Memorizing Musically

If you grew up in the church, raise your hand if you can remember at least five songs from Sunday School and Vacation Bible School growing up. Heck, make that from anytime—surely if you have kids or helped with a pageant or kids' program at church, you can easily recall songs they learned or listened to.

Everyone? Good! Then you'll get what I'm going to talk about.

I've written on music before (how are you living contrapuntally??), but this time I want to tie it into verse memorization. I don't know about you guys, but it's incredibly difficult for me to make a verse stick to memory. The solution? Music! Just like whatever annoying jingles are on commercials, putting a Bible verse to music somehow makes it infinitely easier to recall.

It's also how I have pretty much all the books of the Bible memorized—so if you hear me humming as I'm looking something up, that's why!

Growing up, we had a Steve Green video called “Hide 'Em in Your Heart,” and it was a collection of Bible verses put to music—a bunch of short music videos with kids acting out what the verse was about. I can still remember almost all of the songs (though I can't say my sisters and I liked the one on “Children obey your parents in the Lord” song very much, hehe).

And Christian music artists—we all have a favorite one. Maybe the songs aren't strictly scriptural, but often there is some bit of godly wisdom there that we can call on.

Why is this important? Well, for someone like me, who has a horrible time remembering things like Bible verses with any degree of accuracy, putting them to music really makes them stick, and humming them throughout the day really cements them in my memory. We are to be always prepared to give an answer regarding our faith (1 Peter 3:15), and this is one way of doing it.

But there is another side to this, too—our pastor in Philadelphia told us once about a shut-in he visited who was no longer of sound mind, but by golly, she still knew the page 15 service in The Lutheran Hymnal (the old red one, for those of you who know it!) and was singing it with all her heart! Pastor used it as support of rote memorization and using the same liturgy repeatedly—there really is something to singing the same hymns!

One of my sisters once expressed a mild distaste for the seemingly dull service we were using at church, but I couldn't get on board with what she was saying; it was the familiarity that I liked. Sure, it's quite possible to get glassy-eyed and go monotone through the whole service, but I think it's that familiarity that allows us to really get into praising God and learning from Him. There's nothing wrong with more modern services, of course, but I've found that paying so much attention to what’s projected on the screen up front can take away from your focus on worship.

Songs might also come in handy in times of distress—like “When I am afraid, I will trust in you,” another of the Steve Green songs. The scene for that one showed a little girl, woken up in the middle of the night by a thunderstorm, praying and laying her Bible next to her in bed. What we have committed to memory sometimes is the easiest thing to call up when words will not otherwise come. Take, for example, the time Christ spent on the cross—maybe one reason he called out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” in Mark 15:34, which he recited from the start of Psalm 22, was because forming words of his own was too difficult.

I wish I had a way to make easier the recalling of the reference as well as the verse, but I don't. (Setting that to music, too, would probably work, though!) I just know that when it comes to verse memorization and inscribing on your heart the word of God, music is a great way to go about it.

Now that you probably have a song running around in your head, go and “make a joyful noise to the Lord!” (Psalm 98:4)

See you in the round!