By Jesse Jost
In the last year and a half, my soul has been so refreshed by taking up the habit of scripture memory again. The Word has been so comforting and invigorating. If there was one spiritual habit I could convince other believers to take on, it would be the memorization and meditation of the Word.
Unfortunately, in most cases, all my nagging and pleading with other believers has resulted in very few verses memorized. I’m not judging them. In conversation with these people, motivation is not the problem! They WANT to memorize. It’s just so hard to change our habits, especially with memorizing, which seems so difficult at first, and is also a habit that will cause you to face spiritual opposition.
I have been so encouraged lately by studying behaviour change, and the power of tiny habits to produce long-term change. I realize that I have been going about motivating people the wrong way. I have been challenging them to make too big of a change at once by giving them the goal of a whole book of the New Testament, or asking them to do a verse a day.
The problem is that these goals seem insurmountable at first and make people feel like this is too difficult. It makes them feel like a failure. We hate the sense of failure, so we quit or neglect the activities that make us feel bad.
A tiny habit is one that starts so small, we can’t fail to do it. And as we consistently do this small change, we start to believe that change is possible. We feel good; we feel hope.
This hope and sense of empowerment snowballs and makes us tackle bonus repetitions. As we stay consistent, the activity becomes easier, and as it is easier, we enjoy it more, and find our selves doing it more often.
If you have the goal of doing 100 pull ups, and find that you can’t do even one, you will feel like a failure, and believe pull ups are not for you. You won’t begin the pull up habit, and you certainly won’t reach your goal. But if you can commit to lifting small weights consistently, you will gradually feel stronger and more successful and will eventually be able to tackle pull ups.
The problem is that when we want to change, we get impatient and want to see big change all at once. Change rarely happens that way. When we don’t see change, we give up and go back to our old habits.
We need to shift our focus away from goals, to the process. We need to commit to consistently planting small seeds while we wait for the fruit to come. Don’t despise the small steps. Consistency is what we are after. If we are consistent in small worthwhile habits, time will cause these to compound in a powerful way, and if you don’t give up you will see fruit.
Let’s apply these ideas to memorizing. Suppose you set a goal of memorizing a chapter by the end of the month, but your brain is not used to memorizing. The process will be so painful, and reinforce your belief that you “just don’t have a mind that can memorize.” You will forever live in the gap between good intentions and desired results.
I want to challenge you in a new way. Begin a tiny Scripture memory habit. Commit to memorizing one verse a week.
Say to yourself: On Monday, after I use the bathroom and before I eat breakfast, I will memorize one verse. Every day for the rest of the week, in the same slot, I will review that verse. Make that your baseline commitment.
Of course feel free to do bonus reps, like reviewing the new verse every time you brush your teeth. Or review while you do the dishes. Pray the verse, ask God to show you what it means. Meditate on it. The first couple times you review the verse don’t be surprised if you can’t remember it all. The key to memorizing is review that is spaced out over time. By the 4 or 5th review you will be pleased by how well you know it and how fast it comes to you.
The key with a small habit is not forgetting to do it. That is why you must anchor it to an established routine that is already a part of your day. So pick a consistent activity in your life and commit to doing this tiny habit after that activity.
Consider how small this requirement is: One week, 7 days, 168 HOURS: You have that whole stretch of time to memorize 1 verse. So small and it seems inconsequential.
But if you keep it up for months and years, you won’t believe the gains. In one year, you could have memorized Romans 8, or Titus, or 2 Thessalonians.
In two years, you could memorize the whole Sermon on the Mount, or the book of James. Or First Peter.
In ten years you could have all of Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians, memorized.
If you did this habit every week from ages 20 to 50, you could have 18 epistles memorized – that is, Galatians to Jude!
If you are finding time to consistently review your new verse and the ones you have memorized before, by the end of the year those 52 verses should be a part of your long-term memory. Just like you can recall the Lord’s prayer because of repetition, these chapters engrafted will stick. Next year you can focus on reviewing your new sections, and you won’t have to revisit last year’s verses nearly as often to keep them available for recall.
And this is just 1 verse PER WEEK. As you get stronger, and develop your memory muscles, you will enjoy it more and be able to tackle more. One verse a week over 30 years is 1560 verses. I’ve memorized over 1700 verses in the last year and a half as a small side habit.
You wouldn’t believe what is possible if you are consistent. All kinds of bad habits get ingrained in your life in seemingly inconsequential ways. Use the power of tiny habits for good. This small habit if applied will also improve your prayer life and sensitivity to God’s voice. It will reduce stress and give joy. Begin as soon as you can and don’t give up!