Think of something you’ve “memorized” without really trying. Movie lines? Song lyrics? Recipes? Now, let me ask you – How did you do it? Maybe a more telling question is – How did you not do it? You did not memorize a movie line without watching the movie first. You did not memorize a line in a song without first listening to the song. You did not memorize a recipe one ingredient at a time.
Whether we’re talking about lines from a movie, lyrics to a song, or ingredients and steps to a recipe – you didn’t start with memorizing. You started with internalizing. You started with knowing it, understanding it, even loving it! When you apply the same mindset and approach to the Bible you – yes, YOU! – will be able to remember way more verses, chapters, and whole books than you ever thought possible.
DISCLAIMER: This one blog post isn’t meant to be a book. It’s a blog post. I have written entire books on my approach to reading, enjoying, studying, and internalizing the Bible. After reading this post, if you’re interested in more, I would recommend starting with this book, then move on to this book. And if you’re a video person, I’ve put the entire method together into a series called Relational Bible Study™. You can check that out here.
Today we’re going to look at the five guidelines that will help you internalize and memorize one Bible verse…or one hundred! These are the same guidelines I have used to internalize more than ten entire books of the Bible over the last 25 years.
Guideline 1: Learn the Story First.
This was one of the first pieces of advice I received from Bruce Kuhn – the very first person I had ever seen “present” an entire book of the Bible from memory. I was so moved by his performance, I took him to lunch the next day. Of course, I asked him How in the world do you memorize that much of the Bible?!
He simply said this,
Memorize the story first. Then use the words on the page to tell the story.”
The way I have frequently put it is this,
Read the passage over and over until you can say it in your own words. Once you can say it in your own words, learning the words on the page is nowhere near as difficult.”
Our brains learn a story at a time, not a word (or verse) at a time. Think of it this way…the Gospel of John has 879 verses. Memorizing 879 verses is brutally hard. Internalizing 35-40 stories is way easier!
Guideline 2: Repeat to Remember. Remember to Repeat.
Have you heard this phrase before?
Repetitio mater studiorum est.”
What? You don’t speak Latin? Hmmm…maybe you’ve heard her English counterpart…
Repetition is the mother of all learning.”
The beauty of repetition is that repetition works. What we repeat, we remember. In John Medina’s fantastic book – Brain Rules – his chapters on short-term memory and long-term memory each have a subtitle. Add them together and you have this guideline: Repeat to remember. Remember to repeat.
Here’s the bullet-point version:
- If you want to learn something you need to repeat it.
- When you repeat it, it will start to stick.
- The more you repeat it the stronger the memory will become.
- The more you repeat it with emotion and visualization the more it will become part of your longer term memory.
- The more consistent you are with the timing and spacing intervals of your repetition, the more the memory will be cemented into your mind.
People ask me if I still have to review the books I have internalized. The simple answer is…Yes. The slightly longer answer is…Yes, and that’s awesome. After all, my goal is not to get to the point where I don’t have to read or meditate on the Bible. The more I internalize, the more I enjoy returning to God’s Word again and again.
You can remember Guidelines 1 and 2 by reading – and rereading – this phrase:
Guideline 3: Use a Physical Bible.
Our brains love associations. We remember where we were when certain events happened. We remember what significant people were wearing or what we were doing when we met them.
When it comes to internalizing the Bible, the visual association of using a physical Bible can’t be overstated. The powerful impact of reading large portions of the Bible in a physical Bible will drastically speed up the process of internalization, as well as getting it to “stick” longer.
If you want to internalize the Bible more quickly – and remember it long-term – use a physical Bible.
Guideline 4: Speak Up!
We remember a little bit of what we see. We remember a little more of what we hear. We remember much more of what we see and hear at the same time. This is true, even if what you hear is the sound of your own voice.
Reading what you want to internalize out loud will be one more way your brain will make connections and establish memories. This can be a combination of a few different “out loud” formats.
One: When you’re internalizing, read out loud (with emotion).
Two: Occasionally, read your physical Bible while listening to an audio Bible of the same translation. (NOTE: If you’re internalizing the Christian Standard Bible – my go-to translation – you can check out my audio Bible at www.StorytellerBible.com. Otherwise, there are lots of good audio Bibles in almost every translation built into the YouVersion Bible app.)
Three: When you’re driving, instead of cranking the stereo, put on an audio Bible. You can buy CDs or stream from an app. There are simple versions, dramatic versions, free versions, and paid versions. Mix it up to keep it interesting. If you apply Guideline 2 (repeat), you’ll find yourself talking along after a while.
Quick Story: I once returned to speak at a church a year after I had spoken the first time. A man came up extremely excited and said, “Last time you were here, I bought your CDs. My commute is 30 minutes. The book of Romans is just under an hour. I would listen to half on the way to work and half on the way home. After a couple months I was talking along with you. I can’t believe I know the entire book of Romans!”
Guideline 5: Review at Different Speeds (for Different Reasons).
At the end of Guideline 2, I mentioned the need to repeat. I wanted to specifically call out how to repeat – or review – what you’re internalizing. I review what I’m internalizing at three different speeds. Each speed has a different purpose.
When I have something down pretty well, I will practice at a very fast speed. Reviewing a passage of Scripture really fast will help the words simply flow out. It will show you whether you have it down or not. You will quickly be able to identify the parts that need more concentrated work, because you will have to slow down or pause. Fast review will also enable the other two speeds – Medium and Slow.
Medium…for the Message
When you review at a medium speed, you will be able to ponder the overall message, feel, and flow of the passage. You will make connections between verses that are separated by other verses (or even a few paragraphs). You will be reinforcing your memory as well as feeling more and more like you’re in a conversation with the Author. (That’s fun. Really fun.)
This does not have to be done sitting in a chair with your eyes closed. (Although that’s fantastic if you can!) However, sometimes I will take the time spent walking to get my daughter from school, a short car ride, or the few minutes I’m in the shower to slowly review a passage I am internalizing. I will ponder – and pray through – each sentence, phrase, or word. I will give myself permission to pause. To listen. To be still. To notice. To simply be present with God as I slowly meditate on His Word.
All three speeds will reinforce your internalization. They will also contribute to your relationship with God. And if you’ve known me very long, you know I believe God meant for His Word to be read and studied relationally…not informationally.
In the next two blog posts we will look at what not to do as well as specific help for lists and details. For now, grab your physical Bible and read a big chunk of it. Out loud. Then do it again. (wink)