Saturday, November 28, 2015

7 Ways To Have Your Scripture Studies Do More For You

"What do you think of your/the scriptures?"

Depending on who you ask that question, answers might vary from a plain and simple "I don't" to "they're really confusing" or "I struggle to understand them" to "I love them", "they mean everything to me" or "they're the key to my happiness".  The possible answers are endless because there is an endless variety of perspectives and personalities in this world.  I have heard so many different view points on the scriptures, what constitutes scripture, how high of a priority they should be in our lives, how they should be interpreted, etc. that I feel a desire to offer what help and perspective and I can to aid in people's understanding how to get more from the sacred records given to us by God.  Here are 7 things you can do have your scriptures studies help you.

1. Pray.  I'm not sure I can sufficiently emphasize how powerful and useful prayer can be or how undervalued and underused it is in general in society today, but it works.  I'm telling you it works.  I saw a meme on facebook a few days ago that said we should be making our prayers more specific, more detailed, more personal and more lengthy (within reason on that last one of course).  When this kind of prayer prefaces our scripture studies, miracles happen.  When we put our whole heart and soul into our prayers and speak with our Father in Heaven with intent to take seriously what the Holy Ghost would bring to our minds from the scriptures, we are endowed with the Savior's grace to understand more deeply and purely those things that God would have us do to have the highest possible level and depth of joy.

In depth, personal, detailed prayer opens the flood gates of heaven as we seek to "feast upon the words of Christ" and allows us, as we open our minds and hearts to the influence of the Holy Ghost, that "mighty change of heart" that Alma so lovingly invited us all to experience.  Once in a great while (which is not nearly often enough), I'll be praying and I'll get a little impression, just as I'm about to end a prayer, that says "are you sure that's all you want to say?" or "are you sure you're done?".  I'll think for a few seconds and realize "oh I guess there's more I need to get out."  So I'll keep going.  As I do so I become more aware of the Father's undivided attention to me as He listens and I feel my connection with Him as son to Father grow.  My mind becomes clearer and I feel a greater ability to discern what He is trying to communicate to me through the Holy Ghost.  I can promise you that as this kind of prayer becomes more a part of your life and your scriptures studies that the same thing will happen.  His love will be more obvious and your ability to understand the scriptures by the power of Holy Ghost will increase exponentially.  You will find yourself increasing in awareness and understanding, a true comprehension of the specifically tailored message God wishes to speak to you when your study your scriptures.

2. Make the scriptures a non-negotiable part of your day.  I cannot even begin to relate to the innumerable different circumstances that might make it difficult to make the scriptures a meaningful part of your day, but I know that the Son of God can and does perfectly.  When Nephi so emphatically invited us to "feast upon the words of Christ" he didn't say "unless work is just too time consuming" or "except if you have homework due tomorrow or if you're too tired or if it's too early".  You see, Satan doesn't need to get you to commit any heavy grievous sins to consider it a win for him.  All he needs to win is to make sure, now matter how minimal the success, that you are distracted in small degrees.  One day going without scripture study and he considers that a success.  Why is one day a success for him?  Because if he can convince you by any means to neglect one day of  not studying your scriptures, he'll likely be able to convince you to neglect two, and then three, and so forth.  No, I am not saying that missing one day renders you unworthy of God's love or unworthy of going to the temple.  What I am saying is that it only takes one day of neglecting your scriptures to get you started on a very dangerous path downward.

I remember a story of three truck drivers being told by... well... I don't remember which apostle it was, but that's not important.  The story goes like this.  Three truckers were being interviewed for a new job.  The first one walked into the boss's office and after a few minutes, the boss concluded the interview by asking "how close can you get a truck to the edge of a cliff without going over?"  The response was "I'd say probably 5 inches".  The boss said "Ok. Thank's for your time. I'll get back to you soon."  The next interview ended the same, with the second candidate bragging further "I can get 3 inches from the edge." Well the third man also experienced the same interview, but upon the final question he answered by saying "I like to stay as far away from the edge as I can." The boss replied with two simple words: "You're hired."

The point behind this story is to illustrate that staying as far away as possible from excuses that distance ourselves from the Lord, including negligence of scripture study, is the most likely path to happiness and safety.

3. Study the words of ancient and modern prophets.  Two words.  General Conference.  Elder Richard G. Scott so brilliantly reminded us how much of a miracle it is that we have accessibility to the scriptures that we do, "Who could have imagined not very many years ago that the full standard works and years of general conference messages would fit into your pocket? Just having them in your pocket will not protect you, but studying, pondering, and listening to them during quiet moments of each day will enhance communication through the Spirit."  That whole talk is chalked full of amazing insights on the value of the scriptures.  

Said the Lord "whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same".  I know for certain that God will speak to your mind so that you can understand clearly how to reach the fullness of spiritual stature and happiness He has for you as your make all of the Lord's words a part of your studies as directed by the Spirit.  Heck, even books like The Continuous Atonement, The Infinite Atonement, Jesus the Christ, Drawing on the Powers of Heaven, Preach My Gospel, The Triumph of Zion and other publications by God's prophets today are good to study.  Never go without studying the standards works, mind you (especially the Book of Mormon), but we have such a variety of scripture today that there really is no excuse not to broaden our scriptural understanding by expanding our spiritual repertoire.

