Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Scripture Master Tip # 20: Search, Ponder, and Pray

 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 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 deeply 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” (Spencer W. Kimball, 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).
Searching, pondering, and praying may sound like separate precepts, but they actually constitute one united principle, each component of which is inseparable from the others.
  • 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.
  • 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 also a certain greater 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.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #19: Define Words and Terms.

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.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #18: Dos and Don'ts of Scripture Marking

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 when I bring up the virtues of scripture marking 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 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 of 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.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Scripture Master Tip # 17: Look For Patterns, Connections, Lists, and Themes

17. Look for patterns, connections, lists, and themes.

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).

Friday, April 26, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #16: Search For Principles

16. Search for principles. 

The scriptures are one of your best sources for finding basic gospel principles, and it is truly 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 and so will your ability to actively apply the gospel in your every day life.
“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.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #15: Write Down What You Learn

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 vital 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.  If you persist in this attitude you will eventually lose even those truths that you have already received until the spirit withdraws entirely and you are left to your own devices.
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 guidance of the Holy Ghost is to invite confusion, misery, and ultimately destruction.  We depend on the Spirit, so it is essential that we treat him (and the things that he teaches us) 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).

Next Tip:  Scripture Master Tip #16:  Search For Principles

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #14: Study In The Morning

14. Study in the morning. 

This one is hard for everyone but missionaries and General Authorities.  It is difficult for most of us 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.

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).
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.

“Many find that the best time to study is in the morning after a night’s rest has cleared the mind of the many cares that interrupt thought. Others prefer to study in the quiet hours after the work and worries of the day are over and brushed aside, thus ending the day with a peace and tranquility that comes by communion with the scriptures.  Perhaps what is more important than the hour of the day is that a regular time be set aside for study.”  (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64)
"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).

Next tip:  Scripture Master Tip #15:  Write Down What You Learn

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Introduction to ScriptureSight

Welcome to ScriptureSight! Please take a minute to view this brief introductory video.

Scripture Master Tip #13: Create An Appropriate Study Space

13. Create an appropriate study space.

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?  Just to be clear, I'm not saying that you can't ALSO read the scriptures while sitting on the couch or lying on your bed.  What I am saying is that you need to have a dedicated formal study time set aside in which you sit at a table or a desk and assume an attitude signifying your desire to be taught by the Lord.

Create an appropriate study space.
It also helps if you create or set aside a particular place for study.  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.  Make sure that your study space is clean and organized, so as to be free of clutter, disorder, and distractions.  Try to choose a place that is quiet and (if feasible) removed from household traffic, and other noisy distractions like the TV, radio, or even the internet.  Study in a place that has sufficient light--studying in a poorly lit environment is hard on your eyes, but it also invites drowsiness--and why make scripture study any more difficult than it has to be?
"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).
"Study at a desk or table where you can write (not lying down or sitting on your bed),
organize your study materials, and remain alert" (Preach My Gospel, 22).
For more tips on creating a good study space visit "how-to-study.com" HERE.

To go on to the next tip in the series click here:  Scripture Master Tip #14:  Study In the Morning

Monday, April 22, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #12: Rid Yourself of All Distractions

12. Rid yourself 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.  Do everything you can to quiet your mind and shut out the meaningless interference of your busy life so you can hear the Spirit when He speaks to you and develop your relationship with God. Unfortunately there is much in this world that is designed to distract you from what matters most.  Our modern world is filled with things which, if you allow it, can keep you from communing with God and His Spirit, and your deepest self, by cluttering your life with noise and trivia.

In order to avoid such clutter and interference in your life you will have to make a point to spend time "in silence and in stillness" searching, pondering, praying, and meditating over the scriptures.  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 or television, 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.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #11: Read More Than One Verse a Day

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).
 For more about feasting on the word of God, please refer back to Scripture Master Tip #10:  Immerse Yourself In the Scriptures.  To go on to the next tip in the series click here:  Scripture Master Tip #12:  Rid Yourself of All Distractions

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #10: Immerse Yourself in the Scriptures

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).
Next Tip:  Scripture Master Tip #11:  Read More Than One Verse a Day

Friday, April 19, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #9: You're In For The Long Haul!

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).

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Scripture Study Tip #8: Quantity Often Leads to Quality

8.  Quantity Often Leads to Quality

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). 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #7: Get Creative!

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 often go too fast for deep study so do not assume that you have read the scriptures if you have only 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?

