How to think better thoughts – Memorize scripture with mental maps

“Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious–the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”
Philippians 4:8 [The Message]

I saw this bumper sticker yesterday:

dont-believe-everything-you-think

I agree. Some of my thoughts are crazy. Untrue ones. Judgmental ones. Negative ones. Worrisome ones.

I need supernatural help when my mind starts wandering into the weeds. So God often works through my memory to rein my thoughts back in.

But to have good things there to pull from, I have to put good things in.

One way that works for me is memorizing sections of scripture. It keeps my mind actively attentive on words from or about God, and away from worries and other negative thought patterns.

Because I’m quite creative with worrying, I’ve had to memorize a lot of scripture.

About 11 years ago, I discovered it was possible to memorize several verses in a row (Colossians 3 is still one of my favorites). I was shocked.

Now I’m hooked on it. I love being able to grab a whole chunk of thought from these biblical authors, wherever I am, to keep my own mind occupied and rerouted to better thoughts.

But the hardest part about memorizing a Bible chapter? For me, it’s connecting the verses. I might remember verse 3 and verse 5, but can’t remember where verse 4 goes.

So I’ve started using mental mapping. And it works!

Here’s how you can use mental mapping, too.

  • Count the number of verses, or grouping of verses (if you memorize 2 verses at a time), that you want to memorize.
  • Select a sequence or flow that you are very familiar with by memory that has an equal number of objects or steps as the number of verses. It can be rooms in your house, items in your kitchen, houses on your street, etc.
  • Create a connection in your mind between the object and a key word or theme in your verse. The more creative it is, the more likely you’ll remember it. (But write these down in case you need reminding.)
  • As you learn a verse and add on others, mentally walk through your path. After only a few times, you’ll find you connect them effortlessly. You will still need to practice the individual wording, but you should get the gist of it just from your mental map.

Here are some sample steps and connections on my path for memorizing Isaiah 55.

I chose my kitchen, starting at the sink, and worked counterclockwise around the room, one object at a time. You’ll see I had to use my imagination to make the connections work, but hey, they did!

kitchen

1. Sink. Thirsty.
Isa 55:1  “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

2. Pantry. Bread.
Isa 55:2 “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

3. Refrigerator Freezer. Hear ice dropping.
Isa 55:3 “Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.”

4. Refrigerator Clear Bins. See (witness).
Isa 55:4 “Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples.”

5. Microwave. Fast (run).
Isa 55:5 “Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.”

10. Oven. Bread.
Isa 55:10 “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,”

11. Sugar Chest. Full (not empty).
Isa 55:11 “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

12. Kitchen Table. Noisy happy meals.
Isa 55:12 “For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

13. Window view. Trees.
Isa 55:13 “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

I read about this method in Joshua Foer’s book, Moonwalking with Einstein. It’s how he memorized random strings of numbers. But it’s actually a thousands-year-old method. You can google “architectural mnemonic” or “method of loci” if you want to learn more.

* * *

How do you keep your memory strong? I’d love to hear your tips.

[Next week at Do Not Depart, we’re linking blog posts about memorizing scripture. Write yours now and link up there Monday, April 27!]

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36 thoughts on “How to think better thoughts – Memorize scripture with mental maps

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re welcome, Kelly. I found it fascinating too. Especially after it worked for me. ha. I guess I didn’t really expect it to.

  1. heather m.

    This is a great trick!! I used a similar trick to memorize the periodic table in HS…! But I never thought about memorizing scripture like this. Thanks Lisa for an awesomely useful post! I’m your neighbor at Holley’s site today. Happy Wednesday!
    heather m. recently posted…Rebel With a Cause and a New HaircutMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad I no longer have to know the periodic table. 🙂 It’s definitely more enjoyable to memorize scripture than chemistry. ha.

  2. Betsy de Cruz

    Happy to see you on Coffee for Your Heart today, Lisa! This is a great idea! I’m going to try it. In the past I’ve memorized scripture passages, and just recently God has reminded me to review the ones I’ve already done. (after being AWOL from scripture memorization for a while!) I have the same problem you describe about getting the verse order mixed up. Will give this a try!
    Betsy de Cruz recently posted…Stay-at-Home Mom, Your Work MattersMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      The reviewing is such a hard thing for me, too. Sigh. I’d rather start off with something brand new. But I also don’t want to lose the things that I’ve already spent time learning, so review is necessary. Hope this method helps you too, Betsy.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I agree, Valerie. I guess our minds get so full of so many things that it’s hard to locate the exact ones we want. 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      My mind sure can take those rabbit trails in a hurry. I do have to remind myself that everything I think isn’t true. ha. (Although you’d think I’d have learned that a long time ago!). Thanks for visiting, Jerralea.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re welcome, Tasha. Even though Joshua Foer’s book wasn’t about memorizing scripture, much of what he shared could be directly applied to it.

