Sunday 1 June 2014

How to start: Memorizing the Bible

In this post, I want to share my personal experience on the how of memorizing the Bible. I know of people who tried but gave up because they felt that their memory is not very good or it takes too much time or other reasons. There are also others who memorize selective verses and not the rest. All these I will explore in detail further down. 

In choosing which books of the Bible to start memorizing:
I personally started with Philippians at random because I didn't see the importance of memorizing initially. But for you who want to start after reading my previous post - Bible-saturation Benefits, I'd strongly recommend that you begin with an epistle. Epistles are essentially letters written by apostles of the early church to churches in other regions or to the church as a whole. Epistles because... practically they are much shorter as compared to the 4 gospels (Matthew, Luke, Mark and John) or Old Testament etc. Short is good because we won't be as easily daunted as memorizing, say, Genesis with 50 chapters or Exodus with 40. It'll be good to build up momentum with short books such that you'll have more confidence that this is actually doable. Furthermore, epistles are much more concise and so easier to understand, and I am rather tempted to call them a summary myself. Which epistle then? I think it's actually wise to ask God and also consider the season that you're in with your walk with God. For me, after 1 Peter I was actually going to 1 John and did for a few days. But during prayer I felt God wanted me to memorize James instead, so that's where I am now. And I think that impacted my walk with God significantly positively in this season. So ask God! I can't say for other books, but of what I've memorized, these are some of the extremely extremely rough summary of the books that I did memorize. (Please do not flame me, these are my own rough summaries!)

Galatians (6): Rebuking of straying from the gospel - corrects our understanding of the law and faith. Being justified by faith vs justified by observing the law.
Ephesians (6): Theology of salvation, grace and gifts, unity of the church and our proper response to these
Philippians (4): Joy and humility, and giving God our everything
Colossians (4): The glory of God, His supremacy and our born-again issues (i.e. New Creation)
1 Peter: (5) Suffering and also the work of Jesus, and to trust in Him and continue to live for Him. Also about judgment (1 Peter actually covers a multitude of issues so it's pretty hard for me to summarize, sorry!)
James (5): About suffering, the relationship between faith and deeds. And not judging and oppressing people, as well as how to not have confidence in wealth.
1 Corinthians (16): No idea, just started haha!

So you can choose these books if you think the summary of it is relevant to your current or incoming season or if God spoke to you about them. The numbers in the bracket are the number of chapter in each book, and the average number of verses per chapter is estimated to be about 20-23. However, if after all that you're still uncertain about which books to start with, then my personal recommendation is just start with Philippians. It's quite short and the verses are easy to remember and apply, since they are somewhat "instructional" verses. And because well, we always can do with more joy in our lives :)))

The Method of Memorizing:
How I started was that I memorized 3 verses a day. I make sure I can do at least 1 run-through of those 3 verses without referring to anything. And then I combine it with what I have learnt previously. So for example on day 1, I read Philippians 1:1-3 and make sure that I can rehearse them, whether by saying it out loud or running it through my mind, without referring to anything. Day 2, I rehearse Philippians 1:1-3 to recap (it's fine if you need to refer to the Bible because you forgot, but try to minimize doing so), and then I learn Philippians 1:4-6 and make sure I can do at least 1 run-through of v4-6 without referring to anything. Day 3, rehearse Philippians 1:1-6 (again, if need to refer, it's okay, but try to minimize, or do several times till you need not refer) and learn Philippians 1:7-9. This cycle goes on and on till you finish the entire Philippians. On the last day, you should be able to rehearse Philippians 1:1-4:23. It's not magic or anything complex, but just pure memory work.But I do admit that when you have a lot of other things to study or learn in school, it gets a lot harder to retain/memorize the verses. In such times, like during school term for example, I recommend that you cut down to perhaps only 2 or even 1 new verse each day. Then you can still sustain it. Or a personally more palatable solution is you just do intense memorization (4 or 5 verses a day) during holidays and during school term you just retain what you have already memorized. It still works! :P By the way, behind the memorization method, the main principle is REHEARSE DAILY. It matters less how you do it than the fact that you rehearse daily. Some people might recommend another method that essentially touches on the same principle. So just rehearse daily and it'll be fine!

Personally, what I learnt in day 1, I will only be able to commit to memory on day 3 or 4. That is why I say it is okay to need to refer to it when you're rehearsing what you learnt on previous days. As you keep repeating it, it'll eventually stick. I have a reasonably good memory, so perhaps 3 days for it to stick is fast. You might take longer, but I believe not by much, perhaps 4 days? But it's really easy and predictable after you get used to your own memorizing methods. And you can pre-empt how your mind works. For me, I know that I really absorb much better in the morning. So I like to take advantage of my morning travel time to school or after I wash-up in the morning to do it. I experimented and found that I'm much more effective at memorizing stuff in the morning than at night. 

As a side note, there is actually a large difference in difficulty of memorizing a 4-chapter book as compared to a 6-chapter book. This is because chapter 1, 2 and 3 are generally quite easy to remember. Because you will go through it first to reach the later chapters. However, as you accumulate more information in your mind, it becomes harder to hold on to the verses in chapter 4,5 and 6. So the difficulty of memorizing will go up exponentially, based on my experience. 

Update 3/3/2017:
After many more years of doing Bible Memorization and living in university, I admit that it is very challenging to continue putting information in my mind amidst all the work we have to do. Readings, biology, human anatomy, law cases. So I realize that there is a variation in the way memorization should be done over the course of the year. 

