We might look at others as a preeminent gospel scholar or master scriptorian, but each of us is our own expert in gospel learning and scripture study.
Jared Halverson, associate professor of ancient scripture at Brigham Young University, said, "Meaningful scripture study is when it does for us what it was designed to do, which is to connect us to heaven and open our eyes to understand the things of God.”
In his Seek class, How to Make Scripture Study More Meaningful, Jared shares how to approach scripture study so that it feels maintainable, personally enriching, and brings each of us closer to Christ.
As a starting point, Jared suggests changing our mindset. “If we want to increase our capacity to understand the scriptures, we need to get past the chapter-a-day approach.” To do this he recommends using the following six study techniques to immerse ourselves in the scriptures and strengthen our spiritual capacity, a kind of gospel study cross-training.
Quality time over quantity read
First, Jared says to consider the quality of the time you spend in the scriptures more than the amount of text covered during a study session. “If you spent the whole time on a single verse, that was time well spent,” he explains. “Too often we feel like we can’t close the book until we’ve reached a closing point. We have to get past that because one of the best days of scripture study is when you realize that you’re never ‘done,’ that you never finish the text. You just spend your lifetime connecting with God through it.”
Having a scripture study plan with a finish date in mind can be motivating, but when we feel the need to achieve a page count goal, it can interfere with finding meaning in what we read. When we set aside time during the day for scripture study, keeping that personal appointment with the scriptures is more important than making it to the next page or chapter.
Flyover: read fast
Jared calls a purposeful, fast read-through of a longer book or section of scripture a "flyover” view. This study technique helps to understand a storyline better or helps to make sense of the overall message of a particular book of scripture.
For example, Jared read the entire book of Judges in the Old Testament in one day. He noted that “Judges describes the pride cycle. ... I don’t think I would have noticed the pride cycle quite as clearly if I was doing a chapter a day.” By reading Judges fast, Jared not only learned more about God’s mercy for ancient Israel, but he was also able to better recognize God’s mercy in his own life.
Nature hike: read slow
Reading slowly through a section or verse of scripture Jared says is akin to a “nature hike.” In the same way, one would stop and bird watch or notice wildflowers, reading slowly gives the reader time to pause and notice more of the smaller details in the text and the significance of those details in one’s life.
With this approach, Jared says to start with defining words and looking up cross references. When he was a freshman in college, Jared followed the nature hike approach for the first time and spent an hour studying Jacob 1:8 and still didn’t feel like he was done with his study. “To this day, that verse is life-changing for me. That’s the value of the nature hike approach.”
Sequential study: one-way street
Jared compares sequential scripture study to a one-way street because we start at the beginning and read through to the end. This common way to study scripture “is a great way to start because we master storyline. ... If you’ve never finished a particular book of scripture, start sequential,” he says.
It also makes it easier to set and keep study goals because it's simpler to measure and track our progress.
Topical study: back and forth
Topical study is often the approach we take when preparing a talk or a lesson, but not as often used for personal scripture study. This study technique is beneficial when we have a question in mind or a particular topic we’d like to understand better.
Jared shares that his wife often studies this way. “[My wife] will often begin her scripture study, not with the book open, but with a blank page open in her notebook, and write down a question she’s been pondering. And then she’ll dive into the scriptures from there, using the Topical Guide perhaps to start and then start following cross-references wherever they might take her.”
Click on the video to see how Jared first learned to apply the topical scripture study technique. He then shares how he then learned to use both sequential and topical scripture study together which helped him feel more prepared for marriage.
Consistency and intensity: Study with mind and heart
To study scripture with mind and heart means we are consistent in our study habits not just in practice, but also in effort. “Head and heart coincide [when we are] consistent in bringing our minds and our feelings to the word and to be intense with both thinking hard and opening our hearts to feel the truth that God would convey to us,” Jared explains.
This doesn’t mean we have to spend an hour of intense scripture study for it to make a difference. “There will be some days or some stages of life where you can give the scriptures so much more time than at others. ... If your time is spent pondering a word or a phrase [from scripture] while you’re doing a million other things, that is time well spent.”
The introduction to the Come, Follow Me manual reads, “The aim of all gospel learning and teaching is to deepen our conversion and help us become more like Jesus Christ.” In scripture study, it isn’t the how that matters as much as the connection we make with the word of God in our hearts.
What is meaningful and needed for me will not be the same for you because we each know the specific questions we have that only God can answer through engaging with His word. Jared shares, “Once we get beyond that chapter a day, check the box, a changed approach to scripture study will result in a changed perspective. Better yet, it’ll result in a changed you.” By using a wide range of study techniques, we can each be the scripture expert we need for ourselves.
You can learn more from Jared about these and many other gospel study techniques in his Seek class, Make Scripture Study More Meaningful.