Spiritual Messages and Teachings for LDS Youth and Youth Leaders

Prepare With Honor: Studying the Scriptures

By: Randy L. Bott

From the book: Prepare With Honor –  Helps For Future Missionaries

It is always a marvel to listen to recently returned missionaries give their homecoming talks. It may be hard for you to see yourself doing that in just a few short years. Returned missionaries seem so experienced and professional in matching various scriptures to specific doctrines and personal testimony. But how did they get that way?

If you put off learning how to study the scriptures until you are on your mission, you are sentencing yourself to some embarrassing times and some long nights. I speak from firsthand experience. On the very day our group landed in Samoa (where I served my first mission), the district leader took me to visit a minister of another religion. After some pleasant introductory remarks, he started attacking my beliefs, using my own scriptures. He knew far more about the doctrine of our church than I did. I remembered reading a scripture I might have used to answer his questions, but I had no idea where to find it. By the end of his verbal thrashing, I was totally humiliated. I sure wished I had paid more attention in Sunday School and priesthood meeting. I also wished I had listened better during seminary and youth firesides. But now it was too late.

It was probably a good thing there wasn’t a plane heading back to the United States or I might have been tempted to get on it. I decided then that I would never let such a thing happen to me again. In the next three weeks, studying day and night, I completely read the Standard Works. I must admit I probably slept through part of the Old Testament. The New Testament was more familiar (except for some of Paul’s writings), while the Book of Mormon was very familiar (except for the Isaiah part of 2 Nephi!). But both the Doctrine and Covenants and Pearl of Great Price were totally new to me. What had I read during my youth? If only I had studied those books before starting on my mission!

How can you motivate yourself to read the scriptures? Don’t make it drudgery. Set a regular time to read every day—right when you wake up in the morning, during your lunch break, or just before you go to bed at night. Don’t try reading when you are exhausted, because you’ll just fall asleep. If you could discipline yourself to read for thirty minutes a day, that would be great. If you can’t take that much, work up to it by starting with five or ten minutes a day. The key is to get into the habit of daily scripture study. If you are in seminary, take advantage of the required reading schedule. Experiment by reading aloud; it may help you retain more.

Once you have a set time each day, find your scriptures and put them where you plan to study. Avoid wasting precious study time hunting for them. If you are really serious about preparing, you might consider buying your missionary scriptures now and marking them as you read. Parents, grandparents, and others are often glad to buy scriptures for Christmas or for your birthday. Use a red pencil (or a dry marker) to highlight scriptures you want to remember. But don’t get a marker that will bleed through the pages! When I marked my first set of scriptures, I used a red pen. Although it was economical, marking one verse would automatically mark a verse on the back of the page (and sometimes several more when my scriptures got a little moist from the high humidity in Samoa). A bleeding pen can make your scriptures look like a disaster, so save yourself some grief and use a colored pencil.

Don’t lie on your bed to study; you sleep in bed. Your brain will automatically tell your body to go to sleep if you try reading there. Sit up in a well-lighted place. Turn off the TV and radio, because they will block you from hearing the still, small voice of the Spirit.

I wish I had realized before my mission how willing Heavenly Father is to help his children understand the meaning of the scriptures. Make sure you take time to pray for help before you begin reading. It is like the difference between reading in a dark room and one that is well lighted. If you find that your reading isn’t making much sense, stop and pray again for the Lord’s help.

There are many ways to read the scriptures, but we will only discuss two. If you have never read the scriptures all the way through, start now. Your testimony will be much more powerful if you can truthfully say that you have read the Book of Mormon and know that it is true. How can you testify if you have never read it or prayed about it? It is not very convincing to say, “Well, I think it is true” or “My mom told me it was true.” It may be necessary to rely on the testimony of others until you get your own, but don’t cheat yourself of blessings you can, with effort, have yourself.

So first, read to understand the story. Whose father was Mosiah? Why were the sons of Mosiah on a fourteen-year mission among the Lamanites? Did Moses live before or after Abraham? Which one of the four Gospels contains most of the parables? Why is the Book of Moses found in the Pearl of Great Price rather than in the Bible? Once you read all the way through the Standard Works, you will find it much easier to remember important facts and details of the big picture.

You are not necessarily reading for depth but for content; depth will come with time and study. The degrees of glory (D&C 76) will become a favorite. The much-talked-about Word of Wisdom (D&C 89) will not be difficult to remember. Although finding the temptations of Jesus may prove more challenging, don’t be overwhelmed at the thousands of names, places, and events recorded in the scriptures. Just take it a bit at a time.

As you continue to read for the story, you may find a topic that catches your interest. Finish the story, then come back during the latter part of your study session and “posthole”—find out more about the subject that interested you. You can use the Topical Guide, the Bible Dictionary, other reference books, or whatever you like. At first, it might be challenging to know the right questions to ask. But after you’ve had some practice, you will find that thirty minutes isn’t long enough. Then you will start to look forward to your study sessions, and you may want to study the scriptures instead of watching TV. You might want to study with some of your friends who should also be preparing for missions.

If you find words you don’t understand, write them down. Then look them up or ask someone to explain them to you. Mom and Dad may actually be smarter than you think! An older brother or sister who has served a mission is a great source of answers. A seminary or institute teacher can usually help. A quorum advisor or Sunday School teacher will be glad to give the question a try. Every once in a while, you won’t be able to find an answer to your question. Be patient. Just because you don’t know the answer doesn’t mean there isn’t one. In situations like this, just put the question on hold in your mind and continue your study. Eventually you’ll find the answer; when you do, you will never forget it, because you will have paid the price to learn it for yourself.

Look for promises in the scriptures. These promises are like a mathematical formula: if you do X and Y, you will get Z, a certain blessing. With time and experience, you will discover that every blessing you want from your Heavenly Father (including the ability to read and understand the scriptures!) has a formula in the scriptures. Be patient as you search for them.

As you read, ask yourself, “What question would this scripture answer?” As you begin to perfect this technique, your confidence will increase and your testimony will grow stronger—you will be prepared to answer questions. But remember, do not use your knowledge of the scriptures to attack others, because the spirit of contention is not of God. The first time I read Doctrine and Covenants 6:16, I asked myself, “What question would someone have to ask so I could use this verse as the answer?” The question was, “Can Satan read our thoughts?” The very next day an investigator asked me that question. I excitedly turned to the scripture. Both the investigator and my companion were pleasantly surprised that I could find the scripture to clear up the problem. This situation triggered a personal formula for reading the scriptures: I always ask myself, “What has the Lord said about this topic?” As a missionary, your responsibility is to show your investigators what and why (when applicable) the Lord has revealed, not to argue about doctrines.

It is an exciting challenge to use the scriptures to document every belief you have. This approach will set you apart as being well-prepared from the first day you arrive in your mission area. Use whatever strategy or gimmick you can to help you remember where important scriptures are located. It will be like learning a new language: with practice, hard work, and sacrifice, you will be able to recall the things you have studied when you need them.

The more you study the scriptures, the more exciting they become. Although scripture mastery is difficult, I think Heavenly Father made it difficult so only those who are really serious will pay the price to learn. Read the scriptures with the idea of teaching someone else. Ask yourself, “How would I explain this part to someone else?” The scriptures offer a chance to enter a new and insightful world. So open the door!

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