I have divided this article into two parts. The first deals with the practical aspects of improving your scripture study, and the second deals more with the spiritual aspects of scripture study, especially the importance of incorporating the Lord's word into your life in every aspect of your life.
Part I: Just Do it! How to "find time" to read your scriptures, and how to make that time count.
Most people know that they should be reading their scriptures, but most of us struggle to incorporate meaningful scripture study into our daily lives. Many people that I talk to say that they don’t really need tips to improve their reading, but they would like tips on how to “get motivated” to read their scriptures. While I would argue that improving your understanding of the scriptures can only help in motivating you to read more often, I agree that this subject deserves a section of it’s own.
I have drawn up a list of tips that I have found personally useful in gaining motivation to search the scriptures, ponder upon them, and eventually gain insight into them through meaningful prayer. I have also included tips that will help make your personal study more meaningful, which will also help you to feel more inclined to study.
1. Just do it! If you wait until you “feel like it” it will never happen. According to W. Terry Whalin in his book “The complete idiot’s guide to Teaching the Bible” “feeling like it” is the least important factor that we should consider when it comes to living any aspect of the Gospel.
“Some Christians say they don’t feel like studying the Bible, or they don’t feel like praying, or they don’t feel like witnessing. Feeling has nothing to do with living the Christian life, for feelings come and go. The key to spiritual maturity is to live for Jesus Christ not because it makes us feel good, but because we know it is the right thing to do. I have discovered that if the only time I study the Bible, pray, or witness is when I feel like it, the devil makes sure I never feel like it.”
It is at times like these that President Spencer W. Kimball's advice becomes especially helpful:
"Do it! Do it now! Do it With a plan!" (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006)You need to actively plan to incorporate your scripture study into your day. Also, you can pray to be inspired with the motivation to study. It helps if you approach scripture study as an opportunity and a blessing instead of a burden or a hassle.
"...Studying and searching the scriptures is not a burden laid upon [us] by the Lord, but a marvelous blessing and opportunity." (Ezra Taft Benson, "the Power of the Word," Ensign, May 1986.)Often the strongest motivation to study your scriptures will only come once you make an effort to begin, even when you do not initially feel motivated to open your book. If you make a choice to actively and diligently strive to study your scriptures, the Lord will bless you with increased motivation and focus to help you accomplish this, and He will also bless you with joy as you do so.
"I am grateful for emphasis on reading the scriptures. I hope that for you this will become something far more enjoyable than a duty; that, rather, it will become a love affair with the word of God. I promise you that as you read, your minds will be enlightened and your spirits will be lifted. At first it may seem tedious, but that will change into a wondrous experience with thoughts and words of things divine." (Gordon B. Hinckley, "The Light within You," Ensign, May 1995, p. 99.)
2. Planning is everything. It’s easier to find time to do anything if you make time for it ahead of time. Structure your day so that you have a regular and specific time set aside in which you know you can study the scriptures. Schedule your other activities around that time so as to avoid a conflict that might interfere with, or prevent you from, studying your scriptures.
“My experience suggests that a specific and scheduled time set aside each day and, as much as possible, a particular place for study greatly increase the effectiveness of our searching through the scriptures” (Elder David A. Bednar, “Understanding the importance of scripture study”).
“The only way you can be sure that a busy schedule doesn’t crowd out scripture study is to establish a regular time to study the scriptures” (President Henry B. Eyring Ensign, July 2005, 24).If you find that you have too much on your plate to be able to devote sufficient time to a diligent study of the scriptures each day then you should consider eliminating or curtailing some activities from your life in order to make room for what really matters.
“I have heard many well-intentioned Church leaders and teachers instruct congregations to find time for daily scripture study, ‘even if it’s only one or two verses per day.’ Though I understand the point they are trying to teach and applaud the sincerity of that conviction, may I gently suggest that if we are too busy to spend at least a few minutes every day in the scriptures, then we are probably too busy and should find a way to eliminate or modify whatever activities are making that simple task impossible (Elder M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted, 68).Satan will try to place distractions and obstacles in your way, in order to prevent you from taking the time to have a meaningful and spiritual study session. As Elder Richard G. Scott said, “Satan doesn’t have to tempt us to do bad things. He can accomplish much of his objective by distracting us with many acceptable things, thus keeping us from accomplishing the essential ones. We need to frustrate that distraction by identifying what is critically important in our lives. We must give the cream of our effort to accomplish those things. Where there is limited time or resources, this pattern may require that some good activities must be set aside.” (Richard G. Scott, “To Learn and to Teach More Effectively,” Brigham Young University 2007-2008 Speeches, 21 August 2007). One of those critical and essential things in our lives is scripture study.
Missionaries plan every waking moment of their lives, and they adhere to a disciplined study schedule, and they are better off for following it. If you follow their example, your whole life will be better, not least because you are studying your scriptures daily. Developing these skills will help you to become more consistent in your study habits, which will go a long way toward making your study time more enjoyable. When scripture study becomes more than a harried afterthought that we squeeze in between job, television, children, and sleep it can become a true joy and a solace to you, a balm by which unseen hurts might be healed and the stresses of the day are made to fall away or diminish. It just takes some effort on your part to make time to study before you can fully realize these blessings.
3. You can choose what (and how) to study. This isn’t grade school, and there isn’t some teacher hanging over you telling you what to study. The scriptures are the text, and the Holy Ghost is the teacher, but you get to set the curriculum, which means that you can choose to study anything in the scriptures that sparks your interest. Many of the people whom you know that you might consider to be “scripture experts” often elect to study by topic according to whatever they feel prompted to explore that day.
"Study topically as well as chronologically. Both approaches have merit, but we need to go to the Topical Guide or the index from time to time and read all that the Lord has said on repentance, faith, or some other principle." (M. Russell Ballard, "Be Strong In the Lord," Ensign, July 2004).You can gain a great deal of knowledge if you can learn to break the gospel and the scriptures down one subject or principle at a time. If you will then take the time to devote yourself to obtaining a more comprehensive understanding of a particular principle you will find the scriptures to be much less intimidating and much more manageable and approachable. When you figure this out, scripture study becomes much less like eating your vegetables, and more like fun.
4. Come prepared with questions. Surely there is something that you have always wanted to know about God and his Gospel. Odds are it’s in the scriptures somewhere, and it falls to you to search it out on your own. I therefore recommend that you approach your daily scripture study with a question or two (or a whole series of questions) in mind.
"You will be taught more easily as you approach the scriptures if you search with a question and with a determination to act on the answer. We can receive what seems to us new truth when we go back to the same scripture with new questions." (Henry B. Eyring, "Studying and Teaching the Old Testament," Ensign, Jan. 2002, 32).The doctrines contained in the scriptures will become much more meaningful to you if you find them in answer to your own heartfelt and personal inquiry. There is joy that can come with discovery, especially when it is accompanied by the spirit. It is in those moments when your questions are answered that you will come to feel the most joy in your studies.
“I am convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves—and not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.” (Spencer W. Kimball, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 62.)I also wish to add that studying the scriptures isn't just an academic or an intellectual exercise. The scriptures can provide real guidance and answers to "the great questions of the soul" (Ezra Taft Benson, “Flooding the Earth with the Book of Mormon,” Ensign, Nov. 1988, 5), in times of great crises or sorrow or when approaching weighty decisions, which is when you need those answers and that guidance the most.
"Going to the scriptures to learn what to do makes all the difference. The Lord can teach us. When we come to a crisis in our life, such as losing a child or spouse, we should go looking in the scriptures for specific help. We will find answers in the scriptures. The Lord seemed to anticipate all of our problems and all of our needs, and He put help in the scriptures for us—if only we seek it." (Henry B. Eyring in Gaunt, "A Discussion on Scripture Study," Ensign, July 2005).We'll talk more about the importance of asking good questions, and HOW to go about asking those questions in Scripture Master Tip #19: Search, Ponder, and Pray.
5. Live what you learn. It’s hard to feel connected to anything that stays disconnected from your daily existence. If your read a strategy guide every day for a video game that you never play, it’s not going to be very easy to retain, and you won’t gain very much from it. Likewise, scripture study is always going to lack meaning for you if you never apply what you have learned in your day-to-day life. Additionally, why should the Lord bless you with increased understanding if you don’t use that understanding righteously? The Lord is very clear about the condition of obedience that is attached to any blessing: “For all who will have a blessing at my hands shall abide the law which was appointed for that blessing, and the conditions thereof, as were instituted from before the foundation of the world (D&C 132:5)”. I would go so far as to say that if you truly want to gain a testimony and an understanding of any principle or doctrine you must first be willing to obey it. This is born out by the Savior’s words in John 7:17, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.”
This is where scripture study becomes a much nobler, and more difficult, principle to live because, as we begin to grasp the principles that we read, we are laid under a responsibility to live those principles to the best of our ability. This is a good thing, because more light and knowledge will help you to make better choices and you will be happier for it, but living the gospel isn't always easy. The gospel requires you to make fundamental changes in your life and lifestyle, and even in your way of thinking. The gospel makes you grow, and growth is often painful (at least in the short term). Fortunately the reward is worth the pain and difficulty that sometimes accompany a life of gospel discipleship.
"While easy to find, true principles are not easy to live until they become an established pattern of life. They will require you to dislodge false ideas. They can cause you wrenching battles within the secret chambers of your heart and decisive encounters to overcome temptation, peer pressure, and the false allure of the ‘easy way out.’ Yet as you resolutely follow correct principles, you will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Your consistent adherence to principle overcomes the alluring yet false lifestyles that surround you. Your faithful compliance to correct principles will generate criticism and ridicule from others, yet the results are so eternally worthwhile that they warrant your every sacrifice." (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1993,32, 34).
John 7:17 If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.
D&C 63:23 But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.
D&C 58:2-4 For verily I say unto you, blessed is he that keepeth my commandments, whether in life or in death; and he that is faithful in tribulation, the reward of the same is greater in the kingdom of heaven. Ye cannot behold with your natural eyes, for the present time, the design of your God concerning those things which shall come hereafter, and the glory which shall follow after much tribulation. For after much tribulation come the blessings. Wherefore the day cometh that ye shall be crowned with much glory; the hour is not yet, but is nigh at hand.
6. You are not alone! Don’t study in a void. While certain aspects of personal scripture study are indeed meant to be personal (like promptings, feelings, and even personal revelation that you may receive through the spirit as you read), the gospel itself was meant to be shared with others. Just so, you can share insights gained from personal study with your family and friends. Also, you can ask each other questions about things that you read but don’t understand. Trust me, it’s not cheating to ask other people about the scriptures.
"Some prefer to study alone, but companions can study together profitably. Families are greatly blessed when wise fathers and mothers bring their children about them, read from the pages of the scriptural library together, and then discuss freely the beautiful stories and thoughts according to the understanding of all. Often youth and little ones have amazing insight into and appreciation for the basic literature of religion." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).You can adapt this idea and use it as a missionary tool (under the guidance of the spirit) to share the restored Gospel with those of your friends that have not yet heard it. I believe that talking about the scriptures with others is a form of pondering, which can lead to a much deeper understanding of the Gospel as a whole. They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I think that that applies in this instance.
"You will find that efforts to share knowledge are often rewarded with more understanding as additional light flows into your mind and heart" (Richard G. Scott,"Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86–88).I personally spent four years teaching an informal weekly bible study with a small group of my friends. Studying the scriptures and discussing them with my friends has given me the chance to see things from their perspective and learn from the wisdom and insight which they have received during their own personal scripture study. While I can't speak for my friends, I can tell you that I count the insights, knowledge, and comfort I have received through the spirit and from my friends while teaching, participating in (on those few occasions when I was not the teacher), and preparing Bible study to be among the greatest experiences of my life. It is certainly no substitute for church, and it should never be viewed as such, but it is still an excellent way to improve your personal experience with the scriptures.
Also, it’s not cheating to seek out study aids, like Bible commentaries or books about people in the Book of Mormon. There also are several Bible websites that also feature a whole range of commentaries on scripture. Your average Christian bookstore (and/or Deseret Book) will feature a handful of wonderful study aids which can help you to more fully understand some of the more obscure passages of scripture. The manuals created by the LDS church for use in their institutes of religion are also excellent, and inexpensive, and I recommend them highly. You can get creative and make your own study aids as well. Also, some of the best study aids out there are right inside the LDS edition of the scriptures. The LDS edition of the scriptures feature one of the world's most exhaustive systems of footnotes and cross-references, as well as an excellent topical guide and Bible dictionary. All of these study aids and commentaries can do much to supplement your understanding of the scriptures.
However, I have two warnings on the subject of study aids and commentaries:
First, do not rely too much on study aids to do your thinking and pondering for you. I have met countless people who, because we have such an excellent set of resources right inside our scriptures, do not seem to feel any urgency to search and find things out on their own. They use the cross-references and appendices as a crutch, thinking that they do not need to search and inquire for themselves because it has all been provided for them. I hate it when people just assume that I get all of my scripture knowledge out of the topical guide-like it is some kind of cheat sheet, and there is no work involved-which is what they are hoping will be the case in their own studies. The LDS scripture aids are not comprehensive and all-encompassing nor were they ever intended to be. They were intended to be a supplement to your own study, not a substitute for your own study. This principle applies to all study aids, I have simply cited the misuse of the LDS scripture study aids as an example. Don't be lazy, or the spirit won't teach you, and then you'll end up both lazy and ignorant.
Second, be careful when you consult any book that deals with the meaning and import of scripture. Such commentaries and study aids are wonderful sources of knowledge based on the learning and insights of other people, and as such can be very beneficial, however it is well to remember that these books and guides are intended only as supplements to your study and are not actually scripture. Do not mistake these books for an authoritative source of pure doctrine. Even the best commentary on scripture contains nothing more than the opinions of a man, no matter how educated, and therefore should not to be considered authoritative. While the best (and in truth most) scripture commentaries and study aids contain much that is true, their writers are not perfect and so their books will contain some error. I still recommend using them, I am simply suggesting than you exercise good judgment and always follow the direction of the spirit concerning the truth when comparing a commentary or study aid with what you believe and what the church teaches to be true.
