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.
"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).
- 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 apostles and prophets of the Lord have 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 to inspired men, and through those words you can obtain additional revelation and inspiration 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 answers, 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 through Christ 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).There are now a total of twenty-one Scripture Master Tips available to you here on ScriptureSight. To go on to the next one follow the link to Scripture Master Tip #21: Improve Your Reading Skills Overall. To start this series from the beginning please follow the link to "Scripture Master Tip # 1: Just Do It!."
"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, 37-39 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.