only help my unbelief

Retaining Scripture you’ve already memorized
January 12, 2009, 8:00 am
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Most people, given a few minutes during the day, can memorize something. Even if you have a cell phone, you probably have numerous phone numbers memorized. You know addresses of family members. You might know your license plate number. You know your social security number.

So it’s really not that difficult to sit down and memorize a verse of Scripture, even a longer verse. If it’s already familiar, even better. Take a verse I memorized last week, 1 John 3:1

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

If you spend 10 minutes right now reading that verse out loud several times, then repeating it without looking several times, you could probably memorize it.

That’s all well and good, but will you be able to remember it tomorrow?

As I’m working on memorizing the book of 1 John, making sure I’m retaining the verses I’ve already memorized is more and more important. When I was working on 1 John 1:6, it wasn’t so hard to quickly repeat the first five verses. Even when I was into chapter 2, it wasn’t so bad, because there were only 10 verses in the first chapter. But last week I finished chapter 2, which, added to chapter 1, means I’ve memorize 39 verses. It actually takes a fair amount of time to repeat those back – and I also want to memorize a new verse every day.

For several weeks, I did repeat all the verses I had learned almost every day. But as time went on, I realized that I knew some of the earlier verses so well, I didn’t really need to keep repeating them. At the same time, before I continued on to chapter 3, I wanted to make sure I knew 1 John 2 backwards and forwards, especially since there were some verses I had stumbled over. I developed a simple system of checking myself. This takes about 30 minutes, depending on how much your reviewing, but it’s worth the time if you retain the verses.

Many of these principles I gleaned from the helpful article An Approach to the Extended Memorization of Scripture. The author discusses ”weeding the garden” (reading through passages you’ve already memorized to catch stray words) as well as picking a time each week to review certain passages.

1. Review a chapter at a time.

I started by opening up a blank document in Microsoft Word and typing out 1 John 1, which each verse on a different line beginning with the verse number. When I finished that, I checked it with my Bible.

2. If you don’t have any trouble with that chapter, plan a time to review it.

I didn’t miss any words, so I decided that I would relegate that chapter to a specific time each week. I chose Sunday afternoons, so I wrote that in my planner.

3. For longer chapters, review the verses out of order.

Now for 1 John 2. This chapter was interesting to memorize, because some parts of it were very familiar – like verses 2 and 15 through 17 – but others were completely unfamiliar.

It’s also taken me more than a month to memorize this chapter, so I wanted to make sure I really, really knew it. I also wanted to make sure that I knew each verse individually with its verse number. It’s helpful to know it no matter what, but if someone asked me what 1 John 2:20 said, I didn’t want to have to quietly say the first 19 verses.

To test myself, I opened another Word document and began typing in random numbers on each line (8, 17, 26, etc.) until I had all the numbers 1 through 29.

From there, I just typed whatever verse went with each number. They were out of order, so I couldn’t cheat by knowing what verse came around it.

After I finished, I checked what I had typed with my Bible. Out of the 29 verses, there were 11 that weren’t quite right.

4. Review problem verses until you’re sure of them.

In most of them, I had forgotten a word like ”but” or ”that,” but I wanted to be exact. I deleted all the verses I had gotten right, jotted down the 11 verse numbers I needed to work on, and then re-did the Word document randomly typing those 11 numbers on each line.

I then repeated what I had done earlier by typing in the verses again. Because checking them in my Bible had refreshed my memory, I was able to correctly enter in 10 of the 11 verses on the second try. For that last verse, I just typed it in correctly several times to remind myself.

5. Continue choosing specific times each week to review passages you’ve mastered.

Even though I had pretty much convinced myself I knew those verses, I was concerned that I was a little shaky on the second half of the chapter, mostly because I often memorized those verses in packs of 2 or 3, instead of one at a time (because I slacked off and got behind).

Just to make sure, I decided that I would relegate 1 John 2:1-17 to Sunday afternoons along with 1 John 1, because I haven’t had any problems with those verses. For 1 John 2:18-29, though, I’ll keep repeating those every day for the next couple of weeks (maybe until I’m done with 1 John 3).

For those of you who aren’t as technical or who feel like this is a chore, then adjust it to your life. Maybe you’d rather write out verses, or maybe you don’t have any problems reviewing 40 or 50 verses a day, and you don’t need my system at all. But for those of you who are placing an emphasis on memorizing Scripture and are worried about retaining those verses over time, I hope that my method helps.