Do you want to commit more of God’s Word to your memory? It is a noble endeavor, and there are many ways to go about it. Here is one way that can help you engrave God’s Word in your mind. It does require effort and perseverance, but it is attainable when you approach it with an effective plan.
The first step is to approach this worthy and life-changing challenge with a positive mindset. This requires godly, inspired determination. Know that you can accomplish anything that is in line with God’s Word with His help (Matthew 19:26; John 14:13-14). John 14:26 says one wonderful benefit of God’s Holy Spirit is that it can help us remember. This is a promise from our God, who cannot lie (Titus 1:2).
Here are seven steps to etch God’s Word in your mind.
1) Select scriptures to memorize
Choose the scriptures you want to memorize. If you are taking a class that assigns memory work, this is already done for you. However, you will often come across key scriptures that you would like to etch in long-term memory during Bible studies, sermonettes, sermons and lectures, or while reading articles or booklets. If you are taking notes, consider marking these passages with an asterisk as an indicator that you want to memorize them.
An additional and highly recommended step is to keep a list of memory scriptures in a notebook or as an electronic list. This is especially helpful over time, so that you can see what scriptures you have learned. Also, if you ever lose a batch of flash cards, it’s much easier to figure out which cards you lost.
What do you mean, flash cards? you wonder. I’m glad you asked!
2) Write out flash cards
Using your list of scriptures, write out your flash cards. You can use blank 3-by-5 cards or other small slips of paper. Write the book, chapter and verse reference on one side of the card and the full verse on the other. Once you have written out the flash card, put a check mark beside the asterisk in your notes or mark the verse as complete on your list.
It is recommended to write out the scripture by hand as this aids both in helping you remember the scripture and in comprehension. Studies have shown that most people naturally pick up on more details when writing than typing. Recall is also improved by writing. Also, when we review our handwritten flash cards, our brains recognize our writing, which aids with recall. These benefits are diminished or become nonexistent if we type out scriptures or select them from an electronic Bible memory application such as BibleMemory.com. However, a Bible memory application may be a good secondary tool to use.
3) Read each scripture in context
There are probably a number of scriptures that, although you can’t give the exact chapter and verse reference, you know exactly where they are on the page in your Bible. This visualization can also aid in recall. When you look up each verse, read not only the scripture, but perhaps the entire section or chapter to get the context of the verse or verses you want to memorize.
This step may seem like it is slowing you down, but in fact, it is doing just the opposite. In our fast-paced society, we want our desires to be fulfilled right now. However, this part of the process is a time to slow down and dig deeper. Knowing the context of the scriptures will help you establish long-term associations. In this case, you are looking for other well-known or significant passages that are close by that you can associate with your chosen memory verse. Again, this helps with providing context and enables you to link (associate) one scripture with another.
4) Make associations
Research has shown that we can significantly improve our memories by creating associations. Memory associations are made when you establish a relationship in your mind between items.
You might do this when you are trying to learn someone’s name. If you meet a person named Albert, you might think to yourself, “He seems pretty sharp,” and associate him with Albert Einstein. You already know about Einstein and have an established memory of him. You have now linked your knowledge of him with this Albert, rather than just trying to remember his name in isolation. This basic association will significantly improve your ability to recall his name.
We can do similar associations with scriptures. As an example, turn to Ephesians 2:8-9. This passage explains that you are saved by grace through faith. Earlier in the chapter is a well-known scripture about Satan. Verse 2 informs us that he is the prince of the power of the air. You can link these two scriptures together by thinking of how Satan has deceived most of mankind about what grace truly is.
Hopefully you’ve read the above scriptures in your physical Bible. The visual associations of where the scripture is located on the page will also help with recall and establishing context.
Another verse that comes right before Ephesians 2:2 is Ephesians 1:22. (Notice the similarity of 2:2 and 22.) This verse in chapter 1 puts things in the proper perspective—Christ is in charge. One helpful strategy is to memorize these verses together.
