Everyone feels pressured and is busy. No one likes to waste their time or at least feel like their time has been wasted. So why not put our time to the best use possible? This is a rhetorical question that puts most of us to shame. Either we believe there is nothing more important to learn than the word of God or we don’t. If we do believe it, why aren’t we spending more time studying His word and less time online in social media, in gaming, or with other fun activities?
What Makes the Scriptures So Important?
What makes the testimony that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, and the only Begotten Son of the Living God central to all truth? Well, if we are going to prioritize knowledge and decide what is more important than any other bit of knowledge in the whole universe, what could be more important to the welfare and disposition of our souls than knowing that Jesus is the living Christ, the Son of God?
This makes knowledge of Christ more important than any scientific knowledge we have. Every piece of historical or financial or geological information pales in comparison to that knowledge that will save our souls in the eternal worlds. Earthly knowledge of any kind has zero effect on the eternal disposition of our souls. Only knowledge that can change where we go and what we do in the eternities can be of any real and lasting importance to us.
Central to all truth is the testimony that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Great Jehovah, the Savior of the World, and the Only Begotten Son of the Living God. This is the message of the scriptures. Throughout each of these holy books there is an appeal to believe and have faith in God the Eternal Father and in his Son, Jesus Christ; and from the first to the last of these books of scripture is the call to do the will of God and keep his commandments.
“Scriptures contain the record of the self-revelation of God, and through them God speaks to man.” Nowhere is there more of this self-revelation of God than in the Doctrine and Covenants, where there are more quotes from the lips of God himself than in any other book of scripture. But all scripture serves to reveal to us the nature and value system of God, our Father, and his Son, Jesus the Christ. By reading and studying the writings of the prophets the Spirit testifies of the truthfulness of what we read.
Studying the scriptures
We ought to have a Church full of women and men who know the scriptures thoroughly, who cross-reference and mark them, who develop lessons and talks from the Topical Guide, and who have mastered the maps, the Bible Dictionary, and the other helps that are contained in this wonderful set of standard works.
Just sitting down and giving the scriptures a light read—a skim here and a skim there, will not do. Remember why we are studying the scriptures. We are seeking to understand the mind and the will of God. We are trying to figure out what changes we need to make in our own lives to learn to live, and behave, and think, and feel as He does. All of this needs to be revealed. There are no words written in any language that can teach us these things. The scriptures are the catalyst for the Spirit to reveal the next step in our progression, based on what we have studied and learned from our time in the scriptures.
The more time we spend studying the scriptures, the more the Spirit can reveal the intent behind the revelations, the more He can teach us and open our eyes to how they fit in our own lives. So how do we study the scriptures? Here are some suggestions:
1. For an overarching view of a book, read it from cover to cover quickly. The idea here is to see where the history and the stories are going, and how it all fits together. This requires us to pray as we read. We should always be inviting the Spirit to accompany our time in the scriptures so we can learn as much as possible.
2. To learn a single principle remember that most things are written about by multiple people, and hence you will have to jump around a lot. This requires cross-referencing, the use of the concordance, the maps, and possibly outside sources, like conference talks.
There are no principles of the gospel that stand alone, completely unconnected to any other principles. Everything in the gospel is connected in a grand web of truth. The more connections you learn to make between various principles, the greater and broader your understanding of the great plan of happiness laid out for us by our Father in Heaven. And of course, the starting place should always be the question, “How does this fit with the Atonement of Christ?”
Learning all we can about any one principle of the gospel is a short-term accomplishment at best. As time goes on and we learn more about life and the Lord, we also learn to look at the principles of the gospel in a new light, requiring we go back and occasionally visit what we have studied in the past to see how much deeper our comprehension of them has become.
A vital part of study is the prayer that accompanies our time studying. The basic principles of the gospel are simple in concept, but can be infinitely deep in their application and understanding. All spiritual knowledge is revealed. The finite mind of man cannot comprehend the things of God. These things must be revealed, and that requires prayer.
3. Pondering is what happens after we have done steps one and two. Pondering is perhaps the most important step in that it gives us time to think through what we have learned. This process of self-reflection helps us see where we are succeeding and struggling. It helps us search for answers to nagging questions. This is where the Spirit does most of His teaching.
By letting the Spirit guide our thoughts as we try to feel about what we have read, the Spirit can open the eyes of our understanding and teach us line upon line. Does it sound like a slow process? Normally it is. There are times when we will have a burst of knowledge flood our soul, but normally it is an inkling, then a realization, then a sense of commitment as the truth of a principle opens before us like a flower in the dawn.
What has been said about individual scripture study also holds true for family study. What skill could be more valuable to our children than that of learning how to search the word of God for answers in their lives? This is the most important life skill they can possess, and they have to learn it from their parents.
One thing children are great at, but their parents are lousy at, is the art of asking questions. Adults have had the desire to ask questions beaten out of them years ago. Children are naturally inquisitive and ask a lot of questions. Use this to your advantage. Help them by posing questions to them and searching for the answers with them.
As we teach our children to ask questions and, if need be, learn how to find them in the scriptures along with them, we teach them self-reliance in spiritual matters. In a world of ever-increasing wickedness and worldliness, this is such a valuable skill.
What is more difficult to teach is the pondering part. Our children need to pray with us. They need to see us struggle with answers and then hear from us as the answers come and we rejoice in the newly found knowledge. We need to create a family culture of sharing newly found knowledge with the family. This needs to be the most valuable information we can share with one another.
There are other study habits covered by President Hunter in the lesson, like setting aside a time that becomes sacred in our schedule. It is most important that nothing derails our study time. We should also create a study plan so we aren’t wandering, but know what we want to study and know when we will study it. We can always change our plan. It is, after all, our plan.
Finally, learn to value knowledge from other fields of study that might help in understanding better what we are reading in the scriptures. Section 4 in the lesson talks about Jairus in the New Testament. Note how President Hunter uses the study of cultures and history to better understand the story and the importance of how people behaved in the different situations. The study of the scriptures may be the most important thing in the world to study, but that doesn’t mean other disciplines can’t help in that quest.
Scripture study does not mean that you have to be bored or to have to suffer through dry material that has no application in your life. The beauty of you being in control of your study is that if it doesn’t appeal to you, study something else!
There is more than enough material to go around. Most people initially have a difficult time with the writings of Isaiah. Over time you will discover that as you begin to catch glimmers of understanding of Isaiah’s writings, you will become more interested in studying what he wrote. Let it come as you are ready for it.
Children cannot have the stories read to them often enough. I used to read the Bible stories and Book of Mormon stories to my children hours upon hours when they were young. Yet when they were young adults one of my children asked me why I never taught them any of the Bible stories. I was floored!
Children are learning at such a fast pace that they also forget much of what they are taught. They need structured routines that become part of what is “normal” for them, and that needs to include a regular inclusion of the stories behind the scriptures. Once they begin to connect principles of the gospel to the stories they will begin to be cemented in their minds, but until then, wash, rinse, repeat.