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Do you ever find that when you try to memorise Bible verses, your brain is more like a sieve than a sponge? What’s the best way to ensure that God’s word sticks in your memory?
Knowing God’s word is essential to our survival. It helps you to know the truth and to keep you on the right path. I’ve talked about the importance of memorising scripture here.
The apostle Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:13-17 to put on the full armour of God. All of these pieces of the armour are defensive weapons except the sword of the Spirit, which Paul mentions in verse 17. The sword of the Spirit is the word of God, which we can use in times of trial and temptation.
But you know the feeling, right? Under pressure, often you simply draw a blank. How can you use God’s word effectively in these times when it feels like you have the memory of a goldfish?
How do you memorise Bible verses when there seem to be so many to remember?
This is a question many Christians will ask from time to time.
Stay tuned, as I’m going to share 6 tried and tested creative ways to make sure that these scriptural verses will stick in your mind.
You’ll also want to download a printable mind map cheat sheet of the 6 ways by entering your details in the form below:
HOW WE LEARN THINGS
Decades of research into accelerated learning reveal that we receive information about the world around us via our five senses. However, we also have a sensory preference for how we process that information and are able to learn from it. While we can use all five senses, three tend to dominate when it comes to making sense of information.
These are visual, auditory and kinesthetic, often abbreviated to VAK.
Someone with a visual preference for learning will use their imagination to create both physical or mental pictures or images. They can see the thing or the words in question. This is typical for someone with a photographic memory.
A person with more of an auditory preference will rely more on words or language, and can hear the words in question before they either speak it out or write it down.
A kinesthetic preference involves strong feelings or emotional associations, and may remember things via muscle memory.
Each of these preferences can provide creative ways we can learn and memorise scripture rapidly so that it sticks. Here are 6 ways below:
1. Listen to worship songs based directly on scripture
Listening to worship songs is a great way to get God’s word into your head. But while hundreds of excellent worship songs exist, here I’m specifically talking about songs where the lyrics use the Bible verses verbatim.
Integrity Music produced a series called “Scripture Memory Songs” which were songs taken word for word from the Bible without any alteration. Each album usually had a theme like overcoming anxiety, spiritual warfare, peace etc.
As Michael Coleman and Ed Linquist, executive producers of Integrity Music write in their book Come and Worship:
“Praise and worship music is a ‘delivery system’ for Scripture. This music ‘broadcasts’ Scripture, internally to your spirit, and externally to attack the enemy – doubt, fear, or the devil himself. That’s why many praise and worship songs are taken directly from the Bible.”
Alternatively, if you’re a parent, you may prefer a series of albums produced by Breakaway Music called Hidden in My Heart: Scripture Lullabies. Based directly on scripture with a mellow and contemplative sound, these are designed to be suitable for babies and young children. However, they can also work for adults too and can bring soothing and peace to the soul.
Below is the same passage from Philippians 4:6-7 which was also adapted in the song above.
There are also many other praise and worship songs where the lyrics are used verbatim from a particular translation. However, even songs which exercise more creativity and don’t use the words exactly are still very useful and highly recommended.
Listening to these, and even singing along with them have a two-fold effect you might not get from reading scripture silently to yourself. When you listen to worship songs that use scripture directly, you’re accessing that auditory learning preference to absorb the information. At the same time however, you’re also exercising both musical intelligence and verbal-linguistic intelligence.
Do you remember that Kylie Minogue song “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”? It was extremely infectious and almost incessant in the way the chorus droned on and on. Even if you tried to forget it, it could easily pop up like a jack-in-the-box when you were least expecting.
What it does is that it captures people’s attention using a combination of different types of musical hooks:
1. A melodic hook, which is the tune that is instantly hummable and sticks in your head even if you’re not sure of the words.
