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).
I know many people who complain about how hard the scriptures are to understand, and yet as I have grown to know these people better it has become clear to me that they spend next to no time in the scriptures outside of church. It seems like a catch 22: you don't like to study the scriptures because you don't understand them, but you don't understand them because you don't spend much time studying them. I think it is obvious where the problem actually lies.
"We fail in our duty to study God's Word not so much because it is difficult to understand, not so much because it is dull and boring, but because it is work. Our problem is not a lack of intelligence or a lack of passion. Our problem is that we are lazy." (R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture, 9)Forgive my bluntness, but it was a point that had to be made. That said, I think "lazy" is actually the wrong word. I think we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the scriptures and discouraged by our apparent lack of immediate talent in the scriptures and thus fall into that catch 22 that I mentioned before. I think the cycle of "you don't like to study the scriptures because you don't understand them, but you don't understand them because you don't spend much time studying them" is actually responsible for most of our trouble, discouragement, and even guilt over our lack of progress in the scriptures. Satan loves to discourage people, he loves to hear you say "I give up", and he also loves lazy people. He loves doing this to people because then he doesn't have to work very hard to keep them from working hard for their own salvation and spiritual welfare. So how do we overcome this seeming catch 22 in which we have allowed ourselves to become caught up?
"But still ye will say I can not understand it. What marvel? How shouldest thou understand, if thou wilt not read, nor look upon it? Take the books into thine hands, read the whole story, and that thou understandest, keep it well in memory; that thou understandest not, read it again, and again. If thou can neither so come by it, counsel with some other that is better learned." (Thomas Cranmer, Preface to the Great Bible, )The first tip on my list is to "Just Do It!" and I repeat it emphatically here! Hard work, perseverance, and persistence (or plain old stubborn 'sticktuitiveness') are required before you can truly gain a deep and abiding love for and understanding of the scriptures.
“If the language of the scriptures at first seems strange to you, keep reading. Soon you will come to recognize the beauty and power found on those pages.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” Ensign, Nov. 2013, 27).This means that you are going to have to work at reading your scriptures, even when you don't necessarily feel like reading your scriptures. As Brigham Young once said concerning prayer, "It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do" ("Discourses of Brigham Young", 44). I would substitute scripture study for prayer in that quote in this instance, and I daresay it applies just as much.
"It matters not whether you or I feel like [studying the scriptures], when the time comes to [study the scriptures], [study the scriptures]. If we do not feel like it, we should pray [and study the scriptures] till we do."I'm not talking about forcing yourself to read like hitting your head against a wall. I am referring to the fact that scripture study is work, and you can never finish a job that you never start. Note however that I left one reference to prayer in my modified version of Brigham Young's statement. If you don't understand something, pray and ask God to help you.
"There is nothing more helpful than prayer to open our understanding of the scriptures. Through prayer we can attune our minds to seek the answers to our searchings. The Lord said: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Luke 11:9). Herein is Christ’s reassurance that if we will ask, seek, and knock, the Holy Spirit will guide our understanding if we are ready and eager to receive." (Howard W. Hunter, "Reading the Scriptures," Ensign, Nov. 1979, 64).As Thomas Cranmer said, "counsel with some other that is better learned." There is no one that is better learned than God. If you will counsel with Him over the scriptures, He will teach you what you need to know through the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost is a teacher as well as a comforter and a guide.
John 14:26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.
If you are worthy, and you ask with pure intent and a sincere heart, God will reveal the "mysteries" to you through His Spirit that you cannot understand on your own.
1 Corinthians 2:9-10 But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.
In fact, if you do not enlist the Spirit to help you understand what is in the scriptures, then it doesn't matter how much time you spend in the scriptures. You could be the smartest or "wisest" person in the world and it still wouldn't matter. You may as well bang your head against a wall for all the good it will do you to try to study the scriptures without the aid of the Holy Ghost.
1 Corinthians 2:13-14 Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned
Alma 26:21-22 And now behold, my brethren, what natural man is there that knoweth these things? I say unto you, there is none that knoweth these things, save it be the penitent. Yea, he that repenteth and exerciseth faith, and bringeth forth good works, and prayeth continually without ceasing—unto such it is given to know the mysteries of God; yea, unto such it shall be given to reveal things which never have been revealed...
It doesn't matter if you don't think you are smart enough to understand the scriptures because no one, according to their natural ability alone, can truly understand them without the aid of the Spirit. If you will exercise faith and live the gospel, and "pray continually without ceasing" for the aid of the Spirit, you will gain a deeper understanding of scripture and the "mysteries of God" than all the uninspired doctors and professors that are in the world. After all, how do you think that a relatively unschooled farm boy like Joseph Smith could help to bring about such a marvelous work and a wonder as the restored gospel?
1 Corinthians 1:27-28 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
Alma 37:6-7 Now ye may suppose that this is foolishness in me; but behold I say unto you, that by small and simple things are great things brought to pass; and small means in many instances doth confound the wise. And the Lord God doth work by means to bring about his great and eternal purposes; and by very small means the Lord doth confound the wise and bringeth about the salvation of many souls.
D&C 1:23 That the fulness of my gospel might be proclaimed by the weak and the simple unto the ends of the world, and before kings and rulers.
1 Corinthians 1:25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
God has always chosen the weak and simple to bring to pass His great and eternal purposes, however "...many are called but few are chosen" (See Matthew 22:14). What separates the chosen from among those who were called is not necessarily any inherent talent, or special ability above their fellows. Rather it is their choice to do hard and difficult work when called upon to do so, even (and especially) when they felt inadequate to the task. This principle applies just as much to scripture study as it does to the whole of life. Of course the scriptures are hard to understand when you first begin reading them, but if you will press forward diligently in your studies, you will find your understanding opened and your mind enlightened.
“If the language of the scriptures at first seems strange to you, keep reading. Soon you will come to recognize the beauty and power found on those pages.” (Boyd K. Packer, “The Key to Spiritual Protection,” Ensign, November, 2013, 27).
And so, rather than simply spending more time in the scriptures, I suppose my advice is to spend more diligence upon the scriptures. I have found that, in this way, scripture study becomes it's own reward.
Go on to the next tip: Scripture Master Tip #9: You're In For the Long Haul!