When I think of Scripture memory, I think of learning Bible verses as a child with my family and with friends. I remember memorizing core Scripture verses in school and reciting them in chapel. When I think of memorizing God’s Word, terms like ‘repetition’, ‘review’ and ‘perfect recall’ come to mind and I usually don't associate my own forgetfulness with the formation of a new memory! However, though it may seem counterintuitive, there is an aspect of forgetting that plays an important role in forming a memory and remembering a bit or byte of information long-term.
When we talk about reading God’s word and remembering it later, it’s important to keep in mind that long-term memory and reflexive recall is highly valuable in real world situations. Memories take time to mature, settle and become ingrained in our thinking, but when they do, they offer a resource that we can draw upon in our time of need. It is no good to the Christian soldier if his sword is buried beneath piles of equipment, instead, it must be girded, sharp and easily accessible. When we have stored up God’s word in our heart, the Holy Spirit of God can use this knowledge to accomplish his will in making us more like him, and in helping us live victoriously by obeying Jesus’ commandments.
Therefore, it’s important to know the truth on a level that leaves little room for doubt. It should be effortless to run a sequence of verses in your mind and see God’s truth in your heart. But sometimes it’s not… in fact, many times it’s not easy to remember what we doubtless memorized verbatim just days or weeks before! But even then, all is not in vain because when we read the Bible and focus our minds on what is excellent and praiseworthy, we are worshiping God in that moment and slowly becoming more like him. The process of sanctification comes in many shapes and forms, and one of the classical spiritual disciplines of the Christian faith has been and still is simple meditation. Christian meditation is not necessarily linked to memorization. You can meditate on God’s truth without memorizing the text but you cannot memorize the text without meditating on it.
A WORD ON MEDITATION
Christian meditation is focusing your mind on something holy, pure, good and divine - namely, the words of God. From my understanding, eastern, non-Christian meditation is focusing your mind on the equivalent of nothing, or trying to empty your mind and not think about anything.
For more insight into Scripture memory and how you can remember God's word, read the article: "How to Memorize Scripture: a Definitive Guide".
A WORD ON FORGETTING
Back to the main thrust of this article - there is an aspect of forgetting that plays an important role in forming a memory and remembering a bit or byte of information long-term. This may seem positively absurd to one with a keen memory, while on the other hand positively delightful to someone who struggles with memory retention! How can this be? Is it possible that human error in recording and remembering information can actually help form a long-term thought pattern? The answer is yes.
HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?
The answer is simple. When you forget a word or sequence in a Bible verse, your mind auto error-corrects by highlighting the mistake. It’s pretty clear when you can’t remember something! Once the mistake has been identified, it can be fixed and strengthened in several ways.
THE FIRST (AND BEST) WAY TO FIX AN ERROR
The first way to fix an error is to actively try finding the solution (ie. word or phrase) in your mind, apart from seeing or hearing the correct answer. This approach is natural and usually happens automatically as you search for the answer in your mind. This method is most effective because it relies on your brain sending electrical impulses through the neural pathway for that particular memory sequence. Memories are pathways of electrical circuits in the brain, connecting neurons together by the synapse. The key takeaway, here, is that correcting the error on your own, without external helps, is the strongest and most effective way to repair a weak memory. However, it is often not possible to recall the newly formed memory completely and without error on your own. The new info is simply too fragile to be re-created correctly in your mind and unfortunately, by repeatedly thinking about the wrong sequence of words, you can actually create a new long-term memory that is wrong! Not to worry - the second method is easy and nearly as effective for creating long-term memories!
THE SECOND WAY TO FIX AN ERROR
The second way to fix an error is to see or hear the correct answer (ie. the Bible verse). As soon as this happens, your mind will re-establish the pathway that was created at the time of initial learning. This method usually requires nothing more than a quick glance at the target Bible verse in order to pick up the correct wording or sequence.
BE INTENTIONAL ABOUT CORRECTING MISTAKES
At this point, it’s important to be intentional about remembering what you forgot. I know that seems obvious, but you need to be creative and curious about any specific error correction in a Bible verse. You can do this any way that makes sense to you. Some people make a mental note, others prefer including kinesthetics to help involve more parts of the brain and body. Creativity, curiosity and intentionality will help give context to the proper wording / sequence of the verse. Although these techniques are subtle and short-term in nature, they can add just enough energy to the equation to initiate the proper memory pattern.
Although reading and / or listening to the target verse later on is a great way of reinforcing and reviewing a memory, you should not rely on seeing and / or hearing the Bible verse for activation and recall every time you can’t remember it immediately. If you rely on a visual aid (ie. the verse text) or auditory stimuli (ie. hearing the verse spoken aloud) to remember a Bible verse, the time it takes to memorize will increase and retention rate will decrease.
RETENTION WILL DECREASE
If you rely on external aids to help you remember a Bible verse, retention will decrease because the following is what ends up happening. You think of the verse you’re trying to memorize and you instinctively reach for your Bible or your flash card… and invariably, without a substantial amount of planning, effort and habit, you won’t have the visual aid with you or it won’t be appropriate or safe to find it or, for whatever reason, you just won’t be able to look at it. Because this process relies on a physical aid and inherently takes longer, it breaks down as an effective method to create many permanent, long-term memories.
NEW MEMORIES ARE FRAGILE
The fragile nature of a short-term memory requires frequent and organic review that comes from internal brain power. If this is done consistently, over the course of several days, you will have effectively created a much more stable medium to long-term memory that is nearly effortless to recall at will. To facilitate this frequent and required review, it is necessary that the target Bible verse be sufficiently ensconced in the learner’s short-term memory. The target verse must be recalled organically from the mind, though often with difficulty, without any visual or auditory aid.
Our proprietary audio-visual memorization lessons last approximately 10 minutes and are available for nearly any memorizable verse in the Bible! They provide the immersive learning environment necessary to lay the initial foundation for a short-term memory that can be organically reviewed within the next 24 hours.
Take heart, whether you remember or forget God’s word, you are being shaped more into his image and into his likeness, if you continue in the faith as you were taught (assuming the teaching is sound, biblical exposition).
If you are reading God’s precious word and meditating on his promises, then the outcome of remembrance is of less importance than the process itself. Whether you are remembering everything or forgetting most of it, the important thing is that your heart and soul are interacting with God by listening to his words and heeding them in your life-action and attitude. Although communion with God and obedience to Christ is paramount, remembering his word is an effective way to set your mind on the things of the Spirit.
May God be with your spirit.
The following is a list of passages that would be a good starting point for Christian meditation and memorization today! Click the verse reference link to start the lesson!
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. John 15:7
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6