Initially, we wanted to memorize what it says in Ephesians 2:8-9. Now we are memorizing two other scriptures: Ephesians 2:2 and Ephesians 1:22. Some will think, Bonus! But others may think, What? More scriptures to memorize?
It might appear as if you are increasing the time it takes to memorize a scripture, but in fact, you are making it easier on yourself. It also provides the benefit of engraving more of God’s Word in your mind!
By memorizing these two additional scriptures, you are creating associations in your mind. You have created stored memories about each scripture. Then you have linked them together. This linking significantly improves your ability to recall this information.
The wonderful thing is, the more scriptures you learn, the easier it is to make associations with previously learned scriptures.
You also can think up a story that can be associated with the numbering.
If you are an artistic or visual person, perhaps you can draw an image on your flash card (on the side where the scriptural reference is listed). It will remind you of exactly what the scripture says when you see the picture. Even if you are not a fantastic artist, a simple drawing can prove very helpful (and stimulate the creative portion of your brain, which can—with repetitive use—increase your problem-solving and recall abilities).
As an example, if you are having difficulty remembering Ephesians 3:9, even after contextually linking it with the above three scriptures, you might draw a picture on the card. Perhaps the picture could be a simple rectangle, denoting a book, with three letters drawn vertically on it—MOA. Then off to the side, it could read, “x 3.” The “MOA” not only provides context for the verse, but it is also a visual reminder; the three letters help you recall that this verse is in chapter 3. The “x 3” tells you to multiply it by 3 to get the verse. Most people will remember their hand-drawn picture when they think about the verse, and over time, it will help them recall the scriptural reference. If you have also linked this scripture with Ephesians 1:22; 2:2 and 2:8-9, then you likely will never forget where this scripture is located.
Find what associations or combination of associations works best for you, and use it. Don’t limit yourself to just one chapter or one book when making these associations. Linking to related verses on a particular topic is a helpful way to learn and memorize scriptures. Perhaps another memory verse has the same chapter-verse combination, which makes it another good association to make.
Before moving to the next step, be sure to write new flash cards for any additional scriptures that have been used as associations.
5) Do a focused first review
When learning a new set of scriptures, select a few at a time. Don’t overwhelm yourself. This can be easy to do in the excitement of starting a new project. Three to seven scriptures is a good place to start.
After reading the context and making associations, begin reviewing your flash cards. Review them until you get all of them correct.
For the first week, you might keep your new cards separate from the rest of your scripture cards so you can give them added attention. After that, mix them in with your other cards.
When you get a card right, move it to the back of the stack or set it on a table. If you miss a card or are struggling with it, slot it back in to be reviewed. Once you’ve gone through all of your cards without having to slot any back in, you’re done.
If you can repeat this exercise within 30 minutes to an hour, it will significantly improve the ease at which you can recall information.
6) Look up missed scriptures
When you can’t remember a scripture at all, look it up in your Bible. This is a very important step in locking the scripture into long-term memory. Don’t shortchange yourself and skip this step. You will most likely want to just keep moving and get the scripture right by sheer review, but taking a few minutes to be reminded of the context and reinforce the visual cues of where it is located on the page and its connection with other important passages will greatly assist your long-term memory.
In this way, the “slow way” is actually the “fast way.” Often this is the hardest step to implement, but its effectiveness is well worth the effort.
7) Daily review flash cards
Hebrews 5:14 reads, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” We all desire the strong meat of God’s Word. If we hunger and thirst for it, God promises to fill us (Matthew 5:6). This happens by “reason of use.”
The word “use” in this verse means habit, or by implication, practice. We need the habit of daily immersing ourselves in God’s Word. In this case, we can do it by reviewing scriptures daily.
Review is like walking down a path. The more we walk it, the more established it becomes and the easier the information will be to recall. God knows exactly how our brains work—He created them. He is telling us how we can grow in our spiritual understanding of His Word: by reason of use, or by daily review and daily learning.