  3. Cheryl Smith

    This is WONDERFUL, Lisa! I had never thought to do it this way. Such a practical tip on how to hide God’s Word in our hearts! Thank you ever so much for the sweet encouragement you left on my blog…I can’t begin to tell you how much it blessed me. I am so thankful for our visit today…both here and over at my place. God bless you richly, sweet friend. 🙂
    Cheryl Smith recently posted…Modesty Is Not Legalism, and De-Bunking Four Other Modesty MythsMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m glad we were able to visit also, Cheryl. I do love that about blogging relationships; so much back and forth, iron sharpening iron.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re welcome, Elizabeth. I need to start applying it to the chapter I’m learning now. 🙂 We’re already on James 1:5-6 but so far they’ve come easily so I haven’t done my mental work yet.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Great method, Sarah. I put reminders on my Outlook calendar to say my last week’s verse and this week’s verse once in the morning, then repeat all the verses thus far once in the afternoon. I also love doing Scripture Typer. It’s amazing that it really doesn’t take that much effort to get these verses down.

  4. floyd

    That’s an awesome spiritual discipline that pays massive dividends to your soul. You’ve long since inspired me to memorize more scripture and actual books, chapters, and verses. The video of you and your family speaking the verses you’d all memorized was awesome… and inspiring.
    floyd recently posted…OLLIE OLLIE OXEN FREE!My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Ooh, so you remember that video. ha. That was fun. Occasionally I’ll go back and watch it for a good laugh. I need to reel Jeff in on another chapter with me sometimes. Thanks for your encouragement always, Floyd.

  5. Selena Campbell

    Hi Lisa,

    This is a great post! I am going through a big trial right now, and I’ve been memorizing scriptures (along with my kids) for our home school Bible time. I’m choosing ones that I need to hide in my heart right now, and I’ve been picking strings of verses to memorize at one time. This will be a fun way to help my focus. Taking my thoughts captive and thinking on the good is very important always, but even moreso when one is struggling like I am now.

    Thanks so much for sharing!
    Blessings,
    Selena
    Selena Campbell recently posted…He Loves Me {My Epiphany}My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love how God has the right words for us at the right time. It’s a blessing that you have chosen verses that can help you through this trial, Selena. I pray that the Lord will keep strengthening you (and your kids) through the words you’re learning from him and about him!

  6. valerie

    Thank you for sharing! What a great idea! I usually try to connect one thought to the next. Like the first verse talks about “price” (money) and then the second verse also references money. The second says to listen and then the third says “Incline your ear”. The third mentions David and continues into the fourth. The fourth and fifth both say “Behold”. That is as far as I am right now. Your way seems simpler. 🙂 Thanks again!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      That’s very good, Valerie. Those connections are so critical in memorizing a chapter. I like when I can figure them out logically, but I can’t always. ha. Thanks for sharing this.

  7. Laurie Collett

    What wonderful advice! I find that reading through the Bible each year makes key Scripture verses that much more familiar, so that they become easier to memorize. Linked up with you at Do Not Depart — hope you’ll stop by Saved by Grace for a visit!
    Laurie Collett recently posted…Fear Not in the StormsMy Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re very right, Laurie. The more familiar we are with the verses, the easier they’ll be to memorize AND the easier they come to our mind when we need them (my favorite part!).

  8. Dianna

    You are a wonder, my friend! I LOVE your approach with this mental mapping. I’m guessing that your creativity comes from God…perhaps I need to be asking Him for it, as well as wisdom! I love this whole concept, Lisa! Thanks so much for sharing with us. I’m linking up tomorrow. 🙂
    Dianna recently posted…James 1:5-6My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      You’re sweet, Dianna. Most of “my” creativity comes from copying what someone else has done. ha. I’m glad I did learn about this method though; it’s been helpful. So glad you linked up with us. Your posts always take me deeper into the Word.

  9. Romi

    Your mental mapping is very creative.

    I can recall a chapter with the help of ‘first letters’ while I’m working on it intensively, but when I review it after a few months, I’m at a loss. –I can’t recite the chapters accurately and fluently. I take part in the Bible memory challenge mainly because I would like to spend more time in meditating on God’s words regularly. 🙂
    Romi recently posted…Though I’m not very interested in sport, I …My Profile

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I don’t retain as well as I’d like either, Romi. Always a little disappointing after months of putting in hard work. BUT, like you, I do gain so much in the months that I’m actually memorizing a text that it makes it all okay. 🙂 I’m trying to be more organized about reviewing past chapters a little more frequently just to see if it will make a difference. But even if we don’t remember all the words, we’ve still been changed by the Word that moved more into our hearts at the time, and He stays forever. So glad you’ve been part of our group!


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