How to Memorize an Entire Book of the Bible

In Beth Moore’s Bible study, Mercy Triumphs, Beth challenges her students to not only write out the entire book of James through the course of 7 weeks, but to also memorize the entire book over five months or longer.  She says the key to memorizing large portions of Scripture is to “abide” with God, and she uses the letters in the word "abide" to describe how to do it:
A –  Ask.  Ask God for the ability to memorize and to have His living Word in us.  He wants to give it to us.  When we memorize, the mind is captive to Christ.
B – Believe.  Believe you can do it! In the captivated mind we find a power we never knew was possible.  God’s Word is set up for memory work.
I – Increase.  Increase the portion you are memorizing each week from a translation of your choice that speaks most to you.  When memorizing chapters, you must treat them differently than verses.  She recommends printing out one chapter at a time and laminating it. Set goals that work for you. Don’t leave it open-ended, and be willing to extend the goal if you need to.  Plan on one chapter per month, several verses per week. The first week you will memorize several verses, then the next week you will review the previous verses while memorizing a few more.
D – Determine.  Determine to set a time every day to practice.  Practicing requires discipline.  She practices while exercising, setting her page in front of her on the treadmill.
E – Enjoy it! Even if you don’t get every single word, the Word is accomplishing something in you.  The Word sets us free when our thoughts get caught in the muck.
If you have a chance to do this study, be sure to listen to the segment on the DVD where she recites the book of James from memory – totally awesome!!

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How I Memorize Scripture

My mind sometimes gets tripped up like a broken record, repeating the same thoughts obsessively. I am 41 and I wonder if days like these are a hormonal symptom of perimenopause or if I’m just going crazy. 
But even if the repeated thinking feels out of control, I do have control of what I think.  Recently I discovered that I can turn off mucky thoughts if I turn on the familiar passages of the Bible and just let those words tumble around in my mind. And when I do, I trust that God gives me those verses for that moment in time, and the Spirit speaks to my heart.
I used to be better at memorizing Bible passages. While I lived in Texas, it was easy to devote the 30 minute ride on the commuter bus from the suburbs to the big downtown city memorizing passages while gazing out the window if I wasn’t sitting next to someone chatty.  My lifestyle is different now in Kansas - sometimes I memorize while walking to and from parking lots, on walking breaks, waiting in lines, or a momentary mind vacation from my work while in the office.  Not being as diligent as I used to be, I decided to develop a more systematic method in hopes that a plan would set my pace.
First, I flipped through the Bible and wrote out the reference to every verse/passage that I had ever committed to memory, including those I no longer remembered quite so well.  In the process, I came across passages that I wished I had committed to memory, and wrote them down too. Then I made a chart that listed each reference with a few words to trigger my memory and boxes that I could check off each time I reviewed it.  My goal was to review all the verse I knew 4 times this year so that I could transfer short-term memory verses into the long-term part of my brain.  My table is set up something like this:
John 3:16-17
For God so loved

James 1:22-25
Do not merely

My Scripture memory method is divided into 3 parts: 1) reviewing a verse I already know, 2) memorizing something new, 3) refreshing my memory on a verse recently learned:
1.  Review a verse on the list that I already know, saying it several times without looking. Then I use the verse in prayer while thinking about what it means and how God wants me to apply it to my life.  I listen.  Then if I can recite the verse fairly easily, I place an x in the box. If I can’t, I will practice it again the next day.
2. At the beginning of the week, I choose a new verse or two and type it in italics on the list. Then I write it on the back of an old business card and carry it around with me.  I learn it by:
o   Understanding what the verse really means in context and consulting commentaries for fuller understanding if I desire;
o   Breaking it into phrases, repeating each phrase five times to myself;
o   Adding two phrases together and repeating them five times;
o   Adding three phrases together and repeating them five times, and then another phrase until eventually I have put the whole verse together. 
o   When I can repeat the verse five times to myself the following day without looking, I know that I have committed it to my short term memory and can pick a new verse while still working on committing it to my long-term memory.
3. Repeat the previously learned verse daily until it comes to memory easily for the next few days.  I put an x in the box when I feel like I really know it.
I want Scripture memory to be a tool for talking to God and hearing Him speak into my heart and actions every day instead of just another thing to check off my list.  As much as I wish I were more systematic and disciplined, I protect my head from legalism by not berating myself if I go for days without practicing.
Yet, I want to be disciplined too, so finding the balance without teetering on legalism is a challenge.  Ultimately, I never do all that I plan and desire to do, but if I go for weeks at a time without any effort, I eventually notice enough to ask myself why. Did I get overwhelmed? Was my plan to complex? Am I just lazy? Did I feel like I needed a break?  I diagnose the problem and push myself back into a plan, maybe starting with smaller bites.  I know that God sees my heart and is cheering me on during those times that I make the effort, and the effort will be rewarded.

Why I Fell in Love with Memorizing Scripture

What was the point of all those assigned verses I memorized growing up in Sunday School and VBS? I was told to put His Word in my heart so that I would not sin.  But it didn’t seem to do much to help me not sin.  All that memorizing didn’t necessarily come with much understanding, either. But it DID help  me to feel self-righteous and good in my accomplishment to be able to brag about how many verses I had memorized. 
But looking back now, I see that none of it was useless.  Or meaningless.  I once read that memorizing Bible verses increases our understanding of the vocabulary through which the Holy Spirit speaks.  A combination of two big events in my life linked together to show this to be true, changing forever how I view Scripture memory.
Eight years ago, I can remember as vividly as yesterday when I was lying in a crisp hospital gown on the hard steel table in a chilly, sterile room. Waiting. Waiting with nerves on edge.  Had they forgotten about me? Another medical test to figure out why my liver enzymes were sky-rocket high.  This one was going to hurt – and I was fighting anxiety at the thought of being alert and watching as a long needle was to be inserted below my ribs for a liver biopsy.
As endless minutes turned into an hour, I needed to get a grip on my mind and take my thoughts captive.  So I set my mind on the book of Genesis and worked my way through each book of the Bible thinking of every verse I had ever memorized just to pass the time. I moved through the Old Testament fairly quickly, but that day the Spirit soothed my heart as I mulled over all the words that I knew during that long wait. 
The outcome of that day began the dawning of the realization that my future would consist of much waiting for doctors, procedures, and eventually perhaps a liver transplant - and that motivated me to commit God’s Word even more to my heart.  When there was nothing else to distract me, God had spoken to me through His Word that I had memorized.  From that day forward, I resolved to make Scripture memory a major part of my life for the unexpected days ahead.
The other event that changed my view of Scripture memory occurred around the same season of life. During my Systematic Theology class in seminary, we were required to memorize full passages of Scripture - around 15 verses long , writing  them word for word during quizzes for grades periodically throughout the course. When the course ended, I was no longer satisfied to memorize a single verse here and there.  I found joy in knowing verses within their passages, in their full context and meaning.  And I learned that I really COULD memorize a whole chain of verses in entire passages – I WAS capable! 
The theology course and the uncomfortable waiting experience in the hospital sparked my motivation to memorize like crazy. Greater familiarity with the Bible was paired with the ability to perceive the way it all links together, expecially when I sometimes confused on passage with another. I was hungry for more.
Not that I’ve been so diligent at Scripture memory in the eight years since those events.  I go through spurts – seasons that I am passionate and discipline to commit His Words to memory and seasons that I become lax and lazy, not wanting to work my brain so hard.  
I want to be better disciplined.  I want to memorize the Word so that I can understand God and all of life even more, so that it comes to life in my life - not just in the waiting moments but all the time. And it won't happen by accident.