Friday, May 20, 2011

Improving Your Personal Scripture Study

This week I taught a mini-class for our weekday Relief Society Meeting on how to improve your personal scripture study. The class went really well and I thought I'd share what I taught with all you wonderful people. Also I would love to hear any more ideas you have about improving your scripture study.

I started out by asking the class "Why do we study our scriptures?" I got lots of wonderful answers like "because it brings us closer to God", "it reminds us of what is most important", "we can learn from the lessons of the past" and " they teach us what we need to do." All these answers are correct yet I think that the real reason we study our scriptures is because the scriptures are the gateway to personal revelation. It is through them that we receive personal direction and power to guide our lives and our families.

I illustrated this point by having someone read the first eleven verses of D&C 138, in which the Prophet Joseph F. Smith gives an account of how he received his beautiful vision of the spirit world. I asked the reader to stop every time Joseph F. Smith mentioned what he DID before he received his revelation and I wrote the verbs on the board. Here is what we came up with.

Joseph F. Smith

On the third of October, in the year nineteen hundred and eighteen, I sat in my room pondering over the scriptures; And reflecting upon the great atoning sacrifice that was made by the Son of God, for the redemption of the world... While I was thus engaged, my mind reverted to the writings of the apostle Peter... I opened the Bible and read the third and fourth chapters of the first epistle of Peter, and as I read I was greatly impressed, more than I had ever been before... As I pondered over these things which are written, the eyes of my understanding were opened, and the Spirit of the Lord rested upon me, and I saw the hosts of the dead, both small and great.

We then talked about each of these verbs and how, just like Joseph F. Smith, we too can receive powerful revelations and visions as we study our scriptures.

1) The first thing is that he SAT

This may seem like something so simple that it is easy to over look the importance of it. In Preach My Gospel, the manual given to LDS missionaries, one of the first pieces of advice that it gives missionaries about scripture study is to
"Be alert. Exercise, shower, and pray before you study. Study at a desk or a table where you can write (not lying down or sitting on your bed), organize your study materials, and remain alert."
I know that for me the times when I have best the scripture study is when I am treating it like a real study. When make the time to sit at the table, to get my scripture study journal out, to have my markers and sticky notes nearby, and my pen ready to write. I feel like by showing the Lord that I am alert, attentive and there to take notes on what he teaches me that he responds by taking me seriously and pouring out his knowledge. If you don't already have a designated place you sit at to study your scriptures then I recommend you find one. It is really amazing the difference it makes to study your scriptures at the table, instead on the couch, and to have a pen and journal ready instead of just reading a few verses before you hop into bed.

Think about it this way. How would a professor react if you showed up to his class with no backpack, no notebook, no pencil to take notes with, and were slouching in your seat struggling to stay awake. He wouldn't think that you were very serious about learning and probably wouldn't give you the type of attention he would the student who was sitting on the edge of their desk, pen in hand furiously scribbling down notes. Spiritual learning isn't all that different from secular learning and if we want to get good grades (ie. personal revelation) then we need to show the Lord we are prepared and ready to learn.

2) He pondered

Pondering is more than just thinking about what you are reading. Pondering requires you to slow down and to reflect. It is proably the most important part of studying your scriptures. Taking the time to ponder is what changes it from "reading your scriptures" to "studying your scriptures". There are three main ways that I like to ponder.
  • Re-read the text. If you get to the end of a chapter or a verse (especially if you are reading Isaiah or Revelations) and your reaction is "What in the world did I just read?" then I'd recommend you stop, turn around and go back and read it again... and again... and again... until you are able to understand just a little bit more than you did before. I think too often we are so set on getting to the end of the chapter or reaching a preset number of verses that we skip over the parts we don't understand instead of taking the time to work through them and figure out what they mean. It is really okay to slow down. When it comes to scripture study remember your goal is to gain personal revelation... not to fly through to the end of the the book. It is about quality, not quantity.
  • Visualize yourself in the story. I find that this pondering technique works really well for the stories in the Old Testament or in the Book of Mormon. It is amazing how a story can change when you slow down and start wondering about the people in it. How did those events make them feel? Why did they make the choices they made? How would I have reacted in a similar situation? I also always like to think about where the women-- even if they aren't mentioned-- would have been in the story. It helps me rememberer that these people were REAL and that they weren't all that different from me.
  • Ask questions and write them down. If the scriptures are the gateway to revelation than asking questions is the key to the gate. The Lord has told us "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shallfind; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." (Luke 11:9) If we want personal revelation we have to ask for it and we have to ask the right questions. As you read your scriptures take the time to write down the questions you have, whether they are historical questions, doctrinal questions, or personal questions. Then, in later scripture studies, take the time to go back and seek out the answers. Personally, I spend 85% of my scripture study time seeking out and studying the answers to my questions.
3) He Reflected and his Mind Reverted