4. Treat your scriptures studies like you would your time in the temple.  I remember when I was serving as a full time missionary in London, Ontario and we had my companion and I and the Chinese Elders (district leader) living in our apartment.  I don't remember which of us it was that saw him, but as someone went into our walk-in closet they saw Elder Durtschi kneeling in prayer and said (after closing the door) something like "well that gives new meaning to 'when thou prayest, enter into thy closet...'".  My point in bringing this up is to emphasize that this was an excellent example of just how much his personal time with Heavenly Father meant to him.  It was critical enough to him to be completely apart from everyone and everything else when praying that he went to the greatest lengths possible to make it so.  When we study we should be giving it our undivided attention. Unplug completely from distractions and feel the power of the word of the Lord.

5. As much as possible, tune everything else in the world completely out.  Our personal and family scripture studies should be the same.  T.V.s, tablets, ipads, phones, computers, all other electronic devices (except those that must be used to study and only to study) should be off and all other distractions laid aside so that we can have the optimal environment for revelation and pure knowledge and peace from our Father in Heaven as we study His loving counsel to us.  I know kids, pets and more can be an unwavering source of difficulty when it comes to quiet, dedicated, focused time on the scriptures, but any time is better than none.  Any time with absolutely everything else in the world tuned out with just us and the scriptures is worth it.

6. Mark them or at least keep a study journal!  In the scriptures themselves, the Lord commands us: "For I command all men... that they shall write the words which I speak unto them".  There is no stipulation that says "but only if they are audible words."  When the Lord speaks to us through the Holy Ghost, He expects us to write down the impressions He gives us!  Write them in the side margins.  Perhaps, write them in a study journal, or type them.  Maybe put them in a personal journal.  But for goodness sake, write them down!  Why do you think all patriarchal blessings written down?  Why do you think prophets write revelations they receive?  I was told about a member of the Seventy had with Elder David A. Bednar where they were talking about Elder Bednar's study habits.  He talked about how many copies of the Book of Mormon he had been through, each with a different topic being marked.  The interviewer guessed he had probably hundreds of copies read through by now and said something like "I'd love to see some of the gems in those". Elder Bednar said, in essence, 'No way!  Those are my gems.  Find them on your own!"

I think that is just bang on!  It reminds me of a conversation between W. Cleon Skousen and his mission president, Elder Widtsoe.  Brother Skousen summarized it like this:

"I said, “Brother Widtsoe, can I ask you a question?” He said, “Oh, oh, yes.” For I knew I had awakened him from a reverie of meditation on something. He was a very famous scientist, by the way, brother Widtsoe. I said, “I wanted to just ask you about why the Atonement was necessary.” I said, “I accept the fact that it is but I just wondered why? I wondered what would happen, or what caused it, to have the Father require the Son to go through this.” And he said, “Elder Skousen, who asked you to ask me this question?”“Oh,” I said, “well, I, nobody. It’s my question. Nobody asked me to ask it.”He said, “I’m not asked that question very often. Do you really want to know why the Atonement was necessary?”And I said, “Well, if it’s alright.”“Yes,” he said, “it’s alright.  How badly do you want to know the answer?”And I said, “Well, I’ve – I’ve wanted to know it ever since I was a little boy.”“Alright,” he said, “You know, if people don’t ask questions, they can’t hear the answer. So, I’ll share the answer with you over a period of time.”“Oh,” I said, “I so appreciate that.” and I got out my pencil. I said, “If you’ll give me the verses and everything, I’ll write it right down here.”“Well,” he said, “I’ll tell you what to look for and I’ll tell you which standard work it’s in.” I said, “aren’t you going to give me the chapter and verse?”

He said, “I wouldn’t deprive you of the thrill of finding it.”

As is similarly implied there, those gems in Elder Bednars scriptures wouldn't mean the same to anyone else if he just shared them freely because the change of mind and heart, born of the struggle to find them and write them down cannot just be transferred to anyone else.  They have to be obtained by direct, first hand experience.  That's the way it is with any experience or knowledge.

7. Live what you learn.  No matter how wonderful or soul satisfying your scripture studies are you to, it still doesn't really mean anything unless it results in a change of heart and behavior.  I've read the Book of Mormon cover to cover probably more than 25 times now.  My mission copy looks like this:

None of that would ever make any difference for me, not one of those gems it took so many hours to find, would do me any good if I didn't go and apply all those little personalized inspirations from the Lord.  For those who know me, this will explain a lot, haha.  As the Lord Himself said: "I will give unto the children of men line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little; and blessed are those who hearken unto my precepts, and lend an ear unto my counsel, for they shall learn wisdom; for unto him that receiveth" and, I'm sure he would say, 'and liveth what he receiveth', "I will give more; and from them that shall say, We have enough, from them shall be taken away even that which they have."

No matter how uplifting our studies are, of themselves, no one can justly expect to gain anything worthwhile from scripture studies, any lasting knowledge or greater understanding or peace from it, if they are not thankful for and living, to the best of their ability, the truth they already know.


I remember when an LDS member nearby here in... Brampton I think it was... rehearsed an experience to me where he was giving a ride to a muslim(?) man in his car.
The man saw a quad (if I remember right) sitting on the car floor and said to the owner something like "is that your holy book/scriptures?"
"Yes", he replied.
"Why do you just let them sit there on the ground?  Don't you think they deserve more respect?" And this coming from someone who isn't Christian to an active member of the LDS church.
To my recollection, he never did that again.

My Mission President also told me that he had made a decision years before that he would never ever set his scriptures on the ground as a sign of respect to the real value of the word of the Lord.  I never forgot that and I have made the same goal and gone further.  You can ask my wife and she'll validate this but I panic a little when either of us goes one day without getting a good study of the scriptures in.

They really do matter that much.  They should matter that much to everyone from every circumstance, every perspective and every walk of life.  The scriptures really can do that much for us if we really value and use God's word the way He intended it, so we could be happy.

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