Thursday, July 24, 2008

How do I study the scriptures and apply them in my life?

My goal is to be a scriptorian. I’ve wanted to be one ever since my early 20s when my Dad told me that my Mom was one. I’m not exactly sure how a person becomes a scriptorian, but the following is my idea of what must happen.

I must familiarize myself with the scripture stories. I must know the stories forward and backward. I must also know the names of the people in them, so that if someone mentions a name from the scriptures, I can immediately have a story come to mind. (I notice this seems to happen as the number of times we have read the scriptures increases over the years.)

You can give your children a headstart in this by reading them the simplified scriptures with all the pictures in them. That’s what my mom did with me. Because of this I was very familiar with the major stories by the time I got halfway through junior primary.

I must know where to find scriptures without using a reference. I must know who in the scriptures said something in particular.

What else do I do in my scripture study?

I look for cause and effect. It is a little bit of a hobby of mine to find out what blessings are attached to which commandments.

I ask “why” and “how” as often as possible.

I examine each verse to see if there is an insight I can get from it.

How do I apply the scriptures in my life?

I usually have some kind of personal problem going on, and whenever I read, I keep that problem in mind, looking for anything and everything that speaks to me about it.

I choose people who are great and when they are described, I highlight those places and make goals to copy them as best as I can. For one example, the stripling warriors were obedient in whatsoever thing they were entrusted with, and according to their faith it was done unto them. I think that is sooo cool! So I’m trying to copy them. As another example, the Anti-Nephi-Lehis were distinguished for their zeal. That is something I’m trying to achieve too, because I admire that. Another example is Mormon, who was very observant. His “and thus we see” statements are marvelous for their insight. I want to be that discerning, so I’m trying to notice things like he did.

I notice people who were terrible and when they are described, I highlight whose places in red (red = bad) and study them and why what they did was so bad. I try to think about my life to see if there is anything in my life that is similar and if there is, I know exactly what to repent of and try to change. One example is King Hezekiah who got smacked down by the Lord for showing off all his stuff to the Babylonian ambassador (Isaiah 39, I think). I realized that I was quite a showoff too, so I had to repent of that and ask for the Lord to change my heart.

I’d say that the most useful tool I have that helps me improve my study is asking myself questions. Questions give direction to my study and pondering.

Studying by topic is a great way to enhance understanding of a particular subject. I’ve done this two different ways. 1) I look it up in the Topical Guide and read all those scripture fragments without looking them up in the scriptures. This is a very fast way. 2) I keep the topic in my mind and skim the scriptures extremely fast looking for everything that remotely applies to the subject. I also have the online scriptures open and when I find something, I cut and paste it directly into a word file. When I’m done I have a whole bunch of stuff and then I amuse myself trying to organize the verses by what they emphasize on the topic. Very fun. This technique was how I built up all the scriptures to write about in my book about Isaiah.

The newest study technique that I have added to my bag of tricks is to write about the verses that stick out to me. There is twice as much spiritual power in writing about the scriptures as there is in just reading them, because it requires us to organize our thoughts and when we present our own feelings on it, in some mysterious way that connects us to the spiritual gift of prophecy by which all prophets wrote about Christ and gospel principles. I have experienced this again and again and I know it is real. (Note: This doesn't mean we are prophets for the church. We can only be prophets for our particular stewardship.)

I first started studying the scriptures every day when I was seventeen years old, just before my senior year of high school. It caused my testimony of the gospel to sprout like Jack’s magic beanstalk.

A few years later, I discovered something terribly shocking and disturbing—I was starting to get bored of reading the scriptures! (gasp) I felt ashamed about this and finally I confided in my Mom about it.

She assured me that she experienced the same thing from time to time and she had figured out that feeling meant that she had to find some new way to study. She suggested that I study by topic and told me how it helped her. But studying by topic didn’t sound very appealing to me at the time and it was only after I had gone through several other stages that I got to the point that studying by topic was interesting. Something I’ve learned since then is that we can pray for inspiration on what kind of study method to use next that will best help us to progress. Heavenly Father wants us to study the scriptures and He will certainly help us kick it up a notch.
And it came to pass that I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them.
And there was also written upon them a new writing, which was plain to be read, which did give us understanding concerning the ways of the Lord; and it was written and changed from time to time, according to the faith and diligence which we gave unto it. And thus we see that by small means the Lord can bring about great things. (1 Nephi 16:28-29)
It is the same thing with reading the scriptures as with the Liahona. No matter how many times we’ve read, as long as we are faithful and diligent, heeding what we’ve learned, we will read new things plainly out of what we’ve seen so many times before, things that will help us with our current problems, things that will give us knowledge about the Lord’s ways so that we can become like Him, and by these small means great changes will occur in us.

So, when you find yourself getting bored of the scriptures, don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person. It means you may have exhausted the insights from your current method of study and you need to find a different method to use. It means you have progressed. Ask Heavenly Father to help you find a new method that will teach you. Ask other people how they like to study. You’ll find something.

How do you like to study the scriptures? What techniques work for you?


Kim Siever said...

I like to look for patterns. It helps to show Hebraic poetry.

I also like to look for relationships between ideas in different verses.

Another thing to do is keep an eye out for "and thus we see".

Michaela Stephens said...

Oh, you are so right! That just reminded me of something else we can do in scripture study--try to remember other stories that are similar and think about the differences between them and what they mean.