You can memorize Scripture in 4 easy steps!
I loved memorizing verses as a child and getting stickers and bookmarks at Sunday school, but learning Scripture as an adult never seemed to be something I really considered doing. Why bother to memorize Scripture? You could now look up any verse whenever you wanted with a quick internet search.
My friend Stacy introduced me to Ray Vandelaan’s teachings on Jesus as a Jewish rabbi (which, by the way are fascinating!) and one of the things that impacted me was how much Scripture memorization was a part of every Jewish child’s life. As children got older they may not carry on with further studies, but even the women would have psalms and other basic (Old Testament) sections memorized. Jews, like Jesus, who continued to Rabbi level would memorize up to the entire Old Testament by heart! Even today, scripture memorization is a strong part of a religious jewish upbringing. I remember Ray sharing about how he was once in Israel and there was a broken down bus of jewish school children. As they stood by the road awaiting the bus, he stood mesmerized as they didn’t start messing around but took the opportunity to take out their scriptures and started memorizing and going over their texts. Over and over.
Now if Jesus could learn the whole of the Old Testament scriptures and many Jews over history could learn huge portions of Old Testament text, then surely I could learn a bit more scripture by heart. A few chapters of so.
So I downloaded the Scripture Typer app and I began to learn scriptures. I started learning the ‘top 100 verses’ - many of which were very familiar to me, but I also learned Romans 8 and I was fascinated by what I discovered.
How understanding how memory works can help us memorize scripture
Have you ever played that game where you are given some newspaper or spaghetti and some tape and you have to build the strongest bridge to carry weight? You soon realize that the greater number of connections from one side to the other, the stronger the bridge will be.
Memory is similar. New memories are generally not very strong and can fade quickly if they are not strengthened, but there are many things which can make those connections stronger, as if adding more spaghetti to a bridge!
Understanding something is one way of strengthening a memory. It creates extra connections to other other parts of the brain - new hooks into our memories. One example is how it is much easier to remember a word that you know (for example, 'cheese', than 'keju', the Indonesian word for cheese unless you happen to understand Indonesian!).
Emotions add extra connections and strength to memories - that is why our earliest and most vivid memories are often connected with strong positive or negative emotions.
Using our senses adds extra strength to the connections too - which is why we remember more by not just reading about something but also seeing an illustration or hearing someone speak. Smells too get added to our memories, which is why particular smells often bring back certain memories.
When I was a child I learned a Bible verse and it stayed with me into adulthood, but as an adult, scripture seemed to fade more quickly.
What I learned is that
a)it was still there, but I had often lost the hooks to get back to the memory
b) memorization scripture is not about becoming a walking audio bible.
The point of memorization is to ‘eat the book’ (to use Eugene Peterson’s book title about our ideal relationship to scripture,) to feed on the Word and to connect with it in a living way, returning to it often but not necessarily expecting to remember it just like that without having established hooks to help you get back into the scripture. I may have memorized all of John 14, for example, but not be able to tell you anything if you asked me unless I can remember the first few words to get me started.
Memorizing Scripture makes you see things with new eyes
When you begin memorizing Scripture you start seeing things you have never seen before in a verse. You are chewing over a verse time and again and suddenly words begin to mean something. This month I am memorizing Isaiah 61, a section of each verse each day, and one of the things I had never noticed before is that the calling to proclaim the year of God’s favour (v2) proceeds the proclaiming of the day of God’s vengeance. I had always been a bit uneasy about the vengeance part, honestly, but as I chewed over this verse I suddenly realized that the favour lasted a ‘year’ and the vengeance only a ‘day’! I had been placing way more than a day’s weight and discomfort on that part of the verse compared to the favour because I had never linked ‘year’ and ‘day’ before. When you begin memorizing Scripture you also start realizing which words are the keywords in different passages. You realize how often Jesus says, ‘If you…(do something), then…(something will happen)’ in John 15, you realize how often Jesus says ‘very truly I tell you’ in the book of John and how a certain chapter of Isaiah is actually a Psalm. You start connecting words across different scriptures.
So you want to give memorization a go? What would be my top four tips?
1) learn a passage, not just isolated verses.
It will take a little more time, yes, but learning a passage rather than isolated verses here and there actually aids memory. Because memory works with hooks, as you learn a passage you often remember the last word of the previous verse which helps lead you into the next verse. That means you have the ‘prompt’ for the next verse acting like a door to the rest of the memory. Learning a passage means too that you keep revising the previous bits as you learn the next bits and recall strengthens the memory in your mind. It isn't about how quickly you learn something, but being faithful and consistent in memorizing the Scriptures. In fact, learning less may be more beneficial because you slow down more and take more time on each verse, meditating on it more.
2) don’t give up because memorizing Scripture seems too difficult.
Like all things, it takes time, about 21-30 days to make something into a habit. And often just as things are getting really hard there comes a breakthrough. Take resistance as a sign of breakthrough and keep pushing through! Remember that meaning, emotion, location and your senses all add strength to memory so try diffuse a certain smell or returning to the place you memorized the scripture in originally, either literally or in your mind. When you are memorizing scripture find visual ways to represent the verse, like writing out the verse and adding visual symbols (a house, a moon, a vine…) next to the text.
3) Record, find songs, speak out loud, go over verses in bed.
Don’t just memorize Scripture in your head but say the verses out loud. Maybe record them and listen to them regularly or find songs with the verses you want to memorize (I learned all 14 Psalms of Ascent by listening to an album of those psalms being sung alongside daily memorizing on Scripture Typer). Test yourself on your current scripture memorization by meditating on the current passage before you go to bed or when you wake up. Don’t get discouraged if you can’t remember the next words, just sit with what you can remember or look up the first few words to help you get back into the scripture.
4) Invite the Holy Spirit to breathe life and meaning into the Scriptures you are memorizing.
The amazing thing is the Holy Spirit knows all Scripture perfectly - it was breathed into life by the Spirit and so the Spirit is great at giving us hooks and reminding us of verses when we need them. Ask the Spirit which passage to memorize and ask Him to help you memorize it and be faithful in doing so.
Loved reading 'Eat this book' by Eugene Peterson these past few weeks. Beautiful ways to engage with Scripture as it was meant to be engaged with and loved reading Eugene's journey towards writing the Message. Recommended!
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