In preparing to leave on a mission, there are a lot of things I've had to do. One of which is figuring out what to do with my guitars while I'm gone. Why can't I just put them up in the attic with everything else? Because guitar strings need to be constantly strummed and tuned to keep them in good condition. If they are not, they will go out of tune. The longer they are left alone, the more out of tune they get. Once the strings get to this point, it is really hard to get them back into tune and to keep them that way for longer than a few minutes, because they have developed a natural tendency to loosen up and go flat. What does this have to do with anything? The strings on my guitar are like our own personal spirituality. When left alone, it cannot maintain its previous state, but inevitably deteriorates. The longer it is left alone, the harder it is to get it back and to keep it from going “out of tune” again. So how can we keep this from happening? How do we keep our own spiritual strings in tune? Elder Quentin L. Cook gave this answer: “Clearly, a dividing line between those who hear the music of faith and those who are tone-deaf or off-key is the active study of the scriptures.” Daily, active study of the scriptures will provide us with divine protection from the adversary and ensure that our spiritual strings are in tune. President Spencer W. Kimball once said “I find that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures, the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.” I have been assigned to speak on the scriptures, specifically how I have used them to prepare for a mission.
The way we study the scriptures has a profound impact on how in tune we are to the spirit and the blessings we receive from our study. Notice that Elder Cook did not say that “casually reading” or “passively glancing” at the scriptures would keep us in tune to the music of faith, but that it takes “active study.” President Kimball did not strengthen his relationship with God through “half-heartedly browsing,” but by “immersing himself in the scriptures.” In Lehi's dream of the tree of life, those who made it to the tree were those who were “clinging” and “continually holding fast to the rod of iron,” which represents the word of God, or the scriptures. Nephi tells us to “press forward, feasting upon the words of Christ,” while the Savior in His ministry to the Nephites commanded them to “search these things dilligently.” Do you see a theme here? Scripture study should be active.
So what does it mean to actively study the scriptures? To me, that means study with a purpose. Whether you are looking for guidance in an important decision, more clarity on a certain topic, or comfort in a time of trial; if you study with a purpose, your study will not only be more effective, but you will receive the answers and guidance you are looking for.
Another way to keep our scripture study active is to study with a pen. Underline verses you like and write down any insights you receive or lessons you learn. Elder Richard G. Scott said “Knowledge carefully recorded is knowledge available in time of need. Spiritually sensitive information should be kept in a sacred place that communicates to the Lord how you treasure it. That practice enhances the likelihood of your receiving further light.” You may still gain insights and inspiration while studying the scriptures, but if it is not written down and kept in a sacred place, it won't do you much good beyond the day you received it. I finally started doing this a few years ago and it has made all the difference. I've learned a lot more since then, and I can remember specific verses I've read and lessons I've learned; and I can look back and revisit things I have learned in the past. I know that by doing this we can make our scripture study more active as well as enhance our opportunities to receive more revelation.
Another important thing to remember when studying the scriptures is that the words of the living prophets are also scripture. The Lord has said “And whatsoever they shall speak when moved upon by the Holy Ghost shall be scripture, shall be the will of the Lord, shall be the mind of the Lord, shall be the word of the Lord, shall be the voice of the Lord, and the power of God unto salvation.” Likewise, President Ezra Taft Benson taught that “The living prophet is more vital to us than the standard works.” Many of us do not take this as seriously as we should. The most important words we have are that of our living prophet, and we should include this in our scripture study as well. The Church pays for a current copy of the Ensign to be sent to each missionary apartment throughout the world every month. That's how important it is. I know that as I have studied the messages shared at General Conference and in the Ensign that I have gained important insights and knowledge. I have a testimony that these men are called of God to declare His word to us in our day.
There are many blessings that come from daily scripture study, both individually and as a family. If you think your children aren't hearing any of the words read during your family scripture study, you're probably right. But more important than the words they hear is the Spirit that will come into your home from your obedience and persistence in studying the scriptures as a family. And some day, your children will grow up and will start to pay attention, and they will thank you for forcing them into it all those years. I'm grateful that my parents have been so persistent in holding family scriptures each day. As much of a circus as it is trying to get everyone there and attentive, I do notice a difference between days when we've had family scriptures and days when we haven't. It's helped me develop a testimony of the importance of the scriptures and has a profound effect on the Spirit in our home.
We can also invite the Spirit into our lives by studying the scriptures individually. President Monson, in an address during priesthood session a few years ago stated “Every holder of the priesthood (and I would add every member of the church) should participate in daily scripture study. Crash courses are not nearly so effective as the day-to-day reading and application of the scriptures in our lives. I promise you . . . that if you will study the scriptures diligently, your power to avoid temptation and to receive direction of the Holy Ghost in all you do will be increased.” Daily scripture study will provide us protection against the adversary as it invites the Holy Ghost to be with us. Just as in days when we have held family scripture study, on days when I study the scriptures personally I notice a difference. I'm happier, more kind, and not as easily bothered if things don't go as I planned. When I started Jr. High, my mom encouraged me to read my scriptures each day before doing my homework. It took me a while to get into the habit, but when I did, the results were amazing. It was hard to wrap my mind around the thought that even though I had so many other things I needed to do, that I should still put scripture study first. But on days when I felt overwhelmed and that I had to much to get done, if I read my scriptures first my mind was more clear and focused and I was able to do what I needed to. I know that one of the major reasons for my success in school throughout all these years, especially in adjusting from high school to college, is because I did what my mom suggested and put scripture study first. Studying the scriptures, much like attending the temple, can take a cluttered, worn out mind and make it clear and focused.
