How well do you remember the truths of God? Can you recall the sermon, Bible study and sermonette you heard last week? What did you cover in your personal study yesterday? How well do you remember the scriptures?
These can be uncomfortable questions because few of us have naturally great memories. Most of us have to work to improve it.
But God wants you to know and remember His truth. He expects you to exercise and build your memory, even though it is hard work. What happens if you don’t work to strengthen your memory and recall? God’s truth slips out of your mind! (Hebrews 2:1).
Perhaps you feel frustrated at your forgetfulness, but don’t give up. Memory is like so many other physical creations: God designed it to improve through repeated work! Generally, we only recall those things we have repeatedly studied.
How much easier it would be if you could hear something just once and retain it permanently! But easier isn’t always good for you. God wants you to develop godly character. He created our minds to require consistent, daily study in order to remember and recall. He created our memories to require exercise and discipline in order to become sharp. God wants to see how hard we are willing to work in order to remember things.
And regarding His truth, He wants to know how much we love it. In Malachi’s Message, Gerald Flurry writes, “God wants to know who loves the truth—and who just has it.”
God wants us to work! The Apostle Paul asked in verse 3, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation”? God will judge us if we neglect our salvation—yet that is exactly what many of God’s people have done.
It is not easy to retain and preserve that “great salvation.” It is easy to get lazy and casual, to assume we are more grounded in God’s truth than we are. That is precisely why Paul wrote this warning.
Memory Leads to Salvation
In Revelation 10:9, God commands us to eat up the little book, Malachi’s Message. When you eat and digest food, your body breaks it down and converts it to energy. Digesting spiritual food is breaking it down and converting it into action in your life. It means reading closely, recognizing specific action steps you need to take, and then following through and doing them.
To God’s people in Corinth, Paul wrote that the truth he gave them would save them, “if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you” (1 Corinthians 15:2). Your salvation depends on keeping God’s truth in your memory. Yes, memory is a condition of salvation.
God records the names of certain people in a “book of remembrance” (Malachi 3:16) because they remember what they were taught. They will be rewarded by being spared from the Great Tribulation and will receive an eternal headquarters position! That is quite a reward for putting a priority on exercising and building your memory!
Like any parent, God loves it when He tells His children something and they hold it fast and do it. How wonderful when a child continues doing what he was told, weeks and months, even years later. That is what God wants us to do. He wants to trust that when He tells us something, we will remember it and stick with it.
Often, children lose track of instructions and simply return to what they were doing before. When called on it, they’ll say, “I forgot!” Does that make their failure to obey acceptable? No, it is still disobedience. God’s people who forget God’s instructions will experience the Tribulation! They won’t be able to use the excuse “I forgot!”
Remembering Means Doing
If you are going to be saved, you must really love the truth (2 Thessalonians 2:10). God tests His people to see how much of that love each of us has (verse 11). “God’s Church has been flooded with His precious truth,” Mr. Flurry writes in Malachi’s Message. “Now God is going to see if we just talk about faith—or really live by faith—by His Word. Do we remember what we were taught and live by it?”
This is really what remembering means: That instruction is part of you—it’s what you live by. Remembering is closely linked to doing. Remembering something doesn’t just mean you have it in mind; it means you are following it as a guiding principle. To recall something but not live by it isn’t really remembering it!
When God says, “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8), He’s not just saying, Remember that the Sabbath is the seventh day of the week. He’s saying, Remember it by keeping it!
When you remember something, you show that you treasure it. When God tells you something and you use and apply that instruction, you show God that what He says is important to you! Really, remembering is proof that you love God! It is proof that you don’t just have the truth, you also love it.
God has given us so much instruction about how to conduct our lives: how to pray and study, structure our time, conduct our family lives, dress, eat, work, tithe, fast, use the Holy Spirit and so many other things. That is direction from our Father, who loves us and is trying to help us be as physically and spiritually successful as possible. Can we remember these things? Or do we need constant reminders?
