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.

Inviting Revelation

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.

Sharing Revelation

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.

The Invitation

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.

Deceived by an Angel of Light

Sunlight behind Brigham City Temple

We visited Brigham City recently and took this beautiful photo of the temple.

Consider two hypothetical conversations. Here is the first:

“Bishop, I’d like to see an angel.”
“Why would you want to do that?
Moroni 7:37 says that if angels no longer minister unto men it’s because we have no faith.”
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask to see an angel.”
“Why not?”
“Because you might be deceived by the devil as an angel of light.”
“But section 129 teaches us how to know an angel from the devil.”
“I don’t think you should be messing with the mysteries. Leave that stuff to the Brethren.”

Second theoretical conversation:

“Bishop, I’d like to see an angel.”
“That’s wonderful. Do you feel you’re ready for that?”
“Well, I’ve been reading the scriptures. There are so many references that tell me I should seek to see the face of God. From what I can tell, if I exercise faith in prayer, angels come first to tell me what I need to do to be prepared.”
“Since you’ve been to the temple, I think you are ready. I admire your faith and encourage you in your desire. If you feel it’s not too sacred, let me know how it turns out.”
“Thanks, Bishop.”

Do you see the difference? While these are both imaginary conversations, they are based on real attitudes I have encountered all my life. I’d like to address the concerns raised by the bishop in the first example, then a few more things I have heard when discussing spiritual manifestations. If anybody feels strongly enough that I’m spreading false doctrine and desires to correct me, please feel free to do so by leaving an intelligent response for discussion in the comments.

Audience with the Savior

First, by asking why anyone would want to see an angel, the bishop is either exhibiting ignorance of the scriptures or is expressing personal hidden fears and frustrations at his own inadequacies in spiritual matters. Perhaps he is testing the individual to see if they are serious in their desire. Either way, it is not a very positive response to a member of his congregation who is seeking guidance in a spiritual matter. Even, “Really? Tell me about it,” would be a better response.

I like the reply of the bishop in the second conversation because it is both encouraging and at the same time is gently probing to determine sincerity. A bishop is to watch over his flock and to encourage them to do good works. I can’t think of a good work more important than preparing for an audience with the Savior. The Bishop is simply trying to determine if there is anything he can offer in counsel to help this person achieve an exciting and admirable gospel ideal.

Lack of Belief

Moroni 7:37 has always impressed me as both a warning and an enticement to increase faith. I can’t imagine how anyone can read this and not ask why they haven’t had an angel appear and minister unto them. Of course the answer is “because of unbelief” or that faith is lacking. But it is the last phrase “and all is vain” that really catches my attention. Is Moroni suggesting that we waste our lives if we don’t receive angels and have them teach us of the things of eternity?

The reaction of the bishop that he didn’t think it was a good idea to seek to be visited by an angel is based on fear and not faith. D&C 67:3 addresses this directly. It is a real problem that was common then and even more common now. It is fear that keeps us from receiving promised blessings such as visits from angels or other manifestations of the spirit such as visions. These and more witnesses are promised in abundance to those who follow the counsel in D&C 67:10.

Promised Blessings

In fact, if you want to follow that whole scripture chain of promises start with D&C 38:8, then go to D&C 50:45, then D&C 67:10, D&C 88:68, D&C 93:1 and finally D&C 107:18-19. These are amazing and marvelous promises, each with increasingly greater privileges assured until you are promised to be brought into the presence of God the Father and Jesus the Mediator. I have long marveled at these declarations and wondered why they are not more fully believed today.

Now, the big question is, do you believe these promises are intended to be fulfilled in this life or are reserved from some future day, after this mortal life is over? I am convinced that the Lord wants us to do what it takes to receive these blessings while we are yet mortal, specifically in order to prepare us to dwell in the presence of God in the life to come. If we do not, how can we hope to feel comfortable when we are brought to that judgment day to kneel at the feet of Christ?

Under Condemnation

And yet, how many people do you know who can say that these promises are real, because they have both tested them and proved them? Perhaps some things are too sacred to share but I am of the opinion that we are under the condemnation mentioned in the Book of Mormon because we do not believe and use that book to bring us unto Christ like it was intended. I don’t think the Lord was speaking to Gentiles who don’t accept the Book of Mormon. He was speaking to us.

D&C 84:54-57 clearly spells out that condemnation. We are condemned because we do not believe and act upon the promises contained in the book. Do we or don’t we believe that we can have experiences similar to those of Lehi, Nephi, Jacob, Enos, Alma, Mormon and Moroni? Or are those kinds of things reserved only for prophets and apostles? Or perhaps you feel that such spiritual manifestations were only intended for the Brethren in early days of the modern Church.

Never Seen an Angel

I write this as much for me as for anyone else who happens to read this. I confess that I have never seen an angel, or at least not one of which I am aware. Perhaps the Lord has sent angels to me as a test to see how I would respond and I did not do as well as I should have. But then, I have never specifically asked to have an angel come and teach me, probably out of fear. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that things are kept from us out of mercy so we are not condemned.

Is that a false doctrine, one that keeps us from asking for further light and knowledge as we should? Everyone has to decide how much they want to bind the Lord by doing as he commands. We are the ones who keep the heavens sealed by not asking in faith and in the way we are taught in the temple. I have taught priesthood quorums and asked the question why we don’t take the Lord seriously enough to ask that angels be sent to teach us what he wants us to do to come unto him.

