Get Serious About Gospel Study
How many hours a day do you spend studying the gospel? OK, how many minutes? Hmmm, let’s break that down. Would minutes per week work better for you? And no fair counting the time you spend sitting in church meetings or reading blogs that discuss the church. I mean time spent in the scriptures and asking the Lord to help you understand well enough to teach others in an intelligent way the doctrines you find there.
If you’re like me, your gospel study time is nowhere near what you would like or know it should be. When I was preparing for my mission I spent hours each day reading scriptures and various commentaries on the scriptures. I wanted to know what I would be teaching when I went out there to present the doctrines of the kingdom of God. I miss those days. I felt immersed in the spirit then and knew the Lord was pleased.
Fast forward thirty-six years. I’m an old man in my fifties. I’ve spent a lifetime of service in various callings, enjoying each one with the learning and growth that came with them. My calling right now is easy – stake auditor – and I have no serious demands on my time other than what is expected of any other computer guy who supports a small business with about 100 computers and a dozen servers. No big deal.
A Gospel Study Plan
There are two parts of gospel study that make it work for me. First is the discipline of a schedule. If I don’t have a set time each day where I know I have nothing else planned then the work of reading and writing is just not going to get done. Notice I said writing. For me, gospel study without taking notes, summarizing or writing out conclusions about how it can be applied or taught is really nothing more than reading.
Not that there’s anything wrong with reading. But at my age, I need to move beyond the basics of reading. Like most of you, I’ve read the scriptures dozens of times. I’m familiar enough with what’s in them that when someone quotes a scripture in a talk I can usually find it with the flips of a few pages or the scrolling of a few screens. Reading the scriptures and pondering them is certainly a good use of gospel study time.
I guess it’s the teacher in me that feels the need to prepare outlines, collect quotes, compare commentaries from different authors and gather everything I can about specific subjects. I’m not a scholar but from what I understand about the scholarly process, the idea is to become an expert on some aspect of the gospel and then to advance the body of knowledge with individual insights that add to the understanding of others.
Purpose of Gospel Study
But of course, that may be the wrong way to undertake a serious study of the gospel. Take a step back and ask yourself what is your purpose in reading and searching the scriptures. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be the end result of years of pondering and study? Do you want to come across as a “know-it-all” in the gospel doctrine class? I don’t. What I want from my time is pure and simple. I want to receive revelation.
The second required part of my personal gospel study plan is inspiration. If I don’t have some goal or vision or idea of what I want to learn or discover in exchange for the investment of my time, then I struggle with the natural man in me, the inner child that needs a reason why. Let’s face it – self-discipline is not fun without a reward. I have found over the years that I need to reward myself for the work of study.
My reward, and this is personal so it may not appeal to you, is to take what I have studied and present it to the Lord in prayer, asking for a confirming witness that my conclusions are correct. Because I have invested the time in study, it’s as if I give myself permission to talk to the Lord in a language that is beyond my own natural ability. It feels as if the heavens open. There is a real closeness to the Lord that is undeniable.
There is something about the language of scripture, particularly as found in the Doctrine and Covenants that brings the spirit of revelation into my heart and mind. It is especially powerful when read out loud. After completing a study session, I’ll retire to a private place where I can sit and read a section of the D&C out loud, as if I were acting as voice for an assembly found just on the other side of the veil. It is powerful.
I then kneel in sacred prayer. I find that if I have completed my preparations satisfactorily, I am enabled to exercise sufficient faith in prayer – and I pray out loud – to call down the powers of heaven upon me. The words just seem to flow. I know what to pray for and even how to phrase it. I am able to report to the Lord what I have studied, what I have learned and conclusions I have reached about truth and its relevance.
For me, the process works best when I am confirming what someone else has taught or claimed to be true. I confess I have received very little personal or “new” revelation through this process although there are times I can say with absolute certainty that the Lord has given me something sacred that is meant just for me. I then write it down. I do the same when I have a dream that I know has come from the Lord.
This is a sacred process. If you have not experienced it you may think it unusual or strange. I can tell you it is different from the way the world teaches we should study and gain knowledge. The difference is in the addition of the elements of prayer, revelation and a confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. I have been taught and have believed from my youth that a testimony is built with both study and sincere prayer.
I am impressed by those who know history or who know how to explain a doctrine well in an expository manner. But I am more impressed by those who know how to take that knowledge and nurture or build the testimony of someone else. Knowledge of the truth shouldn’t be like a club to be wielded in a challenging or threatening manner. What you gain from heaven should be used to uplift and strengthen.
If the Lord gives you light and truth through your efforts in study and prayer then it should be sweet to you and to others if you are directed to share it, especially in a teaching capacity. To edify means to bring a focused clarity to the mind and a confirming, sweet witness to the heart. If it does not edify when shared then it is not done in the Lord’s way. Even a call to repentance has a comforting spirit to it.
My Personal Motivation
There’s a reason the Lord commanded us to study and search the scriptures. The primary song “search, ponder and pray” teaches us that the responsibility to know the Lord and his ways rests squarely upon our own shoulders. Nephi’s lament that men will not search knowledge was meant for us in our day. We are the gentiles that need to come unto Christ through a deeper knowledge of the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.
The Lord isn’t trifling with you or me when he commands us to repent and to cast off the chains of the adversary that bind us. The Holy Ghost will inspire you with exactly what you need to do to remove the condemnation from your own life. I know that I must repent and am grateful for the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon that helps me through that process. I have a long way to go and hope the Lord gives me time.
I intend to get serious about my gospel study in a way that I have not done for a long time. I intend to recapture the spirit that accompanied me as I spent hours each day in gospel study while preparing for my mission. While I may not be preparing for a mission, I am preparing for an audience with the Lord and intend to be prepared when that day comes. I also intend to have that audience while yet in this mortal life.
How about you? How are you doing on your preparations to meet the Lord? Are you motivated and do you spend the time required to know what He expects and needs you to know before He can reveal Himself unto you? How much time do you spend in gospel study each day? Are you consistent? Are you discovering new things, immersing yourself in the scriptures and coming to understand the voice of the Lord?
I invite you to join me in getting serious about studying the gospel. Make it a higher priority. Be aware of the natural tendency to think that you have learned enough. Believe that the Lord has so much more that He wants to reveal to you. Be willing to pay the price through study and prayer. If you are already serious and consistent in your studies then I congratulate you and pray for the Lord’s choicest blessings upon you.
I promise you that the Lord will reveal great and marvelous things to those who make the effort in this life to receive them. I have tasted just enough of those promises that I know I want more. I have been immersed in the light of truth and the sweet comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost on many occasions after study and prayer. I want more. I want to know the mysteries of Godliness that he offers to share with each of us.