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Remembering God’s Instructions: Tips for Memorization

28 Mar

Last week, we focused on Preparation for Memorization. This week, we’ll go a bit further as we examine a few techniques for memorization. Try a few of these suggestions on for size:

  1. Find the rhythm. While not every Bible passage is poetic, most have a discernable rhythm. Taking the time to figure out the natural “beat” of the passage can make a big difference in your ability to recall the actual words. You may even try setting that beat to a tune!
  2. Write it out. There is something about printing words on a page which helps us focus our attention. As you transfer God’s Words from your Bible to a notebook or scrap of paper, you’ll be carefully considering their order and meaning.
  3. Draw it. While words convey meaning, we see so many words during any given day that it can be difficult to recall their context. Taking time to illustrate a verse with pertinent images can provide that context. Even writing the words with different colored pencils can provide your mind with the visual cue it needs.
  4. Find a study partner. Partners help keep us accountable and can help us through rough spots. Ask a friend or friends to share the memorization journey with you.
  5. Don’t give up. Like making the perfect burger or avoiding obstacles with a pallet jack, this is one of those things that we get better at, the more often we do it. It’s okay if it takes a week or even a month to memorize a single verse. The point is to guarantee that we’ll remember it when the pressure is on.
  6. Don’t forget to review! Set aside time on a regular basis to go over the verses you’ve learned. But don’t panic if you’ve forgotten a few. That’s normal. The goal is to keep all of your hard work fresh in your mind.

The more you memorize the more comfortable you’ll become with the discipline. As time passes, you may even discover or develop some techniques that are all your own! When you do, I hope you’ll come back and share them with us.

Next week, we’ll shift our focus from remembering God’s instructions and take a look at some tips for remembering the instructions that we’re given by our earthly bosses. Meanwhile, feel free to share tips you may have on either topic in the comment box below!

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Remembering God’s Instructions: Preparation for Memorization

21 Mar

Following God’s instructions isn’t just about having heard His words, but about remembering them. More than that, it’s about being so familiar with them that you can both automatically put them into practice and help others who don’t know how. This type of familiarity doesn’t come from a quick perusal of the Bible, but from the intentional devotion of time and attention. It requires discipline and hard work. It requires genuine study. And it requires a plan.

Of all the Spiritual disciplines, few will serve you as well in the workplace (or anywhere else, for that matter) as the art of memorization. This goes beyond a vague recollection of what God said. It goes straight to the heart. In Psalm 119:11, the psalmist declares, “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (NASB) That’s exactly the familiarity that believers today ought to seek.

While Scripture Memory can be both challenging and, on occasion, intimidating, the time invested is never wasted. This week, we’ll share a few tips to get you started.

  1. The Bible is a big book and every page is packed with useful advice, but some passages will be more relevant to you and your present situation than others; these are the verses which you’ll want to commit to memory. To find them, keep your eyes open for passages which stand out to you while doing your daily devotions or do an internet search for verses about topics which particularly interest you. You may even want to ask family members and friends to share a few of their favorites.
  2. If you decide to memorize full passages of Scripture, take it one verse at a time. The goal here isn’t to demonstrate your amazing mental skill, but to truly commit God’s Word to your heart. Remember, you eat an elephant one bite at a time.
  3. Pick a translation that speaks to your heart and stick to it. Not all of us respond the same way to the poetic strains of the King James Version or the down-to-earth text of the New International Version… and that’s O.K. Select a translation that is easy for you to remember.
  4. Put your verses where you’ll see them. As with your Bible reading, if you don’t ever see your memory verses, you’re probably going to forget to work on them; keep your work in a visible location where you’re guaranteed to stumble across it on a regular basis. This could be a bathroom mirror, inside your cereal cabinet, taped to your computer monitor, or even inside of your Bible as a bookmark. If one location doesn’t work, shift to another until you find one that does.

These tips, of course, only cover the “what” of memorization. They give you thoughts to consider as you prepare to embark upon your journey. Next week, we’ll take a look at the “how” and offer some practical advice which will make memorization (in any context) a bit easier. Meanwhile, feel free to share how you chose what to memorize in the comment box below!

An Introduction to Swordplay: Basic Footwork

17 Aug

Last week, in “An Introduction to Swordplay”, we discussed the important role that Scripture memory plays in both our spiritual growth and in our ability to better share our faith with others.  This week, we’ll be concluding our short series with an introduction to basic Scripture memory techniques.  Before we begin, however, it is important to recognize that the purpose of Scripture memory is to make God’s Word more readily available to us in our time of need… not to outdo everyone else in the class.  It’s okay if you start slowly, struggle a bit along the way, or even get stuck in a rut.  The point is not how much you memorize, but simply that you do memorize.  Scripture memorization is about our willingness to allow God’s Word to penetrate our hearts and minds, not about how we stack up against others!