7. Get creative! You are free to do pretty much anything you want when it comes to personal scripture study, so do what seems the most fun to you (while still acting in harmony with the spirit-the scriptures should be treated with respect-but they can still be fun to study.) Use your creativity to come up with other ways to make scripture study a natural (and fun) part of your daily routine. Here are some suggestions:
When studying the scriptures, you should try to engage as many of the senses as possible (preferably at the same time, or at least during the same study session):
Read Out Loud
Reading the scriptures out loud, to your self or to another person is an important and beneficial study technique. I am convinced that the extra understanding that comes to us as we actually enunciate the words is one of the many blessings that is attached to the family scripture study we have each been counseled to do in addition to our own personal study. If you are single, and/or do not have a family, you can still read to yourself, or as I suggested earlier you might organize some sort of study group with your friends. This should not replace your individual daily study of the scriptures, but it can enhance it.
"Some prefer to study alone, but companions can study together profitably. Families are greatly blessed when wise fathers and mothers bring their children about them, read from the pages of the scriptural library together, and then discuss freely the beautiful stories and thoughts according to the understanding of all. Often youth and little ones have amazing insight into and appreciation for the basic literature of religion." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).Audio Recordings of the Scriptures
The scriptures are also available on various audio recordings, and these are nice, but they go too fast for deep study so do not assume that you have read the scriptures if you listened to them like a book on tape. the scriptures were designed to be gradually studied and comprehended over the course of a lifetime, so do you really think that you have managed to master them after listening once or twice to a recording of someone else reading them?
Musical Renditions of Scripture
Another way that hearing can help you to learn and understand the scriptures is by listening to the many sublime classical pieces which use the scriptures for their text. Some examples include Handel's "Messiah" oratorio, Brahms' "A German Requiem", and much of the liturgical music of Thomas Tallis. Make sure you find a recording in English (or in whatever language you happen understand the best, if it is available). These pieces, and others like them, can help you to feel the emotion which sometimes gets lost when you read words on a page. They are also incredibly beautiful, and I feel that listening to them helps to invite the company of the Spirit. I do not recommend listening to them while trying to study your scriptures though. Do one and then the other so as to minimize distraction to experience the full benefit of each one.
The importance of engaging as many of the senses as possible is my argument for using old-fashioned analog paper scriptures that you can hold in your hand, touch and feel. The sensation of touch will help you to more fully experience the scriptures and therefore it will be easier to commit them to memory. I personally have developed a sort of muscle memory, and so if I do not necessarily remember the exact reference, I can still feel where it is by the weight of the pages on one side compared to the other. I can do this almost instantly, and without even thinking about it when I need to. This has taken years of practice, and frankly I was more practiced at it when I was on my mission, but I feel that it is like learning to ride a bike-once you learn it never really goes away. Why is this skill important? Because it is one of the byproducts of the association I developed while reading each scripture while turning the pages and running my hands over the book. I can remember things by using a larger portion of my brain than I would use if I just stuck to simple reading alone. This is a skill you cannot possibly develop while you are using electronic scriptures via an iphone app, or an ipad, or other similar device. It may seem quicker, and you may even be able to underline and highlight certain passages, but you will always be missing that tactile immersion which is required if you want to synthesize the scripture wholly into your daily life and personality. I am not against e-scriptures per se, but I consider them to be a short cut that, while convenient, robs you of the full experience of the scriptures. These things work just fine for looking up an isolated reference now and then, or quickly turning to a section during a class or talk in church, but they should never be your primary study source during your deep personal study of the scriptures.
Writing notes, both in my scriptures, as well as in a notepad or on the computer while I study is an important technique that I use to make my study richer. Not only is there a tactile sensation that comes from the act of writing, but the visual aspect of looking at my notes while writing helps me to remember the sense and significance of the scripture to which I am referring. I am convinced that writing things down is more than an exercise in building muscle memory, and more than just putting things in visual context to facilitate learning, even though it does all of those things. I feel strongly that the Spirit will reward a person who values the teachings of the scriptures enough to write them down with additional light and understanding. In this way I consider keeping notes to be a sign of respect to the author and finisher of our faith (Christ) and His sacred teachings.
"Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light." (Richard G. Scott,"Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86–88).I have devoted a whole section to this topic in Tip #15, so read on.
Make and Use Flashcards
An additional way in which you can use touch and sight to help you in your study is by making flashcards. Creating and using flashcards can be helpful for memorization, but I find that it is also a good way to drill the sense and importance of a particular reference into your mind.
Use "Mind Mapping"
Another suggestion is to employ "mind mapping" into your scripture study. A mind map is a diagram in which you start with a central concept or idea and then branch subordinate ideas out of the central concept in an expanding web of ideas and connections. "Mind maps attempt, visually and graphically, to portray a relationship of ideas or concepts" (Shamma, 2011). Here is an example of a mind map detailing how to make a mind map:
"Mind maps are an excellent way to help learners organize knowledge, to empower themselves to better comprehend the key concepts, and principles in lectures, readings, or other instructional materials" mind maps are an excellent way to help learners organize knowledge, to empower themselves to better comprehend the key concepts, and principles in lectures, readings, or other instructional materials" (McGriff, 2007). What do you need to make a mind map? Tony Buzan (who coined the term "mind mapping" says that all you need are the following four ingredients:
- Blank paper
- Colored pens or pencils
- Your brain
- Your imagination
Simple Visual Aids: Icons or Pictures
You can also make visual aids that incorporate simple symbols and pictures to help you to remember scriptures or scriptural concepts. I will forever have a picture etched into my brain from seminary that the teacher used to help us remember the location of the ten commandments in the Old Testament. He used a picture of two tablets, each tablet with a roman numeral ten on it like so: X X. Thanks to this and similar visual aids I will always know that the ten commandments are in Exodus chapter 20 (purists, I know they are repeated in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, leave me alone). I imagine that you will find similar visual aids to be similarly helpful in your own study of the scriptures. There are also a myriad of free scripture games, art, and study supplements available online, much of it provided by the LDS church.
The Other Senses:
Smell and taste are a little harder. I actually do not suggest eating or drinking while studying the scriptures, for two reasons. First, eating and drinking can be an unnecessary distraction even on an average day, and it seems a little disrespectful to bring a snack to scripture study as if it was a baseball game or a movie. Also, in cases in which we may seek to learn things of great importance by communion with God, it doesn't hurt to fast for that additional light and knowledge. Second, food and drink pose a threat to your scriptures-it isn't worth the risk of spilling and ruining your scriptures just to have a snack.
As for smell, try to keep your house clean, so the spirit will want to be there, but also so that you do not associate any bad smells with your time in the scriptures. Our sense of smell uses the olfactory bulb which is part of the limbic system "an area so closely associated with memory and feeling it's sometimes called the "emotional brain," smell can call up memories and powerful responses almost instantaneously." (Sarah Dowdey, "How Smell Works", howstuffworks.com). If you are creative, I am sure you can find ways to use this powerful memory-making tool to enhance your scripture study. Perhaps by using a different fruit to represent a principle or a scripture that you wish to commit to memory.
There really is no limit to the things that you can do to make the scriptures fun while also inviting the spirit. Use your brain-no really-use your brain, and all of the senses associated with it, to immerse yourself completely in the scriptures. If you will do this, whole worlds of understanding will open up to you which may have been closed to you before becuase not only will you learn about the scriptures, but using such techniques will help you to learn how to learn which will help you in all aspects of your life. And who knows? If you are creative enough, you might even have some fun doing it!
8. When it comes to time spent studying the scriptures, quantity often leads to quality. That is to say, that the more time you spend reading the scriptures, the more you will enjoy them. The more you enjoy them and the more you get out of them, the more you will desire to study them. Or as Joseph Smith put it when speaking about the Bible, “He loves it best who reads it most.” To put a finer point on it, how can you hope to learn to understand what is written in the scriptures if you never spend any time reading them?
"Where could there be more profitable use of time than reading from the scriptural library the literature that teaches us to know God and understand our relationship to him? Time is always precious to busy people, and we are robbed of its worth when hours are wasted in reading or viewing that which is frivolous and of little value....It would be ideal if an hour could be spent each day; A half hour on a regular basis would result in substantial accomplishment. A quarter of an hour is little time, but it is surprising how much enlightenment and knowledge can be acquired in a subject so meaningful. The important thing is to allow nothing else to ever interfere with our study" (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).As I mentioned in my tip about planning (Tip #2), it helps to have a regular time set aside in your day in which you can study without interruption. Part of the reason why planning is so important is that you need to study your scriptures consistently, day in and day out, in order to realize their full value in your life.
"It is certain that one who studies the scriptures every day accomplishes far more than one who devotes considerable time one day and then lets days go by before continuing. Not only should we study each day, but there should be a regular time set aside when we can concentrate without interference." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64)I recognize that we all lead busy lives, so it is a good idea to develop a system by which you can approach your study session so as to make more efficient use of your limited study time. With that said, be careful not to impose some kind of an arbitrary quota upon yourself as to the number of pages, or chapters finished in a certain time. While it is good to have a goal what matters is that the quantity of time you spend in the scriptures is also quality time. So take the time that you need in order that you can fully grasp what you read--immerse yourself in the scriptures in order that you might have a truly meaningful study.
“We should not be haphazard in our reading but rather develop a systematic plan for study. There are some who read to a schedule of a number of pages or a set number of chapters each day or week. This may be perfectly justifiable and may be enjoyable if one is reading for pleasure, but it does not constitute meaningful study. It is better to have a set amount of time to give scriptural study each day than to have a set amount of chapters to read. Sometimes we find that the study of a single verse will occupy the whole time (President Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).I know many people who complain about how hard the scriptures are to understand, and yet as I have grown to know these people better it has become clear to me that they spend next to no time in the scriptures outside of church. It seems like a catch 22: you don't like to study the scriptures because you don't understand them, but you don't understand them because you don't spend much time studying them. I think it is obvious where the problem actually lies.
"We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy." (R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 9)Forgive my bluntness, but it was a point that had to be made. That said, I think "lazy" is actually the wrong word. I think we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the scriptures and discouraged by our apparent lack of immediate talent in the scriptures and thus fall into that catch 22 that I mentioned before. I think the cycle of "you don't like to study the scriptures because you don't understand them, but you don't understand them because you don't spend much time studying them" is actually responsible for most of our trouble, discouragement, and even guilt over our lack of progress in the scriptures. Satan loves to discourage people, he loves to hear you say "I give up", and he also loves lazy people. He loves doing this to people because then he doesn't have to work very hard to keep them from working hard for their own salvation and spiritual welfare. So how do we overcome this seeming catch 22 in which we have allowed ourselves to become caught up?
"But still ye will say I can not understand it. What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read, nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest, keep it well in memory; that thou understandest not, read it again, and again. If thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned." (Thomas Cranmer, Preface to the Great Bible, )The first tip on my list is to "Just Do It!" and I repeat it emphatically here! As Brigham Young once said concerning prayer, "It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do" ("Discourses of Brigham Young", 44). I would substitute scripture study for prayer in that quote in this instance, and I daresay it applies just as much.
"It matters not whether you or I feel like [studying the scriptures], when the time comes to [study the scriptures], [study the scriptures]. If we do not feel like it, we should pray [and study the scriptures] till we do."I'm not talking about forcing yourself to read like hitting your head against a wall. I am referring to the fact that scripture study is work, and you can never finish a job that you never start. Note however that I left one reference to prayer in my modified version of Brigham Young's statement. If you don't understand something, pray and ask God to help you.
"There is nothing more helpful than prayer to open our understanding of the scriptures. Through prayer we can attune our minds to seek the answers to our searchings. The Lord said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9). Herein is Christ’s reassurance that if we will ask, seek, and knock, the Holy Spirit will guide our understanding if we are ready and eager to receive." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).As Thomas Cranmer said, "counsel with some other that is better learned." There is no one that is better learned than God. If you will counsel with Him over the scriptures, He will teach you what you need to know through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a teacher as well as a comforter and a guide.
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
If you are worthy, and you ask with pure intent and a sincere heart, God will reveal the "mysteries" to you through His Spirit that you cannot understand on your own.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
In fact, if you do not enlist the Spirit to help you understand what is in the scriptures, then it doesn't matter how much time you spend in the scriptures. You could be the smartest or "wisest" person in the world and it still wouldn't matter. You may as well bang your head against a wall for all the good it will do you to try to study the scriptures without the aid of the Holy Ghost.
1 Corinthians 2:13-14 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned
Alma 26:21-22 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent. Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed...
It doesn't matter if you don't think you are smart enough to understand the scriptures because no one, according to their natural ability alone, can truly understand them without the aid of the Spirit. If you will exercise faith and live the gospel, and "pray continually without ceasing" for the aid of the Spirit, you will gain a deeper understanding of scripture and the "mysteries of God" than all the uninspired doctors and professors that are in the world. After all, how do you think that a relatively unschooled farm boy like Joseph Smith could help to bring about such a marvelous work and a wonder as the restored gospel?
1 Corinthians 1:27-28 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
Alma 37:6-7 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
D&C 1:23 That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
1 Corinthians 1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God has always chosen the weak and simple to bring to pass His great and eternal purposes, however "...many are called but few are chosen" (See Matthew 22:14). What separates the chosen from among those who were called is not necessarily any inherent talent, or special ability above their fellows. Rather it is their choice to do hard and difficult work when called upon to do so, even (and especially) when they felt inadequate to the task. This principle applies just as much to scripture study as it does to the whole of life. Of course the scriptures are hard to understand when you first begin reading them, but if you will press forward diligently in your studies, you will find your understanding opened and your mind enlightened. And so, rather than simply spending more time in the scriptures, I suppose my advice is to spend more diligence upon the scriptures. I have found that, in this way, scripture study becomes it's own reward.
9. You’re in for the long haul. The scriptures can seem kind of intimidating when you are first starting out, but you don’t need to feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of knowledge and doctrine contained in the scriptures. There is certainly a lot to learn, but you should just relax: no one expects you to learn it all in one sitting. You have your whole life to master the gospel, so pace yourself and enjoy the ride. Learning the gospel, and applying it in your life, is more like a marathon than a sprint. Making your scripture study a daily habit is important for a number of reasons, but one of them is because learning to understand and live the Gospel is like eating a hippopotamus, you can do it if you take it one bite at a time. Or to put it another way, you can never finish the race if you don't keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Don't become intimidated and give up just because there is so much to learn and so much that you don't know. Nobody expects you to learn everything all at once. Take your time and be willing to pay the price that is required to obtain such treasures of knowledge and wisdom.
