Memorize Scripture by Putting it to Music

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“NO MORE MONKEYS JUMPING ON THE BED!”

I managed to live 35 years without hearing that dreaded song… until now.  Turns out that my 10 month old daughter LOVES “5 Little Monkeys” and those monkeys jump over and over and over again, not just on the bed, but in my head.

Music gets stuck in our heads.  Most of my daughter’s educational toys and shows set numbers, letters, words, and well, just about everything, to music.  It’s the same for adults.  Admit it, most of us can sing “Sweet Home Alabama” or “Margaritaville” even if we’ve never been to Alabama or had a margarita in our lives.  Are you humming them in your head yet?  Random tunes have a way of getting stuck in our heads at the worst times.

In Deuteronomy, God calls us to get the Word stuck in our heads, or more literally, “on our heads”, and in our hearts and souls.  The writer of the law declares:

Place these words I’m speaking on your heart and in your very being.  Tie them on your head as a sign.  They should be on your forehead as a symbol.  Teach them to your children, by talking about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.  Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates. (Deuteronomy 11:18-20).

Yet, as easily as we memorize the latest pop single without even trying, the thought of memorizing scripture stirs up anxiety and paralysis.  “It’s too hard to memorize Bible Verses,” we tell ourselves.  “My memory just isn’t what it used to be.”

I recently had the privilege of leading a Taize style worship service.  I had never heard Taize music, but as the only musician on the leadership team, the responsibility fell to me.  I was amazed at how these simple choruses became like breath prayers, repeating themselves over and over in my mind even when I was not practicing.

A few months later, Seedbed’s list of 12 verses to memorize in 2015 caught my attention.  Though intrigued, I knew I could never make time to memorize all of these.  Or could I?

What if they were set to music too?

I began writing simplistic melodies for these scriptures, adding repetitions and refrains as needed to fit the syllables, and soon began singing Isaiah 43:18-19 over and over in my head.  I had it memorized in less than a week, and more than memorized.  The tune became a part of me, like breathing, and with it the words.

“Forget the former things and do not dwell on the past.
 Forget the former things, see I’m doing a new thing,” says the Lord.

“Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?  I’m making a way in the wilderness.
 Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?  Streams flow in the wasteland.”

The peace that comes by humming these words still amazes me.  In moments of frustration or despair, in times when I feel like I’m going backward or when the road ahead seems unclear or hopeless, I hear the prophet’s words again and again.  And, all it took was a few repeating lines and a haunting melody.

It has caught on with my congregation and now we sing it to open each worship service and even in our administrative meetings.  The scripture centers us.  It grounds us.  It unifies our hearts and minds as a community.  This does not come from merely reading or hearing a text at the beginning of a gathering.  Rather, it has developed because the music has translated the text to the language of our souls and the Word is now written upon our hearts.

You don’t have to be a musician.  We all get tunes stuck in our heads.  A few years back, I re-wrote Psalm 5 to the tune of “Come Thou Fount.”  Using something you already know works just as well.

The Bottom Line

We have a lot of “monkeys” jumping in our heads day in and day out.  We are easily distracted and always trying to keep up with life.  And no matter how good our devotional time might be, there will be moments throughout the day, perhaps many, when we desperately need a word from God but don’t have the time or the self-awareness to seek it.

But when the Word of God is already “jumping” in our heads and our hearts through music, we don’t have to look.  It seeks us out even when we’re not looking for it.  These are probably the times we need it most.

Sing a new song to the Lord, and may the Lord sing a new song over you (Zephaniah 3:17).

Listen to a music sample of Isaiah 43:18-19.

Get the PDF sheet music here.

Listen to a music sample of Romans 13:11-12.

Get the PDF sheet music here.

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