Full disclosure: You can’t memorize Scripture by accident; it does take effort. But if you put these following steps into practice, you will discover that it’s a lot easier than you think. These are the steps that I use to memorize Scripture, so I know they work and can help you.
Memorize Passages Rather Than Single Verses
Memorizing a long passage helps you keep what you’re memorizing in its context. The flow of the text aides the memorizing process. Many Scripture memorization plans are organized topically, which is fine but can be more difficult, since the memorized verses don’t flow together naturally. Also, context is important for rightly interpreting Scripture, so memorizing a verse in isolation from its context can lead to misunderstanding and misapplication of the truth in it. By memorizing passages, you are much less likely to misapply the verse because you retain the context.
Study the Passage You Are Memorizing
Study tools like commentaries or study Bibles can help you understand a passage of Scripture. Moreover, additional concentration on the passage anchors it in your memory. Remember Hebb’s law: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” In other words, the more ways you concentrate on a Bible passage, the more thoroughly that truth will be etched into your brain and the more direct access you will have to it.
Write Out the Passage
Handwriting passages further reinforces the memorization process. As you write, you continue to strengthen neuropathways that facilitate long-term memory. You may be tempted to type the text on a computer, but I advise against that because the physical experience of handwriting is more impactful on the memorization process than typing.
When I begin memorizing a new passage, I like to write down each verse on a separate 3 × 5 card. On one side of the card, I write down the reference, and on the other side, I write the verse. I know this sounds old school, but it works. The cards are easy to carry around in my pocket, put in the glove box in my truck, or tape to the mirror in my bathroom. When Susan was memorizing Ephesians, she taped dozens of these note cards to our bathroom mirror (so many, in fact, that at times, I could hardly see my reflection).
Especially if I’m memorizing a longer passage like Colossians 3:1-17, I sit down every few days and write out as much of the passage as I can remember. This reinforces what I have already memorized but also helps me to identify words that I have forgotten.
Because 3 × 5 cards are easy to misplace, I also like to type the verses into an app on my cell phone. This keeps everything in one place and makes reviewing the passage easy. Once I have a passage memorized, I like to review it periodically to keep it fresh.
Review the Passage Three Times a Day
The more often you review a passage, the more deeply you encode it to memory. I recommend reviewing your 3 × 5 cards a minimum of three times a day. You might even want to write out multiple copies of your note cards so you can keep them handy in different places—next to your bed so you can review them the first thing in the morning and right before you go to sleep, at your workspace so you can review them throughout the day, and in your purse or backpack so you can review them during your lunch break. If you read through your 3 × 5 cards three times a day for thirty days, you will have reviewed the passage over ninety times; the repetition alone will help you memorize the passage.
Recite the Passage Out Loud
I’m often surprised at how hard it is to recite a passage out loud, especially in front of others, even when I have it memorized. It’s easy to get distracted when I’m looking at people or when I hear myself repeat the verses out loud. But I recommend making this part of your memorizing strategy. Say the verses out loud when you’re driving in your car. People might look at you funny when you pull up to a stoplight, but who cares—it works.
Record Yourself Reading the Passage
I recommend recording yourself reading your notecards and listening to them when you’re driving or exercising. Make sure you read the passage slowly, so you can concentrate on specific words and phrases.
Memorizing Scripture takes effort because it requires focused attention. But whatever effort it takes, it’s worth it. Memorizing Scripture might be the most important spiritual discipline you can practice for Christ-formation.
Taken from Unhindered Abundance: Restoring Our Souls in a Fragmented World by Ken Baugh. Copyright ©2021. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.
Ken Baugh was a successful pastor before a crippling experience of burnout disrupted his career and set him on a journey to better understand the dynamics of spiritual health. With a DMin from Talbot Theological Seminary, Ken is the founder and CEO of IDT Ministries. His latest book, Unhindered Abundance: Restoring Our Souls in a Fragmented World, releases from NavPress in February 2021.