Scripture memory is an important discipline for everybody who wants to know God better. God’s Word equips us for righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16), keeps us from sin (Psalm 119:11), and allows us to graciously and truthfully tell people about Jesus (1 Peter 3:15). If we really believe in the power of the Scripture, then we will try to write it on our hearts and our minds. Since we won’t always have a Bible with us in moments of temptation or spiritual opportunity, it helps to have a variety of passages memorized. That way we always carry them with us, wherever we are.
However, people often tell me that they just can’t memorize Scripture. They’re convinced that they are deficient in some way, simply unable to store Bible verses in their long-term memory. While that might actually be true for a tiny minority of people, the vast majority of people are capable of Scripture memory. We just need lots of practice, and a good process to follow. You can do this!
With that in mind, let me offer a basic step-by-step process that has helped me in my endeavor to memorize Bible verses. You might need to add to this, and certain steps might be more helpful for you than others, but this is a place to start:
1. Start small.
Don’t try to memorize the entire book of Romans for your first foray into Scripture memory. Instead, select one or two important passages. It’s perfectly acceptable to choose short verses at first. Remember, you’re not trying to impress your friends. The goal is to write God’s Word on your heart. Short verses can be as helpful as longer ones. For example, 1 Thessalonians 5:16 simply says, “Rejoice always!” Short and sweet, and very powerful.
2. Select memory verses by topic.
For example, you probably want to memorize a few verses about the gospel, in case you need to tell somebody about Jesus. You likely want to have some verses memorized about dealing with temptation, or confessing your sin, or guarding your thought life, or when and how to pray. Think about the areas of your spiritual life in which you need to grow, and select verses based on those topics. You can find tons of topical lists of Scripture online, of course. If you’re interested in a list of memory verses by topic that I’ve created, enter your email address at the bottom of this page and you’ll receive a document that includes 52 passages arranged by topic.
3. Write each verse on an index card.
From your list of verses, take the ones you want to memorize and jot each one down on its own card. That way you can carry it with you, or perhaps stick it on your bathroom mirror or on the dashboard of your car. It might even help you to keep the same verse in several places: one at your office, one in your car, one on your mirror, and so on. That way you’ll see it frequently. This allows you to read and think about the verse at regular intervals. You might be surprised how easily a verse gets into your mind when you simply see it all the time.
4. Repeatedly read the verse out loud.
It’s very important to read out loud, so find a place where you won’t be embarrassed and you won’t disturb people. Then just read it, over and over and over again. When I’m actively trying to memorize a verse, I might read it out loud 20-30 times before I try to recite it from memory. Reading out loud helps you create muscle memory; your vocal chords and your mouth will develop a habit of saying the verse.
5. Close your eyes and try to recite it from memory.
After you’ve read it over and over again out loud, simply close your eyes and see how much of it you can remember (unless you’re driving, of course – if you are, it’s probably a good idea to do this at stop lights). Say it from memory once or twice, and then look back at the card again. How close are you? Where did you get stuck? Take note of the spots you have difficulty remembering. Now look at your card and then try to say it again from memory. And again. And again.
6. Work on trouble spots.
If you’re in a longer passage, take a moment to go over the trouble spots repeatedly. Is there a word you keep getting wrong? Say that part over and over again until it’s drilled into your memory. Then say the entire verse again right away, so you can get the feel of saying it all together, along with the tougher parts.
7. Now find a friend to help you.
Hand the card to your friend or your spouse and ask them to check your memory. Encourage them to let you try to recite the entire verse from memory without help. Have them make a mental note of the spots where you get it wrong, so they can tell you at the end. Even if you get it perfectly right the first time, recite it to the other person at least 3-4 times in a row. If you miss something, keep trying until you get it right (or until the other person has somewhere else to go).
8. Review regularly.
Once you have the verse firmly fixed in your mind, review it regularly. Keep your index card and practice the verse every day. If you stop reciting it, you will forget it. It’s happened to me many times, unfortunately. Eventually, the verse will transfer into your long-term memory (just like that Tootsie roll commercial jingle from 1977 permanently fixed in your brain). Even then, however, you’ll want to recite it at least once every few days to keep it fresh.
9. Now add more verses.
Keep reciting your first memory verse regularly, but now add others one by one. Go through the same process with each verse. Eventually, you’ll have dozens of verses memorized that you can cycle through on a regular basis. But whatever you do, don’t stop reciting the older verses you’ve learned! Even as you add new ones, you have to keep reviewing the older ones.
10. BONUS: Memorize longer sections and entire books.
Once you have a good mental database of topical verses, work on memorizing longer sections. Perhaps you want to try to memorize an entire book of the Bible (years ago, I memorized the book of Philippians, and my spiritual life grew immensely as a result). In order to memorize a longer section, simply go one verse at a time using the process I’ve laid out here. Once you have the first verse firmly memorized, then work on the next verse. Then recite those two verses together, over and over again, until you can say both of them with no problems. Then add the third verse and do the same thing. Memorizing longer sections and entire books of the Bible takes time and dedication, but it’s worth the effort!
There you have it! Memorizing Scripture isn’t exactly easy, but it also isn’t that complicated either. It’s mostly a matter of perseverance and focus over a long period of time. Not too different from developing a consistent prayer life, which will probably be the subject of a future post. Happy memorizing!