If you really want to know the scriptures, go through them using the scriptural reference side of the card (e.g. “Hebrews 4:12”). Look at the chapter and verse reference, and try to repeat the words of the verse as close to verbatim as possible without flipping the card over. When memorizing scriptures word for word, it can also be quite helpful to write it out multiple times or use an app like Scripture Typer.
Keep it interesting. As you amass more and more scriptures, keep them in groups, and periodically review each group. You are sure to find that revisiting scriptures is like becoming acquainted with an old friend each and every time. The rewards for this friendship are priceless.
Sidebar: Think Up a Story
Coming up with hypothetical situations, stories and examples also can help us remember. A number of years ago, I had the opportunity to teach third and fourth grade Bible. I asked a particular student named Luke if he would help me with an example. He agreed.
I asked him, “Luke, could I trust you to manage—responsibly use—this $1 bill, if I gave it to you?”
“Yes!” he responded, with a big smile.
“Now Luke, what if I gave you a $5 bill too? Would you be faithful—responsible—with it too?”
He affirmed that he would, with an even bigger smile.
I continued: “Now, I have a $10 bill here too. Would you be faithful with it as well?”
“So how much would that be? We started with the lowest (least) bill and went up to a $10 bill—a $1, $5 and $10 bill.”
“It would be $16.”
“OK, I have one last question for you. Could you also be trusted—be faithful—in handling the smallest of coins (size-wise)—the dime?”
Then I asked the class: “What is the total amount?”
They said, “$16.10.”
“That’s the scripture: Luke 16:10.”
That little story can help us remember the passage found in Luke 16:10: “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.”
Sidebar: Associations Outside of a Book
As we know, the Bible is laid out like a jigsaw puzzle, here a little and there a little (Isaiah 28:10). You will often find that related scriptures are in different books. It can be advantageous to memorize them together.
Here is an example. Two of the main descriptions of Satan’s origin, fall from power, and destructive methods are in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28. First, we might note the first letter of each of these books is “I” and “E”. We associate this with the commonly used abbreviation of the Latin “i.e.” meaning “that is.” This is helpful because we have now created an association that will help us remember. The abbreviation “i.e.” is now associated with the two books that contain these descriptions about Satan.
Now let’s look at the TWO chapters: 14 and 28. Fourteen (from Isaiah) times TWO is 28 (the chapter in Ezekiel). Now we have a simple math association to help us remember the TWO chapters.
What about the verses? As it turns out, both sets of scriptures cover the subject of Satan primarily in verses 12–17. Bonus!
When this is reinforced with all seven steps, you will be better able to remember these two scriptural passages—Isaiah 14:12-17 and Ezekiel 28:12-17.
As you add memory scriptures, consult your existing list of memorized scriptures and see if there are possible numeric associations that you can make or other ways you can creatively tie them together. Again, this helps etch long-term memories on our minds.
Sidebar: Take the Challenge
Sometimes the hardest part of getting started is knowing where to start. If you would like to have some initial memory scriptures to get things moving, consider these.
It’s been said it takes about three weeks to establish a habit, and sometimes longer for more challenging habits. While you are learning these scriptures, begin selecting more to add to the mix. Remember to review the prior weeks’ scriptures. If you’re consistent, you’ll find that this goes relatively quickly.
If seven scriptures seem too much, try three or four at time. Learn them in groups that make sense for you.
Looking down the road to when you have a large number of scriptures memorized, remember to review older batches from time to time. If it is a large stack, break it down into small piles to make it more manageable to come back up to speed. If you can’t remember the scripture reference at all, look it up. This is the fastest way to lock it into long-term memory. The fruits of your labor will not go unnoticed. God will reward your hungering and thirsting for His Word. Remember to ask Him for help with this project.
Get started today! And don’t stop! Persevere, and let God’s mind be in you (Philippians 2:5).