“Daily Scripture Study: Seeking the Influence of the Spirit,” Ensign, June 1984, 31
One night our daughter Lori was at a slumber party with some friends. As they were preparing for bed, she suddenly remembered something she had forgotten to do that day. “Oh,” she said aloud, “I haven’t read the scriptures yet today.” Two of her friends realized that they had not read either, so they borrowed a copy of the Book of Mormon and read together.
Such diligence in scripture reading had not been a long-established habit in our family. Perhaps we were not much different from many other families in the Church when it came to studying the scriptures. We knew we should study the scriptures; we wanted to study the scriptures, but we had never had much success in our attempts. Finally, we decided to dedicate ourselves to gaining a habit of scripture reading. To help us in achieving this goal, we adopted an approach presented by Carvel Whiting, our stake Sunday School president.
His method was simple. He made the habit of reading something each day the primary objective of his program. The goal was to establish an attitude, to raise the scriptures in our awareness. He did not specify how much we should study each day, nor did he suggest that we study in a specific way. We were simply encouraged to read the scriptures every day, no matter how briefly, and to keep a record of how many consecutive days we had read, even if we read only one verse.
Using this simple approach, we could read a few verses or ten pages on any given day. We could read through the scriptures sequentially, or we could study topics. We could use this time to read our assignment for next week’s Sunday School lesson, or we could explore the Topical Guide and other study helps provided in our LDS editions of the scriptures. We could vary from time to time—reading sequentially, but occasionally skipping to another section of the scriptures or focusing on a specific topic. We could even set a secondary goal to read a chapter a day (or half an hour, or five pages), but if we did not always meet that secondary goal, we were still having success and maintaining our scripture study habit as long as we read even one verse during the day.
We found that keeping a record of the number of consecutive days we read gave us a useful and flexible system for motivation and positive reinforcement. Specific numbers of consecutive days (for example, 10 days, 30 days, 50 days, 100 days, 200 days, 365 days) could be identified as milestones, at which we earned some form of reward or recognition in the family. The frequency and nature of the rewards could vary according to the age or maturity of the participants. For example, we had a fairly young family, so we had some type of simple treat every ten days for the younger children.
The program gave our family the motivation we needed to get started. During the first two years we used this approach, our family missed reading the scriptures together only twice. Three of us have passed the 365 day mark, and the record in our family for an individual is held by our oldest son, Tommy, who read 446 consecutive days before missing—during the time he was eight and nine years old. Our two oldest children, Lori and Tommy, have now read the Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and the book of Genesis, and are well into the New Testament.
The idea, of course, is to establish a habit of frequent contact with the scriptures. The method used to develop this habit is not particularly important. What is important is to develop the attitude that the scriptures are an essential part of our daily lives.
My family, and other families who read daily have found that the word of the Lord has a powerful effect in our lives. The first change we noticed was that the scriptures and other spiritual matters began to take a much higher priority in our lives. We thought about them much more often, and we missed them when we neglected them. We even found ourselves planning for deviations from the normal schedule so we wouldn’t miss reading the scriptures. One day my wife, Jean, and the children were planning to pick me up at work at the end of the day so that we could travel to a nearby city to visit friends. When we realized that the children would probably be asleep by the time we returned home, we decided to take the scriptures in the car with us and read on the way.
Making the scriptures a priority in our home has also affected and motivated our younger children. We found that almost every member of our family—no matter how young—could be involved in reading the scriptures. When we began reading daily, our second daughter, Shelly, was only five, and our sons David and Richard were only three and one and a half. Since none of them could read, we asked our older children to read to them from books of scripture stories for beginning readers. After Shelly learned to read she enjoyed reading these stories to her little brothers. Our children have grown by learning how to help the younger children understand the stories.
One evening Jean and I were both gone from home on different Church assignments. I thought I would be home in plenty of time to read with the children, but my meeting lasted longer than I had planned. When I arrived home it was 9:00, well past the children’s bedtime. Jean was already home and the children were all in bed. “Did we miss reading the scriptures?” I asked. “No, Lori and Tommy (who at the time were ten and eight) read with the younger children before I got home.” That sort of initiative on the part of our children was something new.
David and Lucy Shoell, who live in our ward, enthusiastically explained some of the results of their family’s scripture reading program. Their oldest son, Stephen, had already finished the Book of Mormon. Their daughter Kim decided that rather than read the scriptures sequentially, she wanted to study the principles using the Topical Guide in the LDS edition of the Bible. She was working her way through different topics that interested her, looking up each scripture cited. She had found especially interesting the topic of the Second Coming.
Ben and Ruby Ann Smith had already been consistent in reading the scriptures as a family for some time and had read all the standard works in their family. But when they made daily study their goal, they expanded their scripture reading from five to seven days a week and discovered that the children were much more eager to read. They began to take the initiative themselves, rather than relying on pressure from their parents. Their daughter Jody is now well past the 365-day mark.
At a Laurel camping activity in one ward, the girls were nearly asleep when a voice moaned, “Oh no, I forgot to read the scriptures today.” Then another voice admitted, “So did I!” Then another voice, then several others. Since no one had thought to bring a copy of the scriptures along, the leaders and girls recounted their favorite stories from the scriptures. It was a memorable experience.
When I was preparing a Sunday School lesson on John the Baptist, I asked Jean one evening whether she realized that John had been threatened by Herod’s attempt to murder all children under the age of two. Lori and Tommy immediately began to explain that Zacharias had sent John and Elisabeth into the hills. When Zacharias refused to tell the soldiers where the baby was, they killed him. “Where did you hear about that?” I asked. They said they had read the story in the New Testament Stories for Beginning Readers book, which we had asked them to read with the younger children. [The original source is Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 261.]
In addition to this increased knowledge of the scriptures, most of those who read the scriptures regularly feel closer to the Spirit—both individually and as families. One evening as the Cleverlys were reading in the Gospels, seven-year-old Rebecca said, “I feel really good right now.” As the family discussed this strong presence of the Spirit, the other children said they also felt close to the Spirit.
One family in our ward says that family scripture study motivated them to begin having family prayer and regular family home evening. Many have had a greater sensitivity to the workings of the Spirit and a greater awareness of their relationship with God.
Many have also noticed that reading the scriptures as a family has increased unity and harmony within their families. Reading the scriptures presents valuable opportunities for working out problems and for teaching the gospel in the home.
As family members read, they are able to apply the principles in their own lives, and this opens the door to valuable family discussions in a spirit of harmony and love. Gospel principles and scripture stories become frequent topics of conversation around the dinner table. Reading at least a few verses every day can bring tremendous blessings into the lives of those who do it. Carvel Whiting, who introduced this plan to us, says, “I believe that as a direct result of daily scripture study, I have experienced the most fundamental and powerful changes that have ever taken place in my life.” Consistent scripture reading can be one of the most powerful, influential, and satisfying experiences we can have, a force enabling the Holy Spirit to permeate our daily lives.
After reading “Daily Scripture Study: Seeking the Influence of the Spirit,” individually or as a family, you may want to discuss the following questions and ideas.
1. Why is frequent contact with the scriptures so important to our spiritual health?
2. This article suggests one way to study the scriptures daily. Are there other approaches that you have tried and found helpful?
3. Describe some of the positive experiences you have had while studying the scriptures.
4. What can you do, individually or as a family, to improve your scripture reading program? What ideas did you glean from this article that could help you?