As I noted last time, thinking deeply on God’s Word is easier to accomplish if you have it in your head—and your heart. The obvious way to accomplish that is by memorizing it. I’ve written on that before, but I’d like to extend those thoughts more specifically here.
Everyone can memorize—in fact, all of us do. There are learning disabilities that make memorization more difficult, or in some cases impossible, but the great majority of people can memorize large quantities of material reliably. Doing so requires just one thing: regular, spaced repetition. Now, doing that can get burdensome if you’re not interested in it or committed to it, so I find that success also depends on interest in the material. For Christians, who have spiritual life and the indwelling Spirit, interest in the Bible should be well within reach.
Regular, spaced repetition. Each of those words is important.
Regular. Memorizing well requires that you work on it at consistent intervals. For most people, that means daily—at least initially. For some people, especially those just starting out, efficient success may call for multiple brief sessions daily. The key is that you not skip a session.
Spaced. This seems at first to contradict the first requirement. Most people who fail at memorization miss the importance of this step. They spend an hour or two trying to mash content into their brains, and they wonder why it doesn’t stick. It doesn’t stick because you’re not giving your brain a chance to engage in simple recall—to exercise that brain muscle. Instead of spending an hour or two, spend 5 minutes, to the point that you can say the verse correctly from memory. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” You can do that in 5 minutes—or probably much less. Then set it aside and go think about something else for a while. After an hour or three, come back to it. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Got it in 60 seconds. Great. Now go fix dinner, and help the kids with their homework. And as you’re getting ready for bed, say it again from memory. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Spaced repetition. Get some sleep, and run through it again tomorrow. You’ve spent probably less than 10 minutes today, and you’ll spend even less time on it tomorrow, and in a few days you’ll have it reliably—if you don’t already.
Repetition. Keep at it. Don’t quit. As you continue working on a passage, you’ll need review to be less frequent, but keep going back to it—eventually once a month, or every other month, or every 6 months.
God has made everybody different. The frequency of repetition, the length of time it takes to say a given passage correctly from memory for the first time, and many other things will be unique to the individual. But as you work at it, you’ll learn what it takes for you.
Let’s talk about what this looks like in practice. Here’s the system that works for me.
I typically memorize no more than 1 verse per day. Psalm 1, for example, has 6 verses. Monday I work on verse 1; Tuesday I add verse 2 and review verse 1; Wednesday I add verse 3 and review verses 1 and 2; and by Saturday I can recite Psalm 1 from memory.
Every day after that, I recite Psalm 1. If I get it right on the first try for two days in a row, I move it to reviewing every other day. When I get it right on the first try two sessions in a row at that pace, I move it to once a week. Then every other week; then monthly; then every other month; then every third month; and so on.
Right now I’m working on memorizing several key Psalms. I’m reviewing Psalm 1 on the first Sunday of even-numbered months; Psalm 8 on the first Sunday of every month; Psalms 2, 14, 27, and 29 on odd Saturdays (1st, 3rd, 5th); Psalms 11, 16, 19, and 24 on even Saturdays; and other things on the daily schedule.
One verse a day, a bite at a time, with regular, spaced repetition.
One note. Sometimes you just get tired. When I sense my motivation flagging, I’ll take a break from adding new material for a while. I’ll keep up the review but not pour anything fresh into the hopper just to avoid that overwhelmed feeling that Lucy had in the chocolate factory.
Work at a comfortable pace. Something is better than nothing.
You’ll find that the Word begins to move from your head to your heart.