There are two men who were the first I had heard of who had memorized long passages of Scripture that were longer than a chapter in length. Both of them had memorized at least the first eight chapters of Romans, if not the entire book.
The first was Dr Lance Latham, the founding pastor of the North Side Gospel Center in Chicago. With his own grounding in the Word, it is not surprising that this church would then found a program like AWANA Clubs, a kids program aimed at reaching kids with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and training them to serve Him. There is a heavy emphasis on Scripture memory, particularly those passages early on that explain the Gospel and how to be saved, because “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
The second was my great-uncle, Dr. Dave Breese, the founder of Christian Destiny. He was a preacher, writer, author, and evangelist who traveled the country and the world for many years. In recent years someone told me they once attended a chapel service in which he spoke, and it really stood out to him years later because he had begun by quoting the first 10 verses of Romans.
I had a similar experience with chapel in college. Dr. Bill Brown was the president of Bryan College when I was a student there, and he was a frequent chapel speaker. One day he quoted 2 Timothy. It was quite the moment. My roommate and I were discussing this later, and he commented that for as much as he knew and had studied 2 Timothy, hearing it in its entirety like that was the first time he had really thought of it as a letter from one person to another.
It sounds daunting, if not impossible! How exactly does one memorize something of such length?
As preparation often begins less ambitiously, so did mine. That story begins with my mother who was raised at the North Side Gospel Center where she met my first father. I am quite literally the product of an institution built on both the Word of God and on embedding the Word of God into people as deeply as possible. As Timothy in the Bible was blessed with “genuine faith” that was “first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice,” so I have been blessed with grandmothers and my mother Linda who shared her faith with me and grounded me in the Scriptures. In my early years I went to AWANA clubs myself, and also attended a Christian school. In both of these programs I memorized at least verses of Scripture if not longer passages such as some of the psalms.
Psalm 23 was probably the longest passage I had memorized. Many years later I was working at CWA, and Sandy Rios mentioned how she wanted to challenge people to take on large challenges like memorizing a chapter of Scripture. I knew others had memorized long sections of Scripture, but could I? After she mentioned that challenge, I decided to join Lance Latham and Dave Breese in taking on Romans. I didn't know if I would be able to do it, but I was going to try.
I finally got started on Romans about five years later, and finished three years after that. In some ways I don't feel like I know an entire book of the Bible. I intentionally don't know verse numbers, and I can't instantly recite just any part of it on demand. What I can do is start reciting at the beginning or near chapter breaks, and I know what comes next all the way to the end. I plan to share more here about that and the many things I've learned along the way in future posts.
I close today with this. In 2013, my last remaining grandparents passed away at the ages of 95 and about a month shy of 95. They had been married for 72 years! I attended both of their funerals. The officiating pastor who had only gotten to know them in their later years affectionately referred to them as a “wrinkly newlywed couple!” At one of those funerals, one of their fellow Gideon couples spoke about my grandparents, and one of the things they mentioned was how both of my grandparents could quote chapters of Scripture they had learned together. Yes! That is one thing I hope to have in common with a spouse someday and to make a pillar in our marriage relationship and family.