For myself, during the semester, I decided to do 10 new verses a week starting from Tuesday, till the next Tuesday. This is because in my timetable, Tuesday starts with no morning lessons and I have the space to track my progress and also test myself. So I will review all the verses that I had done for that chapter and run it through in my mind. I would also find ways to rehearse what I had memorized previously.

This number 10 is arbitrary, usually I will aim to get 7 done on the first day, and spend the rest of the 6 days practicing and digesting the entire 10 verse as much as I can. However, I feel that the 10 verses a week model of memorizing seems more effective for a more fluid/random schedule. It is okay to miss out 1 or 2 days of the 7 on practising, but with the 1-3 verse model, just missing 1 day can really affect the momentum a lot. My schedule became a lot more erratic and tiring in later part of the years, thus there were days where I just had no mindspace to practise (and it'll probably be a good idea to not overly strain our mind during terribly mind-stretched weeks). With the 10 verse a day, I had more flexibility to decide when to practise.

I think the most convenient time to practise memorizing is during travel time. I do it a lot myself, and repeat the practise up to 3 times (especially on days when I'm travelling a lot). I find that the more times its practised in the same day, the effect is exponentially increasing (this is especially useful for those of you who have "poor" memory :D)

The above is what I'm doing - something I devised knowing my own quirks, schedule and habits. I share this with the hopes that you will find ways to make this memorizing practice work for yourself :)

How to not forget it:
I find that after not rehearsing the previous books I've memorized for some time, my memory of these verses will get fuzzy. I find that generally the time period for the memory to go fuzzy enough that it bothers me is about 2 weeks plus (however even in such situations we will still be able to retain significant portions of it). The time frame gets shorter when there are intense things going through your mind, perhaps when you have an event to plan, a test to cram, or a lot of stuff happening in your life that demands your attention (especially during end of term exams ><) However, it does not take me long to recap it and be able to remember it without referring to it, I just need perhaps 2 or 3 rehearsals (while referring to the Bible) and I can remember them fully again. What this means is that it is wise that we continually rehearse/recap what we have memorized periodically: this problem becomes more prominent after you have memorized 2 books or more. 

Also, please do not hesitate to stop learning new verses such that you can consolidate what you have memorized thus far. An important reason why we cannot go too fast is because in that way, these verses cannot become part of our long-term memory. It's the same idea as how we mug for exam: We mug the entire semester's materials, remember it for a few days to go for exam, and a week later we can almost not recall anything we have learnt with good accuracy. (especially if its your first paper, by the end of your last paper, it's terribly difficult to remember what you learnt for the first paper's module). So unless your memory is really excellent or you have been diligently following my method above, it is wise to slow down and consolidate.

Additional details: For me, how I remember the whole long chain of verses is that I 'remember by association'. What this means is that I 'link' Philippians 1:1-3 and Philippians 1:4-6 via linking the words at the ending of v3 and the start of v4. So if I can remember v4, usually I can easily rehearse v1-6 with no issue. Same with v1-9. Another way to associate by using the main point of the verses. So for Phillippians 2, I remember v1-4 as one chunk and then v5-11 as another chunk. It makes logical sense. However, one of the effect of this is that sometimes I need to scroll through my mental Bible in my mind when I'm looking for verses: I would need to very quickly scroll through perhaps Philippians 1:1-20 in my mind to find the verse 20 that I want to use. But this would become less of a problem as you become more and more familiar and accurate. 

IMPORTANT: If you find that you cannot sustain doing this over the weeks/months/years, don't worry. What matters is that you persist, even if its on and off. Sometimes in life there are other things that take up more of our brain space (especially for students, I feel you!). It is fine to stop for a little while, but do not give up on it entirely. I often take advantage of holidays to set aside a routine time to pick it up again. After all, having more freedom to plan our own day's schedule will really help in creating space for us to continue memorizing! :)

Why not selective memorizing?
My take is that the time and effort you spent trying to figure out which verses you will most likely use and which aren't as relevant is better spent on memorizing them all. Furthermore, you really wouldn't know how the verses you think are irrelevant can one day save you or the people around you from sin or minister to people, as written in James 1:21b" and humbly accept the Word planted in you, which can save you." And anyway, we aim to memorize as much as possible, so why not just memorize all of it? :)

Update 3/3/2017:
I think something I didn't realize is that being familiar with all these passages is a lot more than a sum of its parts. Often when I read a particular epistle, I find that I instinctively would consider and think about similar or contrasting principles or verses found elsewhere. And at times I get to compare and relate these verses to each other to get a better picture of the passage or whatever was being said. It also pushes my mind to consider the different dimensions or implications of the verses under scrutiny. And this can only be done if I can summon these verses in my mind or at the very least have a vivid impression of what these verses mean. I find that having done a bible study on a particular passage before is okay, but not very sufficient to make such contrasts at a moment's notice. Making these verses instinctive would be necessary. 

In conclusion:
I would actually very much like to write on a section called 'How to invoke the Word - from Memory to Application'. But the truth is that I think for this, as long as you memorize the Word, application will naturally take place. The effort you put into even bothering to memorize it shows your desire for God's will in your life. Therefore I'm "being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Philippians 1:6. How God chooses to use the Word planted in you is up to Him. All I can say is that the whole point of memorizing the Word is such that "the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20b

Thank you for reading! I sincerely hope that you will see even more of God through this spiritual habit :) Do let me know if you want me to keep you accountable!

1 comment:

  1. Your two recent posts definitely show how important the Word is and how memorizing the Word can benefit us and the people around us. Thanks for sharing. It's a great encouragement for me to memorise the Word too