Seek Visits from Angels

The answer I have received is “We have the scriptures. That’s enough. Everything we need to know about how to come onto Christ is contained in them. We just have to read them and do what they say.” While that sounds fine and admirable on the surface, I can’t help but think of the scripture “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible.” It is as if we are saying we don’t need personal revelation because it has all been given and recorded.

The other common answer, which is similar to what the Bishop brought up in my first example, is that we should not ask for manifestations, visits or visions because we might be deceived by false spirits. It’s doubtful that the devil would be interested enough in us to appear as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14, 2 Ne 9:9, D&C 128:20 & 129:8), but it could happen, right? That’s why Joseph gave us the three grand keys of how we could identify messengers from the spirit world.

Dealing with Evil Spirits

When I was preparing for my mission back in 1975, I read D&C Commentary by Hyrum Smith in about two months. It was a most wonderful time of my life. I had many spiritual experiences. When I got to section 50, I read about how to deal with evil or unclean spirits that may come to us as a result of asking for spiritual manifestations. Note particularly the instructions in verses 30 through 33. They are to be fought, or as I like to say, “taught” in humility and not fear.

Yes, I am saying that if you ask the Lord to send you an angel, it is very likely that you will first be visited by evil or unclean spirits trying to pass themselves off as angels of the Lord. I know this is scary stuff, but from personal experience, I can tell you that it is real. While I confessed earlier that I had never seen an angel of the Lord, I can assure you that I have been visited by evil and unclean spirits attempting to deceive me. There is a difference between them.

Devils and Demons

No, I haven’t seen them with my natural eyes, but the experience is real nonetheless. An evil spirit, also known as a devil (male) or demon (female) has never had a mortal body. An unclean spirit is a deceased individual who died without the light of Christ in them, did not desire to go to the light and continues to hang around trying to co-habit the bodies of those who let them. The unclean spirits have much more power in that they know how to use our bodies against us.

Update (9-8-12): There has been enough discussion about my definition of devils and demons that I feel a need to claify. I had been taught and believed that devils were male evil spirits while demons were female evil spirits. This definition served me well for years. I have since been taught by others I trust that devils fit the description of any unborn (never mortal) spirit that followed Lucifer. Demons, I am told, are creations of Satan, along with imps (more in a furure essay).

You’re going to have to deal with fear if you’re serious about entertaining visitors from the spirit world. There’s no way you can have visits only from the Lord’s angels and not expect visits from the devil’s angels. It’s an eternal principle that there is opposition in all things. That will never go away. It is part of the balance of the universe. Simply prepare your heart and your mind to deal with them with humility and the Love of Christ, not with fear, anger or a rebuking attitude.

Cast out the Unclean Spirits

We read and hear often in Mormon culture about the casting out of evil spirits done by raising the arm to the square and commanding them to leave in the name of Jesus Christ. Yes, I have also done this. But lately, I find it more effective that I talk to them first and teach them about faith in Christ, then invite them to go unto Christ or an angel he has waiting for them in the light. This is especially effective with unclean spirits but a bit harder for me with devils and demons.

Update (9-11-12): This is important enough that it deserves clarification. I have learned since I wrote this that devils and demons will not go to the light. They hate the light. They have no light within them. They cannot understand it, comprehend it or even conceive of light. They do not want it and cannot be deterred from their course to destroy light. I have written about this in my essay on Conquering Spiritual Evil. They will not and cannot repent so don’t try to send them to the light. Just cast them out.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. This is all so weird. You’re never been taught any of this in your Sunday school, Priesthood or Relief Society classes. Just like so much of the early history of our church is not taught openly, these things are not in our curriculum. They’re deemed too scared and not for those who are young in the gospel. Yes, I agree with that assessment, but am also concerned that what was commonly understood by the early Brethren is being slowly lost.

Mysteries of Godliness

I conclude with a commentary on the bishop’s final statements in the first example I used. The word “mysteries” has taken on a negative connotation in the modern church. Joseph Smith taught that we should seek to have the mysteries of Godliness revealed to us. Do a search in the online scriptures on or use the topical guide in your own scriptures. There are 23 results in the Doctrine and Covenants alone that provide evidence of the Lord’s intent to reveal mysteries.

That was then. Today, when we hear that somebody is “seeking after the mysteries” we think of someone who has gone off the deep end and is “looking beyond the mark” or trying to make the simplicity of the gospel into something it was not meant to be. I find this frustrating. Yes, I know of individuals who fit that description, but they are also folks who do not yet have a firm grasp of the basic concepts of obedience and sacrifice, let alone purity and consecration to the Lord.

Seek after Mysteries

I disagree with my fictional Bishop’s advice. I do think we should be seeking after mysteries. I do not think that the Lord intended for us to leave that only to the Brethren who we sustain as the leaders of our church. In fact, I think it’s imperative that we make every effort to seek after greater light and knowledge than we now have. We are only saved as fast as we gain knowledge. Don’t be afraid of going off the deep end. Learn to trust in the Lord to lead you to greater truth.

Am I right or am I wrong? Am I off in left field, going in the wrong direction or have I stumbled upon a basic truth that we need to emphasize and teach more to those who are ready? I confess that I have combined many of the things I have learned from Denver Snuffer and Jan Graf in this essay, but they have all agreed with what I have studied and come to understand on my own over the years. Give me some feedback folks. Let me know if you think this is dangerous territory.