Summary: We’ve been counseled to read the scriptures every day, but it’s all too easy for people to read them and afterwards can’t explain what they just read. What we’ve actually been counseled to do is not so much just read the scriptures but to study, ponder, search, and feast upon them, but many people have a hard time doing that, and there are a number of reasons why. One is having a lack of time. Another is because they have a hard time understanding what they’re reading. This article offers suggestion on how to get more out of reading the scriptures.
Nephi, the son of the prophet Lehi, instructed his people saying, “Wherefore, I said unto you, feast upon the words of Christ; for behold, the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32: 3).
We’ve been counseled to read the scriptures every day, but it’s all too easy for people to read them and afterwards can’t explain what they just read. For this reason, it’s not unusual for people not to get much out of reading the scriptures. In many cases that’s because they were reading for the sake of reading rather than taking the time to understand the message contained in what they read.
What we’ve actually been counseled to do is not so much just read the scriptures but to study, ponder, search, and feast upon them, but many people have a hard time doing that, and there are a number of reasons why.
One is having a lack of time. It seems that the great majority of people squeeze reading their scriptures into their already over-crowded day. To them, it’s just one more thing they have to do in a long list of other daily activities, and one that’s fairly low on their list of priorities.
As a result, it’s easy for people to forget about doing it until at the end of the day. Then what usually happens is that they take a few minutes to quickly read a chapter just before dropping their tired body into bed. In this way they can check off that they did read their scriptures, but there’s no time left to study and ponder what they just read. Instead of feasting upon the scriptures, they nibble on it.
Another reason why people don’t study and ponder the scriptures is because they don’t see anything to study. What this means is that when people read the scriptures, they feel that what they read was clear and self-explanatory, therefore, they don’t see how they can gain any more insight than what they’ve already read.
For example, when the scriptures say that Jesus was born in Bethlehem and the shepherds came from their fields to see him, most people don’t see that such a statement needs any further study, and so they move onto the next verse, where they again don’t see anything that needs further thought.
Another reason why people don’t study and ponder the scriptures is because they don’t understand what they’re reading and become confused, bewildered, or find what they’re reading to be boring. This happens a lot when reading Isaiah. Although the words are all in English, yet they might as well be written in an unknown language as far as understanding what is being said. But the writings of Isaiah are not the only place in the scriptures where this sort of thing happens. As a result, the scriptures can be like a sealed book whose message is hidden from our view.
There are also other reasons why people don’t understand the Bible as well as they could, but before offering some suggestions on how overcome these problems, it might be helpful to understand some of the principles of learning.
Knowledge is like modeling clay. The more you have, the more you can do with it. For example, if you have an ounce of modeling clay, you’re very limited in what kind of things you can make, but if you have five pounds of clay, you can create a wider variety of things, both large or small, as well as simple or intricate.
Knowledge works the same way. The more a person has of it, the more things they’re able to understand and do. On the other hand, the less knowledge someone has, the more limited they are in their understanding and ability to do things.
Take for example, math. A five-year old child has no concept of how to add or subtract numbers. As a result, they are extremely limited in their ability to do many things that adults take for granted, such as using money to buy food, figuring travel distances, or even telling time.
However, the more someone learns about math, the more things they’re able to do. For example, a person who has learned how to do calculus is able to buy groceries and balance a checkbook, but they can also become a banker, an accountant, and engineer, or a scientist. Although each of these professions require other skills, yet without a knowledge of math, none of these positions are possible to achieve.
And this same principle applies to gaining knowledge about other subjects as well. In formal education, students are taught a wide variety of subjects, some of which they may never use later in life. But even so, it will nevertheless prove to be helpful, although it often happens in ways they may not be consciously aware of.
However, knowledge is unlike modeling clay in the sense that if we want more of it, we can’t simply go out and purchase a larger quantity. With knowledge, we can only acquire it a little at a time. As such, we accumulate knowledge in small doses rather than receiving it all at once, and in most cases it’s something we have to go searching for and discovering. Therefore, the price we have to pay for knowledge is the effort we put into finding it.
