Over the past 20 years, Sister Bednar and I have met with tens of thousands of young Latter-day Saints to discuss the doctrines of the restored gospel and to consider the blessings of living correct principles in our daily lives. As we have met with both large and small groups, we typically have invited the youth to ask questions. We have been greatly impressed with their depth of gospel knowledge and the quality of their questions.
Two of the questions that have been posed to us over and over again are these: Why is studying the scriptures so important? How can I make scripture study more edifying and effective?
These excellent questions deserve serious consideration by each of us.
Why Is Studying the Scriptures So Important?
The Lord has declared that it is His work and His glory "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man" (Moses 1:39). He has established His Church to help in this great work. Accordingly, the grand mission of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is to "invite all to come unto Christ" (D&C 20:59) and "be perfected in him" (Moro. 10:32). Thus, all that we learn and know and do as disciples of the Savior and as members of His Church is intended to assist us in responding affirmatively to this supernal invitation.
Coming unto Christ is not a single event with a fixed point of beginning or ending; rather, it is a process that develops and deepens during a lifetime. As an initial step in the process, we certainly must obtain knowledge and learn about Jesus and His life, teachings, and ministry. But truly coming unto Him also requires consistent obedience and striving to become like Jesus in our thoughts, motives, communications, and actions. As we "press forward" (2 Ne. 31:20) on the pathway of discipleship, we can draw near unto the Savior with the expectation that He will draw near unto us; we can seek Him diligently with the hope that we shall find Him; we can ask with confidence that we shall receive; and we can knock anticipating that the door shall be opened unto us (see D&C 88:63).
One of the best ways to draw near unto Him and to both learn about and become more like the Lord Jesus Christ is to consistently study the holy scriptures--to daily "feast upon the words of Christ" (2 Ne. 32:3).
Please notice that I used the word study and not the word read. Studying and feasting suggest a focus and an intensity that reach far beyond casual reading or quick perusing. Studying and feasting, followed by sincere prayer and steadfast application of the truths and principles we learn, yield personal resolve, spiritual commitment, and the bright light of testimony. Studying, learning, praying, and appropriately applying gospel truths are all key elements in the process of coming unto the Savior.
The scriptures are vitally important to me as I continue to come unto Christ. To my mind and heart frequently comes a strong admonition from my patriarchal blessing to "study the scriptures at every available opportunity." For decades that simple phrase has provided focus for my gospel study, and the promised blessings of inspiration and direction associated with that admonition have been realized repeatedly in my life.
I also have been greatly influenced in my study and use of the scriptures by President Harold B. Lee (1899-1973). During my initial missionary training in Salt Lake City in 1971, approximately 300 elders and sisters were blessed to receive instruction from President Lee in the assembly room of the Salt Lake Temple. To be taught by one of the Lord's special witnesses and a member of the First Presidency in such a sacred setting was a most memorable experience for me.
The format for the instruction was quite simple: President Lee invited us to ask questions about any and all gospel topics. I will never forget what I felt as I watched President Lee answer every single question from the scriptures! I knew I would never have the command of the scriptures that he did, but then and there in the Salt Lake Temple I resolved to study and use the scriptures in my teaching and follow the example of President Lee. And that commitment as a new and inexperienced 19-year-old missionary has blessed my life in ways that cannot be counted or adequately described.
In the following instruction, note the central role of the scriptures in the process of coming to know and rely upon God:
"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."
By the power of the Holy Ghost, each of us can receive a spiritual witness independent of any other person and "know for yourselves" that Jesus is the Savior and our Redeemer.
The scriptures, in essence, are a written "recording" of the voice of the Lord-- a voice we feel in our hearts more than we hear with our ears. And as we study the content and feel the spirit of the written word of God, we learn to hear His voice in the words we read and to understand the means whereby the words are given to us by the Holy Ghost. As is explained in Doctrine and Covenants 18:34-36:
"These words are not of men nor of man, but of me; wherefore, you shall testify they are of me and not of man;
"For it is my voice which speaketh them unto you; for they are given by my Spirit unto you, and by my power you can read them one to another; and save it were by my power you could not have them;
"Wherefore, you can testify that you have heard my voice, and know my words."
