As I backed my car out of the driveway with my two daughters in the backseat, three-year-old Kristi commented, “God made the house!” pointing to the house across the street. She was learning in her preschool Sunday school class that God made the trees, the birds, the flowers . . . God made everything. However, in her immense six-year-old wisdom, Amy corrected her younger sister, telling her, “A man made the house.” They disputed this for a while until I intervened, saying, “You are both right. A man did make the house. But who made the trees to give the man the wood to make the house? And who gave the man strong arms to pound in the nails with a hammer? And who gave the man the mind to build a house?”
To my surprise, Kristi responded, “Every good and perfect gift is from above” [James 1:17a (NIV, 1984)]. Then simultaneously, both girls started singing, “God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me.”
How could a three-year-old make such a perceptive connection, and how could both girls simultaneously respond with spontaneous worship? The Holy Spirit had worked through the memorized Word to bring understanding and prompt praise. We started teaching Amy Bible verses when she was five and a half years old. I compiled 76 passages for her to memorize, and each day at breakfast we worked on memorizing them. About three months into our routine, Amy had memorized 36 verses. One morning, two and a half-year-old Kristi surprised me by reciting one of the memory verses verbatim. I asked her if she knew any other verses, and she quoted 18 verses! We had not taught them to her; she had simply been listening each morning and effortlessly learned the verses. That is when I realized how naïve I had been. Even young children who are just developing language skills can memorize Scripture.
Little children memorize easily. They can recite pages of picture books, jingles, and song lyrics through simple exposure. The key is repetition. What is repeated, they remember. How much more profitable it is for them to memorize the living Word of God than nursery rhymes and songs! Verses learned in childhood are often retained for a lifetime. If we continually share God’s Word with children, they will have a storehouse of memorized verses they could remember for decades. A storehouse the Holy Spirit may use when our children are traveling in a car, playing with friends, when they experience disappointment, and in thousands of other situations they will face in life.
God’s Word actually tells us the benefits of Scripture memorization. Consider these verses from Psalm 119.
The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.Psalm 119:130, ESV
I recently heard the testimony of a man who grew up in church but walked away from the Lord in his teen years. When he was 19, he knelt down and surrendered his life to Christ. He said it was the many verses he had memorized in church that God used to open his eyes to the folly of his ways and convict him.
A three-year-old in our church was listening to the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the teacher asked if they should bow down to the idol, the child jumped up and yelled, “They can’t! They can’t! Because of that verse!” She pointed to the illustration accompanying the verse [Luke 16:13a (NIV, 1984)], “No one can serve two masters.” She had learned the verse while in the nursery, and at just the right time, the Holy Spirit used it to give her a settled conviction.
Your testimonies are my delight, they are my counselors.Psalm 119:24, ESV
Memorized verses are a ready counselor for a child when a parent is absent. God’s Word tells them what is right and gives them ammunition to fight the enemy. It has the power to change hearts and shape attitudes.
When our girls were school age, we took a winter road trip from Minnesota to Chicago, but our car broke down in Wisconsin. As my husband went for help, the girls and I shivered in the car. When it dawned on them that they probably wouldn’t be able to see their cousins in Chicago, their attitude was less than stellar. So I asked them what verse could encourage us in this situation. One (unnamed) girl begrudgingly said, “Well, I suppose Romans 8:28.” I agreed and asked if they could think of any others.
The girls had been memorizing verses for several years. With our Bibles in our suitcases, the only verses that could inform our hearts were those already in our minds. They thought of another verse . . . then another . . . until they had recited about 25 verses. I watched the transformation God worked in their hearts through His Word. Little by little, they became encouraged. The highlight was when one of them excitedly asked, “I wonder what God is going to do in this situation?”
Bitterness and complaining had been replaced by excitement, hope, and confidence. Their confidence in God’s Word proved true, and their faith was strengthened. They got to spend the day in a local library until God brought a van from our church going to the same conference with just enough seats for each of us! They got to visit their cousins after all, but better than that, they experienced the life-changing power of God’s Word.
I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules.Psalm 119:7, ESV
Another time, I was sitting in on a sixth-grade Sunday school class when the worship leader led a song about the goodness of God. He ended the worship time by asking the children to pray by completing the sentence, “God, you are so good because . . . ” What I heard astounded me. These were not the simple, repeated prayers that children often pray. I heard, “God, you are so good because while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” “God, you are so good because you make all things work for good for your children.” Student after student prayed meaningful prayers. Many of their prayers were deep, thoughtful, and influenced by Scripture.
One of the great benefits of memorizing Scripture is that it gives children a language for praising God. It also fills them with a wide variety of things to thank God for, promises to cling to in difficulties, and big thoughts to pray. It pushes them beyond the, “Thank You for the nice day,” prayers and gives them fuel for thoughtful, meaningful, robust prayer. Even preschoolers can pray deep, God-focused prayers when influenced by memorized verses.
O how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.Psalm 119:97, ESV
Memorization is almost a lost discipline in our society. In generations past, children memorized poems, addresses, creeds, and catechisms. This filled their minds with many substantial thoughts to ponder. When verses are memorized, they can become the “hum” in the back of our minds—thoughts we turn to when our minds are in “neutral.” Those memorized words and truths become fodder for meditation. As Lou Priolo writes:
…meditation imprints truth deeply on the conscience and engraves it on the tablets of the inner man, as with the point of a diamond or laser beam. It thus becomes incorporated into the soul; and forms, as it were, a part of it; and it is ever present, to regulate the heart’s affections and to control and guide all of its movements.Lou Priolo in Teach Them Diligently: How to Use the Scriptures in Child Training
Scripture memory became one of the most effective discipleship tools in our family. My husband and I memorized along with our girls. That memorized Scripture found its way into prayers, words of encouragement and comfort, and wise instruction. God’s Word helped to mold our hearts in a way we never could. If we are going to prepare children to live in a world that is hostile to the gospel, they must be infused with the life-giving, eternal words of Scripture. Just as God’s Word is firmly fixed in the heavens, so we want it firmly fixed in our hearts and the hearts of our children. Scripture memorization is a God-given tool to accomplish this purpose.
Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.Psalm 119:89, ESV
Our Great God
There are so many things to sing about—things that make us happy or excited, even things that make us sad. But the greatest reason to sing is when we think about God! God is a great God! Everything that we know and love about God should make us want to sing about him! Part of the Bible Verses to Remember series, Our Great God helps preschoolers to memorize Scripture and understand how it applies to their little lives today.