There is knowledge all around us, but unless we’re looking for it, we can go through life completely oblivious to it. It’s like small nuggets of gold that’s buried in the earth we walk on, and unless we take the time to stop and put in the effort to dig for it, we will never accumulate any. And knowledge is like gold in the sense that it is valuable, because the more we have, the more things it allows us to do.
The purpose of life in mortality is to help us become more like our Father in heaven, and the scriptures teach us that “the glory of God is intelligence” (D&C 93:36). Without knowledge we can’t become intelligent, therefore, the more knowledge we gain, the more intelligent we become, and as we increase in intelligence, the closer we become to being more like God.
But a strange thing happens as we gain knowledge. The more we acquire, the less we know, and the reason why is because when someone knows a few things, they tend to think that’s all there is to know, and so they think they know everything. But as our world of knowledge expands, we begin to see more and more things we didn’t even realize existed. Perhaps we can understand this principle by likening it to a video game.
In many video games there are hidden devices that opens doors that allow us to move into another room. For example, a digital person will enter a room that seems to have no other door than the one they entered through. But as they more closely examine the room, eventually they discover that by doing certain things, a hidden door appears that allows them to enter into a different room.
14. As they explore this new room, perhaps they discover two more doors that are locked. As they search the room, they find ways to unlock these doors, which then allows them to move into yet other different rooms. Upon choosing to go through one of the doors, they find themselves in yet another room, and after carefully searching through this room, they discover ways to unlock other doors. And as they continue moving forward in this way, they keep finding more and more rooms to explore.
This is what happens when we gain knowledge. When we know just a little, it’s easy for us to think that we know everything because as we look around, we think there is nothing more for us to learn. But as we take the time to study, examine, search, research, and ponder, we find more knowledge that was hidden from our view. When this happens, at first, we may be tempted to again think we’ve discovered all there is to know, but as we continue to study, ponder, examine, search, and research, we eventually find things that lead us into several new and different areas of learning.
As we continue our quest for knowledge, we soon discover that there is so much more out there that we don’t know about, and once that happens, then learning becomes like a game to uncover and discover what else is hidden from our view. It is this process that explains the saying, “The more we know, the more we realize how little we know.”
What this illustration also shows is how knowledge is acquired piece by piece, where we discover it a little at a time, here and there as we search for it. It’s this process of uncovering knowledge through studying, pondering, and searching is what it means for us to feast upon the words of God.
Since we want to become like our Father in heaven, when we come to understand that part of his glory comes from his intelligence, then we begin to better realize that the pursuit of knowledge is essential to our eternal progression. But, just like many other things, not all knowledge is equal in importance. Some things are more important than others.
For example, relaxing and having fun is important for our mental health, but eating is much more important, because without food, we would quickly perish. In today’s society, food costs money, and we obtain money from being gainfully employed. Therefore, although relaxing and having fun is important, working for a living to earn money is much more important.
Jesus taught, “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). If our goal is to obtain eternal life, then coming to know God and Jesus Christ is the most important knowledge we can gain, and that knowledge is found in the scriptures. But if we don’t take the time to ponders them or we can’t understand what we’re reading, then they’re like a closed room, where we see nothing more than what’s obvious. When that happens then our knowledge about God remains limited.
It’s when we study, ponder, examine, and dig past the superficial, that we discover hidden truths, which then adds to our store of knowledge, which then leads us to discover even more truths. And as we keep following this process, we find that our treasure of knowledge keeps growing, and as it does, our understanding of the gospel increases and deepens.
Therefore, it’s crucially important that we take the time to study the scriptures, but to do that requires us to make such an activity important to us. Rather than assigning it a low priority on our list of things to do, we need to give it a much higher priority, because until we do, we will never find the time to study and ponder the scriptures. Why? Because everything else will seem to be more important to us.
However, in saying this, that doesn’t mean we have to spend all of our time studying the gospel, no more than we spend all of our time working on other things. Our day is filled with all sorts of different activities, but which activities we choose to do, and how much time and effort we put into them, depends on how important they are to us.
For example, many people have hobbies, and they can spend hours each day working on them, and the reason they have so much time to devote to them is because such activities are important to them. Instead of wondering how they can fit doing their hobby into their busy lifestyle, they work their other activities around their hobbies.
