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.
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 its 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 scripture 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.
“This is probably the most talkative age in the history of the world-not only because we have more mechanical devices to diffuse our talking but also because we have little inside our minds that did not come from the world outside our minds. There are few listeners, although Saint Paul tells us that “faith comes from hearing.” If the bodies of most of us were fed as little as the mind, they would soon starve to death. Hyperactivity and love of noise and chatter characterize our age, as a compensation for the profound distrust human beings have of themselves” (Archbishop Fulton Sheen, Lift Up Your Heart, 1950).
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 have 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 you to shed the web of comfortable falsehoods and polite lies that you have spun for yourself 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 one's soul by prayer and meditation, and pondering deeply "the sacred things of God."
"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.
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).
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," and 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.
"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 their 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.
Next tip: Scripture Master Tip #13: Create An Appropriate Study Space