"Gospel knowledge and understanding come through diligent study of the scriptures and the tutoring of the Holy Ghost. The combination that opens the vault door to hidden scriptural treasures includes a great deal of work--simple, old-fashioned, hard work. A farmer cannot expect to harvest in the fall if he does not properly sow in the spring and work hard during the summer to weed, nourish, and cultivate the field. So it is for you and me. We cannot expect to reap scriptural insight unless we pay the price of regular and diligent study. Casual strolling through or dabbling in the scriptures will not yield enduring gospel understanding. And the scriptural treasures we seek in our lives cannot be borrowed or loaned or obtained second-hand. We must each learn to open the vault door by applying the principle of work." (David A. Bednar, Ricks College Devotional, January 6, 1998).
“The treasures of both secular and spiritual knowledge are hidden ones—but hidden from those who do not properly search and strive to find them....Spiritual knowledge is not available merely for the asking; even prayers are not enough. It takes persistence and dedication of one’s life....Of all treasures of knowledge, the most vital is the knowledge of God” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 389–90).It is my opinion that the scriptures, and the doctrine and principles and knowledge contained within them, were designed to take us a lifetime (or even longer) to fully master. That is why it is so important that we get started sooner rather than later by adopting the habit of steady and diligent daily scripture study now.
"We should make daily study of the scriptures a lifetime pursuit. . . ." (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, 47).I have discovered that most of the anxiety people experience about their own gospel knowledge and progress comes as they fall into the trap of comparing themselves to those around them. Learning to understand and obey the gospel is a matter of personal progress, and so it is pointless to compare one's progress (or apparent lack thereof) to someone else's perceived success in understanding and living the gospel. Everyone is different, and we all learn at our own speed and in our own way, and the Lord knows that.
"We are not diminished when someone else is added upon. We are not in a race against each other to see who is the wealthiest or the most talented or the most beautiful or even the most blessed. The race we are really in is the race against sin, and surely envy is one of the most universal of those." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Laborers in the Vineyard," Ensign May 2012).All he expects is that we do our personal best, that we give our all in diligent service to him, and it doesn't matter if you don't feel like you know or understand very much about the gospel. It doesn't matter if this is because you are a convert, or a person who only recently returned to the church, or even someone who was baptized at 8 years old and has attended church every Sunday since. If you sincerely seek to know God's word through honest prayer and diligent study, God will reward your labor with knowledge and understanding just as surely as he will reward those who were there before you, as long as you labor diligently and with your whole soul to learn and understand and obey what it is that He expects of you.
"My beloved brothers and sisters, to those of you who have been blessed by the gospel for many years because you were fortunate enough to find it early, to those of you who have come to the gospel by stages and phases later, and to those of you—members and not yet members—who may still be hanging back, to each of you, one and all, I testify of the renewing power of God’s love and the miracle of His grace. His concern is for the faith at which you finally arrive, not the hour of the day in which you got there." (Jeffrey R. Holland, "The Laborers in the Vineyard," Ensign May 2012).The Lord has issued the promise that He will grant knowledge, understanding, and answers to all men who will diligently seek him in faith with a sincere heart and real intent.
Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
Acts 10:34-35 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.
James 1:5-6 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jeremiah 29:12-13 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.This knowledge and wisdom does not come overnight, and even if it did, you might not be able to handle it all at once. Both Paul and Peter referred to some of the saints as "babes in Christ", and "newborn babes" on different occasions in order to emphasize that learning and living the gospel is about gradual and natural growth and progression.
Jeremiah 33:3 Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.
D&C 50:40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.There is nothing wrong with a baby just because it can't handle solid food yet-that is natural, and to be expected. However, the important word here is YET. Someday soon that child will grow out of milk, and into the meat that he could not stomach before. In fact, once a child reaches a certain age, he needs to move on to more substantial food, or he will become malnourished, and possibly become ill and die.
In a similar way, when we just start out in the gospel, we are like babies. We don't know, and can't understand, many things about God's plan and his gospel but that's OK--we have to start somewhere. What matters is that we don't stay babies--that we don't continue to seek nourishment from milk which can no longer meet our needs after a certain point. What matters is that we wean ourselves from the things that require only relatively little of us, those things that take little effort on our part to understand and obey, and move on to the more substantial doctrines, ordinances, and covenants that will nourish us more fully.
1 Corinthians 3:1-2 And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.What is it that kept the Corinthian saints from growing and progressing in the gospel? They chose to remain in their carnal states, and persisted in those weaknesses and failings that could only stunt their growth. If the Corinthians could not shed their disobedient habits and traditions, they could not and would not progress in the gospel, and unable to grow properly, they would wither and die.
1 Peter 2:1-2 Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:If we do not also wean ourselves of our carnal and sinful tendencies, we cannot progress and grow, and we will be stunted in our progression. If we will choose to grow up, to obey the commandments and grow out of our childish habits, the Lord has promised that he will teach us, and "make [us] to understand doctrine," precept upon precept, and line upon line. According to our faithful obedience to His precepts, He will eventually reveal to us "the mysteries of [His] kingdom."
Isaiah 28:9-10 Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little:
D&C 63:23 But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.This "weaning" process takes time. Accept that, and more than that, embrace it. You and I were placed on this earth so that we would have the time and opportunity that we need to learn and to grow. The scriptures can help us to do that, and if we approach them with the understanding that we will be taught gradually " precept upon precept, line upon line...here a little, and there a little" then they will no longer seem so daunting. Gaining a profound and abiding understanding of the things contained in the scriptures will take a lifetime of work and day-to-day effort, but don't let that scare you away. Get started and then stick with it! The work is worth the reward, and if you get started now it becomes easier to break it all down to a level that you can more easily handle. Don't give up, and don't wait to start until the last minute--this isn't the kind of test that you can cram for.
10. Immerse yourself in the scriptures. Immerse yourself in the scriptures. Take the time to actually study your scriptures, and don’t just skim through them.
"Reading habits vary widely. There are rapid readers and slow readers, some who read only small snatches at a time and others who persist without stopping until the book is finished. Those who delve into the scriptural library, however, find that to understand requires more than casual reading or perusal—there must be concentrated study." (President Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).
“. . . One of the most important things you can do...is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ. Learn the doctrine. Master the principles.” (Ezra Taft Benson, Ensign, Nov. 1986, 47).You’re not in a race to finish the scriptures, and in some ways finishing is not the point. I know that I said before that quantity can lead to quality, but I was talking about time spent in the scriptures and not to the number of pages or chapters read. You could spend a month studying 1 Corinthians 15 if you wanted to, go ahead, there’s enough meaning there to keep you occupied if you approach it in the right spirit.
"Some people like to read so many [Bible] chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than rinse my hand in several chapters. Oh, to be bathed in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up in your very soul, till it saturates your heart!" --Charles Haddon Spurgeon
"There are some who read to a schedule of a number of pages or a set number of chapters each day or week. This may be perfectly justifiable and may be enjoyable if one is reading for pleasure, but it does not constitute meaningful study. It is better to have a set amount of time to give scriptural study each day than to have a set amount of chapters to read. Sometimes we find that the study of a single verse will occupy the whole time." (President Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).
"The life, acts, and teachings of Jesus can be read rapidly. The stories are simple in most instances and the stories are simply told. The Master used few words in his teachings, but each one is so concise in meaning that together they portray a clear image to the reader. Sometimes, however, many hours might be spent in contemplation of profound thoughts expressed in a few simple words." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).Any time spent in the scriptures can benefit you, but if you race through them just so you can say "I read the WHOLE Book of Mormon before Christmas!", then you have your reward, but you are missing the point. If you are too casual in your approach to reading the scriptures you will miss important truths and insights that you could have obtained if you had taken the time to truly immerse your soul in the doctrines of the scriptures. Don't be in such a hurry that you don't have time to be taught by the Spirit, who reveals truth and gives comfort only gradually and over time, and only with much diligence and application on our part.
"Gospel knowledge and understanding come through diligent study of the scriptures and the tutoring of the Holy Ghost. The combination that opens the vault door to hidden scriptural treasures includes a great deal of work--simple, old-fashioned, hard work. A farmer cannot expect to harvest in the fall if he does not properly sow in the spring and work hard during the summer to weed, nourish, and cultivate the field. So it is for you and me. We cannot expect to reap scriptural insight unless we pay the price of regular and diligent study. Casual strolling through or dabbling in the scriptures will not yield enduring gospel understanding. And the scriptural treasures we seek in our lives cannot be borrowed or loaned or obtained second-hand. We must each learn to open the vault door by applying the principle of work." (David A. Bednar, Ricks College Devotional, January 6, 1998).It would be a tragedy to miss out on the knowledge and the deep and abiding comfort and healing that the Spirit can provide simply because we are in too much of a hurry. If we are too casual in our relationship with deity, we can lose the companionship of the Spirit altogether. Fortunately, we can always return to the scriptures, and the scriptures (coupled with sincere repentance) can help guide us back to where we need to be in order to enjoy the sublime companionship of the Holy Ghost which is so essential for our spiritual nourishment and welfare.
“I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.” (Spencer W. Kimball, "Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball" (2006), 67).If you can learn to immerse yourself in the scriptures, you will find them to be an unending source of healing and comfort. The scriptures can be your road back to God whenever you have strayed, and for whatever reason. They can be your lifeline that will guide you back to Him, and they are just as essential for your spiritual survival as a line tossed to a drowning man. If you feel that God is far away, and "it seems that no divine ear is listening," the scriptures can help you to grow closer to God. As James said in James 4:8: "Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you." Immersing yourself in the scriptures can help you do that.
"Immersion in the scriptures is essential for spiritual nourishment. The word of God inspires commitment and acts as a healing balm for hurt feelings, anger, or disillusionment." (Quentin L. Cook, "Can Ye Feel So Now?," Ensign, Nov. 2012).
"I plead with you to make time for immersing yourselves in the scriptures. Couple scripture study with your prayers. Half an hour each morning privately studying, pondering, and communicating with your Heavenly Father can make an amazing difference in your lives. It will give increased success in your daily activities. It will bring increased alertness to your minds. It will give you comfort and rock-steady assurance when the storms of life descend upon you." (M. Russel Ballard, CES Fireside for Young Adults, 3 March 2002).11. Read more than one verse a day or per study session. The Book of Mormon is organized in such a way that you can often read a single chapter and it serves as a stand-alone meditation on a certain topic. This is true to a slightly lesser degree of the New Testament as well. However if you merely read a single verse at a time, you likely won’t gain the full meaning, or comprehend the intent of the subject of which you are reading. This is because you are reading a few words here and there out of context, and it will seem to you like nothing more than a nice saying. For that, you might as well have a desk calendar as a set of scriptures. While reading one or two verses a day is better than not reading your scriptures at all, it hardly qualifies as study, therefore it isn't very much better than not reading at all.
“I have heard many well-intentioned Church leaders and teachers instruct congregations to find time for daily scripture study, ‘even if it’s only one or two verses per day.’ Though I understand the point they are trying to teach and applaud the sincerity of that conviction, may I gently suggest that if we are too busy to spend at least a few minutes every day in the scriptures, then we are probably too busy and should find a way to eliminate or modify whatever activities are making that simple task impossible (Elder M. Russell Ballard, When Thou Art Converted, 68).
12. Get rid of all distractions (the inward distractions, as well as the outward ones). This is easier said than done, but it is very important. A meaningful and fulfilling session with the scriptures can only happen under the inspiration and assistance of the Holy Spirit. The spirit speaks in a still, small voice. If you are listening to Heavy Metal on your headphones, and watching the TV out of the corner of your eye, do you really think you’ll be able to hear the spirit? That’s the real reason that sacred places are quiet, because the spirit works best when it’s quiet.
"In silence and in stillness a devout soul profiteth, and learneth the hidden things of the scriptures." (Thomas Hammerken, The Imitation of Christ, 34).The Spirit also works best when you are quiet, and what I mean by that is that you should try to quiet your inner self by focusing your thoughts on what you’re reading, and shut out feelings of anger and stress, or anything that might detract from the inspiration of the spirit.
"There are some practical principles that enhance revelation. First, yielding to emotions such as anger or hurt or defensiveness will drive away the Holy Ghost. Those emotions must be eliminated, or our chance for receiving revelation is slight. Another principle is to be cautious with humor. Loud, inappropriate laughter will offend the Spirit. A good sense of humor helps revelation; loud laughter does not. A sense of humor is an escape valve for the pressures of life. Another enemy to revelation comes from exaggeration or loudness in what is stated. Careful, quiet speech will favor the receipt of revelation." (Richard G. Scott, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life," Ensign, May 2012).As the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out, the Holy Ghost is "...a gentle guest and friend who inspires, guides, corrects, and strengthens this life" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, part three, section 1697, p. 472). A friendship like that is worth cultivating. A messy house, inappropriate (or inappropriately loud) music, feelings of anger or contention (especially with members of your own family) are all things that can drive him away. To avoid offending our gentle guest, we must do everything we can to make both our homes and our hearts into a place where the Spirit of God feels welcome.
Developing your inner spiritual life is crucial to your eternal well-being, but you must remember to give due care to the outward man as well, for he is just as crucial to your eternal well-being. You will struggle to build up your spiritual life if you are not also giving equal healthy attention to your physical well-being. You should be doing everything you can to maintain your total health and well-being, not just for the spirit, but also for the body.
"...Spiritual communication can be enhanced by good health practices. Exercise, reasonable amounts of sleep, and good eating habits increase our capacity to receive and understand revelation. We will live for our appointed life span. However, we can improve both the quality of our service and our well-being by making careful, appropriate choices." (Richard G. Scott, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life," Ensign, May 2012).
"We must diligently search into, and set in order both the outward and the inner man, because both of them are of importance to our progress in godliness." (Thomas Hammerken, The Imitation of Christ, 31).In this thing, as in all things, there needs to be balance. The best way to maintain the health and welfare of both our outward and inner man is by setting correct priorities in order that our outward man, with his easily obtained (but not easily satisfied) desires, does not gain the mastery over the inward spiritual self. There is much in this world to titillate and distract, and not all of it is bad per se, as long as it is placed in it's proper sphere. It is when we allow the mundane pleasures of our daily lives to distract us, or even prevent us, from doing what is most important that those pleasures become dangerous to our "progress in godliness."
“Satan doesn’t have to tempt us to do bad things. He can accomplish much of his objective by distracting us with many acceptable things, thus keeping us from accomplishing the essential ones. We need to frustrate that distraction by identifying what is critically important in our lives. We must give the cream of our effort to accomplish those things. Where there is limited time or resources, this pattern may require that some good activities must be set aside.” (Richard G. Scott, “To Learn and to Teach More Effectively,” Brigham Young University 2007-2008 Speeches, 21 August 2007).Look upon your time as a precious commodity, and consider that someday you may have to account for how you choose to spend your time today. Don't waste your life in the meaningless pursuit of the trivial or mundane. I include in this category those toys and gadgets (the internet, video games, movies, cell phones, and digital devices) and other pursuits and activities which we use to distract and divert ourselves, and which siphon away our time and prevent us from discovering what truly matters in life.
