"I'd like to know if you have a scripture reading system. I ask a lot of people and I'm always so excited to hear what works for them. Do you have a method to your study, or do you just read and apply? I'd love to hear your thoughts."It has taken me awhile to respond to her question because I really had to sit down and think about what my scripture reading system is... exactly. As I thought about it I realized that while my scripture study has gone through many different phases it has really been influenced by a talk called "A Reservoir of Living Water" I heard David A. Bednar give several years ago at BYU.
He began his talk by saying how important water is in our lives and how life would be impossible with out it. He likened our need for water to our need for the Savior, the "living water", and how we could drink of that water by studying the scriptures. He then laid out three different ways to study the scriptures that teach how to not just sip at the living water but to take deep life sustaining gulps. He said,
"I now want to review with you three basic ways or methods of obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir: (1) reading the scriptures from beginning to end, (2) studying the scriptures by topic, and (3) searching the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes. Each of these approaches can help satisfy our spiritual thirst if we invite the companionship and assistance of the Holy Ghost as we read, study, and search."Over the last several years my daily scripture study has become a conglomeration of all three of these things. I'll just take a minute and share how I've incorporated each of them into my personal study.
Reading the Scriptures from Beginning to End
Reading the standard works straight through is how I first started gaining my love of the scriptures. Here is what Elder Bednar said about it,
"Reading a book of scripture from beginning to end initiates the flow of living water into our lives by introducing us to important stories, gospel doctrines, and timeless principles. This approach also enables us to learn about major characters in the scriptures and the sequence, timing, and context of events and teachings. Reading the written word in this way exposes us to the breadth of a volume of scripture. This is the first and most fundamental way of obtaining living water."Since I was 14 years-old I've been continuously cycling through the books in the standard works. I started with the Old Testament, then moved on to the New Testament, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, and when I finished the Pearl of Great Price I started back on the Old Testament. I think that in my life time I've probably completed this complete cycle about 4 or 5 times. One of my bishops once told me that he puts a mark in the back cover of his bible every time he finishes it so that he can keep track of how many times he had read it. I think that I am going to start doing that, because I honestly don't know how many times I've done this cycle. All I know is that it has been enough that finally the stories in the Old Testament are starting to make sense to me. The first time I read through it I remember having no clue what was going on.
I am always working my way through one of the books in the standard works. On days when I don't have much time for scripture study or don't have any burning questions that need answers I just read to enjoy the story. My all time favorite way to read through the scriptures is to look specifically for women and their stories. This is my women in the scripture journal in which I've kept track of all the times women are mentioned in the scriptures... it has been very well loved.
I really need a new one.
Studying the Scriptures by Topic
The second way to drink deeply at the living waters is to study by topic. Elder Bednar said,
"Studying by topic typically follows, grows out of, and builds upon our reading of the scriptures from beginning to end. For example, as we read the Book of Mormon we may identify and seek to find answers to important doctrinal and practical questions such as these:Often when I am reading through the scriptures I will get a question about something I've read. If the question is of a spiritual nature then I usually stop my regular reading to focus on understanding it. Usually the first thing I do before I start studying a topic in depth is to offer a prayer for guidance and understanding. I've learned that the Holy Spirit will teach me quicker and faster if I invite him into my study.
- • What is faith in the Savior?
- • Why is faith in Jesus Christ the first principle of the gospel?
- • Why and how does faith in the Redeemer lead to repentance?
- • How does the Atonement strengthen me to do things in my daily life that I could never do with my own limited capacity and in my own strength?
Focusing upon such questions and studying by topic, using the Topical Guide and index to the triple combination, allow us to dig into and explore the depth of the scriptures and obtain a much richer spiritual knowledge. This approach increases the rate at which living water flows into our lives."
Then I write the question or the topic I am studying at the top of one of the pages in my scripture journal and then look up the topic in the Topical Guide and list them all underneath it. I find it is easier for me to have all the references on one page rather than having to keep flipping back to the Topical Guide. In his talk Elder Bednar said that sometimes when he is doing a topic search he will use the on-line scriptures and actually print out a copy of all the scriptures dealing with that topic.
When I am researching a specific woman in the scriptures I use this same pattern. There are several topics or stories that I've done many, many times because I always seem to have questions. Yet it is amazing how the more I've studied one topic or story the clearer it has become to me.
Search the Scriptures for Connections, Patterns and Themes.The last way Elder Bednar says to fill your soul with the living waters of the scriptures is to search the scriptures for connections, patterns and themes. Here is what he says,
I've noticed that this last step often come very naturally for me when I am reading straight through and doing prayerful and intensive topical studies. It seems like the patterns and connections just jump right out at me and often times they take my breath away, boggle my mind, and just create more questions. It is so exiting and those are the times that I fall in love, again and again, with the scriptures. There is no end to the depth of knowledge and truth they contain and discovering it is exhilarating and some what addicting. These are the times when I really feel like I have feasted on the word and drank of the living water...
"Both reading from beginning to end and studying by topic are prerequisites to the third basic method of obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir. Whereas reading a book of scripture from beginning to end provides a basic breadth of knowledge, studying by topic increases the depth of our knowledge. Searching in the revelations for connections, patterns, and themes builds upon and adds to our spiritual knowledge by bringing together and expanding these first two methods; it broadens our perspective and understanding of the plan of salvation.
In my judgment, diligently searching to discover connections, patterns, and themes is in part what it means to “feast” upon the words of Christ. This approach can open the floodgates of the spiritual reservoir, enlighten our understanding through His Spirit, and produce a depth of gratitude for the holy scriptures and a degree of spiritual commitment that can be received in no other way. Such searching enables us to build upon the rock of our Redeemer and to withstand the winds of wickedness in these latter days."
...and it fills me totally and completely.
If you've never gotten to this point in your scripture study... make it a goal. It is so very, very worth it and will forever change your relationship with your scriptures and with your Savior. It takes work, time and dedication but it so worth it.
I hope that this some what answers the questions and gives you a little glimpse into my scripture study habits. I don't think my method is perfect... and it isn't always as consistent as it should be... but I hope that over the years it will just get better and better.
Despite popular belief... I am really not a scriptorian. I don't have a degree in theology, I am not an expert on ancient civilizations, I don't read Greek or Hebrew, and aside from Sunday School, Seminary and Institute I've only taken a handful of classes on religion and scripture. I've just cultivated a love for the scriptures and they are a priority in my life. I've found that when I put the time into diligently search, ponder and pray on topic the Lord opens my eyes and lays out beautiful eternal truths for me. It is often hard work... but anyone who is dedicated can do it. Elder Bednar also mentioned this in his talk, he said,
"You might initially assume that a person must have extensive formal education to use the methods I am describing. This assumption simply is not correct. Any honest seeker of truth, regardless of educational background, can successfully employ these simple approaches. You and I do not need sophisticated study aids and should not rely extensively upon the spiritual knowledge of others. We simply need to have a sincere desire to learn, the companionship of the Holy Ghost, the holy scriptures, and an active and inquiring mind."Amen to that. I couldn't say it any better.