2. A lyrical hook, which is both the words “Can’t Get You Out of My Head”, and also the “La, la, la” line.
3. A rhythmic hook. This is how the rhythm is used in a particular way to drum it into your head.
Have you ever played “name that tune” just clapping or tapping out the rhythm? For some songs, the rhythm has become so associated with the tune that even if you can’t hear the melody or the lyrics, you can instantly recognise it from the rhythm.
With “Can’t Get You Out of My Head“, the rhythm as shown below is instantly recognisable.
4. An instrumental hook. This is the particular arrangement and instruments chosen or a certain musical riff. In this case, it’s the almost robotic, machine-like electronic bassline.
Imagine instead of having pop songs stuck in your head, you can’t get God’s word out of your head. Wouldn’t it be great if you could do the same with scripture?
Well you can.
When I was studying theology, I took New Testament Greek for three years. I ended up memorising several entire books of the Bible including the whole of John’s Gospel, Galatians and 1 Peter. I don’t say that to boast, but to demonstrate that it can be done if you know the right methods.
One of the ways I did that was by listening to songs based directly on scripture. And if I couldn’t find an exact match, I would listen to Christian songs where the lyrics were as close as possible.
By exam time, all I had to do was sing the lyrics to these songs back to myself, albeit in my head, of course!
When you listen to scripturally-based songs, the combination of the lyrics, rhythm and music fused together in one place reinforces the message in your mind and helps you to remember it more easily.
2. Write songs based on Bible verses
If listening to scripture-based songs is useful for memorising, writing songs takes it up a notch.
When you simply listen to worship songs based on scripture, it’s easy to go into autopilot mode and not pay full attention, particularly if you’re multi-tasking.
However, when you sing it out, you can’t really switch off or disengage your brain because you’re actually vocalising the words yourself. Or to put it another way, you’re not simply listening and drawing on your auditory learning skills. You’re also putting that kinesthetic skill into action as well.
James 1:22-25 says:
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.”
Now, admittedly, James is referring here to those who simply hear the word but forget it and don’t put it into practice by living it out, so I don’t want to take this example too far otherwise it’s too much of a stretch. However, the point I want to make is that it’s one thing to hear the word and another thing to “do” the word.
When we are doers of the word, it becomes a reality for us, whereas when we simply hear it, we can forget.
I remember hearing someone saying this in relation to the VAK model of learning mentioned above:
“I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”
Now this might be a slight generalisation for someone whose learning style is more kinesthetic, because the quote above is not always the case. However, there is some truth in it too.
The Christian parody band ApologetiX employed this very model of remembering passages of scripture. As founding band member J. Jackson recalls:
“I’d always been a lead singer, but shortly before becoming a born again Christian, I had started to really learn how to play the guitar. I have a pretty good ear for music, so I started figuring out some of the old licks from some of the songs I used to like. However, I didn’t feel right singing the words. Meanwhile, I was learning all of this incredible stuff in the Bible, and I wanted a way to help me remember it — things like the names of all the Apostles, the books of the Bible in order, scripture verses, stories, etc. So I started writing the parodies to teach myself the Bible … and the guitar.”
Why is it that song writing helps you to remember?
Here’s the deal:
First, it’s partly because you’re searching for words to fit the rhythm, melody and structure of the verses and chorus, or you’re trying to make the lyrics rhyme. When you do this, you’re having to think specifically about the meaning of the words.
Second, it’s because you’re using several multiple intelligences at the same time – i.e., musical-rhythmic-harmonic, verbal-linguistic and bodily-kinesthetic.
Cambridge Professor of Theology David Ford says in his book Living in Praise: Worshipping and Knowing God:
“What does [singing] do with the crucial Christian medium of words? It does with them what praise aims to do with the whole of reality: it takes them up into a transformed, heightened expression, yet without at all taking away their ordinary meaning. Language itself is transcended and its delights and power are intensified, and at the same time those who join in are bound together more strongly. So singing is a model of the way praise can take up ordinary life and transpose it to a higher level without losing what is good in other levels.”
