Likening the Scriptures Unto Ourselves
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“Likening the Scriptures Unto Ourselves,” Ensign, Sept. 1974, 77

Special Issue: The Lord in the Four Gospels

Likening the Scriptures Unto Ourselves

When we study how the Lord dealt with his children in the scriptures, we will better understand how he deals with us.

All of us at some point wonder, “How can I make the scriptures alive in my life?” Occasionally habit or duty will send us to them, but we will have no motivation to read them and they will provide little inspiration. The solution lies in realizing their importance, knowing how to study them and likening them to ourselves and then in doing what they inspire us to do.

Consider five ideas on likening the scriptures unto ourselves:

Idea 1—Realize the supreme importance of the scriptures in our lives.

Most of us live in compartments. We speak and think of “my family life,” “my church job,” “my work in the shop” or “at the office,” “my political convictions,” or “my personal life.” Our Sunday state of mind often differs from our weekday state of mind. We may bring the sinner back into activity but still speak condescendingly and critically behind his back.

There is no integrity in compartmentalizing, no harmony, wholeness. When we covenant to obey the commandments, we are accepting guidelines for behavior in every area of our lives.

This lack of integrity leaves us confused. We wonder how to tell the difference between the Lord’s voice and other voices. We ask, “How do I distinguish between God’s answers to prayers and my wants and psychological needs?” “This warm feeling I have—is it His answer or my own wish and longing?” We may be active in the Church (one of the compartments) but not in the gospel (the unifying core that should thread through and unify the compartments).

We are exhausted far more from the tension of internal disharmony—not doing what we know we should—than from hard work. And, naturally, the very effort to escape such tension through pleasure-seeking, self-indulgence, or escapism produces more tension.

An effective way to achieve integrity and unity is to prayerfully study the scriptures. It will replace confusion with clarity and exhausting tension with worthy goals.

How can such a simple activity have such profound results? When we study how the Lord dealt with his children in the scriptures, we will better understand how he deals with us. We learn that since his objective is our divine growth (immortality and eternal life), he responds to our needs, not our wants. So we learn to pray in terms of needs, not wants. From the scriptures we also learn that the Lord does not do for his children what they can do for themselves. He always does things for us in a way that maximizes our growth and learning.

Prayerful study fortifies us against temptation and gives us inward security so we can afford the risks of loving unconditionally, freely, and spontaneously without fearing or demanding response.

Prayerful scripture study is also the key to personal revelation. Nephi taught that the Holy Ghost speaks “the words of Christ” and that if we would “feast” on the words of Christ we will be told all things that we should do. (See 2 Ne. 31:18–21; 2 Ne. 32:1–5.) In other words, the Holy Ghost will give us guidance; whether we accept that guidance depends on our faith and obedience to the light already given. The verb “feast” is most instructive. It implies savoring, believing, loving, pondering, meditating, relishing, all of which bespeak a spirit of faith and obedience.

Therefore, when we regularly feast on the words of Christ (prayerfully study the scriptures) they become planted “in the fleshy tablets of the heart” (2 Cor. 3:3) and then the Holy Ghost will bring them to our remembrance or consciousness, as each occasion demands—perhaps somewhat like a computer would draw on its data bank to solve a problem.

Idea 2—We need the Holy Spirit to translate the scriptures into our lives properly, to harmonize eternal law and our personal situations. The scriptures were given by revelation and can only be truly understood by revelation. (See 1 Cor. 2:10–15.)

Consider how obeying these four laws or principles will unlock your capacity to truly profit from the scriptures.

1. Purify your motive. The highest motive in searching the scriptures is to come to Christ, to receive eternal life.

Ponder the promise and also the sorrow of the Savior in these two verses:

“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.

“And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life.” (John 5:39–40.)

Try to search the scriptures with the real intent of coming to Christ. This may lead us to repentance.

2. Pray. When you study the scriptures, sincerely ask your Father in heaven for help in understanding and applying them. Ask in a believing attitude and in the name of Jesus Christ, and if you are truly trying to keep his commandments, he will help you. True prayer is two-way. You speak, you listen, then you respond. It is dialogue. Monologues are boring, self-deceiving.

3. Ponder. When you read and pray, take time to think, to meditate, to feast, to truly weigh and ponder. To all faithful members in line of duty, the Holy Ghost normally speaks through their conscience.

4. Visualize. This means to see in your mind’s eye the characters and events portrayed in the scriptures. Such an empathetic effort will help you understand the situation that produced the teaching. Then you can relate that situation to yours and distill the universal principle that may apply in both.

When you visualize, you’re exercising faith. Visualizing is a powerful mental process, one of man’s unique endowments. Most of us neglect this power. Realize it or not, control it or not, the spiritual creation precedes the physical creation in all things. Most of life’s battles are lost in this private phase.

To illustrate the power of spiritual creation by using the scriptures, I believe a person can resist and overcome temptation by creating a righteous response to temptation before it comes, by going through a mind making-up process involving four steps.

First, feast on the words of Christ to cultivate a desire to know and do his will. Second, ask the Lord in sincere prayer to give you a heightened awareness of temptation and tempting environments whenever they arise. Third, promise the Lord that the moment he gives you such an awareness, you will immediately turn away and do something worthy—inwardly sing “I Need Thee Every Hour,” review some memorized scriptures, or work on Church assignments. Fourth, see yourself in your mind’s eye, confronting the temptation and replacing it with good. Complete the process by keeping the commitment. One young man who told me he had been tormented by unworthy thoughts for years tried this method and, after three months, testified that he had literally lost the disposition to think unclean thoughts.