What follows are some techniques that work effectively for everyone from beginners to Scripture memory veterans.  Read them carefully and see which ones will work best for you.  And if you have a technique that has worked for you, but isn’t included below, please feel free to share it in the comment box at the end of the article!

Choose your verses wisely.  Start with single verses or short portions of Scripture with which you are already familiar.  Psalm 23, Exodus 20:1-17, or Matthew 6:9-13 are some excellent passages with which to begin.  Give them a quick read through – you may be surprised at how well you already know them!  Don’t like those?  Try memorizing the verses that catch your attention during your daily Bible reading or the Sunday sermon.  It’s almost always easier to memorize verses which are immediately applicable to your life.

So what if you aren’t very familiar with Scripture yet?  A quick Google search will reveal a number of excellent apps, websites, packets, and booklets available to get you started.  Here are a couple of my favorites:

You Version gives you the opportunity to organize your Bible study and Scripture memory online, on Facebook, or via your iPod, iPad, or iPhone.  You can customize your own memory plan or work with the “verse of the day”.  One of the best features of this site is its social aspect – it’s always easier to stick to your commitments when you do them in community… but more on that later.

The Navigator’s Topical Memory System is a little less “high-tech” and comes with prepared memory cards that can be slipped into your pocket, purse, or wallet for easy access.  It is designed as a basic introduction to the discipline of Scripture memory and is an excellent choice for anyone, regardless of how familiar they are with God’s Word.

Take it one bite at a time.  Work your way through verse by verse rather than in big chunks and if the verses happen to be long, line by line or from one comma to the next.  Smaller portions are almost always easier to digest!  (You can make your way to the seven course meal later.)

There is a rhythm to some portions of Scripture.  I can’t begin to recount the number of people who have recited verses to me as though they were bits of a popular rap song rather than Scripture!  And that’s just fine.  The question isn’t how we memorize, but that we have memorized.  If you find a rhythm, go with it.  Dance to it, sing to it, whatever it takes to engrain the Word of God in your heart and in your mind!

If you aren’t all that good at finding the rhythm yourself, you can rest in the knowledge that there are plenty of people who already have.  Check out the kids’ CD section at your local Christian book store or take a look at the selections available at Christianbook.com!

Sometimes writing it out helps.  Try printing your verses on three by five index cards.  Writing tends to focus our minds on what we’re learning, improving our retention. And, once you’ve written your verses down, you can take them with you!  By keeping them in your pocket, purse, briefcase, or backpack you have the ability to memorize at any place or at any time.  This is great when you’re dressing for work or school, standing in one of those endless lines at the supermarket, are sitting on terminal hold, are waiting in line for a sporting event, or have a few minutes to kill between classes!

Find a study partner.  Never underestimate the power of human encouragement!  Ask your spouse, a sibling, your best friend, your prayer partner, a classmate, or even a teacher to hold you accountable and to double check your work.  If they’re interested in memorizing Scripture too, that’s all the better!  Work together on coffee break, as you walk to classes, or on your commute to and from work or school.  You’ll be able to rejoice together in your success and support each other when you encounter bumps in the road!

Find a convenient time to work on your verses.  If you’re new to the concept of memorization, try devoting some uninterrupted time to Scripture memory on a daily basis.  Just ten dedicated minutes in the morning can make a big difference!  If you’ve done a lot of memorizing before, or as you become more comfortable with memorization, begin looking for creative places to work on your verses: stocking shelves at work, vacuuming the floors, or any kind of “spare brain time” when you don’t have to have your mind actively thinking about the task at hand.

Keep your memory work some place where you will see it.  If you can’t see it, you’ll probably forget to work on it.  Keep your verses in a visible location.  This could be a bathroom mirror, inside your cereal cabinet, taped to your computer monitor or car dashboard, or even inside of your Bible as a bookmark.  Just make certain that they’re someplace where you will see them every day!

Once you’ve picked a translation, stick to it.  Speaking as one who has done memory work in three different translations – it’s easy to get muddled.  Pick a translation that is easy for you to understand and that sounds natural when spoken out loud (the New International Version and the New Living Translation are excellent options).

That said, don’t leave out other considerations either.  While I like the New American Standard Bible for its faithfulness to the original text, many people in my part of the country only accept the King James Version as authoritative – so that’s what I memorize.  If you aren’t sure which translation is best for you, take some time to chat with your pastor, take a look at some translations online, or pay a visit to a local book store and spend some time browsing through your options.  You’re sure to find something that meets your memorization needs!

