’s a tradition in our family to learn it once you turn 13. I’ve also just started using a Bible memory system called Memlock which stresses lots of review, so it is “locked” in your brain. Whichever way you memorize, memorizing scripture is definitely a good thing!

  • Well, what do you know? My mom has had me working on memorizing Romans 8 lately, just like you have been. I hope to continue memorizing more using MEMLOK after I finish that. Thanks for the encouragement!

  • Thanks for this excellent post! I have been committed to Bible memory for the past year, and wish I had started earlier. I have a small box with cards in it that are arranged alphabetically by the name of the book of the Bible the passage is from. This has worked well for me in regards to review.

  • I have memorized some extended pieces of Scripture before, but my problem is that I don’t retain it very well after I start working on something else, or even just forget to repeat it for awhile. I’ve actually been working for a couple weeks on memorizing the entire book of Colossians; this post has been a great encouragement! I haven’t set a deadline for myself though, and I think I will do that now.

    I drive a LOT, so I spend a lot of my driving time reviewing the verses I already know. I usually only learn new verses along with my regular devotions so that I know I will have time to meditate on the verse and glean from it rather than just memorize it.

  • Great point about how easy it is for teens to memorize the things we want to memorize! I gave a speech at a Toastmasters meeting this evening, and several audience members mentioned to me that they were impressed with my memorization of a ten minute speech. To me, it was no big deal. I memorize for tests, speeches, and other presentations on a daily basis, yet I don’t put the same energy into memorizing Scripture as I do into memorizing my speeches and physics equations – not even close. Thanks for such a convicting reminder.

  • I’m memorizing Psalm 139 at the moment. I want to work on Romans 7 next. I like the tongue twister that’s in there. We memorize scripture by finding the rhyme and cadence hidden among the verses and listening to scripture tapes.

  • Memlock can be found at . It is a Bible memory system that has you memorize verses organized into topics. You learn a new verse every week, (or more if one’s too little) and review daily. You end up reviewing 12 verses a day. When you’ve gone through all the verses, you have learned 48 topics and 700 verses! The topics vary, so you learn about verses about everything from accountability to God’s Sovereignty. One of my older sisters has gone through it, and it really works! In whatever situation she’s in, she usually has a verse come to mind!

  • When I was 16, I set a goal to memorize the book of Matthew before my 17th birthday. I did it successfully (although there was never a point where I could repeat the whole book at once), and it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. Unfortunately, I haven’t done very much memorization since then, but I’m feeling the urge to do so again after your post!

    From my own experience, I can say that the more you memorize, the easier it becomes. When I first started memorizing Matthew, I couldn’t memorize very much at once, but by the end of the year, I was sometimes able to memorize a whole chapter in one day. It takes practice, like anything else, but time spent in practice is rewarded richly!

  • It’s funny that you should have a post on memorizing Scripture because my mom has just started really getting into doing that and has been encouraging us to do likewise. I think I usually start memorizing something then get tired of it and go onto something else. I’ve been working on not doing that. So, I think I’ll set a deadline to finish the first chapter of John (which I’ve been working on for over a year), then finish Psalm 119. Thank you for this post. It’s got me thinking about being more consistant with my memorizing.

  • The Lord has been impressing my husband and I to go through the Christian Disciplines with our home group…bible reading, memorization, meditation, study, prayer, worship, silence and solitude, journaling…a great book on this topic is “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” by Donald S. Whitney.
    The purpose of these tools of “grace” are for the purpose of godliness. Pastor Whitney stresses this throughout his book.
    I posted on Bible memorization on my blog, a few weeks ago. I will add some more thoughts. The disciplines are like a tapestry, that all flow into one another.

  • Hey guys- my girlfriends and I used to encourage each other to memorize whole books at a time, in order to be faithful to Scripture in its entire context. I found this to be an amazing, rewarding practice, both for prayer, ministry, speaking, etc. I have the books of Ephesians and James memorized, and am working on all of Romans; my friend who started me on this route can recite all of Romans, though it take her about three hours 🙂 If girls can do it…

  • I too find it very easy to memorize just about anything… except Scripture. I’ve done some extended sections, but I’ve forgotten them all by now. As an encouragement, though, I will say that the youth group at my church has done ten minute sprints of memorization, with a goal of just one verse, and most all the kids had the verse down pat by the end.

    Just out of curiosity, what version do you guys use? My church uses KJV almost exclusively, but I usually use NKJV, just because it’s easier to understand at six in the morning when I do my devotions. 🙂

  • wow. conviction….and ENCOURAGEMENT!! Thanks so much guys!
    I’m actually trying to memorize Romans 8 as well. Shall we have a contest? 😉 Like MM, i have a friend who has memorized Romans, and her sister has Galatians and most of Colossians. They printed out the sections and put them in clear plastic covers and taped them everywhere–the walls of the shower, the mirror, the desk, above the sink, at the computer, in the car. And it worked.
    I think the only problem for me has been accountiblity; someone to drill me every night, someone to give me deadlines. I guess I need to take responsibility for it (seeing as it drives my family nuts to drill me) and just go for it. 🙂
    thanks again for this (and i think i’ll be buying that book soon!!)

