One of the most oft-repeated admonitions by the Lord in scripture is to read the scriptures. It is also something that we hear often from the pulpits at the Conference Center and our local ward. In meeting with any Bishop, if you ask for advice on how to feel more spiritual, closer to the Lord, stronger in the gospel and happier, what do you think he is going to counsel you to do?
And yet, how much of our time each day is spent in reading scriptures and studying the gospel? Actually, I’d like to separate those into different activities. A verse by verse, chapter by chapter reading of the scriptures is one type of activity that can bring great blessings. You can feel very satisfied at having completed a task and a sense of accomplishment as you finish each chapter.
On the other hand, gospel study is more thematic and in my opinion, closer to what the Savior asks us to do when he invites us to search the scriptures. For many members of the church the only gospel study they get is obtained in Sunday school class or Priesthood and Relief Society meetings. Far too few of us have a regular gospel study program to understand doctrine better.
Educating the Saints
Members of the LDS church are at all kinds of different levels in their response to the Savior’s admonition to study His word. I know adult members of the church who have been members all their lives who have never read the Book of Mormon. Seriously. They come to church faithfully each week and enjoy listening to the discussions in class, but rarely add any insights themselves.
Then there are members in our midst who know the scriptures backward and forward and bless us as they teach our Sunday classes, and in our seminaries and institutes. Over the years, I have served with some priesthood leaders who are scriptorians, and with some who know the gospel, but are always saying, “I know it says somewhere…” Which do you think were more effective?
If we have been even partly conscientious in our efforts to follow the prophets over the years, we should be able to say that we have read the Book of Mormon a least a few dozen times by the time we reach middle-age. If we follow along with the reading schedule in our Gospel Doctrine class we will have also read the other Standard works seven to ten times by the prime of life.
Why we study the gospel
The objective of gospel study is to feed our souls. President Hinckley called it nourishing by the good word of God. I have felt this nourishment through classroom instruction and in my regular personal gospel study. It is a real thing and something that our spirits crave. Gospel study brings deep and powerful contentment when coupled with a close relationship with God through prayer.
Some people absorb this spiritual nourishment better in the classroom where they can discuss what they are learning with others. They may find it difficult to really get anything out of the scriptures without someone to guide them. I enjoy both classroom instruction from inspired teachers and the deep feelings that come in pondering from personal gospel study activities.
I have found that my personal gospel study has evolved over the years. When I was a missionary I focused almost exclusively on the basic doctrines I was teaching in the standard discussions. I added a lot of church history and a whole lot of the more uncommon theological doctrines to my personal study when I returned from my mission. Lately, I have studied controversial topics just so I could understand what the controversy was about and so I could discuss them intelligently.
Controversy does not satisfy
I have noticed over the past few years, as I have studied and written about the more speculative and controversial topics that the spiritual nourishment has not been the same as that which I get from the basic doctrines of the restoration. While it may be more intellectually stimulating and emotionally exciting, it does not feed my soul with the comfort of the basics of the gospel.
I’ve pondered about why that is and have come to the conclusion that, while I may have reached some unique understandings of the speculative doctrines, I have had a difficult time sharing that research with others in a manner that they feel comfortable. They have not had the advantage of digging into the same sources so they can’t share in my enthusiasm for what I have discovered.
So while I plan to continue my efforts to understand some of the theology that is not commonly taught or discussed in our Sunday classes, I do not feel that it does much good to help nourish my soul because I can’t share it. On the other hand, when I teach or speak about the comforting doctrines of salvation from the pulpit, I am greatly nourished and edified with my fellow saints.
Nourishing others in church
Elder Packer counseled us to teach the doctrines of salvation in simplicity. He said there is great power and safety in this approach. He challenged us to become proficient and expert in our ability to present the basic doctrines in such a way that our listeners understand the truths being taught and that they are also fed by the spirit of the Lord, which is beyond our natural ability.
I recognize that this can be difficult for some to accept, because they are looking for intellectual stimulation when they come to church. That is a problem. If you have been a member of the church for more than a few years, chances are that you have heard all the basic Sacrament topics and the Sunday school subjects more than a few times. We’re just not teaching any new stuff.
When Elder Holland visited our stake many years ago, he taught us about the importance of being edified. When we teach, we are not just imparting information, we are also charged with the task of being a conduit for the spirit to work through us in feeding the souls of others. To be edified is to be both instructed and uplifted. The Lord was serious when he said, “Feed my sheep.”
Summary and conclusion
The Lord asks us to study the gospel and be very familiar with the scriptures because he wants us to both be nourished and to be able to nourish others. I suspect that there are too many of us who have not yet understood the idea of nourishing. Sharing knowledge, facts, history, and scriptures without helping others find the hand of the Lord in that information is not helpful to our souls.
We are so much more than minds that need more information. We live in a world of information overload and yet there are so many among us who are starving for the things of the spirit. We are not asked to stand in front of a class or at the pulpit to demonstrate how well we can rehearse the basic tenets of our doctrine. We are charged to nourish and to feed the soul – not the mind.
That’s a real talent. No, it’s a gift – a gift of the spirit that needs to be requested of the Lord in prayer. As we study the gospel, especially the basics of the restored gospel, we should ask the Lord for help in understanding how we can effectively teach what we are studying. We need to teach in such a way that the Lord can work though us to answer the prayers of those we teach.