By vocalising, you have to think about the words you’re singing. It involves, as the Church Father and theologian Athanasius once said, “a concentration of man’s whole being.” When you hear the words combined with the melody, it creates a powerful learning combination.
The more senses you engage, the deeper the words of scripture will be ingrained into your memory.
3. Recite Bible verses and/ or perform them
Remember I said above that I learnt entire books of the Bible when I was studying for my Bachelors and Masters degrees in theology?
Well on top of listening to worship songs, another way that helped me was reciting scripture over and over again. It was like learning lines for a play or a script.
You can do this too, and even perform it dramatically so that it brings it to life.
This is what Max McLean did in the video above. He is the founder and artistic director of the Fellowship for Performing Arts, a New York-based production company that puts on Christian theatre.
McLean has produced one-man shows of entire books of the Bible including Genesis, Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of Mark, reciting these books entirely from memory.
It might seem like a mammoth task, particularly if you struggle with even remembering a single verse of scripture. However, I assure you it is entirely doable.
Start small with a shortish book of the Bible like Jude, which has only one chapter that consists of 25 verses.
Begin with a few verses. Recite them over and over again, and then try writing it out as well. To give you some direction as to where you’re going and what comes next, you can create a mental image or try to imagine the whole scene playing before you. Who is speaking? What are they talking about?
Once you have a few verses under your belt, increase it to a paragraph. Build on what you already have learnt until it all accumulates. Then go from a paragraph or two to an entire chapter using the same process. Soon you’ll find you’ve memorised the whole of Jude!
If you’ve managed that and are feeling more ambitious, pick a longer book. The book of Titus has only 3 chapters. That’s not too long. Do the same thing you did for one chapter and commit several to memory.
When you’ve done that, you can progress onto a longer book of the Bible. Keep stretching your limits each time until you can memorise an entire gospel like John or Luke.
Maybe you’ve tried to memorise Bible verses before, hoping to wield as the sword of the spirit in times of spiritual attack. If you thought that was effective, imagine being able to have an entire book at your disposal! How much more power and authority would you have in those moments?
Like #2 above, you’re also using multiple intelligences including verbal-linguistic and bodily-kinesthetic.
Want to know another cool thing that happens?
When you are the one actually saying these words and then hearing it from your own mouth, this has the effect of increasing your own faith.
That’s because we are agreeing with them and reinforcing them in our own lives and thoughts. As a result, we’re turning these words into speech acts or performative utterances. Speech acts are certain types of words where we are not simply communicating information aloud. Instead, we’re actually doing something with them which changes a situation.
A clear example of this is God’s words. When he speaks, things happen, such as when he said “let there be light” in Genesis 1. Light actually came into existence at the very same time he spoke.
By being doers and not simply hearers of the word, that has a similar effect to God’s ability to speak things into being. When we speak out words of scripture in faith, we make them a reality in our own lives.
The more senses you engage, the deeper the words of scripture will be ingrained into your memory.
4. Write out scripture to memorise Bible verses
School. Those were the days. Remember learning to spell? One of the ways your teacher drilled it into your head is by getting you to write out the words over and over again until they sunk in. This still has value whatever age you might be.
Deuteronomy 11:18-20 says:
“Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.”
There is something about writing out the words of scripture that helps you to internalise them in your mind.
By writing out words repeatedly, there is a hands-on, kinesthetic element involved where you’re creating a muscle memory. But there’s also a visual element as well. Have you ever been able to see a word on a page actually spelt out when you’re trying to remember it?
If you’re trying to memorise Bible verses, don’t simply type out the words on a computer keyboard or your phone. That won’t be as effective. Instead, use a pen and paper and allow your pen to move through the lines and contours of each letter.
Krystal Whitten, author of Faith and Lettering: An Inspirational Guide to Creative Lettering and Journaling used this same method in order to memorise scripture. However, rather than just writing out the verses, she took a more creative approach. Whitten produces hand-lettered Bible verses as prints which can be framed and hung in people’s living rooms. These look like pieces of art in themselves.
