Use It or Lose It

Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” Psalm 119:11


The cliché that serves as the title for this article is quite familiar to all of us. Throughout the various aspects of life, we readily observe instances in which certain skills or knowledge gradually deteriorate over time if we do not use them.  For example, as we prepare for a test, we learn all about the subject that will be covered on that test. However, several months later when we begin studying for the final exam in that same class, we can hardly remember the material covered at the beginning of the semester. Or take the example of an athlete. One may become very skilled in a certain sport, but an extended absence from playing that sport will cause that individual to lose some of the abilities he developed. The same concept holds true for playing a musical instrument. If a pianist stopped playing, he would eventually forget how to play pieces of music that he had previously learned. Certain abilities we gain and information we learn are lost over time if we fail to use them on a regular basis.

The truth of the cliché “use it or lose it” extends to our efforts to memorize scripture. A Bible class at school may require that you learn a new verse every week. So the night before the quiz, you learn to recite the verse assigned that week. The next day, you quickly review the passage before writing it out for your teacher, but could you recite that same verse at the end of the semester? How about even a month later? If you are like me, you will forget entirely that you even learned it in the first place.

Nevertheless, we are called to hide God’s word in our hearts. So how can we circumvent our natural tendency to forget verses that we memorize? Use them! I write this article to present a very practical approach for memorizing scripture along with methods constantly to use those verses.

With the new year comes a new semester for those of us still attending school. If you attend a Christian grade school, high school, or university you likely have memory verses assigned to you each week. I challenge everyone who reads this to start a booklet or a stack of flashcards on which we write out every passage as it is assigned. Each week, when we are given a new verse, take the time to learn that verse, but also revisit all of the previous passages we have already learned.  Thus, at the end of our second week of school, we should be able to recite the verse we learned that second week, as well as the verse from the previous week. At the end of the third week, we should be able to recite all three passages that we have learned. So when we study a new passage assigned on the fourth week of school, we should also review the previous three. By constantly reviewing every passage we learn, we will keep them fresh in our minds. Furthermore, the verses we begin with will slowly become so familiar that we can recite them without much effort.

For those of us who do not have scripture passages assigned at school because we work full time or attend a secular school, the challenge still applies. We simply have the liberty of choosing the verses we write down in our booklet or stack of notecards to memorize. Start with passages of Scripture that hold special significance in your life. Other practical ideas for passages to memorize include the texts from the sermons we hear on Sunday. After hearing an entire sermon on a particular text, we will be more acquainted with the meaning and the application of that passage. In addition, by memorizing the sermon text, we become more inclined to remember the sermon itself. Memorize verses from the book of Proverbs. Here lies a wealth of wisdom and knowledge that is highly practical for day-to-day life. Finally, we should always be on the lookout in our personal devotions for verses that strike us as particularly meaningful.

As we demonstrated, we must constantly use the verses we write down in order to commit them to memory. Therefore, I recommend we set aside time each week to study and recite all the verses in our booklets. This would make a great activity for Sunday afternoons or evenings. However, don’t hesitate to review multiple times each week. The more frequently we write out or rehearse them, the more engraved on our memories they will become.

Aside from actually sitting down and studying our booklets or notecards, there are many other opportunities to use the passages we learn. For starters, we can utilize the verses we learn in our prayers. Using Scripture to guide our prayers not only presents an avenue for us to employ the passages we have memorized, but also serves to make our prayers more Christ-like. The Lord’s Prayer that we commonly recite before meals represents a concrete example of using scripture to guide our prayers. Other practical passages include Psalm 51 to facilitate our confession of sin, Romans 8:38–39 to express our confidence in God’s love for us, or Psalm 8:1,3–4 to show our adoration to the creator of the heavens. Even single verses or phrases from scripture can assist us in finding the right words to express ourselves at the throne of grace. Try memorizing some passages specifically for incorporating them into your prayers.

Along with reciting the verses we memorize in our prayers, the other highly practical and beneficial reason we write God’s word on our hearts is to keep us from sin. “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee” (Ps. 119:11). In times of temptation, the word of God serves as “the sword of the Spirit” that enables us “to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Eph. 6:17, 11). The apostle Paul’s words to the church at Ephesus describe the extremely powerful way in which the Holy Spirit will use our efforts to learn God’s word to deliver us from evil. Therefore, we should strive to memorize passages that we can apply to specific temptations that we struggle with. When that temptation is set before us, the Spirit may use our knowledge of Scripture to prevent us from falling into that particular sin.

Hopefully, the practical applications presented above provide us with all the incentive we need to begin actively writing God’s word on our hearts. However, I can imagine the task of learning a new passage each week, while not allowing ourselves to forget a single one, may seem quite daunting. To prevent ourselves from starting this process, but quickly petering out over time, I encourage us to have others become involved in our efforts to hide the scriptures in our hearts. Perhaps we could start up a booklet or stack of notecards with a close friend or sibling, especially if that person is a fellow classmate and has the same verses assigned each week. This would enable us to spend time quizzing each other each week. Young couples, whether you are dating, engaged, or newlyweds, find verses that apply to your relationship, such as 1 Corinthians 13:4–7, which presents the characteristics of love, and learn them together. In each of these cases, having someone to assist us will serve to keep us accountable.

So at the start of another year, when the world is busy making New Year’s resolutions, acquire a stack of notecards or a small booklet and begin writing down verses with the resolve to memorize them. The more frequently we review these verses, the more engraved they will become in our hearts and minds. This will allow us to carry the word of God with us wherever we go, and prevent anyone from ever taking it away from us. So begin actively memorizing Scripture, and whenever possible find ways to use it!