“I used to have that memorized.”
Sound familiar? I’m guessing we have probably all related to that sentence, at one point or another. Anyone who has ever participated in the National Bible Bee knows what it feels like to spend hours scrupulously pouring over a passage until it can be quoted word-perfect, only to come back to it the next day or the next week and find that it has completely vanished from memory. And of course, we all know what it feels like to try to remember a recipe or a math equation that we once barely had to think about in order to recall, but that is now dim and hazy after a long period of disuse.
As much as we may wish it were otherwise, information doesn’t just live in our heads indefinitely; we must be regularly refreshing it, or our highly efficient brains will dismiss it as unimportant. “If you don’t use it, you lose it,” is a very fitting cliché to capture this principle. This is why we review! We all know this intrinsically – and yet, especially when it comes to review of Scripture, it can still be a struggle to find the discipline and motivation to make this practice a sustainable habit. If this is you, then it is my prayer that this article will help you, first with the motivation, by showing you the importance of review, and then with the discipline, by giving you some practical tips to get you started.
The Importance of Review
A lot could be said on this topic, but I will limit my discussion to three main points on why, not just Scripture memory, but also Scripture review, is vitally important.
1. GOD COMMANDS IT
As with every other area of life, the best guide for how we handle the Word of God is the Word itself. As Christians, we need no better reasoning behind how we structure our lives than the simple knowledge that God has said so. And when it comes to Scripture review, He has “said so” very clearly! My two primary examples both come from the book of Proverbs, with my own emphasis added:
“My son, give attention to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them depart from your sight; keep them in the midst of your heart.” -Proverbs 4:20-21 (NASB)
“Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your mind to my knowledge; for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you, that they may be ready on your lips.” – Proverbs 22:17-18 (NASB)
These instructions from a wise and loving father to his son can be broadly applied to our heavenly Father’s instructions to us. His word is the epitome of wisdom and the perfect revelation of knowledge. If it is fitting for us to give such careful attention to retaining the words of an earthly father so that they remain accessible and beneficial to us, then how much more the words of God!
Aside from the specific examples above, the books of Deuteronomy and Psalms are riddled with commands and exhortations for God’s people to actively recall to mind His law and the numerous accounts of His faithful deliverance and provision. The message is clear: God has given us His word, not for our occasional or even regular use, but so that we would keep it before us continually. As Psalm 111:4 puts it, “He has made His wonders to be remembered.”
2. OUR BRAINS NEED IT
As I briefly mentioned in the introductory paragraph, our brains are extremely efficient at processing information. If we retained all of the stimuli brought in by our five senses, we would be completely overwhelmed! So instead, God designed our brains to quickly sift through the whole boatload of incoming data, holding onto only what is most important, and discarding the rest. And one of the main factors that helps us determine whether something is important enough to remember is repetition. The more we hear or see or experience something, the more likely we are to remember it; it’s just the way we’re wired!
It’s also helpful to understand that we have three different “levels” of memory: short-term, intermediate, and long-term. Short-term memories last only a few seconds to minutes, while intermediate memories can last several weeks. However, long-term memories last an entire lifetime! For most of us, the time we spend learning and reviewing verses in preparation for the National Bible Bee is enough to get them to the intermediate memory stage, but once we slack off on review, they quickly become fuzzy. The challenge is to get them imbedded into our long-term memory, so that they will stick with us for the rest of our lives. And in order for this to happen, our brains absolutely need that consistent, continued repetition and review.
3. OUR SOULS NEED IT
The truth is that we are naturally forgetful people – not just on a cognitive level, but on a spiritual level. We are prone to forget God’s character and history, prone to doubt His promises, and prone to look at life through the faulty lens of our own emotions, rather than through the lens of truth. This causes us to grow discouraged, and waver in our faith. This is the natural bent of the human soul; so how do we deal with it? We must be continuously reminding ourselves of the truth, which is the Word of God (John 17:17).
