#3 We Must Learn to Study the Scriptures
This is by far one of the most common things I have heard from Returned Missionaries when I ask them what they wish they’d done to prepare before their mission: “I wish I knew the scriptures better.”
I think we can all relate to that. I certainly can. I am in awe of those who I meet that can quote scripture which perfectly correlates to the principle they are teaching, or the point they want to demonstrate. Or, perhaps more impressively, they don’t even need to quote it because they know exactly where it is in their scriptures. I have found that to be very rare in my own life. Often, I can think of a scripture, but I’m not sure exactly how it goes, and I really have no idea where to locate it. Other times, there’s a gospel principle that I KNOW is true, but I can’t find a scriptural source to back it up.
Pondering this, I’ve realized that knowing (memorizing) scriptures isn’t necessarily the answer. Having a RELATIONSHIP with them is. While it is important, merely knowing what the scriptures say doesn’t unlock the same kind of power that immersing yourself in their meaning and message does. Learning to love the scriptures and really incorporating them as a tool in our lives brings with it a Spirit that’s hard (if possible) to find anywhere else.
I’ve also concluded that learning how to study the scriptures effectively is almost as important as actually doing it. We feel the Spirit through reading the word of God, but if we are going to truly internalize the Doctrines, we must expend more effort than that.
President Gordon B. Hinckley (1920-2008) once encouraged us to read the scriptures by saying, “If I were a bishop or a stake president today, what would I do? … I would encourage my people to read the scriptures, to read the Book of Mormon, to read the New Testament. I would urge them with all the capacity I have to read quietly, and thoughtfully and introspectively.” Hoping that we would gain a love of the scriptures, he also said, “I hope that for you this will become something far more enjoyable than a duty; that, rather, it will become a love affair with the word of God.”David B. Marsh, ”Getting the Most out of Your Scripture Study.“ Ensign, February 2009, emphasis added
This is certainly the case for me. I am in love with the scriptures. Sometimes I’m not the best at showing it (I don’t talk about them enough, I don’t think about them enough, I don’t always make time for them like I should), but it’s there. I can’t go to sleep at night if I haven’t read my scriptures. It’s more than a habit–they have a calming power that helps me clear my head. When I’m stressed or overwhelmed or scared or lonely, and can’t bring myself to read because my head is overflowing with thoughts, or my heart is too low, sometimes I just sit and hold my scriptures until I calm down. Their peaceful effect and the spirit they invite can still be felt.
There are a lot of ways to study the scriptures. Everyone has to find a method that is best for them. There are countless talks that offer different approaches and suggestions. If you haven’t yet found an effective method for you, that is a worthwhile thing to look into (I’m not going to cover them all here).
My standard approach to scripture study has always been chronological, but sometimes I find something that catches my attention and I go off on a scriptural safari pursuing that tangent.
Whatever your method, I believe that documenting your insights and revelations is vital. Whether you write notes in the margins (which I like to do), or in a journal, or some other method (I have index cards that I write on and leave between the pages–though I now need to figure out what to do with those), write down things that you notice or thoughts that come to mind as you read. Be sure also to revisit those notes from time to time. You will be amazed how much you can forget, even things you think you’ll remember.
In preparation for speaking, I watched a video that was featured on LDS.org. It showed a returned sister missionary having lunch with a prospective sister missionary. They were discussing what the sister had learned on her mission, and her recommendations for how to prepare. The RM said that one of the transforming aspects of her mission was the way it changed her scripture study. She said that she started searching her scriptures specifically to find answers.
It’s been said: “If you want to talk to God, pray. If you want God to talk to you, read your scriptures.” If that’s true, if our scripture study is a means of receiving direct communication from the Lord through the Spirit and the Prophets, we should take that to heart as we study. We should go into our study having questions, and then trust the Lord to answer them.
Studying the Scriptures can be more than just a line on our daily “To-Do” list. It can be a source of strength, a comfort, a protection from the powers of Satan. It can be a teacher, a friend, and a channel through which we hear the voice of our Father in Heaven and our Savior.
If we take the time to really get to know our scriptures, it’s difficult not to fall in love with them. They radiate the love of our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, and there really is nothing else that can touch a heart in quite the same way as that.