This is really a question of how much we honor our Father. That is at the heart of the Laodiceans’ failure: not honoring the father! (Malachi 1:6). A child who honors his father remembers what his father tells him to do, obeys him and does it. A child who doesn’t honor his father doesn’t value his instruction enough to remember it and do it. Either immediately or eventually, he goes back to doing what he wants to do.
Many people say they just have a bad memory. Actually, forgetting has always been a major problem for the people of God. With ancient Israel, God repeatedly commanded them to remember, and repeatedly corrected them for forgetting.
In reality, unless you have a brain-related injury or illness, a bad memory is really an untrained or unused memory.
The Bible contains a lot of specific, practical instruction aimed at helping us use, build and improve our memories. And recent scientific discovery confirms what the Bible indicates about how your mind works.
Here are five points on how to improve your memory:
1. Remember by Talking
Before the Israelites entered the Promised Land, Moses gave them the book of Deuteronomy to remind them of their own history and of God’s law. He told them to be diligent to not forget these truths. Then he told them how to be diligent: Teach them to your children! (Deuteronomy 4:9).
Have family Bible studies. Go over God’s truths. Talk about them, remember them in family discussion. Share what you’re studying. This will cement what you learn into your own mind as well as your children’s minds.
This is also important in fellowship with other members. God’s people speak often one to another about things they want to remember (Malachi 3:16). They are written in a book of remembrance because they’re reminding each other and remembering God’s words!
If you want to remember something, talk to others about it. Share it. “A large body of research … shows that thinking about or discussing an event immediately after it occurs greatly enhances retrieval ability,” the January 2013 Trumpet reported. “This practice can also convert short-term memories into a long-term, more permanent form.”
How convenient that, immediately after receiving instruction at Sabbath services, we fellowship! Take advantage of that: Do you want to remember what you just heard and learned? Then talk about it!
2. Remember by Being Impressed
Whether something locks into your memory depends on the strength of the impression it makes when you encounter it. It’s like driving a nail into a board: If you tap on it lightly, it will not penetrate and fasten. If something makes a little impression on your mind, it is likely to fade from memory. So let the truths of God make a deep mental impression!
God wants His words to be in your heart, locked in (Deuteronomy 6:6). Notice what He commands: Go over them repeatedly with your family (verse 7). Put them into action (“upon thine hand”); drill them into your thinking (“between thine eyes,” verse 8). Write them down, put up posters, give yourself reminders (verse 9)—whatever you have to do to make a strong impression that will stick with you!
When God wanted to teach a powerful lesson, He got the Israelites’ attention. When He instituted Passover, He had them kill a lamb and spread its blood on their doorposts. To this day, at Passover we wash feet, eat bread and drink wine, which makes a stronger impression than simply listening to a sermon. When God gave the Ten Commandments, He did so with thunder, lightning, earthquake and a trumpet-like voice! God often instituted memorials and had Israel set up monuments. He had them put blue fringes on the edges of their garments, “that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord” (Numbers 15:39).
“The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings which are given by one Shepherd” (Ecclesiastes 12:11; Revised Standard Version). In services, we take notes in order to engage our minds and deepen the impression the message makes. (Some research shows writing helps us remember things better than typing on a laptop.) To cement your notes even more, spend time with them; read them out loud to yourself; rewrite them in the form of a test.
Whatever you’re trying to remember, think of ways to make it leave a stronger impression on your mind.
3. Remember by Concentrating
When you study the Bible, study hard. You won’t remember much if you only read it casually and quickly, as you would read a novel. The Bible is a coded book: You must use God’s Holy Spirit and intense concentration to absorb and remember it.
“Studies by biologists have proven that the act of concentrating releases hormones that set off a chain reaction of signals through various memory-forming areas of the brain, enhancing the brain’s immediate ability to store memories” (Trumpet, January 2011).
When studying, eliminate distractions: Turn off the music, silence your phone, close your e-mail. Don’t indulge impulses that will lead you astray. The more you do this, the better you will get at it. “Research by psychologist Sheila Crowell indicates that the acts of concentrating and remembering actually modify the brain in such a way that it becomes easier to learn in the future,” this article continued. “The more we concentrate, the easier it becomes. So if you want to improve your concentration in a world of distractions, engage in activities that require it. One of the easiest is to read books. If you’re used to reading only snippets on the Internet, you might find it difficult to focus for prolonged periods at first. But stay with it. As you concentrate—away from your computer, with your cell phone in silent mode—your neurons will go to work, and your powers of concentration will grow.”