How important it is for each of us to return repeatedly to the holy scriptures and thereby gain experience and confidence in hearing and feeling His voice. As we regularly study the holy scriptures, "Behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do" (2 Ne. 32:3).
In our process of coming unto Christ, hearing and feeling the voice of the Lord and knowing His words are essential. The Savior taught, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27; emphasis added). Thus, hearing His voice precedes properly following Him, "for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts" (D&C 29:7). Truly, we can receive instruction from Him and follow Him. And the spiritual capacity to hear, to feel, and to follow is available to every member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--and that capacity is strengthened through diligent study of the scriptures.
Why is studying the scriptures so important? Sincere study of the scriptures helps us progress in the process of coming unto Christ and becoming more like Him. Through daily feasting, we can gain a testimony of the gospel truths for ourselves and learn to hear and follow the voice of the Lord.
How Can I Make Scripture Study More Edifying and Effective?
Understanding and applying five basic principles can help our personal scripture study become more edifying and effective.
Principle 1: Pray for understanding, and invite the help of the Holy Ghost. The things of the Spirit can be learned only by and through the influence of the Spirit. Each time we begin a session of sincere scripture study, an earnest and humble prayer in which we petition our Heavenly Father in the name of His Son for the assistance of the Holy Ghost will greatly improve our learning, understanding, and recall. It is helpful to pray not only at the beginning, but to plead for understanding as you study. Also, I find it helpful to express gratitude for what I have been taught as I conclude the session.
Principle 2: Work. Gospel knowledge and understanding come through diligent study of the scriptures and tutoring by 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 a crop in the fall if he does not properly sow in the spring and work hard during the summer to weed, nourish, and cultivate the plants. In like manner, we cannot expect to reap a rich scriptural harvest unless we pay the price of regular and diligent study. The scriptural treasures we seek in our lives cannot be borrowed or loaned or obtained secondhand. We must each learn to open the vault door by applying the principle of work.
Principle 3: Be consistent. Given the hectic pace of our lives, good intentions and simply "hoping" to find the time for meaningful scripture study are not sufficient. 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.
Principle 4: Ponder. 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.
The Prophet Joseph Smith provided an important guideline about pondering and reflecting upon the scriptures. He taught: "I have a key by which I understand the scriptures. I enquire, what was the question which drew out the answer, or caused Jesus to utter the parable?" Thus, striving to understand the question that preceded a particular revelation, parable, or episode can assist us in obtaining a deeper understanding of the scriptures.
President Ezra Taft Benson (1899-1994) emphasized a similar approach to studying and pondering the holy scriptures in general and the Book of Mormon in particular:
"If [the Book of Mormon writers] saw our day and chose those things which would be of greatest worth to us, is not that how we should study the Book of Mormon? We should constantly ask ourselves, `Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?'"
President Benson's teaching helps us to follow the counsel of Nephi to "liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning" (1 Ne. 19:23). Thus, asking questions about and pondering the things we have studied in the scriptures invite inspiration and the assistance of the Holy Ghost.
Principle 5: Write down impressions, thoughts, and feelings. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles frequently has emphasized the importance of writing down spiritual impressions and thoughts:
"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."
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.
We are blessed to live at a time when the holy scriptures are so readily available. I pray that we will never take them for granted or treat them casually. We should remember and apply to all of the holy scriptures the teachings of King Benjamin to his sons:
"I say unto you, my sons, were it not for these things [the scriptures], which have been kept and preserved by the hand of God, that we might read and understand of his mysteries, and have his commandments always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief. ...
"O my sons, I would that ye should remember that these sayings are true, and also that these records are true ... ; and we can know of their surety because we have them before our eyes.
"And now, my sons, I would that ye should remember to search them diligently, that ye may profit thereby; and I would that ye should keep the commandments of God, that ye may prosper in the land according to the promises which the Lord made unto our fathers" (Mosiah 1:5-7; emphasis added).
I testify and witness that the holy scriptures are true and contain the word of God. As we continue in the process of coming unto the Savior, we will be strengthened and prospered as we consistently and diligently "feast upon the words of Christ." Indeed, we are blessed because we have them before our eyes.