Why Adults Don't Memorize Scripture

  • 23 November 2015
  • Keith Reed


Memorizing Scripture used to be a staple of the Christian community. It used to be essential to teaching curriculum. It used to be a recognized mark of spiritual maturity. But I now see little evidence that adults are memorizing Scripture with any sort of regularity or urgency. Why is this? A few reasons come to my mind that are simply based on my own observations:

The Childhood Fallacy

My guess is that the vast majority of Christ followers committed verses to memory early on in their Christian walk (when they were a child or at a time close to their conversion). But this practice has a way of fading as the years go on. The sad reality is that memorizing verses is seen as a chore for children and not an essential practice for all believers. It is quite common for a church to give an ovation after a young person publicly recites a verse aloud. But it is extremely uncommon to find adults challenging other adults to memorize Scripture, even though they tell their children it’s an important exercise. 

The Psalmist teaches that blessing comes to the person who delights and meditates on the law of the Lord (Ps 1:1-3). He says that God’s Word keeps people from committing sin (Ps 119:11). And while the young are specifically addressed at times (Ps 119:9), there is no indication that this activity should be reserved for the young minded.

Categorizing Bible memorization as a childish practice is bad theology. Even worse, it devalues God’s Word. 

The Cost Is More Than We Want to Pay

Committing anything to memory requires two things: time and effort. Most people think they suffer from a lack of time, but a more truthful statement is that most people are unwilling to invest the necessary time to memorize Scripture. While God has entrusted each person with a diversity of gifts and resources, He has chosen to give all of us the same amount of time. Our lifespans will vary, but all of us are given 24 hours each day and 168 hours per week. How we use the time He entrusts to us is a stewardship issue.

Regardless of what our stated values are, we invest time and effort into the things that matter to us. And if something is truly valuable to us, we will use creative means to accomplish our goals if the simple approaches don’t succeed at first. There are many creative ways to memorize Scripture (here are several suggestions), but each strategy is dependent on the time and effort we are willing to invest.

The “Bad Memory” Excuse

This is the alibi I hear the most―to the point of being confused when people with self-diagnosed memory problems suddenly recite every line from a popular song. It’s no secret that some Bible verses aren’t as catchy as the latest television jingle, but how catchy is your address or your favourite recipe?

Some things are naturally easy to remember. But we have the ability to remember things even if it takes some work. We can remember the things we really want to remember. This is why we don’t have trouble tying our shoelaces or singing the national anthem. Dallas Willard―recognized as an expert on spiritual formation―was so convinced by the power and necessity of memorization that he wrote this:

As a pastor, teacher, and counsellor I have repeatedly seen the transformation of inner and outer life that comes simply from memorization and meditation upon Scripture. Personally, I would never undertake to pastor a church or guide a program of Christian education that did not involve a continuous program of memorization of the choicest passages of Scripture for people of all ages.*

We all have our unforgetable moments. Have you ever thought about how Scripture can become an unforgetable moment for you?  

If you're looking to move from excuses to action, I encourage you to read how you can memorize Scripture with greater effectiveness in this next blog:

Keith Reed is the Associate Director of MinistryLift at MB Seminary.

* Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives (New York: HarperCollins, 1988), 150.