By Rote: The Beginning

Bringing (Daily) Life to Scripture Memorization

I’ll just say it: I’ve never liked memorizing Scripture. What’s the point when our family stores a couple dozen Bibles in the house? That number doesn’t include the additional dozen storybooks and devotionals that categorize Scripture into bite-sized, inspirational morsels. Add the Bible app on my phone, and I literally have the Word of God at my fingertips 24 hours a day.


Bible memorization brings its stresses as well. When my kids were younger, they attended Awana—a Christian organization dedicated to teaching children Scripture—and beating each other about the head with their memorization booklets, they’d argue over who would win the most candy. I dread turning the Bible into some sort of contest, chore, or people-pleasing vehicle, especially when reciting verses supersedes the actual fruit of the Spirit.

But if I’m honest with myself, the Bible isn’t doing much of anything in my head right now, and I can’t pretend that my enlightened views have produced much fruit on their own. What if Scripture truly permeated my brain, the rhythm of my steps? What if I could call up those sacred words from behind the wheel or during conversations, when I didn’t have the hands to find them?

I recently finished reading The Heavenly Man: The Remarkable True Story of Chinese Christian Brother Yun. This Chinese house church leader endured several years of imprisonment and unimaginable torture while preaching the gospel in an environment extremely hostile to his ministry.

As a new believer at the age of 16, Yun prayed for a Bible—fasted and wept for several months, even, until two men he knew only from a vision arrived at his door with the contraband book. He feverishly read and studied the Bible from morning to night, then began to memorize it at the rate of one chapter per day.

The Word of God didn’t permeate his thoughts as much as became his thoughts.

When faced with hardship, such as being dragged to an interrogation room laden with whips, chains, and high-voltage prods, Yun did not think about rights, injustice, or the food he hadn’t eaten for two months. He thought about Christ: “oppressed and … afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter. . .” (Isa. 53:7 NIV).

The Word of God didn’t permeate his thoughts as much as became his thoughts, because he rarely thought of anything else. Although I’ll most likely never face such persecution, I will at minimum continue to grapple with the pain, joy, and confusion of being a human being. I can stand to be a little more like Brother Yun.

I’ve decided to begin memorizing Scripture again, starting with Paul’s (relatively) happy little letter to the Ephesians. I’ll use The New Testament in Modern English, translated by Anglican clergyman J. B. Phillips for his own youth group in the 1940s and 1950s. The heart behind Phillips’s project—pouring oneself into complexity of Greek for over a decade so as to encourage a group of teenagers—draws me to the Word with fresh, compassionate eyes. describes this version as “up-to-date and forceful, involving the reader in the dramatic events and powerful teaching of the New Testament.” That’ll keep me on my toes. Also, since it’s such a rarely used translation, most people won’t even notice if I’m getting it right.

I know this isn’t going to be easy. My mind swims with orthodontist appointments, poetry submissions, and church potluck dishes.

I know this isn’t going to be easy. My mind swims with orthodontist appointments, poetry submissions, and church potluck dishes. My 40-something brain has lost its sharpness. Sometimes I stare out the window in a state of regression to simpler times, listening to “Take On Me” repeatedly while trying to figure out, literally, what I’m supposed to be doing.

So I’m writing about memorizing Ephesians so that I actually memorize Ephesians. What I can’t do for a richer spiritual life I can at least do for a writing deadline. Nothing motivates me more than checking a project off a list, even better when the project involves an audience for accountability. The only way I could get myself to read and study Revelation was to write a book of poems about it. How else would I have made it through the locusts and fire?

Thank God He knows how I work.

I probably won’t be handcuffed and thrown in a truck in the coming months. But when I run up against my own authorities that threaten to imprison me—anxiety, professional and parental failures, fear of being unloved—I will seek the peace that surpasses understanding, which Paul described 2,000 years ago.

So as Paul would say, I, Tania, a messenger of Jesus Christ by God’s will, to all the faithful Christians reading In Touch: grace and peace be to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I look forward to having you along for the journey.


Illustration by Jeff Gregory


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Related Topics:  Reading Bible

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What happens to my notes

7 He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth.

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