“Making the Scriptures Personal,” Ensign, Feb. 1999, 70–71
For most of my life, I have faithfully read my scriptures. However, in recent months I found myself less committed to reading daily. In fact, some nights I would fall asleep without having read a single verse. No longer did I hunger and thirst after spiritual knowledge as I once had. I wondered what the problem was. Where was the excitement I used to feel while reading the messages of the Lord?
Then I understood. I knew the stories so well I could quickly identify a reference for most scriptures. They had become so academic that once the terrain had been mapped out, I felt there was no need to explore further. The scriptures had become a textbook, not a self-help book.
As I pondered the problem, I thought back to a conference address by Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, in which he illustrated how our response to the call to serve can be motivated by self-interest, fear, or duty, or by charity, which is the pure love of Christ (see “Why Do We Serve?” Ensign, Nov. 1984, 12–15). While the outward completion of a service assignment may be the same, our inward attitudes can vary immensely. In fact, our internal response to the commandments is just as important as our outward observance, if not more so.
So I asked myself, “Why do I read the scriptures?” It hit me that my inward response to this commandment is much the same as Elder Oaks’s service spectrum. I first read the standard works out of duty—because I was supposed to. That worked fine until I had read them through several times. Then I became bored. I moved to a different plane of learning—an academic one. To find more depth, I began treating the scriptures as a divine textbook by cross-referencing verses and reading commentaries. I found myself concentrating more on what had been written about the scriptures than the scriptures themselves. In short, my attention was so diverted to trivial, tangential tidbits that I had stopped reading from the source. Once again the scriptures seemed lifeless.
Finally I discovered what was missing in my previous attempts. Taking a new Book of Mormon, I began reading as if I were really there experiencing each situation alongside the prophets. I tried to think how I might respond under similar circumstances and how the lessons might apply to my own life. The messages and stories took on great meaning as I wrote my thoughts by the side of each verse. Soon the spirit of this great book began to permeate my soul. For the first time I realized that the words and messages were written to bring us closer to the Savior by bringing change into our lives.
I have come to understand that there is a difference between scripture study and personal scripture study. By applying the scriptures to our own lives, we open the door to receiving guidance and inspiration through the Holy Ghost.—John M. Butler, Menlo Park, California