  • Hey guys,

    I decided to post something on your blog. I’m sorry it’s taken me so long. Anyway, I wanted to first of all convey my excitement about your goals for scripture memory. Yeah!! =) I�m thrilled that the Lord used John Piper�s book to rekindle your desire to engraft His word into your hearts. Also, I will be praying for you, that this desire will continue to grow and for God�s enabling grace to reach the goal you have set for yourselves. I�m proud of you both, as you continue to set high, godly standards for yourselves while at the same time challenging those around you�myself included. Thank you for your example.

    I wanted to share a few things�as a reminder to myself as well as an encouragement to you both and your readers. First off, keep in mind that as we all strive to engraft God�s word into our hearts, Satan will also strive to do whatever he can to distract from this goal. Our lives truly are a spiritual warfare and scripture memory is no different. In fact, I have found Satan�s attacks to be more vicious when memorizing than when not. Please keep this in mind when you feel discouraged and by God�s grace, continue pressing on. Scripture memory obviously does damage to Satan�s kingdom as well as strengthens us for the battle to do all for God�s glory. Therefore, we should endeavor to view Satan�s assaults as a means of revealing his desire to thwart warriors who through God�s grace, are succeeding in their attack of the enemy!

    Another way the Lord has encouraged me when discouraged and weary, has been with the reminder that His word is a sword, which as His child I do carry and must use. However, the amount of scripture I know determines the extent of the size of my sword. Since my time invested in the word effects this reality, the question then becomes, how powerful and large of a sword will I choose to carry?

    Besides this, the other truth of which God reminds me is the value of His Word and the amazing gift of owning it in my possession. Many people in the world are not blessed with such a gift. What a privilege to be able to own it and memorize it! With this in mind, I have lately been trying to keep the perspective of one who might have their Bible taken away at any moment. In what ways would my devotion to scripture memory differ if I knew that today was my last day to own a Bible?

    Anyway, those are some thoughts the Lord has shown me, which I hope will encourage you and your readers. How exciting it is to witness many people taking up the sword of God�s word and using it powerfully for Him! Let�s all encourage, exhort, challenge and pray for one another in this goal, for it is most definitely a difficult one, but God is faithful! May God bless your dear and faithful readers and God bless you too, my friends.

  • This post was very inspiring. I’m fairly good at memorizing many things. But when it comes to Scripture, I givbe myself excuses. I’m now going to work on memorizing Proverbs 15. It talks a lot about the tounge and pride, two of my greater faults. Thanks!

  • Now I really want to go and read J. Piper’s new book! 😉 Would it be possible for you to update/fix this link? Thank you!

    “We are using the methodology that Piper and Josh recommend for memorizing extended passages, which can be found online here.” [the link is with the ‘here’]


  • I’m very impressed by seeing that there’s this topic breached on the Internet! And I totally support it! I’ve actually been part of a drama program since the first time I went to the Christian drama camp in 2007 (see They actually memorize a whole chapter or a large portion of a chapter each year at this camp to perform and not only memorize, but also internalize and apply to your life. That first year we memorized Matthew 5:1-16 (the Beatitudes), for the spring session we did James 2 (favortism and faith with/without works), and just this summer at camp we did Romans 12 (being a “living sacrifice” and not “being conformed” to the world; spiritual gifts). It’s really amazing, and I’ve really taken scripture memorization/internalization more seriously since!

  • I too am pretty good at memorization. I have been memorizing Bible verses since I was Little and I know over 200 verses and Bible passeges. It’s fun and I hope to get better at it and memorize more. Thanks for sharing this!!
    Sister in Christ

  • Alex & Brett – Thanks for the challenge and for sharing from John Piper’s book. I started looking through it and want to read it.

    For all of you memorizing Scripture, I want to recommend Memverse: (Scripture Memorization Tool). Memverse is a free, online tool for memorizing Bible verses. It uses the SuperMemo algorithm to help you review verses just when you need to. I have found it very helpful to stay disciplined in both learning new verses and reviewing old ones. The community aspect of the site is also very encouraging. Over 1,000 users have memorized over 100,000 verses on Memverse!

    “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” ~ Romans 11:33 (NIV 1984)

    May God bless us with endurance and joy as we get to know Him more deeply through His Word.

  • While this works, it’s a pretty troublesome procedure as you have to keep republishing everytime you create a new post. If you took the time to create your own domain, it’ll be much better to put a little extra effort into installing something like WordPress on your domain.

rebelling against low expectations

The Rebelution is a teenage rebellion against low expectations—a worldwide campaign to reject apathy, embrace responsibility, and do hard things. Learn More →