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How I memorized the book of James

Three years ago I memorized the book of James. It was an impulse decision, a gut level response to an optional challenge in bible study. Blame postpartum hormones or lack of sleep, but an unexpectedly wave of desire to memorize an entire book of scripture knocked me off my feet. This challenge is for you and you can totally do this, I heard somewhere in my head. What?! Me? Now? Was this God voice? I had never even considered memorizing an entire book of scripture.

As soon as I said yes, resistance rose, begging me to change my mind. Resistance reminded me I’d never successfully tackled one verse a week in previous studies. Tiny scripture cards vanished as easily as good intentions. James wasn’t tiny though, neatly fitting on five standard pieces of paper. After erasing the verse numbers, I printed the first and kept it close by when nursing the baby. James also rode along in the car, on the double jogger, in my purse. My oldest became quite mindful of James, making sure he wouldn’t get lost: “Mom, you left your James on the couch!”

My daily goal was to read and repeat a sentence while nursing the baby. James phrases became part of our three hour feeding rhythm. Attaching a new discipline to an already established routine worked better than expected. My daughter didn’t seem to mind scripture being spoken over her. Sometimes I simply stared at the words on the page, remembering where on the page they belonged and what came next. Visual learners enjoy those details. I rarely made use of the auditory version but used it later to check for errors before reciting.

Unexpectedly, this phase of life turned out to be conducive to memorization. My daughters were young enough to fully accept my random, repetitive utterances.  (They would hold little tolerance for this now.) I was on maternity leave for 9 months and not working freed up extra energy for James. Four close friends had moved after giving birth and my social void made space for James.

James filled my mind with thought provoking material in the absence of regular adult conversation. My sleep deprived brain could no longer afford to let thoughts run wild. James got in my business like any close friend will do. His voice instructed, exhorted, advised and encouraged. James challenged me to embrace difficulty, to listen and not judge or show prejudice. His voice popped up in conflict, in conversation, at night. James was trailblazing new paths through my mental forest.

Some days I didn’t like my verse. But I had committed to the whole package and hard words were part of the whole. Sometimes I took a few days off, just like the free days you get on a diet. I wasn’t too hard on myself. James and I would find each other after a few days and pick up where we left.

After 4-5 months of read and repeat while nursing the baby, James took up residency in my long term memory. I started reciting the book to friends in their living rooms, in the car, on the beach, at family camp, at a couple of churches.

James is a kick in the pants and a crowd pleaser. I still don’t understand how he does both so well. James tells it to you straight like some of my German relatives. But his words, I am sensing this more and more, come from a place of love. Sometimes love means speaking practical, challenging words right into someones business. At least James gets away with that.


reciting James at my church Imago Dei Community in Portland, OR on August 2, 2015

Listen to my James reciting here
and the James fed baby:



Whole Mama

31 Replies

  1. I love the Book of James! I too thought it must come from a heart of love. You have inspired me.

    1. Astrid Melton

      cool. whenever i recite, people are quite inspired by the spoken word even though James is a bit of a kick in the pants, a loving one though 🙂

  2. That is pretty inspiring. Maybe I will start with 3 John, 😉 Thanks for sharing.

    1. Astrid Melton

      I like John a lot too- 1. John was actually my favorite when I was growing up.

  3. J

    Laughing and smiling and happy to be the recipient of hearing this aloud. Sad to not see you very often but thinking of your inspiration whenever I hear James….

    1. Astrid Melton

      That’s a lovely association. I do feel like James has become like a friend, at least someone from scripture I have gotten to know in a unique way.

  4. It was a priceless privilege to get a private recital last Summer in your living room!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yeah- the living room recital is one of my favorites- somehow feels more true to the original setting than a larger, more formal gathering although there were certainly both.

  5. I like the idea of printing out the whole thing without verse markings. That way it does read more like a letter. Thanks for sharing your process and for contributing to the #wholemama linkup!

    1. Astrid Melton

      No numbers helps a lot in my opinion- they are too distracting for the lover of words… 🙂

  6. Wow! I studied James for a semester in seminary and I think I know it very well, but I don’t have it memorized! You’re right, it is a kick in the pants. I love how you used the time you had for something so uplifting – and convicting. Maybe I’ll memorize it…

    1. Astrid Melton

      It’s a really fun one to recite- seems to work well as a really short sermon and every time I do it, someone wants to memorize it. That always surprises me. One friend actually did.