The scriptures, in particular the Book of Mormon, are written for our day. We can learn great lessons by applying the stories we read in the scriptures to our own lives. We can learn obedience from the example of Nephi. We learn from Captain Moroni and King Benjamin what qualities to look for in choosing righteous leaders. We learn from Abinadi's example of how to stand for what's right in a wicked world. We learn about repentance from Alma and missionary work from Ammon; faith from the Brother of Jared and prayer from Enos. Most importantly, we learn how to prepare for the second coming of Christ from the account of the years leading up to his visit to the Nephites. President Eyring shared this story about applying the scriptures in his own life. “I was once invited to speak at graduation services at a university. The university president had wanted President Gordon B. Hinckley to be invited but found that he was unavailable. So by default I got the invitation. I was then a junior member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The person who invited me to speak became anxious as she learned more about my obligations as an Apostle. She called me on the phone and said that she now understood that my duty was to be a witness of Jesus Christ. In very firm tones she told me that I could not do that when I spoke there. She explained that the university respected people of all religious beliefs, including those who denied the existence of a God. She repeated, “You cannot fulfill your duty here.” I hung up the phone with serious questions in my mind. Should I tell the university that I would not keep my agreement to speak? It was only two weeks before the event. My appearance there had been announced. What effect would my failing to keep my agreement have on the good name of the Church? I prayed to know what God would have me do. The answer came in a surprising way to me. I realized that the examples of Nephi, Abinadi, Alma, Amulek, and the sons of Mosiah applied to what I was. They were bold witnesses of Jesus Christ in the face of deadly peril. So the only choice to be made was how to prepare. I dug into everything I could learn about the university. As the day of the talk grew closer, my anxiety rose and my prayers intensified. In a miracle like the Red Sea parting, I found a news article. That university had been honored for doing what the Church has learned to do in our humanitarian efforts across the world. And so in my talk I described what we and they had done to lift people in great need. I said that I knew that Jesus Christ was the source of the blessings that had come into the lives of those we and they had served. After the meeting the audience rose to applaud, which seemed a little unusual to me. I was amazed but still a little anxious. I remembered what happened to Abinadi. Only Alma had accepted his witness. But that night, at a large formal dinner, I heard the university president say that in my talk he heard the words of God. Now, such a miraculous deliverance is rare in my experience as a witness of Christ. But the effect of the Book of Mormon on your character, power, and courage to be a witness for God is certain. The doctrine and the valiant examples in that book will lift, guide, and embolden you.” President Eyring was able to have courage and success because of what he had learned from the Book of Mormon. As we apply the scriptures to our own lives, we too can learn important lessons that will give us courage, strengthen our testimonies, and ultimately prepare us for Christ's second coming in the latter days.
The scriptures can provide us with answers to our prayers. Elder Robert D. Hales stated “When
we want to speak to God, we pray. And when we want Him to speak to us, we search the scriptures; for His words are spoken through His prophets. He will then teach us as we listen to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.” We find similar counsel in 2 Nephi 32:3 “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” We do not receive answers to our prayers simply by praying. Answers come by praying, pondering, fasting, and studying the scriptures. By “likening the scriptures unto ourselves,” we can receive answers to our prayers.
As well as providing answers to our prayers, the scriptures can also provide us with a feeling of peace and calm. When I was a wee lad, from the ages of about 8 to 12, I was really intense about BYU football; like, I would cry when they lost. It was unhealthy. I remember one particular day, in 2005, I was home, by myself, watching BYU play against the University of Utah. This particular game went into over time, and at the end of regulation I was feeling extremely anxious. I did not want them to lose to the Utes again. I wasn't really sure what to do with myself. Then, the thought popped into my head that I hadn't read my scriptures yet that day. So, during the commercial break before overtime, I grabbed a Book of Mormon sitting on the shelf, and opened to a random page, and this is the verse that I read: 3 Nephi 12:44: “But behold, I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you.” After that, I knew that Utah was going to win. But I was okay with it; in fact, I was even a little bit happy for them. Ever since then, I have not been nearly as upset about my favorite sports teams losing, but more importantly, I gained a stronger testimony that day of the power of the scriptures to bring peace and calm into my life, as well as the enormous amount of love that my Heavenly Father has for me.
The most important blessing we can gain from the scriptures is a witness and a testimony of Jesus Christ. This is the whole reason they exist. As John declares “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.” You cannot seriously study the scriptures without receiving a greater witness that Jesus is the Christ, “Now these things are written unto the remnant of the house of Jacob, and for this intent shall they go—that they may be persuaded that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” “And now, after the many testimonies which have been given of him, this is the testimony, last of all, which we give of him: That he lives!”