"Team sports and technology toys like video games and the Internet are already winning away the time of our children and youth. Surfing the Internet is not better than serving the Lord or strengthening the family. Some young men and women are skipping Church youth activities or cutting family time in order to participate in soccer leagues or to pursue various entertainments. Some young people are amusing themselves to death—spiritual death." (Dallin H. Oaks, "Amusements and Distractions," Ensign Nov. 2007).There is a danger in being motivated by the constant quest for amusement--whenever something starts to resemble work, or whenever something begins to become difficult, we drop it and move on to something new that promises more amusement in return for less effort. This attitude is anathema to perfecting a meaningful habit of scriptures study, and I would daresay it is an impediment to any genuine attempt to live the gospel.
Another reason why this habit of amusing ourselves above all else may prove fatal is because trivial diversions only serve to distract us from the deep and difficult experiences that give life its most profound and sublime meaning. In my opinion, we live in an age in which people are afraid to be alone with their own thoughts. They fill their lives with frenetic activity, and with the noise and clutter of television, texting, music, and a whole litany of other distractions. They are afraid to examine themselves too closely, perhaps because they suspect that they might not like what they find. In order to avoid any kind of frank self examination, we have flooded our lives with the trivial and the mundane, with toys and gadgets, so that we plenty of distractions among which we think that we can hide ourselves from ourselves. In the shadows of our innermost hiding places we can deceive ourselves into concocting all manner of false ideas and rationalizations to justify those mistakes and errors in judgement that we have committed, especially in those instances and areas in which we yet persist in error or wrong doing. You can learn much truth about yourself, your life, and your world if you stop hiding from yourself, but that requires us to shed the web comfortable falsehoods and polite lies that we have spun for ourselves and that is precisely what we tend to fear.
That is why the gospel is so vitally important to our personal progress. The gospel provides the clarity of truth that can burn through our web of self-justification and self created diversions and distractions and free us to change and to become what God expects us to become. When the gospel is lived properly, its light shines upon every aspect of our lives, even the uncomfortable ones, so that we might boldly and honestly acknowledge them, and then address and rectify those things which we might otherwise be tempted to gloss over and ignore and which are holding us back in our eternal progression. The scriptures contain this gospel light, and they contain God's vision and expectations concerning what we ought to be and become. Scripture study is about more than just reading a book--it is about searching--soul searching--pondering, praying, and meditating.
"How often have you made the time for pondering such wonderful things? If you are like most people, you are sometimes uncomfortable being alone with your thoughts. Most people would rather plug in some headphones than allow their minds to contemplate the sacred.In an environment that is filled with the light of truth it is impossible to hide from yourself. The scriptures help you to create just such an environment in your life, and especially in your heart. Reading the scriptures can have this effect because pausing "to contemplate the sacred," to search, ponder, and pray is the only way that you will be receptive enough to hear the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost. Just make sure that you are where the Spirit can find you, and that you no longer have your fingers in your ears so you can hear him when he calls you. Once you hold still, and stop trying to hide from yourself (and from God) the Spirit will find you, and come to you. If you can shed all of the noise and clutter, and the self-deception, and self-justification that you have been hiding behind, the Spirit will finally be able to teach you too. When the Spirit does teach you, it will teach you those difficult principles and doctrines that you were so anxious to avoid before. Why avoid this light and knowledge? Because this knowledge requires great change and upheaval in your life--it will require you to entirely forsake your comfort zone and to become something altogether greater than you were before.
But pondering the sacred things of God is necessary if we are to receive personal revelation, and pondering is best done in an unplugged environment. We need to be able to hear the acoustic subtleties of the Spirit. Perhaps no greater counsel was given than that recorded in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”" (Scott D. Whiting, "Digital Detachment and Personal Revelation," Ensign, Mar. 2010).
"While easy to find, true principles are not easy to live until they become an established pattern of life. They will require you to dislodge false ideas. They can cause you wrenching battles within the secret chambers of your heart and decisive encounters to overcome temptation, peer pressure, and the false allure of the ‘easy way out.’ Yet as you resolutely follow correct principles, you will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Your consistent adherence to principle overcomes the alluring yet false lifestyles that surround you. Your faithful compliance to correct principles will generate criticism and ridicule from others, yet the results are so eternally worthwhile that they warrant your every sacrifice." (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1993,32, 34).When you examine yourself honestly in the light of the Spirit, it usually becomes clear that you need to make some (or many) changes and sacrifices in the way that you live and think and act, and change is always frightening--especially to those who are not practiced at it. We have ample distractions provided to us through easily accessed personal media, distractions which allow us to ignore the need for change and growth in our lives. Be warned, however, that the end of the unexamined life is meaninglessness and spiritual death. It is absolutely vital that you learn to spend time with yourself, and even come to like yourself through honest self-evaluation and the practiced acquaintance of a lifetime. Sadly, many who fear to spend time getting better acquainted with themselves fear it precisely because deep down they do not like themselves. The beautiful secret in this is that those happy people who like themselves (in the healthy way) are usually those people who have taken the time to come to a full knowledge of themselves. They are able to comprehend fully the extent of both their strengths and weaknesses, and instead of hiding from them they can face them, and compensate for them, and then get on with their lives in a spirit of righteousness, self-confidence and healthy self-esteem. Don't be afraid to be alone with your thoughts, because that is your best opportunity to be taught by the Spirit so you can learn the truth and use it to make your life a better one and to make of yourself a better person.
Scripture study is nothing less than an opportunity to be taught by a member of the Godhead. Seek the revelation of the Holy Spirit in your life, and don't try to hide from it. We should approach this audience with the divine in the same spirit that Moses did when he was instructed to "put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground" (Exodus 3:5). Look upon mundane and worldly cares and distractions as being like the shoes on your feet: they may seem important to you, but they are standing between you and divine enlightenment. Cast them off so that you might gain a more direct connection to those holy things which you seek. Don't let even innocent distractions interfere with your ability to receive revelation. If something more serious, like sin, is interfering with your ability to hear and understand the teachings of God and the Spirit, then you are fettered by chains which are arresting your progress and happiness. If you are bound by these chains then you must repent now and cast them off entirely; shake yourself loose through the grace of Christ, so that you can press forward in faith, feasting upon the word of Christ.
2 Nephi 1:23 Awake, my sons; put on the armor of righteousness. Shake off the chains with which ye are bound, and come forth out of obscurity, and arise from the dust.
Alma 7:15 Yea, I say unto you come and fear not, and lay aside every sin, which easily doth beset you, which doth bind you down to destruction, yea, come and go forth, and show unto your God that ye are willing to repent of your sins and enter into a covenant with him to keep his commandments, and witness it unto him this day by going into the waters of baptism.
Alma 26:22 Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed; yea, and it shall be given unto such to bring thousands of souls to repentance, even as it has been given unto us to bring these our brethren to repentance.If you can successfully rid yourself of those impediments which would otherwise keep you from enjoying the full blessings of a deep and meaningful scripture study you will be blessed to develop a deeper and more profound understanding of God and His teachings. As you develop this understanding through diligent study and righteous living, you will become a happier person. This peace and happiness will come as you develop a deeper and more profound level of communion with God through His Spirit. This knowledge and happiness will grant you "peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come" which is the greatest of all the gifts of God.
D&C 59:23 But learn that he who doeth the works of righteousness shall receive his reward, even peace in this world and eternal life in the world to come.
13. Study at a table or a desk. I stole this from the missionary handbook. While it is great that you are reading the scriptures at all, I find that when I read the scriptures while sitting on the couch, or lying on the floor or on my bed, it doesn’t really feel like studying. That is to say, my mind wanders, and I am more easily distracted. Also, some people that I know have a tendency to fall asleep if they lie down for more than 5 minutes at a time. The point is that if you want to maximize your learning experience with the scriptures, you need to arrange yourself so that you are ready to learn. What do you think a teacher in school would do to you if you decided to lie on the floor in their classroom instead of sitting at a desk? When you set up a study space for yourself, make sure that you have enough room to spread out, so you can have a notebook handy, and any reference materials that you feel might aid in your study of the scriptures.
"Study at a desk or table where you can write (not lying down or sitting on your bed),For tips on creating a good study space visit "how-to-study.com" HERE.
organize your study materials, and remain alert" (Preach My Gospel, 22).
14. Study in the morning. This one is hard for everyone but missionaries and General Authorities. It is difficult to make time to study in the morning because in most people’s lives the morning is when they are the busiest. School usually starts pretty early, and most people leave for work fairly early in the morning. If you have kids then you have to get them ready and out the door too, and that's a big project in itself.
Nevertheless it is worth rearranging your schedule so you can study your scriptures in the morning if possible. The reason why you should make an effort to make time in the morning for scripture study is because the morning is when your mind should be at its most refreshed and receptive. The morning is therefore the best time to try to attune your self to the voice and inspiration of the spirit.
It is generally a rule for missionaries to do their personal and companionship studies in the morning. This is because the Church naturally desires to maximize the inspiration that these young men and women can receive each day. The brethren have learned (from their own years of experience and intimate acquaintance with the scriptures and the inspiration of the Holy Ghost) that the morning is the best time to study and to receive personal revelation, and naturally they desire that those young men who represent the Lord day in and day out for two years might also learn to gain access to this same well of sublime divine inspiration.
It should also be mentioned that the reason why missionaries are in a position to gain such inspiration in the morning is because they also make sure to go to bed early. I don't think that it is unreasonable to suggest emulating the missionaries in at least this aspect of their discipline. After all, what was it that Benjamin Franklin said? "Early to bed and early to rise..." Certainly, as representatives of Jesus Christ, the missionaries can use all of the health, wealth, wisdom, and inspiration that they can get. Well, why are you any different? Do you think that you can do with less health, wealth, wisdom, and inspiration in your life?
"I have learned that the best time to wrestle with major problems is early in the morning. Your mind is then fresh and alert. The blackboard of your mind has been erased by a good night’s rest. The accumulated distractions of the day are not in your way. Your body has been rested also. That’s the time to think something through very carefully and to receive personal revelation.
I’ve heard President Harold B. Lee begin many a statement about matters involving revelation with an expression something like this: “In the early hours of the morning, while I was pondering upon that subject,” and so on. He made it a practice to work on the problems that required revelation in the fresh, alert hours of the early morning.Don't be discouraged if you are unable to study in the morning because of work or school schedules. Studying in the morning is probably best, but studying the scriptures at any time of day will be immensely beneficial to you, even if you do miss some of the benefits of studying in the morning. The point is that, even if you can't study in the morning (which would be ideal), at the very least you need to have a specific time of day set aside for study, no matter how busy you may be.
The Lord knew something when He directed in the Doctrine and Covenants, “Cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated” (D&C 88:124). . . .I counsel our children to do their critical studying in the early hours of the morning when they’re fresh and alert, rather than to fight physical weariness and mental exhaustion at night. I’ve learned that the dictum “Early to bed, early to rise” is powerful. When under pressure—for instance, when I was preparing this talk—you wouldn’t find me burning the midnight oil. Much rather I’d be early to bed and getting up in the wee hours of the morning, when I could be close to Him who guides this work." (Boyd K. Packer, "Self-Reliance," Ensign, Aug. 1975, 86–89).
"My experience suggests that a specific and scheduled time set aside each day and, as much as possible, a particular place for study greatly increase the effectiveness of our searching in and study of the scriptures." (David A. Bednar, "Because We Have Them before Our Eyes," New Era, Apr. 2006).
“The only way you can be sure that a busy schedule doesn’t crowd out scripture study is to establish a regular time to study the scriptures” (President Henry B. Eyring, "A Discussion on Scripture Study," Ensign, July 2005, 24).
15. Write down what you learn. Studying the scriptures, when coupled with prayer and (on occasion) fasting, is a principal way to seek and obtain the guidance and instruction of the Lord through the Holy Ghost. When you receive anything through the inspiration of the Spirit it is sacred, and ought to be treated as such.
"Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege." (Richard G. Scott, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life," Ensign, May 2012).One of the best ways to show your reverence and gratitude for the gift of inspiration is to record your impressions as you receive them. The practice of recording the promptings that you receive through the spirit is one of the best ways to obey the Lord’s council to “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life”. The Lord promises us that if we will do this that he will give us the answer and help that we need in the “very hour” or even “the very moment” that we need it. (See D&C 84:85, and 24:6).
"Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light." (Richard G. Scott,"Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86–88).
"Write thou My words in thy heart, and meditate diligently on them; for in time of temptation they will be very needful. What thou understandeth not when thou readest, thou shalt know in the day of visitation." (Thomas Hammerken, The Imitation of Christ, 87).It will take practice and diligence to master this principle, and you will have to work hard to develop the habit of recording your insights and questions in writing. This principle was particularly difficult for me to master, but I found that the rewards are worth the work. You will find that the things that you have written will continue to inspire and teach you when you re-read them. Often you will have forgotten that you wrote some of the things that you record, and you will be very impressed with yourself. Remember that you are actually recording the teachings of the Spirit, not your own brilliance, so don’t get too full of yourself.
I once heard a Mission President say “inspiration not recorded is inspiration lost” (He attributed this saying to Richard G. Scott). This is a true principle because this knowledge and inspiration comes only through the spirit, you will forget it as soon as that spirit leaves you, and if you didn’t record it, then that priceless instruction may be lost to you. Also, if you don’t show the proper care and interest in what the spirit teaches you by treasuring up his words he will eventually stop teaching you.
2 Nephi 33:2 But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught.
Alma 12:10-11 And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full. And they that will harden their hearts, to them is given the lesser portion of the word until they know nothing concerning his mysteries; and then they are taken captive by the devil, and led by his will down to destruction. Now this is what is meant by the chains of hell.
2 Nephi 26:11 For the Spirit of the Lord will not always strive with man. And when the Spirit ceaseth to strive with man then cometh speedy destruction, and this grieveth my soul.