4. Remember by Meditating
Think about what you study. The psalmist in Psalm 119:15-16 wrote, “I will meditate in thy precepts … I will not forget thy word.” Meditation helps your memory!
Read the Bible to remember it. Ponder what you study. Ask yourself how it applies to you and what lessons you should take from it. When you read about a principle of Christian living, ask yourself whether you are obeying it. When you face a decision, think about the biblical instruction you’ve read and which scriptures apply to the situation. When you read prophecy, consider whether there is current fulfillment; then, when you read the news, ask yourself which prophecies are being fulfilled. In spare moments throughout the day, think about what you have been studying. The more you do these things, the more the Bible will come to life for you—and the easier it will be to remember and recall.
“We need to be educational ruminants,” the Good News of July-August 1970 exhorted. “Ruminants are animals that chew their cud. They swallow large chunks of food. And then at a more leisurely time, they belch up those chunks and chew it up, mixing it well with their saliva so it will be properly digested. Perhaps if we would do that in principle—which translated means practice meditation…—weighing and mixing in our minds the things we have gulped down in ‘large chunks,’ this would help us vastly in remembering.”
5. Remember by Repeating
If you encounter something only once, you are likely to forget it. Go over it again and again, and you will drill it in.
Within 24 hours of hearing a lecture, you forget more than 80 percent of it. The amount you remember goes up dramatically when you review. In fact, studies show that the key to locking things into long-term memory is repetition at precisely timed intervals.
“The lion’s share of memories disappear within minutes,” the Trumpet reported, “but reexposing oneself to information a few minutes or even an hour or two after the initial encounter with it will help to keep the information in the working memory” (January 2013). Get in that first review as soon as possible. Quickly scan your notes right after services, then talk about what you heard. Later in the day, after a Bible study session, do a quick review of your highlights and notes.
Then, within 24 hours, review it again. A thorough review is best, but even 10 minutes can make a big difference. Before you study the next chapter in a booklet, quickly review the previous chapter. This one-day-after refresher is shown to boost memory back to around 95 percent of what you originally knew.
Then, do it again a week later. “If we review again one week later—even if only for 5 minutes—it will further congeal our memories. We should conduct another review about a month after the initial stimulus. This formula will fortify our memories considerably” (ibid).
Consider trying this each Sabbath morning: Spend 15 minutes of your study time reviewing your notes from the previous week, then look back at your notes from the previous month. You might also look through a summary of what you studied that week. Each time you review and repeat what you need to learn, you deepen the impression in your mind a little more, until it is locked into your long-term memory.
How Hard Will You Try?
Remembering what we learn is critical. “We are held accountable for every word God has given us (Matthew 4:4),” Malachi’s Message says. “Either we remember what Christ taught or our eternal lives will be blotted out!”
The ancient Israelites continually forgot God’s truth. But they lacked the Holy Spirit. God’s New Testament saints have this Spirit, which will “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). We should do better than they did!
The Laodiceans had the Holy Spirit, but failed to use it—and still forgot. We must also do better than they did—and we will, if we learn the lessons of their failure.
Memory is crucial to your eternal life. If your memory isn’t as good as you’d like it to be, don’t be discouraged. “So you think you forget most of what you study. So what? Study it again. God is not going to reward us by how developed our memory is, but by how hard we try. Keep going over the material. Make notes. Review them. Some of it is bound to stick—probably more than you realize” (Good News, April 1982).
How hard will you try? That is what God is concerned about. Your effort to remember tells Him what He needs to know!
Your memory is an important gift from God. He wants you to have a good memory. He will do His part—if you do yours. Start now: Work at remembering. God will notice your effort. He is writing names in the book of remembrance right now! He is ready to reward you in spectacular ways for your labor to remember!