Reflecting is a bit different than pondering. Relefcting is the time when you start to make connections between what you are reading now and what you have read or studied in the past. For example Prophet Smith said that as he was reflecting his mind reverted
"...to the writings of the apostle Peter, to the aprimitive saints scattered abroad throughout bPontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, and other parts of Asia, where the gospel had been cpreached after the crucifixion of the Lord. I opened and read the third and fourth chapters of the first epistle of aPeter..."
He had studied his scriptures enough that his mind automatically was able to make a powerful connection. Furthermore, he acted upon his thoughts and was able to opened his bible to the exact verse he was thinking of. Not all of us are blessed with Prophet Smith's mastery of the scriptures and so this is where marking your scriptures and writing in your scripture journal become essential. When we've taken the time to write down our previous thoughts about the scriptures then it is much easier for us to remember those connections and find them again in the future. If you didn't take the time to mark your scriptures or to write things down then you will probably forget what you learned. Make sure you take the time to write things down! Also I've found that I very rarely remember where an exact verse is but I'll remember a few key words from it. I then use the Topical Guide to find the verse or use the search option on the online scriptures to find the verse.

5) He was Greatly Impressed and he pondered again.

I love the word he uses "impressed" because I think it sums up exactly the feeling that one gets when they begin to see the connections, themes, and archetypes in the scriptures. Those are the moments that take your breath away and fill your soul with joy and your mind with wonder. For me those moments don't come every time I sit down to study my scriptures but I've found that if I study and read my scriptures enough that eventually I will have a really good scripture study that will keep me on a spiritual high for several days. In my opinion the "greatly impressed" moments are as good as any adrenaline rush and they are what keep me addicted to reading my scriptures...or compel me to read them even on the days when I really don't want to!

Also we don't know how long President Smith pondered over his questions. In his account he makes it sounds like his vision instantly followed his pondering. Yet for all we know he may have pondered the same question over and over again for years... and finally this time he got understanding. I know that in my own life I often have to study the same topic or the same question over and over again (I can think of some that I've studied at least 10 or 12 times) before I begin to understand. I've learned that receiving revelation takes work and that the bigger the question or the deeper the doctrine I am delving into the more work the Lord requires from me. Yet he always answers my questions, eventually, and in ways that are greater than I ever could have imagined.

6) The Eyes of His Understanding Were Opened

Having the eyes of your understanding opened is the ultimate goal of scripture study. When you approach your scripture study with that goal in mind then all of a sudden the scriptures cease to become a "book" and become a medium through which God speaks to you and teaches you great eternal truths. No knowledge or understanding is beyond our grasp if we are willing to put forth the effort to seek it out and have the patience and faith to trust in the Lord's timing. He will teach us line upon line and precept upon precept until we are able to comprehend all things.

If you haven't been putting the time into your own personal scripture study as you should or as you would like to I challenge you to start doing it. Nothing is more important than receiving personal revelation... and the scriptures are the gateway to that revelation... therefore nothing is more important than studying-- not just reading--- your scriptures.

Is that too bold of me to say? Oh well, it is true!

Now I'm curious... what has helped you improve your personal scripture study?

15 comments:

  1. Your comments make so much sense to me! I love it when a topic 'speaks' to me so clearly.

    I definitely have seen this happen in my own life. It's kind of funny how it works . . . you have to have knowledge before you can gain more knowledge. The more I study, the more I see what the Lord wants me to learn.

    One of the tools I use is a website called readthescriptures.com. I feel as if my regular, long term scripture reading puts the information I need more firmly in my head, and regularly re-reading and reminding myself of it helps me be open to that learning. Thanks for an excellent post. :)

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  2. Thanks for a great post!