"Many...are in danger because of lack of understanding and because they have not sought the guidance of the Spirit....It is a commandment from the Lord that members...be diligent...and study...the fundamental truths of the gospel....Every baptized person [can] have an abiding testimony..., but [it] will grow dim and eventually disappear [without] study, obedience, and diligent seeking to know and understand the truth” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Improvement Era, Dec. 1963, p. 1062).Do not take the guidance and instruction of the spirit for granted. If you go too long without his aid and inspiration you will lose even those things that you thought you had already learned. To live without the teachings of the Holy Ghost is to invite confusion, misery, and ultimately destruction. We depend on the Spirit, so treat him (and the things that he teaches you) with care and respect. One of the best ways to demonstrate that respect is by recording the teachings that you receive through the Spirit. Treating what you learn with care and respect shows your love for the things of the Lord. It shows that you appreciate the sacred importance of the truths that you have been taught enough to preserve them against the waste of forgetfulness.
"Powerful spiritual direction in your life can be overcome or forced into the background unless you provide a way to retain it. Brigham Young declared, “If you love the truth you can remember it” (Discourses of Brigham Young, sel. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1941], p. 10)." (Richard G. Scott, "Acquiring Spiritual Knowledge," Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86–88).
"When it is for the Lord’s purposes, He can bring anything to our remembrance. That should not weaken our determination to record impressions of the Spirit. Inspiration carefully recorded shows God that His communications are sacred to us. Recording will also enhance our ability to recall revelation. Such recording of direction of the Spirit should be protected from loss or intrusion by others." (Richard G. Scott, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life," Ensign, May 2012).Carefully recording what you learn during your time in the scriptures helps to demonstrate to the Lord your sincere desire to be taught from on high as well as your willingness to be diligent and to work hard to obtain (and obey) that instruction and inspiration when it comes. Writing your impressions in a place and in a way that signifies their great worth and value to you is also a demonstration of the depth of your faith and your gratitude for what you have been taught. Treating the things of the Lord with respect, gratitude, and enthusiasm is a powerful way to invite the Lord to bless you with even more light and knowledge.
"Writing down what we learn, think, and feel as we study the scriptures is another form of pondering and a powerful invitation to the Holy Ghost for continuing instruction." (David A. Bednar, "Because We Have Them before Our Eyes," Ensign, May 2006).As you learn to record the teachings of the spirit that come during study you will find that spiritual instruction and inspiration comes more easily and more often than it did when you started, and that you can more easily recall those things which you have already been taught. You will also find that your capacity to discern and respond to the voice of the Spirit will be greatly increased as you become more acquainted with the Lord's teachings.
“You will find that as you write down precious impressions, often more will come. Also, the knowledge you gain will be available throughout your life. Always, day or night, wherever you are, whatever you are doing, seek to recognize and respond to the direction of the Spirit. Express gratitude for the help received and obey it. This practice will reinforce your capacity to learn by the Spirit. It will permit the Lord to guide your life and to enrich the use of every other capacity latent in your being.” (Richard G. Scott, “To Acquire Knowledge and the Strength to Use It Wisely,” Ensign, June 2002, 32–34).
16. Search for principles. The scriptures are one of your best sources for finding basic gospel principles, and it truly is "worth great effort" to search the scriptures in order to obtain and understand them. As you read and study the scriptures, try to “boil it down” in order to distill what you read into basic, simple principles. Everything you read about in the scriptures can be stripped back to reveal the most basic gospel principle behind it. For example, when you "boil it down" the ten commandments are essentially based on two eternal principles: love God and love your neighbor. If you truly love God, you will love your neighbor. If you truly live these principles, nobody should have to tell you not to kill people, or steal from them, or lie to them. Principles are the commandments by which you keep all the other commandments. As you begin to recognize the underlying principles behind almost everything you read in the scriptures your understanding and appreciation of the scriptures and the gospel will grow.
“As you seek spiritual knowledge, search for principles. Carefully separate them from the detail used to explain them. Principles are concentrated truth, packaged for application to a wide variety of circumstances. A true principle makes decisions clear even under the most confusing and compelling circumstances. It is worth great effort to organize the truth we gather to simple statements of principle” (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1993, 86).As you search the scriptures and learn to recognize and apply the principles of the gospel contained in them you will become more independent and capable of making better decisions on your own.
"Joseph Smith’s inspired statement, ‘I teach them correct principles, and they govern themselves,’ still applies (quoted by John Taylor, in Millennial Star, 15 Nov. 1851, p. 339). The Lord uses that pattern with us. You will find correct principles in the teachings of the Savior, His prophets, and the scriptures—especially the Book of Mormon." (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1993, 32, 34).The reason why learning correct principles frees us to "govern ourselves" is because principles represent the gospel in it's simplest, clearest, and most basic form. In the light of such clarity and understanding it becomes much easier to discern right alternatives from wrong ones which helps you to make correct decisions. Moreover, when you recognize and understand the fundamental principles behind God's laws, you no longer need to wait until someone "commands" you before you will keep a commandment. You don't have to have something spelled out for you before you will obey it, you will naturally seek to do what is right, because that's who you are now: you have the power, the capacity, and the natural inclination to keep the commandments on your own without compulsion.
"A principle is an enduring truth, a law, a rule you can adopt to guide you in making decisions. Generally principles are not spelled out in detail. That leaves you free to find your way with an enduring truth, a principle, as your anchor" (Boyd K Packer, Ensign, May 1996, 17).This is why the gospel is called the higher law. Under the gospel we are held to a higher standard of obedience. The gospel is simpler and less complicated because no longer is every little detail spelled out for us like it was under the lesser law of Moses, but for the same reason the gospel is more difficult than the lesser law because it requires us to act for ourselves, of our own free will, without waiting to be commanded or compelled to keep those commandments. This frees us from the onerous burden of having to keep track of a thousand picky little laws, and confusion when a situation arises that is not specifically addressed by any of those laws. It also frees us from the burden of stubborn literalism--"if it isn't specifically written in the law, I won't keep it." Or in other words, keeping the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law.
"[Finding and living basic principles] yields two fruits. The first is inspiration to know what to do. The second is power, or the capacity to do it. These two capacities come together. That’s why Nephi could say, “I will go and do the things which the Lord hath commanded.” He knew the spiritual laws upon which inspiration and power are based." (Richard G. Scott, To Acquire Spiritual Guidance," Ensign, Nov. 2009).
D&C 58:26-29 For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward. Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness; For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward. But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned.
A good example of this is the Mosaic health code vs. the word of wisdom: Under the mosaic law everything you could put in (or on) your body was clearly and specifically spelled out, and everything that was forbidden was also specifically and exhaustively cataloged. The word of wisdom, on the other hand, is actually relatively short, and there are only a few things specifically forbidden in the body of its text. The reason the word of wisdom is so much less extensive is because the word of wisdom was "given for a principle with promise, adapted to the capacity of the weak and the weakest of all saints, who are or can be called saints" (D&C 89:3). Instead of providing a comprehensive legal code, and thereby relieving us of the responsibility of making our own decisions, the word of wisdom frees us to choose to obey the principle of our own free will, without first requiring to be told. We therefore do not partake in illegal drugs and narcotics, even though they are not specifically mentioned in the word of wisdom, because the principle behind the word of wisdom is that our bodies are a temple to and a gift from God, that we are not our own and we are bought with a price. It doesn't matter that illegal drugs are not specifically prohibited by the word of wisdom--when we understand the principle behind the word of wisdom (the spirit of the law) it becomes clear that we must avoid anything that might violate, harm, or destroy our bodies which we seek to preserve as a temple to the Lord. We are smart enough to reason out for ourselves whether or not illegal drugs fall into that category, and this frees us to choose ton act accordingly.
However, this freedom places a greater level of responsibility upon each of us to live up to the higher standard of the gospel, which requires us to actively study to search out those principles on our own so that we have the knowledge necessary to make the right decisions of our own free will and choice. Learning to live by principles is also difficult because we are required to live according to the spirit of the law, and not just the letter of the law. This requires actual conversion and dedication on our part. This requires a fundamental change in our whole way of thinking and our way of life.
"While easy to find, true principles are not easy to live until they become an established pattern of life. They will require you to dislodge false ideas. They can cause you wrenching battles within the secret chambers of your heart and decisive encounters to overcome temptation, peer pressure, and the false allure of the ‘easy way out.’ Yet as you resolutely follow correct principles, you will forge strength of character available to you in times of urgent need. Your consistent adherence to principle overcomes the alluring yet false lifestyles that surround you. Your faithful compliance to correct principles will generate criticism and ridicule from others, yet the results are so eternally worthwhile that they warrant your every sacrifice." (Richard G. Scott, Ensign, May 1993,32, 34).If you can master the concept of gleaning what you read for eternal principles, the scriptures will come to life before your eyes as you learn to actively identify and apply the principles of the gospel in your life. Decisions that may have frightened or confused you before will become plain to you as you develop the tools you need to recognize the fundamental truths and deceptive pitfalls in any situation and make your choices accordingly. The scriptures will come to life because you will see that they contain principles and solutions that apply to any dilemma, and consequently you will feel a greater urgency to search their pages to find the answers you need. As you do this your understanding of scripture will improve and increase by leaps and bounds.
17. Look for patterns, connections, and common or repeated themes and phrases. The scriptures will open up to you as you begin to make connections between passages that may, at first glance, seem unrelated. As you develop this habit, you will begin to develop a more comprehensive understanding of the doctrines and principles that run through the scriptures and you will obtain "inspired insights and treasures of hidden knowledge" as you begin to grasp the relationships between them.
"A connection is a relationship or link between ideas, people, things, or events, and the scriptures are full of connections. Consider the relationship between the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ (see Mosiah 15:1–9); between mercy and grace (see 2 Nephi 9:8); between clean hands and a pure heart (see Psalm 24:4); between a broken heart and a contrite spirit (see 3 Nephi 9:20); between the wheat and the tares (see D&C 101:65); between knowledge and intelligence (see D&C 130:18–19); between justification and sanctification (see D&C 20:30–31); between sheep and goats (see Matthew 25:32–33); between immortality and eternal life (see Moses 1:39); and countless others. Prayerfully identifying, learning about, and pondering such connections—the similarities and differences, for example—is a primary source of living water and yields inspired insights and treasures of hidden knowledge." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).As you search the scriptures learn to make associations between terms and to make connections between concepts. As you make these connections, note them in the margin or in a notepad so that you can build up a catalog of associated concepts and connections that you can reference in the future. Practice comparing and contrasting connected ideas and concepts. Examine differences and similarities. As you turn concepts and connections over in your mind you will come to comprehend them in a way that may never have occurred to you before. This practice will help you to improve in your ability to think critically, which will enable you avoid the trap of taking scriptural concepts for granted which can cause you to miss the finer details and deeper significance of the things you read in the scriptures. You will enjoy added insight, and your ability to actively apply the principles of the scriptures to a wide variety of circumstances will improve as you learn to make connections, not just among ideas in the scriptures, but between the scriptures and your own every day life.
Another excellent way to make or recognize connections in the scriptures is to look for lists. Mosiah 18 contains a list of duties and obligations that a person must take upon themselves at baptism. This list is an excellent reminder of just what we signed up to do when we entered the waters of baptism ourselves. Moroni 6 contains a related list of the practices of the church in the Book of Mormon in relation to the nurture and care of those who had recently been baptized. 2 Nephi 31 contains several lists, amongst which a wonderful list of what it takes to endure to the end is a notable highlight. I could list many more, but you will have to search them out on your own. Once you start to recognize lists and connections between ideas and concepts you will begin to see them almost constantly as you search the scriptures.
As you learn to make and discern connections you will begin to perceive patterns in the scriptures that will provide a template upon which you can model your life by helping you to understand the mind and will of God.
"A pattern is a plan, model, or standard that can be used as a guide for repetitively doing or making something. And the scriptures are full of spiritual patterns. Typically, a scriptural pattern is broader and more comprehensive than a connection. Identifying and studying scriptural patterns is another important source of living water and helps us become acquainted and more familiar with the wisdom and the mind of the Lord (see D&C 95:13)." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
"Patterns are templates, guides, repeating steps, or paths one follows to stay aligned with God’s purpose. If followed, they will keep us humble, awake, and able to discern the voice of the Holy Spirit from those voices that distract us and lead us away." (Paul E Koelliker, "He Truly Loves us", Ensign, May 2012).The best way to recognize a pattern in scripture is to look for common or repeated words, themes, or phrases.
"When you notice a pattern or repetition in the scriptures, there’s often something to be learned from it, like in the accounts of Christ’s birth in the New Testament. In Matthew 2, Matthew repeats the phrase “that it might be fulfilled.” He focuses on how various elements of the Savior’s birth fulfilled Old Testament prophecies. Instead of creating a pattern of words like Matthew, Luke creates a pattern of people in his account found in Luke 2, where the shepherds, Simeon, and Anna all saw and bore testimony of the Savior’s divinity. What can we learn from these two accounts of the Savior’s birth? What do you think each writer was trying to accomplish by telling the story the way he did?" (Afton Nelson, "Six Tips for Scripture Study," New Era, Oct. 2012).As you develop the habit of looking for patterns in the scriptures, you will begin to get a sense of the doctrines and principles that are the most important, and therefore bear the most repeating. As you look for patterns, learn to look for phrases that always accompany certain subjects and/or actions. As you master this technique you will be able to see patterns in what you read that may not be immediately apparent upon casual examination. One of the best examples of this is that nearly every time that the Lord makes a covenant, talks about covenants, or reminds His people of the covenants that they have made with Him, He uses a phrase along the lines of "Behold, thou art ________ (Abraham, Israel, etc.), and I am thy God." or "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people:"
This is important covenant language, because one of the basic requirements for a contract to be valid is that each of the parties is expressly identified in the wording of the contract. The reason why the Lord uses this language when speaking of covenants is to emphasize the lawfully binding and valid nature of the covenants he has made with His children, so that each party knows exactly where they stand. (It also makes it easier to assign covenant duties and responsibilities to each party when they are expressly named in the arrangement because all parties can know exactly what they are agreeing to perform). Sometimes the Lord (or one of His prophets) will use this identifying phrase without specifically alerting you to the fact that He is talking about a covenant. When you know that this phrase is always associated with a covenant relationship you will start to recognize a recurring pattern of covenant language without needing to be expressly told that you are reading about a covenant.
