Friday, December 08, 2006

The problem with Scripture memorization…

I believe in Scripture memorization…I’m just horrible at it.  Seriously, I believe that the Word of God is eternal and that I both ought to and want to know it much better than I do.  The problem with Scripture memorization is that it’s really hard and I am not good at it.  I’ve tried a number of different methods in my life but haven’t really had much success.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve memorized a lot of random Bible verses in my life.  I’ve even, at one time or another, memorized whole books (Philippians and James).  But they never stayed put in my mind for very long.  Before too long the passages would fade in to my “steel-sieve”-like mind.

Then two years ago a colleague of mine, Brenda Knopp, explained to me a method of Scripture memorization that she’d come across.  At the time Brenda was working on a memorizing a section of Romans and once I heard about it I was hooked.  I started with the book of Hebrews and memorized about the first five chapters over the next several months.  Then I ran out of gas and stopped. 

Fast-forward a year and a half.  A couple of months ago I really began to yearn to commit more of the Scripture to memory and I picked up my copy of method again.  This time on I decided to work on the book of 1 John.  I figured that a shorter book would be better.  One of my problems with Hebrews was that it: a) was just too honkin’ long to be the first book I memorized this way and b) I was so focused on “getting it done” that I tried to go too far too fast and burned out.  By last week I starting into Chapter 3 of I John and I figured it was safe to blog about it.

There are two keys to this method of Scripture memorization.  The first is that it focuses on memorizing large blocks of texts.  The second is that it focuses on mastering what you’ve already memorized, not in the all-out pursuit of new material.  This answers the two dilemmas that I’ve always faced in memory work.  Working with large blocks of texts give my mind more “mental scaffolding” on which to hook passages.  I need big strong beams and posts to put the verses on.  Verses isolated from their contexts just don’t do it.  Oh, I can memorize John 3.16 without any trouble; it has enough other mental scaffolding around it to keep in place.  But other important passages don’t.  By memorizing longer passages (paragraphs, chapters or whole books) the scaffolding that the author envisioned is preserved and it’s much easier to memorize.

Secondly, this method focuses on mastering material that you’ve already memorized.  Okay, ideally you memorize one new verse a day, but the bulk of one’s memory work is devoted to working to retain what you’ve already learned.

Dr. Andrew M. Davis, the author of the method, explains it well.  Before diving in, give his webpage a thorough read.   I’ll give you an overview here, however.   Imagine, for example, that you are going to memorize the book of Ephesians.  Here is the gist of the method from Dr. Davis’ site:

1) Day one: Read Ephesians 1:1 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

2) Day two: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:1 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:2 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

3) Day three: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:2 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-2 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:3 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

4) Day four: Yesterday’s verse first!! Recite yesterday’s verse, Ephesians 1:3 ten times, being sure to include the verse number. Again, you should look in the Bible if you need to, just to refresh your memory. Old verses next, altogether: Recite Ephesians 1:1-3 together once, being sure to include the verse numbers. Now, do your new verse. Read Ephesians 1:4 out loud ten times, looking at each word as if photographing it with your eyes. Be sure to include the verse number. Then cover the page and recite it ten times. You’re done for the day.

Here is what I like about his method:

1.        You focus on retaining what you’ve already learned.  There are days when I don’t try to learn the next verse, I just recite the verse I’ve learned or focus on the most recent verses.  This is sometimes a challenge for me because I want to move forward and get it done.  But there are days when I my brain just seems stuck or saturated and I only review what I’ve already learned to that point.

2.       It’s do-able.  This only takes 15-20 minutes a day.  Frankly, I often feel like I’ve grown more doing this than from my daily Bible reading, which I do separately.  It’s not a major time commitment, it’s just a shorter daily time commitment over a longer period.

3.       Learning larger blocks of Scripture really gives your mind things to chew on during the day.  It really helps me meditate on what the Scripture is saying.  When I’m stuck in traffic or standing in a line it’s easy to start pondering the meaning of some particular verse or section.  The larger structure of a passage becomes clearer as I work my way through it.

4.       It makes the Scripture more applicable.  Last weekend I finally got around to watching “The Da Vinci Code.”  Verses like I John 2.22-23 popped right up in my mind.

5.       I think it trains my mind to remember things more easily.  It’s great mental work-out that helps my mind memorize things in other contexts more easily.

Scripture memorization will probably never be easy for me, but this is the first approach I’ve ever used that brings tangible, long-term results.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

6 comments:

Di said...

It's funny Jeff that you would write about memorizing scripture, that seems to be something that has been on my mind the past month or two. I've always been intimidated by scripture memorization and frankly just stink at it. Even had to re-do my encredidation interview because I couldn't produce specific passages on the spot, but a friend of mine recently told me she wanted to start memorizing Ephesians but was intimidated by it, I told her I would join her and we would do this together. I must admit she is much further in this trek than I am. So... thanks so much for the system and will delve into this deeper once again! PTL! for Brenda and her positive spiritual example to us eh?

Jeff said...

I stink at it too. That's why this way works for me, I guess. It does take time, and it does take some discipline but it still pretty effective.
Good luck with Ephesians. It's a pretty long book; not compared to Romans or one of the Gospels, but still pretty long.
Brenda's definitely a good egg and a good example.

Peri said...

years ago, when i was a volunteer teacher's aide at a christian school, we memorized the first chapter of james, very hard, but every few days added a new verse. Suprisingly, it sticks with you - and all these years later.

good luck, try James

Jeff said...

Peri, thanks for stopping by and dropping a line. I did once memorize most of James. It was when my youngest daughter was a newborn and woke up every morning at 4:30 AM. i would walk her around the neighborhood for an hour while mom tried to get a little more sleep. Not a lot to do at that time of the morning, but it was a good time for Scripture memorization :) Finally she started sleeping later and I quite memorizing!

Andy said...

Strangely enough, I just memorized Ephesians. The only thing I disagree with in the approach you suggest is the memorizing of the references. If you're interested, on my blog there is a clip of me performing the prayer in the middle of the letter. The clip is embedded in the left-hand panel.

I haven't decided which book to tackle next, but I'm considering either Colossians or Ecclesiastes. I think it would be very interesting to have a full overview of Ecclesiastes. That was the best thing about memorizing Ephesians -- it gave such and incredible inclusive view for each verse.

Andy

Jeff said...

Andy, thanks for taking the time to comment. Great video on your site doing Ephesians. I've always really enjoyed folks that can do that (with a nod at Max McCLean who was the first I'd seen).

I include the refs because I want to be able to refer back to any given verse in my mind, or be able to quote specific verses. I can recite passages/chapter without the refs, but I tend to forget phrases (or sometimes sections) if I don't have the mental scaffolding of the reference numbers.

Hats off to you that can do without!

Do you have a specific methodology yourself? I'd love to hear how you do memorization.