How to memorise Scripture
Make no mistake about it, this is a discipline and requires a disciplined, determined approach. Apart from anything else the enemy of your soul will do everything he can to deter you.
Resolve to do SOMETHING. Whether it be one verse day, one verse a week or whatever. Something is always better than nothing
Start with a fairly short passage or section, accomplish that and then go on to something a little more demanding. Perhaps start with a Psalm, or a short book like Jude; then go on to a section of a book – perhaps the Sermon on the Mount and so on.
The best way to memorise Scripture is not to focus on isolated, individual verses – though there are many we should store up in our hearts – but passages of Scripture, whole sections of a book, whole Psalms or whole books. Not only is it much easier to learn, for example, 6 consecutive verses than 6 individual verses, it reinforces the context and aids in understanding the truths of Scripture.
Pray as you set about memorising; pray while you are memorising; pray when you’ve finished memorising. Ask the Lord to help you memorise his word. Pray for an appreciation of the truths contained in the verse(s) you are memorising, for an increased understanding of its teachings and for a desire to live it out. Ask, with confidence, for God’s help as you set about the task. After all, you are being obedient to a clear command of Scripture.
This work requires care and thoroughness. Concentration means working for accuracy and includes repetition until you have fully mastered a text. Study and repeat the text over and over again until you can say it without hesitation or deviation.
It’s actually much easier to memorise a verse or verses if you really understand it/them. Think hard about the meaning of the verse; get under the skin of it, following the logic and reasoning. This is a great help in memorising anything, and especially God’s word.
Knowing texts is never enough; they need to be put to good use. Acquire the habit of turning your memorised verses into prayer and quote them sensibly when you pray, privately and in public. To hear quoted Scripture, used in context, of course, in public prayer often brings a sense of authority and assurance to those gathered for worship.
The more you memorise Scripture, the more you will find your own thinking transformed by it. This often comes out in witnessing, when the reasoning and logic you use in speaking to someone is far beyond your own, natural, intellectual ability.
The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else. One of the commands Paul gave Timothy in his last recorded letter is to “guard the good deposit” (2 Timothy1:14), and he spends most of the rest of that letter telling Timothy that the best way to guard the truths of God’s Word is to teach them and preach them to others.
The Scripture memorisation programme which is part of the College course is only meant to be a starting block for you, to get you into the habit of memorising Scripture so that you can begin a discipline that will last you, God willing, for the rest of your life and ministry. Resolve before God, and with his help, that you will commit yourself to this, no matter how ‘low’ or ‘high’ you set the bar. Whether you commit to learning one verse a day for the rest of your life or one verse a week, commit to something. Your ministry may depend on it. Your spiritual growth and vitality may depend on it.
The Six ‘R’s of Scripture Memorisation
There is good evidence to back up the claim that the physical act of writing something down actually begins the process of embedding it in your mind and memory.
Even in this digital, technological age, I strongly recommend the use of small cards; e.g. the standard 5×3 filing card. This means you can carry a small pile around with you at all times and snatch brief opportunities for reciting and reviewing; as you stand in a queue, wait for an appointment or even as you walk down the road.
- write individual verses on individual cards
- include the full biblical reference
- if necessary, divide the verse up into phrases that will help to memorise it
- double check to make sure you have written the text accurately
- read the verse out loud, including the reference, and using appropriate expression; this aids meditation, comprehension and retention
- read the verse in this way ten times
- as you read, visualise the words on the card in your memory; memorisation is partly visual
When you have read the verse, including the reference, ten times, turn the card over and recite the verse from memory ten times.
e.g. “Ephesians 6.10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might”
- each day, review verses already learned before learning new ones
The absolute key to effective Scripture memorisation and retention is repeatedly reviewing the verses you have memorised day after day and week after week. In fact, the received wisdom is that you have not really memorised a verse until you have repeated it on 100 consecutive days. Saying a verse 100 times in one day is not as helpful as saying it every day for 100 days.
It is important, from time to time, to check what you are remembering, and what is written on your card, against Scripture itself. Read the passage aloud, reciting it from memory and occasionally you will discover that you have either made a mistake in writing it down or in memorising it, or both. Take time to correct it.
If you are going to retain the verses you have memorised and if you are going to benefit from a life-long discipline of Scripture Memorisation, you need, from day 1, to establish a review routine and build it into your daily programme, along with your daily devotions.
Here is the sort of routine you need to adopt to get the best out of memorising God’s Word. For example, let’s assume that you want to learn Psalm 1, at the rate of one verse a day you could follow this routine which you can download for reference.
If you want to memorise at the rate of one verse every two days instead, follow this outline.
My approach is a very simplified version of something I learned some years ago from Dr Andrew Davis’ really helpful booklet ‘An Approach to Extended Memorization of Scripture‘. At the last count, Davis has committed 42 books of the Bible to memory, spending, I believe, on average 15 minutes a day to doing so. A kindle version of his booklet is available on Amazon.
I downloaded a previous version of his notes, in pdf format, some years ago, and you can find it here. I highly commend it to you. It will not only instruct you, it will inspire you.