You can gain great insight when you begin to recognize repeated phrases and patterns like this one. For instance, I was excited to discover biblical evidence that Christ covenanted with God to be our redeemer, when I recognized this covenant language among Paul's many Old Testament references (here he is quoting from Psalms 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14) in Hebrews chapter one:
Hebrews 1:5 For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee? And again, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son?My point is that I never would have noticed this significant covenant language if I had not already been primed by previous study in which I learned to recognize an important scriptural pattern consisting of significant and repeated language. There are many such patterns in the scriptures, and the scriptures will open to your understanding when you teach yourself to recognize patterns and connections through diligent study and careful attention to the promptings of the Spirit.
As you learn to recognize connections and patterns in your reading you will come to recognize certain recurring themes that tie the scriptures together. It takes a greater degree of patient study, and spiritual sensitivity and perspective to recognize and comprehend the grand overarching themes that run through the scriptures.
"Themes are overarching, recurring, and unifying qualities or ideas, like essential threads woven throughout a text. Generally, scriptural themes are broader and more comprehensive than patterns or connections. In fact, themes provide the background and context for understanding connections and patterns. The process of searching for and identifying scriptural themes leads us to the fundamental doctrines and principles of salvation—to the eternal truths that invite the confirming witness of the Holy Ghost (see 1 John 5:6). This approach to obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir is the most demanding and rigorous; it also yields the greatest edification and spiritual refreshment. And the scriptures are replete with powerful themes." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).When you can grasp the broader themes and appreciate the larger context you can look at the scriptures from a "big picture" point of view. This allows you to gain a more profound insight into the doctrines and principles that form the foundation of salvation. This will allow you to comprehend the larger relationships of the various principles of the gospel as you take them together instead of only examining each one up close. When you can do this you will begin to have an inkling of "the why's and the wherefores" of the entire gospel plan and you will gain a greater appreciation of God's eternal design.
Personally, looking for connections, patterns, and themes is one of my favorite ways to study the scriptures. My scriptures are filled with notes in the margins that generally consist of a few key words and several related scripture references that shed more light on a given subject. More often than not, my notes contain references that are not contained in the footnotes provided in The LDS Church edition of the scriptures. This is because many of the things that I write in my scriptures are insights that come to me personally during my own scripture study, and that is what makes my notes so special to me. In my opinion, looking for connections, patterns, and themes in scripture is one of the most effective techniques for scripture mastery that I have found, not least of which because it can be exhilarating and fun, and bring you much joy as you study.
"Searching in the revelations for connections, patterns, and themes builds upon and adds to our spiritual knowledge...it broadens our perspective and understanding of the plan of salvation. In my judgment, diligently searching to discover connections, patterns, and themes is in part what it means to “feast” upon the words of Christ. This approach can open the floodgates of the spiritual reservoir, enlighten our understanding through His Spirit, and produce a depth of gratitude for the holy scriptures and a degree of spiritual commitment that can be received in no other way" (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
"The blessings of knowledge, understanding, revelation, and spiritual exhilaration that we can receive as we read, study, and search the scriptures are marvelous. “Feasting upon the word of Christ” (2 Nephi 31:20) is edifying, exciting, and enjoyable. The word is good, “for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me” (Alma 32:28). “Behold they are written, ye have them before you, therefore search them” (3 Nephi 20:11), and they “shall be in [you] a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14).The scriptures can truly become a fount of living water, and a conduit to Christ. Your access to the living water can only be enhanced as you learn to make connections and to recognize and identify patterns and themes in the scriptures. When you do come across a pattern or a theme in scripture, remember that those things were provided as a template so that you can pattern your life after what you learn.
In my personal reading, studying, and searching over a period of years, I have focused many times upon the doctrine of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. No event, knowledge, or influence has had a greater impact upon me during my 54 years of mortality than repeatedly reading about, studying in depth, and searching for connections, patterns, and themes related to the doctrine of the Atonement. This central, saving doctrine, over time, gradually has distilled upon my soul as the dews from heaven; has influenced my thoughts, words, and deeds (see Mosiah 4:30); and...has become for me a well of living water." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).
"As my awareness of patterns has continued, I have become very appreciative of the Lord’s patterns. Patterns for his handiwork are detailed in the scriptures. They describe the building of a tabernacle, an ark, an altar, and temples. The materials are important; the purpose is grand. Then comes that most important pattern of righteousness set by Jesus Christ, “a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.” (1 Tim. 1:16.) In every imaginable setting from ancient times to modern days, we see this pattern repeated—faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, repentance, baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost. Patterns are meant to be repeated. A pattern of righteousness is worthy of duplication...Scripture study helps us increase our understanding of the pattern of righteousness. As we live the words of God, we are told, “He will give unto the faithful line upon line, precept upon precept.” (D&C 98:12.)" (Janette C. Hales, "A Pattern of Righteousness," Ensign, May 1991).
"The spiritual gift of revelation most typically operates as thoughts and feelings put into our minds and hearts by the Holy Ghost (see D&C 8:2–3; 100:5–8). And as testimony and conviction move from our heads to our hearts, we no longer just have information or knowledge—but we begin to understand and seek after the mighty change of heart. Understanding, then, is the result of revelation; it is a spiritual gift, it is a prerequisite to conversion, and it entices us to more consistently live in accordance with the principles we are learning." (David A. Bednar, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, CES Fireside for Young Adults, February 4, 2007).18. The Dos and Don'ts of Scripture Marking
What do I need?
1. Your scriptures: It is common for me to encounter resistance from people that I talk to about scripture study because they feel that it is somehow improper to write in these holy books. Don't be afraid to write in your scriptures. They were given to us so that we could study them and love them until we wear them out. As long as you approach your marking with care and respect I think you will find it to be an invaluable part of your scripture study. That being said I do recommend owning a nice set that you can leave unmarked, and buying a cheap paperback set that you can use for marking. That way you can mark up multiple sets without breaking the bank, and you can experiment with different marking techniques without worrying about ruining your nice set. Some people move on to a new set when they are done marking their old one, and some even give their old marked copy away, and there is nothing wrong with that but I think that what you do with your scriptures after you are done marking them depends greatly on the precise way in which you marked your set and what you plan to use it for. My scriptures are filled with notes and references that make them irreplaceable in my eyes, and they represent years of work. I use them every day and I would never dream of giving them away. On the other hand I have a couple of copies of the Book of Mormon that I have color coded according to a certain system. For example, in one book I have marked all the references to Christ, every instance where Christ is speaking, and every Christ-like attribute of that I could find. I plan to give these to my children when I have some (children), mainly to inspire them to mark up their own set according to the same system.
2. Colored pencils and/or pens: If you decide to use a pen to mark your scriptures, be careful which pen you choose because many pens use ink that will bleed through or smear and render a portion of your page illegible, to say nothing of the notation you were trying to make. Also, the paper they use to make scripture pages tends to be somewhat delicate, and a pen or a pencil that is too sharp may cause you to tear your page. This is another reason to use a cheap set to mark in. In my own studies I use a cheap red ballpoint pen and a box of twelve Crayola colored pencils. I use the pen because I need my notes to be sharp and readable even when I have to write in extremely small print in order to cram a tiny notation into a small space on the page. A standard graphite pencil, like a no. 2 pencil, would just smear all over and make my pages grubby and gray. A colored pencil doesn't have the clarity of line that I need in order to write clearly, even when I do not have to write in miniature. The cheap BIC pen that I use provides that sharp line, and I have selected it carefully because it does not bleed through the page or smear all over (unless my scriptures get wet, but on the whole I try to avoid that).
What shouldn't I use?
1. Highlighter markers: I actually do not recommend using day-glo highlighter markers, but mostly because they will tend to bleed through the thin pages in your scriptures. They do sell colored pencils that provide that bright day-glo highlight if you like that sort of thing, but I feel that the overly bright colors actually make it harder to read your scriptures. Overly bright markings can become distractions instead of highlights when your markings begin to draw attention to themselves instead of drawing attention to the passages you intended to highlight.
2. Stickers or glue-in inserts: Stickers can cause your pages to rip, especially after your scripture set starts to get a little older. Even the relatively mild wear and tear of basic transportation and page turning can eventually cause stickers and inserts to tear the pages to which they are attached. I don't like stickers in scriptures because they are usually covering something else (something important), plus when they wear off and fall out they leave annoying sticky residue that can cause your pages to stick together, or allow dirt to stick to your scripture page. Glue-in inserts, although they are a seminary mainstay, are equally odious, and they tend to cover even more of the page to which they are affixed. When you have a lot of them they tend to make your scriptures hard to read, and they tend to get in the way when you are trying to find a passage. I think that you should use those useful inserts as bookmarks instead of gluing them in and effectively defiling your scriptures. Sticky notes are slightly less objectionable, because the glue isn't as strong, and they aren't terrible big, but they tend to fall off after a while, and your scriptures become a cluttered mess if you use too many of them. I have also seen rub-on inserts that consist of pictures gospel scenes or notable scenes from the scriptures. These are nice I suppose, but don't put them in your scriptures--they obscure the text, and if you already find the text to be somewhat obscure and difficult to grasp these pictures will not help. Don't decorate your scriptures like that text book you had in junior high school. Anything you put in or on your scripture pages should tend toward simplifying and enhancing you experience in the scriptures.
3. You should also avoid stick-on scripture quick reference tags: They may seem helpful at first, but they have all of the same downsides as stickers, plus, as you become more conversant with the scriptures, and no longer need them to help you to find the section of the text that you are looking for, they mainly tend to get in the way. I used them in the first set that I marked extensively, and they were useful when I was starting out, but they quickly turned in to a hindrance, and after much use they started to tear my pages. Eventually the annoyance the tags caused me was a large factor in my decision to discard my old set and start marking a new set.
How should I go about marking my scriptures?
There are any number of ways and an equally endless number of combinations of ways that you can mark your scriptures. This depends largely on your personal preference--mark your set in a way that makes sense to you, and which you can easily understand when you return to that section of the text on a later occasion.
“As used in the sense of marking the scriptures, the word mark means ‘to designate, set apart, identify, distinguish’ or ‘to indicate, express, or show by a mark or symbol.’ In a general sense, anything added to the printed scripture is considered a mark. Such marks might take the form of lines, circles, letters, numbers, symbols, or anything else tending to designate or distinguish” (Daniel H. Ludlow, Marking the Scriptures, 15).
“There are a number of plans for underlining scriptures. They vary somewhat and should suit the individual. The important thing is to underline them and make marginal notes of some kind so you can find them again....I almost never read a borrowed book. I don’t like to read borrowed books because I don’t want to read a book without underlining things I want to remember. Since one doesn’t underline someone else’s book, I feel that if a book is worth reading, it is worth owning. The exception, of course, is in the library, and there a longer process of taking notes is necessary....So underline your books and make your notes while you’re thinking about it. I don’t know how many hours I’ve spent going back to try to locate something I could have found very quickly if I had regularly followed this procedure. I do much better now than I did before” (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, 166).
"How do you personally use the scriptures? Do you mark your copy? Do you put notes in the margin to remember a moment of spiritual guidance or an experience that has taught you a profound lesson?" (Richard G. Scott, "The Power of Scripture," Ensign, Nov. 2011).Marking your scriptures is an essential part of searching and studying and if you can develop a system that works for you it will do much to improve your understanding of and appreciation for the scriptures. Remember that anything you do to mark your scriptures should enhance your ability to study your scriptures and not detract from it; therefore it behooves you to use a system that is neat and clean and which does not obscure the text too much. Too many scribbles and illegible notes will only detract from your ability to study your scriptures properly, and thus you should avoid cluttered and/or disorganized marking systems.
1) Write notes and scripture references in the margins: This is a big part of my own marking system, and it is also recommended by Preach my gospel (the manual that the missionaries use):
"Mark your scriptures and make notes in them. In the margins write scripture references
that clarify the passages you are studying" (Preach My Gospel, p. 23).
Creating your own system of cross references is an excellent way to make (and record) connections between concepts and doctrines as you read. (The value and importance of which I explained in Tip # 17). Doing this also allows you to quickly access your own personal list of related scriptures on any given subject, and your notes can help you to respond quickly to a question regarding a particular topic or subject. In addition, I often find a reference that I am looking for by remembering a related reference and looking that one up because I know that I have likely written the reference that I am actually looking for in the margin adjacent to the passage that I can recall off the top of my head. I find this system to be incredibly useful, and there is much satisfaction in finding your own connections and relationships between scripture passages. Do not just assume that the footnotes (like the ones in the LDS version of the scriptures) contain all you need to know about scriptures related to the one you are studying. Apart from being intellectually lazy, which I absolutely despise, Relying on the footnotes as a crutch (or worse, using them as an excuse to get out of work) is foolish because the footnotes were not designed to be all-encompassing or exhaustive. They were designed to be a jumping off point for your own studies, to give you a place to start looking so that you can make discoveries and connections on your own. If you will study in this way you will find countless connected or related references that are not anywhere in the footnotes, and that you will not be able find by using the topical guide. You can only ferret out these connections through diligent study and sincere pondering.
Any notes that you put into your scriptures should be short and succinct. They should be things of great significance that can be communicated in a few words or less. Anything that cannot be written in a brief succinct phrase should be recorded in a study journal that you keep with your scriptures.
2) Underline or mark specific words: I actually do not recommend underlining an entire verse (unless you are color-coding, which I'll talk about later). Instead you should underline only the most important or central phrase or idea in order to make it stand out from the rest of the text. When I use this technique I do it most often because a single verse or passage contains several important ideas and I wish to differentiate one from the others. I therefore may use several different markings to highlight specific concepts in a particular passage or verse. For instance I may circle one word to make it stand out in a section that I have already underlined.
You may also consider drawing a box around a verse or a group of verses in order to highlight a specific passage without making a wall of color. This is especially useful for separating or differentiating between parables or principles that are situated next to each other in the same chapter, but are not necessarily related. Conversely you can also use boxing to group related concepts which are not situated immediately next to each other in the body of the text. For example you might draw a box around the parable of the sower (in Matthew chapter 13), and then draw another box around Christ's explanation of that parable a handful of verses later in order to visually connect the two related passages. When I am marking a church manual I will occasionally use corner brackets instead of a box, largely because corner brackets represent less visual clutter when I am trying to read, but the principle is the same.