  7. Oh Astrid, I love this! “James is a kick in the pants and a crowd pleaser.” LOVE! I so wish I could attend one of your spoken words on the book of James. I don’t suppose you have an audio version that could be emailed?? #livefreeThursday

    1. Astrid Melton

      The spoken word of James is powerful- I don’t fully understand it but most people eat it up. In my version (NET) J calls people sinners, adulterers, empty fellows and puffs of smoke. Uhm- if I did that it would be my last time on stage 🙂 But James not only gets away with it- people walk away and want to memorize it too. Baffling. Imago records the sermons so I am pretty sure you could get access. Passing on my recorded voice is surely a part of the path of humility. I think it’s all the gestures that make the book come alive though too.

  8. Love this post! Just recently finished working our way through James at the homeless shelter where I do bible study on tuesdays. As you said, James gets all up in our business, but such powerful truth! Good for you for sticking with your worthy goal! Keep writing, sister! Stopping by from #LiveFreeThursdays

    1. Astrid Melton

      I love that you do a bible study at the homeless shelter- James would be so pleased to hear this. Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Astrid, I was so intrigued when I saw your title because for several years I worked a lot on scripture memory after reading a post by Ann Voskamp. The last two years I’ve done some memorizing with my kids: Romans 1, about 20 verses from Romans 8, John 1. But when I started with the kids, I slacked off on my personal memorization… You’re motivating me. I’ve been away from it for a few months. Thanks! #LiveFree

    1. Astrid Melton

      Cool. I love how simply sharing this process is inspiration enough for people to want to get deeper into scripture. I am working on the sermon on the mount- got one chapter down but it’s been harder to find a rhythm that works these last few months…but I will keep trying.

  10. I love, love, love the book of James. Your story is really inspiring. If you can memorize it exhausted with an infant, than I could surely do it with kids who are a bit older:) Will be mulling over this as I go through my day! Thanks for getting my wheels turning.

    1. Astrid Melton

      I think you can do anything the Spirit prompts you to do- because as you surrender it’s not happening in your own strength. Attaching a new discipline to a well established one makes sense for this type of thing. I pray that you will be blessed today as your wheels turn. 🙂

  11. I love this! James is one of my favorite books also, and I’m feeling inspired now to memorize it too. Love what you said about him telling it straight like some of your German relatives. Because, yes! I have them too. 🙂 This is such a wonderful post. Would love to hear you recite it, if I wasn’t so far away on the east coast. 🙂 Thanks for sharing with #RaRaLinkup!

    1. Astrid Melton

      Cool. One of my friends keeps bugging me about making a you tube video of it and so far I’ve refused…maybe one of these days- thanks for reading.

  12. This is so inspiring! I’m guessing you were doing Beth Moore’s study on James?Thanks for sharing.

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes. Love Beth and her studies- Mercy Triumphs was one of my favorites although I don’t think I would have actually picked James on my own to memorize. He’s just a little intense…but good.

  13. Great idea. I’ve never memorized a whole book, but what an inspiration. Thank you. Joining you from Coffee for Your Heart

    1. Astrid Melton

      Thanks. Thankfully this ‘book’ only has a few pages… I appreciated learning to embrace a whole chunk of scripture, not just the verses I would pick out.

  14. This is great – Thanks for sharing how you did this- I have thought of it and wished I could do something like that, but I have trouble even with a verse or two- You have given me hope and encouragement-

    1. Astrid Melton

      Yes- I hear you. I have trouble with one or two verses as well :). It helped me to have a bigger goal/ larger challenge. Sometimes you can’t run a mile until you sign up for your first 5k and suddenly the mile becomes doable. James was a little bit like that for me.

  15. That is amazing! James is such a great book, one that really makes you think and feel uncomfortable sometimes.

    1. Astrid Melton

      yes- it’s a challenging word which is why it still surprises me when it’s well received. I am memorizing the sermon on the mount right now and can hear where James gets his intensity.

  16. Inspiring, my fellow German work ethic writermom friend!

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