Don’t Give Up!  “I’ve never been very good at memorizing” is no excuse!  Everyone starts out in the same place.  This is one of those areas where you improve by doing.  Maybe it takes a week to memorize a verse, but the point is now you won’t forget that verse.  I used to struggle too, but now I can easily memorize three or four verses a day.  Keep at it and you’ll get better!

And don’t get frustrated when you end up in a rut.  At one time or another, everyone who has ever set their mind to memorizing Scripture has reached a point where their mind just can’t seem to absorb any more.  When this happens to you, try taking a few days off, change your memorization routine, or select a new verse or passage upon which to focus.  And remember: you aren’t the only one!

Don’t forget to review!  After all that work, it would be a shame to forget what you’ve memorized.  As we get older, our memory gets shorter.  Set aside one morning a week for review and rotate through the passages you’ve memorized.  This will keep all of your work fresh in your mind.

Once again, don’t get ahead of yourself and most of all, don’t forget why you’re doing this!  God doesn’t tell us to do anything of which we are incapable and He has promised that we can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13).  Keep your focus and you’ll find that the blessings of Scripture memory work are beyond anything you could have imagined!

An Introduction to Swordplay

10 Aug

In Ephesians 6:17, Apostle Paul compares the Word of God to a sword… and no wonder!  Few tools are as useful to the follower of Christ as the Scriptures through which God reveals Himself to us.  The words of the Bible comfort us in times of distress and govern our behavior during trials.  They echo our joy and our praise and, on some occasions, even our anger and frustration.  No less important is the power that they have to influence the hearts of others as we share the Gospel message.

Sadly, while many of us spent our childhood faithfully committing these words to memory, the habit lapsed long ago.  Caught up in memorizing the periodic table and the parsing of French verbs, we set our Sunday School verses aside, waiting for a less hectic time in which to pick them up again.  I distinctly remember the year in which I did just that.  The materials for the Scripture memory club at which (ironically) I was a leader, had been rewritten and in order to familiarize myself with the new program, I decided that I would work through the new books alongside my girls.  It wasn’t long before I was back in the swing of things and you can imagine my surprise when at the end of the year I discovered that I had memorized nearly 250 new Scripture verses!

What most impressed me during this time, however, was the number of commands I found that dealt not just with reading God’s Word, but with remembering it!  (Psalm 1:2; 86:11; 119: 9, 11, 23, 48, 78, 105… Just to name a few!)  I was particularly struck by Deuteronomy 6, verses 6-9:

 “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.  You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.  You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

Being the type of person who jumps in feet first without looking, I decided to act upon the command by attempting to memorize the entire Bible.  (After all, if a little is good, a lot is better.  Right?)  While several of the people I told about this thought that I had lost my mind (and possibly for good reason), others provided some great encouragement.  One friend even told me of a pastor he knew who had gone blind, but wanted to continue preaching.  Purchasing a copy of the Bible on tape, he worked diligently until he had, indeed, memorized all of it!

I decided to start with the book of Romans since I already knew a good portion of it by heart (best to start off easy) and had previously been able to use those portions to share the Gospel message.  I determined that I would work through the epistle one chapter at a time and that I wouldn’t be satisfied until I could recite each verse word-for-word.

Over the summer I was able to memorize the first three chapters and was greatly surprised by the outcome.  I reported to a friend of mine that I could have dealt with nearly every question I’ve ever been asked about my faith with just that handful of verses!

The truly impressive part, however, was what was happening to me as a result of the memorization.  While I regularly took time to read my Bible, I discovered that I had not actually been meditating upon what it said.  The endless repetition of the same phrases over and over that was required in order to commit the verses to memory forced me to think upon each passage in much greater depth than I would have otherwise.  I was surprised at how much my understanding of God’s Word grew with just the fifteen minutes a day that I spent committing it to memory.

So what is an article on Scripture memory doing on a page about evangelism?  To begin with, God doesn’t limit our opportunities to share the Gospel to just those times when we have a copy of the Bible nearby.  Our ability to quote Scripture (in its appropriate context) can make the difference between effective sharing and ineffective babbling.

Secondly, it is easier to obey the command in 2 Peter 3:15, to always be ready to give an answer for our faith, when we know where to find that answer.  You may not be great with references, but I can guarantee that knowing enough to find that reference in a concordance will really boost your own confidence when it comes to sharing your faith.  And those who are confident, share the message of God’s Saving Grace more frequently than those who are not!

Everyone has the ability to commit at least a little bit of Scripture to memory and that little bit can make a big difference!  Next week, we’ll be taking a look at some great techniques to help you get started.  Meanwhile, feel free to share your own experiences in the comment box below.  We’d love to hear about your own experiences with Scripture memory and about the effect that it has had in your own life or in the lives of those around you!

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