3) Use connecting lines or arrows: When you do highlight a specific word or concept in a passage, there is often a related concept or phrase somewhere nearby on the page or the one facing it when the book is open. This is also useful if you are trying to connect a passage with a related note in the footnotes. Circle or underline the specific phrases or concepts that you wish to connect and then use a ruler to draw a straight line between them. This will help you to highlight an important connection or pattern for future reference. This technique should be used only sparingly, as too many lines can begin to obscure the text, and your marking will begin to lose some of its impact. Also, be sure to use a straight line whenever possible because a curvy or wavy line can start to look messy, and once again your mark loses some of its impact because you should convey the importance of the connection by the using a clean and direct line that doesn't wander or deviate.Everyone is different, and you may choose to adapt some of my tips, or you may elect to disregard them, depending on your preference. What is clear however is that no matter what system you prefer, you do need to develop a system of some kind that allows you to mark and annotate the scriptures if you want to become a scripture master. Studying and marking your scriptures can be fun and exciting, and you can derive great satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment from the work that you put into your scriptures. Your understanding and enjoyment of the scriptures will grow by leaps and bounds as you carefully examine and mark your them and if you keep with it you will surely become a scripture master. Elder David A. Bednar is a noted scripture master, and more importantly he is an apostle of Jesus Christ. He has developed and perfected his own system of scripture marking over his lifetime, and he clearly grasps the importance of scripture marking as a tool for turning your scriptures into what he calls "a repository of knowledge." Watch this Q&A session he did with a small group of young seminary students in which he details his suggestions and his own preferences when it comes to creating a scripture marking system, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the pages of his own set of scriptures.
4) Color-coding: There are a lot of ways that you can use color coding to help you highlight your scriptures. I mentioned before that I have a copy of the Book of Mormon in which I have underlined every passage containing the words of Christ, the words of prophets concerning Christ, and Christ-like attributes in a different color. You might find this exercise (or a similar one) useful, especially if you are still a beginner when it comes to studying your scriptures. Completing this exercise this at least once will help you to train your brain to truly examine the scriptures in order to glean sense and meaning instead of just looking at them in a superficial way and taking what they say for granted.
As you mature in your grasp of the scriptures you may wish to adapt the color coding technique to your own uses and preferences. For instance I employ a limited form of color coding in my current set. I only highlight the verse number according to a color code, and not the whole verse. I use pencils to mark different colors to represent different groupings of principles (I organized these groupings roughly according to the contents of the missionary lessons. Red is for the restoration lesson, and includes things like the nature of God, scriptures concerning the need for priesthood authority, and references to the great apostasy. Blue is for concepts relating to the plan of salvation, such as the pre-earth life, or the resurrection, and green is for the gospel lesson, which includes such doctrines and principles as faith, repentance, and baptism. I use yellow for the principles in the commandments lesson, like the law of chastity, keeping the Sabbath day holy, and tithing. Orange is for the principles in the new member lessons that are not contained in the other lessons, as well as important doctrinal points that do not fall directly into one of the other lessons, like the Abrahamic covenant, or Paul's allegorical interpretation of the story of Hagar and Ishmael and Sara and Isaac in Galatians chapter four. I use Purple for uplifting passages or spiritual thoughts that similarly do not fall within the realm of one of the lessons.
5) Use symbols/shapes: Within the categories that I have grouped by color, I use symbols and shapes to differentiate between principles. For instance, a red triangle signifies an authority scripture, or one that deals with the calling and purpose of prophets and apostles in some way, and a red star represents a scripture dealing with the great apostasy. A blue star represents a scripture that talks about the atonement, and a blue square represents the fall. I use stars, squares, circles, triangles, dashes, and a few other shapes and symbols. I find them incredibly useful, if only because they help me to organize my own thoughts as I decide how to represent the verse I am marking. I do have a warning for those who employ a system of symbols and shapes. Avoid making your system too complex. You will forget what some of the shapes mean, and then the sense and organization of your whole system will start to fall apart because you will start using the wrong shapes in the wrong places.
19. Define words and terms. The language of the scriptures can be difficult to understand. You have probably noticed that the King James Bible (and to a slightly lesser extent the other standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) use a form of English that may seem to bear little resemblance to the language that we speak today. You may even feel intimidated by the strange syntax, and the thee, thou, thy, and thines that fill the scriptures. You are not alone. Many people have great difficulty getting past the language itself when first approaching the scriptures. It is natural that you will come across words that you don’t understand as you study the scriptures. That is nothing to worry about. There are many words in the scriptures that have fallen out of common use, or whose meanings have changed over the years. This is especially true of the Bible, but it also applies to the other standard works. In addition, there are many words employed throughout the scriptures that may have a special and/or selective meaning that is unique to their context within the Gospel. For these reasons it is handy to have, not just a reliable standard dictionary, but also a source that defines many unique Gospel terms. Beyond that, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (like many other churches and their surrounding cultures) maintains its own selective definitions for terms that may differ in significant (or minor) ways from the dictionary definition of terms, or the definition of those terms as commonly understood by other faiths.
A reference book such as True To The Faith (which happens to be published by the Church) can be an excellent resource for enhancing you scripture comprehension, as well as enlarging your Gospel understanding as a whole. It deals a little more directly with current church stances on certain questions and policies, which is makes it a reliable source for obtaining a fairly up to date understanding of procedure and belief as currently defined by the church. It contains many terms or definitions which are unique to the LDS church. True To The Faith is an official church publication, and it is one of the few books that is a part of the official "missionary library."
The Bible Dictionary that is contained within the LDS edition of the Bible is usually a good source for enlightenment concerning specific words and terms. It is a wonderful resource for study needs, but there are many other excellent stand-alone Bible dictionaries, concordances, and commentaries that are also excellent and which you can purchase at your local bookstore. Depending on which ones you decide to use, they may offer helpful insight into the Hebrew or Greek meaning of the text, which can help you to understand the intent of the original writers of the scriptures in their choice of words and phrases. Just remember that the LDS Bible dictionary (naturally) contains definitions and references unique to LDS scripture and doctrine and most Bible dictionaries that you can buy at a bookstore will present a more generalized understanding that may not be entirely in harmony with church doctrine. The same caveat also applies to alternate translations of the scriptures. You might consider a more modern translation of the scriptures if the obsolete language of the King James version is a barrier for you, but just understand that there may be some changes to meaning and doctrine that were made to suit the opinions and views of the modern translators. The King James version is not immune to this flaw, but it is useful to avoid modern political or social colorings by using a much older translation. Of the newer translations I think I prefer the New International version, but you may develop a different preference.
I also find it enlightening to use a standard English dictionary to define words and terms that a person steeped in the Gospel might take for granted, like repentance, or faith. I find it useful to actually understand the words themselves, and not just their special meanings. I feel that this practice helps me to gain insight into the fundamental relationship between many different aspects of the Gospel, as well as helping me to truly ponder things that I might only think that I understand. Here is a wonderful of this technique in action, as explained by Elder David A. Bednar:
"The first thing I did as I began my study of this verse [D&C 45:32] was to look up in the dictionary three words: stand, holy, and places. Here is what we learn about the word stand: "To rise to an upright position; to remain stable, upright, or intact; and to remain valid, effective, and unaltered" (The American Heritage College Dictionary, 3rd Edition, Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston New York, 1997, p. 1324). Please think of those definitional elements together--upright, stable, valid, effective, intact, and unaltered. The word holy suggests "to be associated with divine power" or "sacred" (Ibid., p. 649), and the word place refers to "a bounded area or a portion of space" (Ibid., p. 1043). Thus we are to rise to an upright position, to remain stable, intact, valid, effective, and unaltered in a sacred, bounded area, i.e., stand ye in holy places and be not moved. These are the key elements that I first identified and tried to understand as I researched those three words in the dictionary." (David A. Bednar, "Stand Ye in Holy Places," BYU-I Mothers' Weekend, Mar. 22, 2002).Be careful not to limit yourself by assuming that the full meaning of a scriptural term is contained within the limits of one commentary or dictionary. Doing so may cause you to become blind to the subtle promptings of the Spirit which can show you the full range and depth of subtle nuances of meaning and insight that may not be available from a book written by a man.
"One trouble with commentaries is that their authors sometimes focus on only one meaning, to the exclusion of others. As a result, commentaries, if not used with great care, may illuminate the author’s chosen and correct meaning but close our eyes and restrict our horizons to other possible meanings. Sometimes those other, less obvious meanings can be the ones most valuable and useful to us as we seek to understand our own dispensation and to obtain answers to our own questions. This is why the teaching of the Holy Ghost is a better guide to scriptural interpretation than even the best commentary." (Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan 1995, 7).With this in mind, it is also a helpful study technique to watch for definitions within the text as you read the scriptures. This can grant you great insight and will help you to understand the scriptures without the need to go through a third party filter. Examples of definitions found in the text of the scriptures include:
Revelation 19:10 And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.If you get stuck, or even if you don't, always remember to prayerfully seek the Lord's guidance and answers as to the true meaning of all things, expecially those things you read in the scriptures.
D&C 93:24 And truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;
Matthew 7:7-8 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
James 1:5-6 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
Jeremiah 29:12-13 Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 33:3 Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.
Psalms 119:103-105 How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
20. Search, Ponder, and Pray
I have already talked about the importance of quality and not just quantity when it comes to time spent studying the scriptures, but you need to understand that not only is simply reading the scriptures not enough, but even study by itself is inadequate. Nor is it sufficient to casually ask the Lord for answers. You must learn to search, ponder, and pray.
“The treasures of both secular and spiritual knowledge are hidden ones—but hidden from those who do not properly search and strive to find them....Spiritual knowledge is not available merely for the asking; even prayers are not enough. It takes persistence and dedication of one’s life....Of all treasures of knowledge, the most vital is the knowledge of God” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, pp. 389–90).
"Our humility and our faith that invite spiritual gifts are increased by our reading, studying, and pondering the scriptures. We have all heard those words. Yet we may read a few lines or pages of scripture every day and hope that will be enough. But reading, studying, and pondering are not the same. We read words and we may get ideas. We study and we may discover patterns and connections in scripture. But when we ponder, we invite revelation by the Spirit. Pondering, to me, is the thinking and the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully." (Henry B. Eyring, "Serve with the Spirit", Ensign Nov 2010, 60)
These may sound like separate precepts, but they actually constitute one united principle, each component of which is inseparable from the others.
a) Search: Most of this post has been dedicated almost entirely to searching the scriptures. The word "search" is important to highlight however because it denotes careful and diligent scrutiny of the scriptures on a level that goes beyond mere reading, and even beyond the study of the scriptures. Imagine you are searching for a child lost in the ruins of a building in the aftermath of an earthquake. Surely you will not stop digging until you have found the one for whom you are searching. We are meant to delve into scripture with the same urgency.
b) Ponder: What does it mean to ponder something? According to the dictionary it means "to weigh carefully in the mind; consider thoughtfully" (Dictionary.com). Synonyms include words like "meditate", "consider", and "contemplate". All of these things apply, but there is more discipline that is required of us when we ponder the things of God. Pondering is more than just abstract meditation or introspection. When we ponder gospel truths we learn wisdom and understanding. This greater understanding grants us a greater ability to discern practical applications and solutions from the scriptures and then requires us to act upon what we have learned.
"Pondering, to me, is the thinking and the praying I do after reading and studying in the scriptures carefully." (Henry B. Eyring, "Serve with the Spirit", Ensign Nov 2010, 60)
"Pondering is a progressive mental pursuit. It is a great gift to those who have learned to use it. We find understanding, insight, and practical application if we will use the gift of pondering." (Marvin J. Ashton, "There Are Many Gifts," Ensign, Nov. 1987).
"The word ponder means to consider, contemplate, reflect upon, or think about. Pondering the scriptures, then, is reverent reflecting on the truths, experiences, and lessons contained in the standard works. The process of pondering takes time and cannot be forced, hurried, or rushed." (David A. Bednar, "Because We Have Them before Our Eyes," Ensign May 2006).
"Pondering, which means to weigh mentally, to deliberate, to meditate, can achieve the opening of the spiritual eyes of one’s understanding....We are constantly reminded through the scriptures that we should give the things of God much more than usual superficial consideration. We must ponder them and reach into the very essence of what we are and what we may become." (Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Pondering Strengthens the Spiritual Life", Ensign May 1982).
"Study the scriptures carefully, deliberately. Ponder and pray over them. Scriptures are revelation, and they will bring added revelation." (D. Todd Christofferson, "How to Build Faith in God through Scripture", New Era April 2012)
"By pondering, we give the Spirit an opportunity to impress and direct. Pondering is a powerful link between the heart and the mind. As we read the scriptures, our hearts and minds are touched. If we use the gift to ponder, we can take these eternal truths and realize how we can incorporate them into our daily actions." (Marvin J. Ashton, "There Are Many Gifts," Ensign, Nov. 1987).
c) Pray: When we ponder carefully the words in the scriptures "we invite revelation by the Spirit". The way to obtain that revelation is through humble and sincere prayer.
Moroni 10:3-5: Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.
When we ask God with a sincere heart it means we truly want to know His answer, and when we ask with real intent it means that we truly intend to act on the answer that we receive. Both of these are expressions of our faith and trust in God. I choose to emphasize this because "The effect of sincere prayer and careful scripture study is to always feel an urging to do things" (Henry B. Eyring, "To Draw Closer to God", 151) If we wish to continue to receive the enlightenment of the Spirit we must demonstrate our willingness to act on the knowledge we receive from the Lord.
It is easy to become too casual or comfortable in our approach to the scriptures. The scriptures are not another trivial self-help book, or some kind of new-age self-actualization instruction manual that we can skim through and say "that's nice" and then calmly continue in our previous path. The scriptures are vastly more beneficial and substantially more important than those things, because the principles contained within them are intended to be fundamentally life-altering in a way no other book could ever hope to be. The scriptures are so important that an apostle of the Lord declared them to be "necessary for our salvation and exaltation" (L. Tom Perry, "The Power of Deliverance" Ensign May 2012, 96). To attribute such power to these books is not to overstate the matter. After all, as Paul told Timothy (in 2 Timothy 3:16-17) "All scripture is given by inspiration of God..." The words in the scriptures are revelation from God, and through them you can obtain additional revelation for yourself which is designed to help change you into something more like God.
In light of this realization it becomes clear that revelation is not something to be treated lightly, and yet it is all too easy to fall into the habit of taking such sacred things for granted. Sometimes this is because we pridefully (or lazily) assume that we already know the answer, and so we miss important instruction because we do not take the time (or are unwilling) to humbly seek revelation.
