Since we are living in the days of Google, Evernote, and Wikipedia, do we really need to memorize anything? I already have a hard enough time remembering where I parked my car, whether or not I took my allergy medicine today, or how old I am. And I’m only 23 (I think), what’s going to happen when I get older?
Cramming more information in there seems like it would just crowd my ever-shrinking knowledge base.
And when it comes to memorizing Scripture, is it really necessary now that I have my iPhone with dozens of Bible translations and sermons living inside it?
Psalm 119:11 shows the purpose for memorizing the Word of God: our holiness.
“I have stored up your Word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (emphasis mine). When the Word gets inside of us, it begins to master us. When we memorize the Word, we can run it through our minds constantly, bathing our consciousness with God’s truth. As we renew our minds, we allow God to transform us into the image of His Son (cf. Romans 12:2). The Holy Spirit can’t bring something out if we have not already put something in.
Ok, so you may understand the benefits but you just don’t know how to get started. You tried the AWANA thing (to my everlasting shame, I made fun of those kids) but the memorization never stuck.
How do you normally memorize Scripture? Writing the verse down, over and over, and over again? Maybe you like to say it out loud (to the chagrin of your roommates). Or maybe you even turn the verse into a song (your poor, poor roommates). Most of those methods take about 30 minutes or longer and even if you get it in a shorter amount of time, how long before that verse hides itself deep in the crevices of your brain with your passwords and the Periodic Table of Elements?
Have no fear. I might have a solution.
Here is a fairly fool-proof (I, the fool, can do it. So can you.) method to memorize a list, names, or even a Bible verse. I found this method from reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer, an account of how Joshua became the US Memory Champion.
As you begin using this method, it may be difficult at first but if you practice just 10-15 minutes a day, you can memorize verses extremely quick and never lose them again! (I know…I sound like some sort of infomercial but it really works!)
Joshua’s method for memorization is called “elaborative encoding” also known as the “memory palace.” It’s not some new idea, but one that people have been using for thousands of years (You ever wonder how the Jews could memorize the entire Pentateuch?).
The basic idea is that our brains do not remember information equally. There are just certain things that interest and stimulate us more and so they stick in our brains better. What you want to do is take the information that is hard to remember (in our case, written words on a page) and turn them into something that you can’t possibly forget (colorful and dynamic pictures). The more outrageous, silly, and multi-sensory the pictures are, the better.
You then take those pictures and place them in a space in your mind’s eye (such as different locations in your childhood home). The space is called a “memory palace” and this anchors the pictures to something that you are already familiar with. Then, to recall the information all you have to do is walk through your childhood home, in your mind, and the pictures should pop out at you.
This method has already helped me memorize half of Philippians 2.
One note. It may seem like this is an irreverential way to memorize Scripture. Not so. As long as you are not thinking of sinful pictures (you know what they are) and if you do not lose sight of why you are memorizing Scripture (to know God and follow Him) then you are doing fine.
Let’s memorize part of the verse I quoted earlier, Psalm 119:11, one word at a time. I want you to use your childhood home as your memory palace to place the pictures.
I: Begin at the mailbox of your childhood home. At the mailbox, think of a gigantic eyeball. Bloodshot, with veins popping out. Blinking with its long eyelashes. Pupils dilated. It’s looking all around and then right at you.
Have: Next you are in your driveway. For abstract words (which comprises a lot of Scripture) it is good to think of things that sound like the word. In this case, “have” and “half” sound alike. In your driveway, place a gigantic (big things are always good) donut that has been half-eaten. It is lying on the cement, crying (making the objects come alive helps too) because it is missing its other half. It has bright rainbow colored sprinkles on it and chocolate frosting. Imagine the smell of the donut and its glaze (try to engage more than one sense).
Stored: Go to your front door, but don’t open it yet. In front of your door, imagine a store (whichever store you would like, just pick what first pops into your mind). The products are all arranged around your front-door step. But because this is a past-tense word, think of it as a dead store. All the colors in the products and advertisements have faded. Cobwebs and dust cover every inch of the store. Maybe there is even a skeleton as a cashier.
Up: Go through your front door and into the first room that is closest to the front door. In it, imagine that the Pixar movie, Up, is happening in that room (if you haven’t seen it, you really haven’t lived yet…the ball is in your court). Technicolored balloons fill the room. The old man and the little wilderness scout are chasing the giant colorful bird, Kevin, through the room. Kevin is squaking and Doug, the talking golden retriever, is chewing on Kevin’s leg.
Your: Next, go to the closest location to that room, and pick something (an object or area) to place a giant chore list (“chore” rhymes with “your”). There are big checkboxes on the list and they are all empty because you haven’t done your chores yet. One of your parents is standing next to the giant list, wagging their finger at you, reminding you that these are your chores (Get it?). Their voice is loud and stern.
Word: Go to the next object or location in the house. Make sure these are all in some sort of sequential and logical order in your house so you can go back to it at any time and remember the order. At this next location, place the annoying talking paperclip from Microsoft Word. If you do not know what I am talking about, this paper clip has eyeballs and a mouth and an irritating habit to suggest useless things for the documents you are trying to create. Give him some sort of a whiny voice and have him say things like, “Would you like help with your Word document? I see you are writing a letter with Microsoft Word. Word, word, word, blah, blah, blah.” You get the picture.
So, hopefully this gave you somewhat of an idea of the benefits elaborative encoding brings. Have fun with it. I encourage you to finish memorizing 119:11 on your own and then move on to something much bigger and daunting!
For a more detailed explanation about the memory palace and Joshua’s rise to the top of the memory athletes, check out his book. Word of caution, in the book Joshua is not above thinking of or describing the sinful pictures I was talking about earlier and many of the memory athletes live quite a lascivious lifestyle.