    I like readthescriptures.com too.

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  3. Love this! Thanks for breaking it down so beautifully!

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  4. I know you turned the comments off on the last post on purpose, but I really wanted to tell you how much I appreciate what you wrote. As a first-time mom of a three month old and trying to finish a masters degree, I recently felt the prompting to go off birth control. Everyday I wonder if it was really a prompting, and constantly fret about how I'll defend myself from silent and vocal judgments that I'm being irresponsible and crowding the earth. For months I have been trying to increase my testimony and understanding of the call of motherhood and why it should be number one in my life, because quite honestly I just didn't really have a testimony about it. But this post meant a lot to me. I'm going to book mark it and read it over and over again every time I question what I'm doing. Thank you

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  5. Do you know about www.thereadheadhostess.com

    This woman is awesome- seminary teacher for 10 years. NEW scripture study methods, FRee print outs, She's creative in every area. It's a must see!

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  6. Looks like the correct link is actually:

    http://www.theredheadedhostess.com/

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  7. I took your advice from some months ago and started writing in a scripture journal. It helps me slow down and reflect on what I'm reading. I also try to study when the kids are in bed, either morning or night. I don't have a set time because life is ever-changing, but I try to have as few interruptions as possible.

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  8. I love this post. That must've been a great class.

    I think it's just important to be really open to the spirit, like you said in #6 - the eyes of his understanding were opened. I've found so many times that while reading the scriptures I get answers or promptings to things I might not have been thinking about or studying right then. It's like just having the scriptures open with an intent heart makes heaven open.

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  9. try this:
    http://www.theredheadedhostess.com/

    copy and paste in the address spot!

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  10. This comment is by Annette, who for some reason was unable to post. So I'm posting it for her.

    I love the way you focused on the verbs. I have found teaching seminary that asking people to look for something concrete and then reflecting on what they found makes all the difference. Works for personal scripture study, too, when I remember to do it!

    This past year the seminary supervisor suggested we read each scripture passage two times before writing in our journal the doctrine (eternal truths) and principles (applications of those truths) we had found and then deciding WHAT we were going to teach before we ever opened the manual to look for ideas about HOW to teach it. I loved how that focused my scripture study and my lesson preparation.

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  11. Great post! I love the analogy of sitting in a college class. Speaking of which...did you ever take a Book of Mormon class from Brother Sommerfeldt at BYU? Rather than quizzing on facts in the scriptures he taught us HOW to study our scriptures with 6 main principles:

    1) study for TIME - at least half an hour (he included quotes from general authorities on this...We had to memorize a quote from I think David O. McKay stating that we should study for time and not for a set number of chapters or verses)

    2) ask (can be an opening prayer or prayer during)

    3) search (use Topical Guide, dictionaries, cross-referencing, whatever sources you want)

    4) ponder

    5) write (scripture journal)

    6) thank (closing prayer thanking Heavenly Father for the inspiration He provided).

    I took his class for 2 semesters and while I kept to those principles I had the most AMAZING spiritual experiences!!! Some days I seriously wrote 10+ pages non-stop just being so led by the Spirit and making all kinds of awesome connections and personal revelations. I'd get so into it that by the time I finished my train of thought and writing I realized it was 4am and I'd been studying for 2 1/2 hours! Craziness! (Not that it was always like that. And yeah I know, not the best time of day to study! lol...But in college you do what you can with the time you have!) That was the closest I have ever been to the spirit in my life. The last few years have been a struggle for me to get back to that, but I'm trying! Because I know it truly is the most important thing, as you said. Once you experience it, you realize the potential and the importance of scripture study. It is a truly amazing experience to go through to be SO led by the Spirit!

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, experiences and insights. You're inspiring me to get back into really STUDYing the scriptures. :)

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  12. Melanie, thank you for your excellent comment. I was trying to remember the Keys to Scripture Study from my class with Vern Sommerfeldt, because I had similar experience with applying them, but I could not seem to find them anywhere on the internet - until I saw your comment.

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  13. Does anyone know if Vern Sommerfeldt's scripture study "packet" is available online? I never took his class and only have bits and pieces of it.

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