"Unfortunately, we sometimes don’t seek revelation or answers from the scriptures...because we think we know the answers already. Brothers and sisters, as good as our previous experience may be, if we stop asking questions, stop thinking, stop pondering, we can thwart the revelations of the Spirit. Remember, it was the questions young Joseph asked that opened the door for the restoration of all things. We can block the growth and knowledge our Heavenly Father intends for us. How often has the Holy Spirit tried to tell us something we needed to know but couldn’t get past the massive iron gate of what we thought we already knew?" (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, "Acting on the truths of the Gospel", Worldwide Leadership Training Broadcast Feb 2012)
God wants us to ask questions, because that is the only way that we can learn. Unfortunately it is easy to let ourselves fall into the habit of asking in a way that is perfunctory and, frankly, disrespectful. It is error to think that the Lord will honor a request for knowledge that is not coupled with careful preparation and humble supplication. When we are too casual in our approach to the Lord we will not receive the answer we seek.
“The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 469).
It is not enough simply to ask. God is not obligated to give us what we want solely because we ask for it-there is more required of us than simple passing desire if we seek to obtain the guidance and gifts of the Lord. Oliver Cowdery was surprised to learn this principle when he asked to be given the gift to translate, but shortly found himself frustrated in his efforts. In his disappointment and frustration he importuned Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord as to the reason for his difficulty, and this is the response he was given:
D&C 9:8-9 Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
If we truly seek to obtain God's guidance and the enlightenment that comes with learning His will for us we need to develop the discipline to search (and not just read) the scriptures, ponder upon them (instead of closing the book and forgetting what you have read because you favorite TV show is on), and praying diligently (and not casually) to receive the revelation that is promised as a reward for immersing ourselves in the scriptures.
"If we configure our hearts and minds properly with faith, disciplined obedience, prayer, and scripture study, we can access the network of divine and eternal truths. We can receive the teachings and counsel of God’s prophet, opening to us knowledge and revelation from our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ." (Joseph B. Wirthlin, "Windows of Light and Truth", Ensign Oct 1995)
Unless your diligent search of the scriptures is wedded to sincere prayer and profound pondering you will not find their full meaning opened to you. Unless you search, ponder, and pray you will find yourself incapable of fully realizing the blessings of personal revelation and enlightenment as well as the abiding peace of the soul that can come as you immerse yourself in God's word. However it should be said that there is no need to feel guilty or inadequate if you have not yet mastered this principle. Elder Richard G. Scott described the process of searching, pondering, and humble prayer as "cyclical", that is to say that one leads to another, and as you do these things they will build on each other to help you to improve and grow in your ability to master these principles and to act on them accordingly.
"When I am faced with a very difficult matter, this is how I try to understand what to do. I fast. I pray to find and understand scriptures that will be helpful. That process is cyclical. I start reading a passage of scripture; I ponder what the verse means and pray for inspiration. I then ponder and pray to know if I have captured all the Lord wants me to do. Often more impressions come with increased understanding of doctrine. I have found that pattern to be a good way to learn from the scriptures." (Richard G. Scott, "How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life," Ensign May 2012)
When you can apply this principle correctly in your life you will come to recognize that to search, ponder, and pray is a profound means by which we can commune with our Father in heaven. To commune means "to become one with", and as you begin to change your nature in light of what you are taught by the Spirit each day as you search, ponder, and pray you will find yourself becoming more like God, and more inclined to act in harmony with His will of your own accord. You will find that your understanding and enjoyment of the scriptures and all the things of God will increase exponentially as you begin to master the principle of diligently searching, carefully pondering, and humbly praying to receive guidance from the Lord. Your appreciation for life and your ability to face adversity will also profoundly increase as you grow closer to the Lord in your progress toward salvation. It is through careful searching, pondering, and prayer (and acting in faith on the knowledge that you receive) that you can gain for yourself that sublime knowledge and testimony--the eternal perspective-- that no man can give and no man can take away. There is a profound power and liberty that comes with obtaining this witness, and when you do obtain it there is nothing--no suffering, temptation, or privation--that can stand between you and the love of God, and nothing that can stop you from showing your love for God by following and serving Him with your whole soul. In this way you can overcome the world and obtain peace in this life and eternal life in the world to come.
“Search the scriptures—search the revelations which we publish, and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to his glory, nothing doubting, he will answer you by the power of his Holy Spirit: You will then know for yourselves and not for another: You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation. No; for, when men receive their instruction from him that made them, they know how he will save them.” (Joseph Smith, “To the Honorable Men of the World,” The Evening and the Morning Star, Aug. 1832, 22).
"If we are going to work out our salvation, we must rejoice in the Lord. We must ponder his truths in our hearts. We must rivet our attention and interests upon him and his goodness to us. We must forsake the world and use all our strength, energies and abilities in furthering his work." (Bruce R. McConkie, "Think on These Things", Ensign Jan 1974)
2 Corinthians 4:6-9, 13-14, 17-18 For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; We having the same spirit of faith, according as it is written, I believed, and therefore have I spoken; we also believe, and therefore speak; Knowing that he which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also by Jesus, and shall present us with you. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
Romans 8:31,35, What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Revelation 3:21 To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.
D&C 76:59-60, 62, 68-69 Wherefore, all things are theirs, whether life or death, or things present, or things to come, all are theirs and they are Christ's, and Christ is God's. And they shall overcome all things. These shall dwell in the presence of God and his Christ forever and ever. These are they whose names are written in heaven, where God and Christ are the judge of all. These are they who are just men made perfect through Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, who wrought out this perfect atonement through the shedding of his own blood.
Part II: Speaking the Language of the Scriptures: How to incorporate God's word into every aspect of your everyday life.
Anyone who has studied a language at the MTC (Missionary Training Center) can tell you about an important principle that will help you to become fluent in your language more quickly. The teachers at the MTC will often remind you to “Speak Your Language”, or “S.Y.L.” (or in my case Hable Su Idioma or H.S.E.) This means that you should make a special effort to incorporate your mission language into your regular daily life, rather than confine your use of your new language to the classroom. An example would be if you need your companion to pass the salt during lunch, discipline yourself to ask for it in your mission language rather than your native language. Missionaries that obey their teachers and implement and incorporate this principle into their routines learn the language much more quickly and much less painfully than those who can’t seem to get the hang of it. The whole point of this exercise is to condition your habits so that eventually you will start thinking in your new language rather than having to stop and translate everything back and forth because you still think in your native language. It’s really a principle of discipline, in which you basically learn to practice your mission language even when you aren’t formally practicing.
A similar principle can be applied to the scriptures. First, in the literal sense, the language of the scriptures can be difficult to understand. You have probably noticed that the King James Bible (and to a slightly lesser extent the other standard works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) use a form of English that may seem to bear little resemblance to the language that we speak today. You may even feel intimidated by the strange syntax, and the thee, thou, thy, and thines that fill the scriptures. You are not alone. Many people have great difficulty getting past the language itself when first approaching the scriptures.
Second, in order to be worthy of the guidance and enlightenment of the Lord through the Holy Ghost each of us must be willing to make significant (even drastic) changes to our lives to reflect the principles that we are taught in the pages of the scriptures. Each of us will be judged according to the light and knowledge that we have received, and so it is vital that we live up to the standards that are contained in the scriptures that we have sitting on our bookshelves. If all that they do is sit on our bookshelves, we will still be judged by their contents, even if we never made the effort to find out what they are.
That is why I suggest adapting an “S.Y.L.” approach to the language contained within the scriptures. Find ways to work the language and the principles of the scriptures into your daily life. This isn’t as hard as it sounds. Firstly, the language of the scriptures is also the language of prayer, so if you aren’t already using this language to address our Father in Heaven, then now’s the time to start. Even if you are already using this language during your prayers, I encourage you to work harder to make your prayers more conversational, and try to incorporate a wider variety of dialogue into your prayers. God isn’t going to make fun of you if you get it wrong, and if anything he will probably be happy that you are breaking out of your prayer rut and telling (or asking) him about more things than you are usually accustomed to doing. Also, as you do so, ask him to bless you to understand the language of the scriptures. Your mastery of this formal form of English will increase as will your enjoyment and understanding of the scriptures. Secondly, if you read in the scriptures that we are to "love one another even as I [Christ] have loved you", we should make an extra effort to obey that counsel throughout our lives, and throughout any given day. As you begin to realize the blessings and benefits of obedience to the principles contained within the scriptures, you will be happier as a person, and you will gain a new-found appreciation (to say nothing of a deeper testimony) of the principles taught in the scriptures.
To continue with the “S.Y.L.” theme, I want to emphasize the importance of practice, practice, practice. If you have trouble reading the language in the scriptures, practice reading it until you get it down. I’m not suggesting that you simply force yourself to read without understanding, but how can you expect to learn to understand the scriptures if you never read them? Also, how can you hope to understand the principles taught within the scriptures if you never live them? Fortunately for you, I have some tips that might help you to master the language and the principles in the scriptures.
1) Be prepared. Have a good dictionary handy so that you can look up anything that you don’t understand. Some of the older and more obscure words may not show up in your typical dictionary, but fortunately you have other sources to look to. You can find just about anything on the internet, and there are many great online resources to help you divine the meaning of even the most outdated and obscure of words. Be warned however that you should check your sources when using the internet, since unfortunately most website do not hold themselves to any kind of standard of truth or accuracy. If you’re using the LDS version of the scriptures, then you have an excellent resource in the Bible Dictionary, and I recommend that you use it as well. Also, be prepared to receive answers and inspiration. Have a notebook out and ready so you can record inspiration when it comes. This is a wonderful way to demonstrate to the Lord your faith that he will speak to you through the scriptures, and also that you value and treasure the things that He chooses to share with you.
2) Improve your reading skills overall. Practice reading more, and more often. Branch out in your reading habits. Read better books. Seek out things like the works of Shakespeare. I would tell you to do that anyway, but Shakespeare uses language that is very close to the language used in the King James Bible, and his works will help you to get used to the language outside of a Gospel context. If you don’t like reading, you are going to have to get over it if you want to learn to understand the scriptures, because God chose to have his Prophets write his word down, which means that we’re stuck with reading. I’m sure that there’s a good reason behind God’s choice of format, because if you think about it, God could have easily made it possible for the scriptures to be recorded in the form of a movie (for instance) if he had wanted to, but he didn’t.
3) Learn to see the big picture. Determine the context surrounding any given passage. I will talk more about this in another chapter, but suffice it to say that knowing the context of the words that you are reading (in the scriptures) is half the battle when it comes to understanding. How can you hope to understand anything that you read in the scriptures if you don’t know who is speaking, whom it is that they are speaking to, where and when these things are taking place in relation to the events in the rest of the book (and especially in relation to your own where and when), and most importantly, why it is that this particular person is talking (or writing) to these particular people.
"It will greatly help you to understand scripture if you note – not only what is spoken and written, but of whom and to whom, with what words, at what time, where, to what intent, with what circumstances, considering what goes before and what follows." --Miles Coverdale (1488-1569), in his introduction to his Bible translation (the first complete English translation of the Bible to be put into print).
Also, people tend to fall into the trap of reading or memorizing just one verse, isolated from the larger context in which it is found. This is most often where people begin to misinterpret a scripture, because many times one scripture is only one part of a complete thought or theme, and unless you comprehend the whole of it you are not going to fully appreciate the true significance of a single verse.
4) Just relax. Don’t get so worked up. The language in the scriptures is not as difficult to understand as you have been led to believe. Also, the principles contained therein are meant to be simple, and easy to understand. The scriptures aren’t so intimidating if you give them a chance.
I saved the most crucial points for last.
5) Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit. If you don’t read the scriptures with the aid of the Spirit, then they will indeed be no more than words. Good words, mind you, but they won’t come alive for you unless they are opened to your understanding by the enlightenment of the Spirit. Pray to receive this enlightenment, and plan to change your life according to the things that you are taught through the Spirit while reading the Scriptures. A casual request made on a whim, or out of no more than mere curiosity, may in fact go unanswered. We are directed in the scriptures that if we will read the scriptures and pray about them “with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ,” that Christ will manifest the truth of it unto us by the power of the Holy Ghost. Note that this divine manifestation is wholly dependent upon our willingness to devote ourselves to finding the answer that we seek which means diligent study of the scriptures and faithful application of the principles revealed therein. Anything less is unworthy of the Lord's blessing. The Lord is not going to do our thinking and studying for us. A perfect example of this is found in D&C Section 9, in which the Lord tells Oliver Cowdery not to murmur because the Lord chose not to grant his request(s) to be able to translate as Joseph Smith was able to.
Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner. Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
6) Live what you learn. The principles contained in the scriptures are not abstract principles, but are intended to be vital, active components of our progress toward happiness. The Spirit will be reluctant to share precious gems of understanding (pearls of great price, if you will) with you if you casually ignore or forget them when scripture study is done. This would be like never speaking your new language outside of the classroom, which would seriously hamper your progress in learning your mission language. Just as your language improves as you integrate the language training that you have received into your daily routine, so will your understanding of the scriptures and the Gospel (and your life as a whole) improve as you seek to live the principles taught to you (while reading the scriptures) in every aspect of your daily life.
As I wrote this it became clear to me that two things stood out as the most crucial elements of scripture mastery:
1) Seek the guidance and enlightenment of the Lord through the Holy Ghost by prayer.
2) Dedicate yourself to living what you learn in order to become worthy of the further light and knowledge that comes through the spirit.
If you can master these two principles the scriptures will fall open to your understanding, and your eyes will be opened to greater horizons of personal enlightenment and joy. The word of the Lord will truly become "a lamp unto [your] feet, and a light unto [your] path." (See Psalms 119:105). The scriptures will become a refuge in times of trial, and a blessing in times of need.
The purpose of scripture knowledge is not to impress others, or to win arguments, but rather such knowledge comes to us from God as a gift of the Spirit, to be used in the blessing and edification of God's children (including our own selves). An ancient apostle as well as a modern one have both borne witness of the purpose and power and value of scripture in our lives.
"The central purpose of all scripture is to fill our souls with faith in God the Father and in His Son, Jesus Christ—faith that They exist; faith in the Father’s plan for our immortality and eternal life; faith in the Atonement and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, which animates this plan of happiness; faith to make the gospel of Jesus Christ our way of life; and faith to come to know 'the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom [He has] sent'." --D. Todd Christofferson, “The Blessing of Scripture", Ensign May 2010, 32–35
2 Timothy 3:15-17 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
It is my prayer that each of us can learn to appreciate and live up to the words and principles contained within the miracle that is the written word of the Lord.
I hope that these tips help you in your quest to grow closer to God through prayerful scripture study. I would appreciate feedback on this particular article, to help me gauge the applicability of my tips.