Now you don’t have to do something as elaborate yourself if you don’t want to.
Even simply writing it out on an ordinary sheet of paper will greatly improve your ability to remember scripture.
Don’t do it without thinking though, as if you were writing lines at school. You need to think carefully through each word and their meaning. This will help you to meditate upon these verses more fully.
I used this approach part of the time both when I was learning all the verbs and grammar for New Testament Greek, and when I was memorising books of the Bible for my theological studies.
The result would be that I could literally see the verses in my mind’s eye because I had written them out so often. That way, it became not like simply trying to remember them off the top of my head, but more like me being able to read off a page mentally.
Having this visual recall is what is often referred to as an eidetic memory (which comes from the Greek word eidos, meaning “seen”). This is where you’re able to have a faithful mental snapshot which allows you to be able to scan across the page as if you’re reading it. It’s slightly different to a photographic memory (often used interchangeably with an eidetic memory) which doesn’t necessarily involve the visualisation aspect.
Even if you don’t have this ability, (and I wouldn’t say I necessarily had) most people can access this for short bursts of time. Combining it with writing out text, however, helps to solidify the image in your mind.
When we are doers of the word, it becomes a reality for us, whereas when we simply hear it, we can forget.
5. Try Bible Journaling for a visual representation
Bible journaling is an excellent way of bringing the word of God to life through visual art. This is where you write, paint or draw on God’s word using a variety of different artistic media. The Bibles have extra-wide margins with space for you to doodle in and express yourself as God leads you.
You can illustrate passages of scripture with a word picture or use calligraphy for certain key phrases. Because you have to think carefully about the verse in order to depict it in picture form, it gives you a better understanding of what you are reading. It also helps you to recall the passage with greater clarify.
Liz Davis has also created a book called 100 Illustrated Bible Verses. This is a great resource for seeing scripture in picture form if you’re not brave enough to give Bible journaling a go yourself.
When you combine artwork with a scriptural verse, it can be a powerful mental image, particularly if you are visually oriented and this is your preferred way of learning.
Bible journaling isn’t just for women, contrary to popular perception. If you’re a man, this is a perfectly acceptable way of both expressing your faith and memorising God’s word effectively.
You can read more about Bible journaling here.
6. Create a story board or read a graphic novel Bible
If you have some artistic ability, you can try illustrating the verses in story board form. This will help you to remember the sequence of events and see exactly what is going on. But even if you don’t, you can still draw in stick figures. It’s not so much the quality of your artwork that counts as the process of mapping it out visually.
A story board is a way of arranging images in sequence so that you have a visual representation of the scenes. This technique was developed by Walt Disney for animated movies in the 1930s. It’s now used regularly throughout the movie industry even for live action films, allowing the director to get a sense of the story, action scenes or even camera angles he wants to use.
Comic books have been doing essentially this for decades. You see a sequence of panels depicting the action or drama, usually accompanied by narration boxes and dialogue in speech balloons.
If you’re not able to illustrate it yourself, you’ll find a number of comic book or graphic novel Bibles around on the market.
I have found this a particularly effective method of memorising Bible verses. I created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel myself where I fully illustrated every single verse.
This has helped me to have a visual map in my mind of everything that happens in Luke’s gospel. Whenever people read from it, I can see the images I’ve created right there as a reference point. It also helps me to recall the verses with clarity, because I know exactly what is going on. They are not simply words on a page but vivid images bringing the verses to life.
You can read more about it and see a sneak preview here.
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Robert is the founder of Drawing on the Word. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Theology and a Master’s degree in Systematic Theology. He also has a degree in Law and was called to the Bar. Robert previously taught religious studies and was a theology lecturer. He is an artist, musician and writer, and has created a graphic novel version of Luke’s gospel. You can follow him below.