Thursday, November 28, 2013

What is Meant by Searching, Studying, and Pondering the Scriptures?


In our church, when we talk about how we interact with scriptures, we use certain words—search, study, and ponder.   I think that we probably do a lot of reading, but the words search, study, and ponder imply engaging with the text in certain specific ways so I think it is worth it to discuss those words and how we act them.

Search

Search – to try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.

It took me a long time to figure out how to search the scriptures. My young mind was usually thinking something like, "Why would I want to search for something in the scriptures? We already have a Topical Guide!"

In order to search the scriptures, you have to have something to search for, which means there has to be a topic or subject that you are interested enough in that you want to find out more about it.  I have found that I can’t just say to myself, “I will search for everything I can find about the topic of faith.”  For some reason I don’t do very well with giving myself arbitrary study assignments.  I do a lot better when my curiosity has been raised by something I’ve experienced or observed.  For example, after doing sealings at the temples, I might wonder what one of the words in the ceremony means, and then decide to search for instances of that word. 

Searching the scriptures has been made much easier for us today because the church has compiled the Topical Guide for us with a whole bunch of scriptures that use a particular word or that use very similar words.   This makes it easy for us to examine how the scriptures use a particular word and get a broader view of what it means and the different principles that have been recorded about it.  However, it doesn't have everything there, so exhaustive concordances are helpful. There are also apps that allow us to make exhaustive searches so we can see every instance of the word and how it is used in the scriptures.  Yet, even these tools can't predict every application that a scripture may be useful for, so you'll find yourself getting good at thinking of synonyms and search those too.

Example: Two years ago, I wondered if the scriptures had anything to say that could help me understand the proper use of cell phones.  I had to get really creative with the terms that I used, but I did find principles about proper use of cell phones in the scriptures!

However, there are things that we may want to know that require us to do our search the old-fashioned way—speed-reading through the text for anything that could have any hint of application to the particular topic we are wondering about.  When I was working on my book “Isaiah Insights to Teenage Temptations,” I suspected the Topical Guide wouldn’t give me much about the Word of Wisdom in Isaiah.  I found some references to wine, and not much else.  So I had to read through the whole book really fast looking for anything that could remotely be applied to the Word of Wisdom, healthy eating, and/or addictions.  I found a lot of good things that I would never have found otherwise.

Study

Study – devote time and attention to acquiring knowledge on an academic subject, esp. by means of books; investigate and analyze (a subject or situation) in detail; learn intensively about something, esp. in preparation for a test of knowledge.

If we merely read through the scriptures just to get through a chapter, we are not studying.  Reading through is necessary to become familiar with the text, so it is preliminary to study.  The best kind of study, I have found, is that which is started off by something one finds that is particularly moving, surprising, disturbing, or which otherwise sticks out in one’s mind.  This makes it a pleasure to pursue it further and often it is something very closely related with a spiritual need that one has at the time, so it is highly relevant. 

There are any number of things to look at.  Key words, implications, doctrines, a character’s motivations, definitions, cross references, and more.

I’ve begun to notice that on occasions that I feel an inner drive to study something in the scriptures, later I encounter a life challenge directly related to what I studied.   Once I had a drive to give attention to the dangers of priestcraft and about a week later I faced a temptation related to that.  My study had prepared me to resist a future temptation.   Sometimes we forget that we are being tested during this life.  The scriptures help prepare us to pass the tests that come, if we study.

Ponder

 Ponder – think about (something) carefully, esp. before making a decision or reaching a conclusion.

There are so many ways to ponder, I have no doubt any list I could make would never be exhaustive.   For me, pondering revolves so much about asking questions about the text, then trying to answer those questions.
·      What would each character in the story be thinking and feeling that would make them act the way they did?
·      What other stories does this remind me of? 
·      What is the context of the story and how does it affect what it is emphasized in the story?
·      Why did the writer consider this to be important to record?  Why did the writer record it in this way, in this order?
·      What details am I drawn to and why?  Does the writer want to draw me with these details?  Why or why not?
·      Does this warn us or lead us upward?
·      What principles are being taught? 
·      How I have seen this working in my life or the lives of those I love?  Have I seen the problems that come from not following this principle?
·      How does this story apply to me?
·      What am I doing that is similar to this?

When we try to decide what a scripture means for us, we are pondering.  When we have to make a decision of how to apply scriptural principles to current problems, pondering is involved.   When we find something that reminds us our lives and we are drawn to see how many points of comparison we can find, that involves pondering. 

There are so many ways to ponder the scriptures that as time goes on, we discover our reading can take more and more time as we cycle through the array of methods we’ve discovered.

God gave us the scriptures, and when we search, study, and ponder, we make it so He can keep giving us more gifts of His words.

 Happy Thanksgiving!