Aside from the fact that God commands Scripture review, and our brains need review in order to remember, this concept is vital to our health and growth as Christians, because Scripture review reminds us of who God is and what He has done for us in the gospel, and this is foundational to every other aspect of our lives. The Word of God reveals God to us, and our one great need is for more of Him; thus, there is nothing better we could do for our souls than to inundate them with Scripture, and recall it to mind again and again and again!
So we understand why Scripture review is necessary; but that still doesn’t make it easy! Where do we start? Here are a few tips that I have found to be helpful in my own journey toward building a habit of review.
Start small and build up. You don’t have to jump right into spending two hours a day on review; break it down into small, manageable chunks, and then slowly build up. I typically print out my memory passages on 4”x3” cards, that I then keep divided up into stacks, each of which takes me between about 15 and 30 minutes to review. This makes it easy for me to just grab the next stack in the pile when I have some time to review, and then move it to the bottom when I’m done.
Make it regular. Consistency is a huge key, not just for making review a habit, but for making it effective. Not all of your memory passages will need to be reviewed every day, or even every week (some of my passages that I’ve had memorized the longest only need to be reviewed every couple of months); however, it will be helpful for you to set aside time to review something every day. Eventually, it will become such an established habit that it is seamlessly woven into the normal fabric of your life.
Work with your existing habits. It is a well-supported fact that habits are easier to develop when you “stack” them, rather than building them from scratch. Scripture review will fit much more smoothly into your routine if you tack it onto something you already do everyday, anyway – for example, if you schedule your review for right after you get dressed in the morning, right before bed, or during the last 15 minutes of your daily quiet time. Another great thing about Scripture review is that it’s easy to multitask with other things (e.g. reviewing verses while washing dishes or taking a shower). Also, car trips are a great opportunity when there’s often nothing else going on; why not redeem those moments by quoting Scripture to yourself or someone else?
A Note About the Heart
I would be remiss in discussing this topic, not to point to the purpose that lies behind it all. Our goal in memorization and review should not be to know the Bible just for the sake of knowing it; yes, storing up Scripture is important, but why we do it is even more so. The point of these disciplines isn’t merely to accumulate factual knowledge, but to know and treasure Christ. He is the goal! Without this focus, we are no better than the unfaithful servant in Jesus’ parable of the talents in Matthew 25, simply burying His word in our heads – and occasionally “digging it up” again through review, just to make sure it’s still there. We must keep the pursuit of Him at the heart, or even an entire lifetime of diligent review will have no eternal value. But how do we do this?
I mentioned earlier that repetition is a major factor in making information memorable to us; well, there is a second major factor, and that is meaning. The more significance a memory has to us, the more likely we are to remember it; in fact, meaning is even more important than repetition when it comes to whether or not something becomes engraved in our long-term memory. And the same thing applies to our memorization of the Bible: the more meaning it has to us – the more we think about it, seek to understand it, and look for ways to apply it – then the more clearly and permanently we will be able to remember it. Don’t settle for empty knowledge of Scripture; draw meaning from it through meditation – the discovering and treasuring of Christ in His word. David Mathis shares some helpful thoughts on this in his book Habits of Grace:
“When we pursue Scripture memory with meditation, we’re not just storing up for transformation later, but enjoying food for our soul today and experiencing transformation now. And when the focus is more on feeding and shaping, then constant review is less important. Once-memorized, now-forgotten texts aren’t a tragedy, but an opportunity to meditate again freshly and mold your mind even more.”
Once again, the point is not simply to know God’s word, but to know and discover God through His word. Scripture review is a wonderful and even vital tool for this – but it by itself is not the end goal. The end goal is God. This is the true treasure of knowing the Bible, and what will ultimately give eternal, unfading value to every word of it that we hide in our hearts.
Written by National Bible Bee Alumna: Rachel Martin
Rachel is a 24-year-old NBB alumna who competed from 2009-2014. She currently lives with her parents and three younger brothers in Davenport, Iowa, where she attends Palmer College of Chiropractic. When she’s not studying or getting hands-on practice, she enjoys games (indoor or outdoor), music, long walks and deep conversations, and feeding her passion for Bible study and memorization.