Idea 3—While reading the scriptures, learn to ask good questions.

Questions spark exciting meanings and applications. They bring focus and discipline to the mind. They can link the ideal with the real, the eternal with the present. Missionaries today encourage their investigators to use these processes as they read the Book of Mormon, asking the question, “Could any man have written this book?” Asking this over and over will help bring irresistible conviction to the soul of the honest in heart.

One of the most helpful questions in likening scriptures to ourselves is, “What useful principle can I learn from these doings of the Lord?”

For instance, the scriptures teach that the Lord took six days, or six periods of time, to create the world. You read that, then ask, “What useful principle can I learn?” Ponder the answer.

I found it taught me several principles: patience, things must be done in correct sequence, there is no shortcut to solid accomplishment.

Consider another example. Read D&C 19:16–17:

“For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;

“But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I.”

What useful principle can I learn? Now ponder. To me there are several meanings, one of which has helped me not to be offended by others. Since the Lord suffered for all, this includes any who would ever trespass against me. Then why should I suffer because someone injured me? If I would repent and receive Christ, I would have the desire and power to return good for evil, to bless rather than to defend and judge. For in receiving him, I draw my self-esteem from that relationship and from his definition of me, rather than from the sometimes unkind, inconsistent, or fickle opinions of others.

Idea 4—The best approach to studying the scriptures is one that is tailored to you.

Most books are read from beginning to end, but how often have you read “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents …” (1 Ne. 1:1) and not gotten to the end? I find most people don’t have the interest or discipline to completely read scriptures this way. For the motivated it does have the strong advantage of giving an overall perspective, since the scriptures are usually chronological.

There are several alternatives. Try approaching the scriptures with a specific subject or more general theme, using an index, concordance, and cross referencing footnotes. This can turn into an exciting adventure. Or, start with a need or problem facing you now. Such relevance is highly motivating.

My mission president 20 years ago counseled us, as new missionaries, to read the Book of Mormon through three times fairly rapidly—first for history, second for references to Christ, and third for doctrine. We would use a different colored marking pencil each time through, searching and marking. Indelible impressions of those three readings remain to this day—the excitement of the story, the frequency and power of the references to Christ, and the significance, simplicity, and profundity of the doctrines and teachings.

Another method is to correlate your personal study with some Church-outlined course of study. It’s very significant to me that the new Melchizedek Priesthood manual is the scriptures, that the family home evening manual is based on the scriptures, and that the Gospel Doctrine class focuses exclusively on the scriptures. The Church is telling us something. And personal study along these lines will prepare you for a specific contribution and make your classroom experiences more meaningful. The repetition is also beneficial.

For shorter study sessions develop a mental or written list of scriptures that move, edify, and inspire you, or that have helped you lift and inspire others. I’ve carried a small New Testament with me every day for the past 12 years and frequently read one of the books or a favorite chapter when I am waiting for an appointment or meeting, when I am preparing for a lesson or talk, or when I feel low, fatigued, or spiritually hungry. Spending a few minutes in prayerful reading just before I go into my home inspires me to be more giving and understanding and patient with my wife and children.

Any situation, need, and mood can often be best served by an individual scripture approach or a combination of approaches.

Idea 5—We need to arrange and manage our time for scripture study so that, as Goethe put it, “Things which matter most are not at the mercy of things which matter least.”

Cultivate the habit of reading the scriptures every day—perhaps just before retiring. It’s better to go to sleep on Helaman or Moroni than on a television talk show. Early mornings are also a highly impressionable time. Begin the day right—with God’s word. Get up a little earlier. Plan and visualize your day as you meditate on the Savior’s life and teachings.

My wife enjoys listening to the scriptures on record (also available on tape) as she does housework in the mornings. Interruptions don’t annoy her—she simply plays the record again.

As a missionary, I remember hearing President Kimball relate how much he enjoyed reading the scriptures aloud to his wife as she did the dishes.

Try to involve your entire family in the scriptures. Study the scriptures in family home evening. Have scripture bees and scripture chases with your family. One may quote a scripture while the others seek its source. Or one may introduce a subject while the others look for supporting scriptures. Make it a fun, positive experience in addition to a serious one.

Try reading a scripture before family prayer, or at family dinner hour. Consider a regular morning family devotional with scripture reading and discussion. It can be done in 10 or 15 minutes and creates a positive spirit for the entire day.

Three cautions: 1. Avoid nonscriptural discussions on doctrine and preoccupation with the mysteries. Maintain perspective. 2. Be careful of private interpretation and generalizing into everyone else’s life. Look to the present prophet, Church leaders, and official policies for interpretations. 3. Beware of the spirit of the scribes and Pharisees who used the scriptures to justify themselves and judge and condemn others.

Let’s develop the highest motive for scripture study: to come to Christ, to get to know him, to be more like him, to have him bless others through us.

I love the scriptures and immensely enjoy searching them. My whole experience and conviction affirm the meaning behind the beautiful testimony of a disciple whose life was integrated by faith: “I believe in Christ as I believe in the rising sun—not because I can see it, but because by it I can see everything else.”

  • Dr. Stephen R. Covey, associate professor of organizational behavior at Brigham Young University, serves as a regional representative of the Council of the Twelve and a mission representative of the Council of the Twelve and the First Council of the Seventy. He is also a member of the Church Teacher Development Committee.

Photography by Royce L. Bair

Photography by Longin Lonczyna, Jr.