With that said, I actually suggest using audio recordings of the scriptures to help with learning how to pronounce those unfamiliar words that tend to fill the scriptures.  Odds are the person they got to record a reading of the scriptures is a better reader than you are so listening to the scriptures as read by a professional can do a lot for overall comprehension.

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.

Act Out Scripture Stories
This one is more for the kids, but it certainly helps the scriptures to come to life when you and your family put yourselves in the shoes of the people that you read about.  It helps if you make a point to ask each of the participants what they would do if they were faced with a similar situation.  For instance, if you were acting out the story of Daniel and the lion's den you could ask your kids if they would be brave enough to pray even if it was forbidden, as Daniel did, even under the the threat of death.  This is a wonderful way to involve everyone in a fun and personal approach to the scriptures.  It is also a wonderful family home evening idea.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Scripture Master Tip #6: You Are Not Alone!

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 the 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 enjoyed the privilege of teaching an informal weekly bible study with a small group of my friends over the course of four years.  Studying the scriptures and discussing them with my friends presented me with the chance to see things from their perspective and to 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 that I received through the spirit and from my friends while teaching and preparing Bible study, to be among the greatest experiences of my life.  A scripture study group is certainly no substitute for church, and it should never be viewed as such, but it is still an excellent (and fun) way to improve your personal understanding of, and experience with, the scriptures.  You can also benefit greatly from associating with wholesome friends who share your values and who support you in your desire to live a better life.

Also, it’s not cheating to seek out study aids, like Bible commentaries and concordances, or books about people in the Book of Mormon. There are also several excellent Bible websites out there that feature a whole range of commentaries on scripture.  Christian bookstores, LDS centered stores like Deseret Book, and even your average run-of-the-mill Barnes and Noble offer a whole range 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.  Print copies are available for purchase at church distribution centers, but they can also be easily accessed online for free HERE.

Some of the best study aids out there can also be found right inside the LDS edition of the scriptures.  The LDS edition of the scriptures features one of the world's most exhaustive systems of footnotes and cross-references between all four of the standard works, as well as an excellent topical guide and Bible dictionary.  All of these study aids and commentaries can do much to supplement your understanding and enjoyment 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 urgent need or desire 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 I suspect 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.
“Latter-day Saints know that learned or authoritative commentaries [or other study aids] can help us with scriptural interpretation, but we maintain that they must be used with caution.
Commentaries are not a substitute for the scriptures any more than a good cookbook is a substitute for food. (When I refer to “commentaries,” I refer to everything that interprets scripture, from the comprehensive book-length commentary to the brief interpretation embodied in a lesson or an article, such as this one.)
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).

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 and inspired source of pure doctrine. Even the best commentary on scripture contains nothing more than the opinions of a man, no matter how well 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.

This warning even applies to BYU professors and other well-known LDS writers and scholars who write and speak about the scriptures and the gospel.  It is common for people to confuse scholarly expertise with divine authority when it comes to defining and understanding gospel doctrine and scriptural meaning.  Even the most respected religious scholars, including those who teach religion at church-owned schools, do not possess the same right to speak under the the inspiration of God to authoritatively establish doctrine for the church as do the prophet and the quorum of the twelve apostles.  I'm sure that most scholars who are also members of the church would be the first ones to remind you that they do not hold the authority to interpret or declare God's word to the world.

Even after all of these warnings I still recommend using commentaries and other study aids. I am simply suggesting than you should 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.  If you need an answer to a question, or help to understand a difficult passage of scripture, there is no substitute for the guidance and profound insight provided by the teaching of the Holy Ghost.
“As Paul told Timothy, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim. 3:16; also see 2 Pet. 1:21). This means that in order to understand scripture, our minds need to be enlightened by the Spirit of the Lord. As we learn from the fiftieth section of the Doctrine and Covenants, “he that receiveth the word by the Spirit of truth receiveth it as it is preached by the Spirit of truth” (D&C 50:21). When this happens, the reader is edified by personal revelation.
President Spencer W. Kimball told the members of the Church that he was “convinced that each of us, at some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselves” (Ensign, Sept. 1976, p. 4). When we do that, we can obtain revelation. If we depend only upon our own reasoning or the scholarship or commentaries of others, we will never obtain the understanding that can come only by revelation. Persons in that circumstance will be left forever with what Alma calls ‘the lesser portion of the word’” (Dallin H. Oaks, “Scripture Reading and Revelation,” Ensign, Jan. 1995).

Go on to the next tip:  Scripture Master Tip #7:  Get Creative!
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