Why You Forget What You Read in the Bible

You made up your mind.  This is going to be the year that you make Bible reading a priority, but something happened within a few short days.  The motivation is already waning.  You just aren’t as committed as you intended to be.  Why is that?  It might be because you have been going about Bible reading all wrong.

It’s time to go the 2nd mile with Bible meditation.


You can listen to the 2nd Mile Podcast here or download it on your favorite app below.  Some of the main points are transcribed for you below as well.

Let’s talk about the Bible.  You know that ancient yet living and active document put together by none other than God Almighty?  Yeah, He wrote it.  And He expects us to study it.  So why do we struggle with it so badly?  The most important Being wrote the most important messages to us, and yet we struggle finding the time or the desire to crack it open.

If you’ve been following Jesus for any amount of time, you’ve had people encourage you to study the Bible.  You might have had days, weeks, months, or even years of success, but you also know what it is like to struggle in prioritizing the discipline of reading the Scriptures.  You might read due to joy, curiosity, guilt, obligation, or pressure.  There are plenty of motivators out there.  But I think if Bible reading is really that important, you would see why somewhere along the way.  If you truly treasured the opportunity to comprehend God’s character and thoughts, your pace and desire would quicken to the discipline.

Let me show you how this works.  If you have been reading the Bible lately, can you think of what you read?  What has impacted you?  Where did you find it?  Here’s my realization regarding many people’s dilemma:

If you find time to read, you rarely remember what you read.

Why is that?  Surely if you read your Bible in the morning, you should be able to remember what you read just a few hours later.  But oftentimes we cannot regurgitate information just a few hours removed.  I’ve even started a conversation with people about reading the Bible and then unsure of the content of what I read.  In an attempt to encourage or maybe impress someone with my current discipline, I inform them of my time in the Word.  “What did you read?” they simply ask, and yet I am unable to give them a simple answer.

Why is that?  Because we settled for reading the pages of the Bible instead of meditating on the truths of the Bible.  The difference has paramount implications.

You can maintain your attention to Bible reading, but if you don’t find a way to increase your retention of Bible reading, you will stall out eventually.

If you’ve ever wanted to increase in your knowledge and love for the Word, you have to learn how to meditate on the Scriptures.

I Would Have Never Gotten That

I get to serve as a pastor.  I love teaching God’s Word.  It is an exhilarating joy for me.  For this year, I’ve been preaching through the Gospel of Mark verse-by-verse.  I have loved watching lightbulbs turn on for folks as they are seeing the Scripture coming alive.

While we were still in Mark 1, I preached a sermon on when Jesus cleansed a leper.  I wasn’t expecting this passage to come so alive to me.  Whether or not anyone else was moved by the passage, the Holy Spirit had done work on me in just the preparation.  As I pointed out details in the passage and tried to explain all that I had learned, I could tell that our folks were seeing it as well.

After the service that day, a dear friend approached me to encourage me regarding the sermon.  She informed me, “Thank you for today’s sermon!  There’s only one problem with it.  I would have never gotten all that you shared from just reading the passage.”

My response to her was simple: “I wouldn’t have gotten all that either if I just simply read the passage.”  I had read the passage numerous times.  I dove into cross-references.  I researched the implications regarding the details that Mark included in his account.  I prayed that God would open my eyes to see what He was teaching.

In short, I meditated on the passage instead of just reading the passage.

What Is Meditation?

When you hear the word “meditation” what comes to your mind?  You probably envision a Buddhist monk chanting “ohm” with his legs crossed and his hands positioned in a certain way.  You might understand meditation to be an emptying of your mind.

Scriptural meditation is quite the opposite.  To meditate on Scripture, you don’t empty your mind, but you fill it.

The definition of meditation is to think deeply or carefully about something.  

I believe the reason your discipline of studying the Bible might have struggled is that you are reading instead of meditating.  If I told you that you had a map of a treasure on it that would set you up for life, would you do a quick glance or a thorough study?  I know what you would do because I would do the same thing.  We would both study it so well that we could find how to access and enjoy the treasure.  Nothing would hinder us from doing it.

We have been told repeatedly to read the Bible.  So we read it.  And we read it quickly.  We read it aimlessly.

  • In some ways, we read the Bible like any other book.  We skim it really quick trying to say we covered the page amount we were hoping to finish.
  • In other ways, we read the Bible completely different from any other book.  We take lines out of it disregarding its placement within the whole framework.  What other book could you imagine opening up to a random page, selecting a single sentence from the middle of the page, and assuming you understand the gist of the entire book?

You wouldn’t – that’s a ridiculous way to read a book and yet we do that exact thing with God’s Book.

God Commands Meditation More Often Than Reading

If I asked you to find a place in Scripture where God commands you to read the Bible, could you find it?  Even if you know your Bible well, you will struggle to find those verses.  You know why?  Because they aren’t there often.  God commands meditating on Scripture more often than reading Scripture.

It makes sense at some level.  Before the printing press, most people didn’t have access to written documents.  Even if they did, not everyone was literate and able to read it if they wanted to read it on their own.  Yet we know that God expected them to know the truth.  How did they do that?  They meditated on it.  They memorized it.  They told it to one another which increased retention drastically.


Does the Bible command to read?  Kinda.  Let me give you two examples:

  1. Romans 15:4 – For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
    • Paul mentions that the Scriptures that he had access to at the time were written.  That implies it should be read, but if you study the verse at a slower pace you will realize that for true instruction to take place, endurance in studying it must prevail.
  2. 1 Timothy 4:13 – Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.
    • Paul encouraged Pastor Timothy to read the Scripture out loud to his congregation.  Why would he do that?  Most likely because they all didn’t have a copy of it.  But he was to devote himself to reading it, exhorting it, and teaching it.  He was helping the people meditate on it for retention.

At the very best, these verses assume reading but don’t settle for just reading.  The reading is leading to meditation.


In contrast to those verses, look what God’s Word says regarding meditating on the Scriptures.

  1. Joshua 1:8 – This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
  2. Hebrews 4:12 – For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
  3. Psalm 119:18 – Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
  4. John 15:7 – If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.
  5. Psalm 119:10-11 – With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
  6. 2 Timothy 2:7 – Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.
  7. Psalm 1:2 – But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law, he meditates day and night.

How to Meditate on Scripture

  1. Commit to a reading plan.
  2. Create enough time for meditation margin.
  3. Pray for God’s insight into the text.
  4. Remember that less may be more.
  5. Summarize what you read.
  6. Seek a way to apply the truth.
  7. Share with someone regarding what you’ve learned.

Why is meditation so important?  Because we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness (1 Tim. 4:7).  We aren’t like Jesus enough, and we need to slow down long enough for Him to work on us.  Remember that we desire transformation over information.

  • If you skim passages, you might increase your information but it will be just like cramming for a test that you forget the material hours later.
  • If you meditate on passages, you will increase your holiness as you allow the Word to study you as you study the Word.

What’s more important that I know what God says about marriage or that I do what God says about marriage?  Of course, we would say it is better to be a biblical husband rather than just knowing the biblical reference, but I can’t apply what I don’t know.  I can’t make it up on my own.  I have to study it, but I need to study it well enough to be able to apply it.

If you’ve been struggling to prioritize the Bible lately, maybe it is because you have settled for reading instead of meditating.  Take some time this week.  Slow down.  Hear God speak.

Don’t settle for an average life.  Go the second mile.

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