Another example is, when we receive a new calling in the church. No matter how busy our life was before the calling, we find the time necessary to devote to fulfilling the duties of that calling if it’s important to us. In the same way, we will find the time to study the scriptures if, and only if, we think such an activity is important. But if doing that is not important to us, then even watching television takes priority over studying the scriptures. Therefore, the first thing we need to do is to understand how important studying the scriptures is to our salvation, and then make it a priority in our life.
However, the object of studying the scriptures isn’t to become a biblical scholar, but to learn more about God and his plan for our salvation. And there are always going to be people who know more about the scriptures than we do, and that’s okay. No one knows everything there is to know about the scriptures, so studying and learning from them is a lifetime endeavor.
We can compare studying the scriptures to doing family history work in that it takes time to do research. Some people are better at doing this than others but whether we spend a lot of time or a little doing this or studying the scriptures, every effort we make increases our knowledge about eternal truths, and each truth we learn and apply in our life helps us to become a little more like our Father in heaven. But the more time we devote to this activity the quicker we can become like God.
Then how can we better study and understand the scriptures?
One of the easiest ways is, after having read a chapter or even a verse or a series of verses, is to stop and ask ourselves the six W questions – what, where, who, why, when, and how. For example, what is this chapter all about? Who is doing the talking and to whom are they talking? What is the message they’re trying to convey and why are they giving it? Where is this taking place and does it have any relevance to the message they’re giving? And the question we always need to ask is, how does this relate to me, and how can I apply it in my life?
However, the purpose of asking these questions isn’t to come up with any kind of an answer. What we want to do is become a seeker of truth. The reason why there are so many different Christian religions in the world today is because people have come up with their own answer to these same kinds of questions, and not all of their answers are true. Then how do we know what is true and what isn’t?
There are several ways, each of which gives us additional ways to study the scriptures.
The first is to listen to the teachings of our church leaders because their primary responsibility is to keep us from falling into apostasy, and that can happen by straying into and following false doctrine. Therefore, as we study the scriptures, we need to use the teachings of modern-day prophets and apostles to help guide our understanding.
Another way is to use the church’s website because it contains a wealth of information about gospel subjects. In addition to this, there are numerous other websites on the internet that can help us better understand the scriptures. Although the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day saints has some beliefs that are unique among Christians, many of our beliefs are quite similar to what other faiths teach. Therefore, looking at explanations of the scriptures given by other faiths can also be helpful, as long as we use the teachings of Christ’s restored church to guide our understanding.
Another way that can help us better understand the scriptures is by asking someone in the church who we feel is very knowledgeable about them, and in most cases, they’ll be delighted to share what they know. In addition to them, there are many books written by general authorities of the church or by professors of religion from BYU that can give us a deeper understanding of the scriptures. In some cases, these books can be borrowed from people we know, or be found on the internet.
Of course, the most knowledgeable person we can ask is God. Jesus taught, “Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find, Knock, and it shall be open to you” (Matthew 7:7). But if we never ask, we never receive any answers, and if we don’t seek, we can walk by even the most obvious and not see it. Therefore, it’s always wise to pray for inspiration when studying the scriptures.
There are many other ways that can help us better understand the scriptures, (For more suggestions read “Studying the Scriptures”), but a few words of caution are needed. It’s human nature to think that every answer we come up with came from divine inspiration, and therefore we can easily conclude that what we believe is absolutely the truth, however, it’s this very tendency that has led people into believing false doctrine.
Therefore, it’s spiritually healthy to leave open the possibility that our understanding of the scriptures could be wrong because it’s very easy to find evidence to support whatever it is we believe. In fact, it’s this very tendency that has created tens of thousands of different Christian faiths. Therefore, when sharing what we believe with others it’s always best to express them as our opinion, rather than stating them as absolute facts. Only the prophets of God have the right to do that.
The scriptures have often been described as being filled with gems of spiritual wisdom that are hidden in plain sight therefore, instead of merely reading them, if we think of them as trying to solve a puzzle or playing a game of quest to uncover and discover God’s hidden messages, it will make reading the scriptures much more enjoyable and help us to become spiritually wiser.
Related articles can be found at Parting Thoughts