Have you ever memorized scripture? I mean really memorized it – like whole chapters or even whole books of the Bible. It can be tough to get going, but the rewards are huge. Imagine being able to recite passages like this inspiring example. Here are a few tips I’ve learned over the years for memorizing scripture.
1. Memorize blocks rather than individual verses. We’ve all seen the Navigator memorization program and it’s a great program, but in my experience it’s easier to memorize a paragraph or chapter than 16 verses scattered throughout the bible. You get deeper, you get context, you learn more and it’s much easier to rehearse three months later, because if you’ve done your job properly, the first bit leads to the next bit and the chain keeps forming itself in your head as you rehearse.
2. Pick a translation that is easy to memorize. Just because a translation is easy to read doesn’t make it easy to memorize. Personally, I find the NASB easier to memorize than the ESV. Let me show you what I mean from Proverbs 30:6 – firstly from the ESV:
6 Do not add to his words,
lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
Seems fairly straight forward, and certainly isn’t hard to memorize. In the NASB this reads:
6 Do not add to His words
Or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.
The second line uses the word “proved” instead of “found”. This makes it slightly easier to memorize because the word prove is embedded twice in the second line, which helps key your memory. There are other examples where I’ve run into this such as Prov 27:12 (which has three words starting with p in the second line). Of course there are reasons to memorize your main translation, and sometimes its easier just to stick with what you have, but don’t feel like you have to stick to your current translation.
3. If you are just starting out, don’t overdo it. If you’ve never seriously memorized scripture and you try to memorize Psalm 19 in a week, you might never try to do it again. Start with a verse over two or three days, and build your load as your confidence grows. Keep challenging yourself until you’ve reached an optimal memorization load.
4. Memorize more not less. If you are an old hand and need to get back into it, consider memorizing more rather than less. I’ve found that there is a balance between commitment and capability. As you build up, take on more until the quantity drives your commitment to take time each day. I’ve found that if I work to memorize more scripture I find my mind and daily habit has to adjust to the load. Conversely, memorizing just a verse a day can be an insufficient challenge to keep the goal alive, it becomes too easy and I don’t devote myself to it like I need to and soon I find I’m just not memorizing anything. If you are doing this, focus on a larger section of text (e.g. a chapter) over a few days. Be flexible. There will be days when five verses in a day is a piece of cake and other days when two verses is a struggle. The principle here is let the load help motivate you.
5. Set ambitious goals. My first serious foray into scripture memorization was to memorize Colossians. This seemed like a huge goal at the time, and I achieved it over a couple of months and learned a lot as I went. I went on to Romans, which I wasn’t fully successful in but still learned a lot from memorizing the first three chapters. These were formative years for me and this memorization was critical to my learning and growth.
6. Use the tools. There are great tools for memorization. You ought to know about quizlet.com, which provides a web based tool for memorizing scripture. This is flexible and has a bunch of great testing tools that help you test yourself and review your progress.
If you are on a Mac you can type the reference in the text box where you want the verse to go and hit Cmd+Shift+E on the mac to paste verses directly from Logos Bible Software.
7. Memorize on the go. This kind of falls under the previous point, but has enough juice to stand on it’s own. If you have a smartphone, take advantage of it. I have an iPhone and there are some great apps to help with scripture memorization. The two I recommend are Fighter Verses (for both iPhone and Android) and Flashcards for iPhone.
Fighter Verses works natively with the ESV, but can work with any translation (it will guide you through a copy and paste process). This is specifically designed for scripture memorization, and comes with a bunch of pre-populated verses. I tend to make my own collection and ignore the pre-populated ones. The best thing about this app is that it has the ability to make a lock screen from the passage you are memorizing. This is great for quickly glancing at your verses on the run without having to unlock the phone, open the app and find the verse.
Flashcards serves a different purpose, and I use this for reviewing passages of scripture I’m memorizing and have already memorized. It has a couple of different algorithms for selecting which passages you need to work on (if you get some wrong it will single those out for review). Flashcards also works with quizlet.com, meaning you can create a set on quizlet.com and download them to flashcards without having to type your cards in again.
If you don’t have a phone, your phone may still be able to display a welcome message – use it for your reference or the whole verse (if possible). If you don’t do technology, get some flashcards or a notebook and write the verses you want to memorize before you leave home in the morning. I find a notebook is easier for past reviews than flashcards and so it’s my preference.
Once you’ve got a system that works for you, whenever you sit down (in a taxi, on a bus, in a lunch or coffee break) take a few moments to go through your verses, reviewing passages from earlier in the week or month and rehearsing today’s passage(s).
8. Plan to forget. There will be a limit to how much you can memorize and retain. If you memorize an entire book, it may be some time before you are able to take on another book if you want to retain both. Plan for this. If you are memorizing primarily for the short term benefits, don’t sweat it if in six months you can’t remember everything, but rejoice in the lessons learned and the passages you go to directly when a certain topic is being discussed. Because, even if you can’t remember it word for word now, if you hadn’t memorized that section, you probably wouldn’t understand it’s significance at all.
9. Work with a buddy. If you have someone who is willing to memorize with you, it will help keep you accountable and motivated. Memorize the same passage/chapter/book, and take time once a week to have a coffee and talk about where you are up to (try and work together) and what you’ve learned from your memorization this week. Sticking together might take some planning and may also modify how much you memorize in a day (or week), but being accountable helps with the motivation.
10. Have clear goals. There are obvious benefits in memorizing scripture. But not all those benefits mean you have to retain the entire book of Colossians in your head for the rest of your life. Much of the benefit of memorization is in having the mind focused on the word of God (Col 3:1-2, Phil 4:8) and allowing it to transform you (Rom 12:2). Memorization allows you to take in the depth of scripture and think carefully about it’s meaning and flow. Memorizing a book allows you to see the theme and theology of the book far more clearly than you will reading the book from start to end. And if you want to fill in holes in your theology there is nothing better than memorizing big chunks of scripture to help you do it (e.g. Rom 1-3 is great to help you understand the depravity of man). So be clear about what you want to get out of the exercise before you start.