Decades ago, it was common for even very young children to be expected to memorize long passages of scripture. Bible class teachers used all sorts of incentives and methods to help their students memorize the verses they believed were most important.
As a result, by their teen years, those who had grown up regularly attending church had dozens of verses firmly planted in their long term memories. Over time though, memorizing scripture fell out of favor. It started by allowing children to flash “memorize” a short verse as they walked in the classroom door and rewarding them for it. Today in many churches, children and teens have never been asked or encouraged to memorize any scripture.
Our young people lose a lot when they don’t have any verses of scripture memorized. They may not be able to quote Psalm 23 accurately ten years later, but if they have memorized it, the words are still in their hearts and minds. The words they memorized can drive them to pick up the Bible to review that scripture. The image of those words leaves a heart imprint that can comfort or correct, whenever they need it.
It’s time to make memorizing scripture a priority again. If you are going to start encouraging your students to memorize verses or passages from the Bible, there are a few important things you need to remember.
- Young people are not taught to memorize in school as much as in the past. Memorization is often ignored to cover things that will be on standardized testing. Your students may think memorizing is too hard or that they won’t be able to do it. Be prepared to help and encourage them.
- Give them tools to make memorizing easier. Did you know Psalm 119 is actually an acrostic in Hebrew? It was a way to make it easier for them to memorize it. Often, putting scripture to music can make it easier to remember. Pick a tune your kids already know or that is simple to learn. Match the syllables in the Bible verse to the syllables in the original lyrics and it will sound right.
- Be careful about incentives. External motivations backfire. When the candy disappears, so will the motivation to memorize scripture for most of your students. You want them to understand and learn to value for themselves having God’s word on their hearts. Regularly have people share how knowing scriptures by heart has helped them in life. If you feel incentives are necessary, try to give them only when long passages are memorized or have the class work towards memorizing a total number of verses to receive a class reward. (Make sure it is structured so kids who don’t memorize aren’t penalized or pressured by peers.)
- Help them understand why those verses are important. Consider having each of them create a Bible journal where they journal about the passages they memorize. Have them write why they think God put those verses in the Bible and what He wanted us to learn from them. Have them write what they think God wants them to know or do because of those verses. Finally, have them jot down the situations they might encounter when it will be helpful to know this scripture by heart. If your students don’t want to write, you can do this as a class discussion every time you give them a new passage to memorize.
- Avoid giving one or two verses as memory verses. A verse or two is easy for many kids to “flash” memorize. They can read it a few times and then say it correctly enough to appease most Bible teachers. Longer passages require lots of repetition and practice. All of that extra practice moves the information from short term to long term memory, making it more likely to be remembered for a long time.
- Make it fun. Another way to avoid incentives like candy is to make the process fun and encouraging. Have a “big reveal” for the next memory passage – like popping a balloon that contains the scripture or going on a treasure hunt to find the new “treasure” from God’s word. Celebrate as students begin demonstrating they have memorized it. Work on memorizing it yourself and allow them to monitor your progress and success. There are lots of ways to make the process fun for students.
Encouraging your Bible students to memorize scripture takes extra time and effort on your part. It’s one of the best ways though, to make sure those key scriptures are in their hearts and mind.