Get Serious About Gospel Study

How many hours a day do you spend studying the gospel? OK, how many minutes? Hmmm, let’s break that down. Would minutes per week work better for you? And no fair counting the time you spend sitting in church meetings or reading blogs that discuss the church. I mean time spent in the scriptures and asking the Lord to help you understand well enough to teach others in an intelligent way the doctrines you find there.

If you’re like me, your gospel study time is nowhere near what you would like or know it should be. When I was preparing for my mission I spent hours each day reading scriptures and various commentaries on the scriptures. I wanted to know what I would be teaching when I went out there to present the doctrines of the kingdom of God. I miss those days. I felt immersed in the spirit then and knew the Lord was pleased.

Fast forward thirty-six years. I’m an old man in my fifties. I’ve spent a lifetime of service in various callings, enjoying each one with the learning and growth that came with them. My calling right now is easy – stake auditor – and I have no serious demands on my time other than what is expected of any other computer guy who supports a small business with about 100 computers and a dozen servers. No big deal.

A Gospel Study Plan

There are two parts of gospel study that make it work for me. First is the discipline of a schedule. If I don’t have a set time each day where I know I have nothing else planned then the work of reading and writing is just not going to get done. Notice I said writing. For me, gospel study without taking notes, summarizing or writing out conclusions about how it can be applied or taught is really nothing more than reading.

Not that there’s anything wrong with reading. But at my age, I need to move beyond the basics of reading. Like most of you, I’ve read the scriptures dozens of times. I’m familiar enough with what’s in them that when someone quotes a scripture in a talk I can usually find it with the flips of a few pages or the scrolling of a few screens. Reading the scriptures and pondering them is certainly a good use of gospel study time.

I guess it’s the teacher in me that feels the need to prepare outlines, collect quotes, compare commentaries from different authors and gather everything I can about specific subjects. I’m not a scholar but from what I understand about the scholarly process, the idea is to become an expert on some aspect of the gospel and then to advance the body of knowledge with individual insights that add to the understanding of others.

Purpose of Gospel Study

But of course, that may be the wrong way to undertake a serious study of the gospel. Take a step back and ask yourself what is your purpose in reading and searching the scriptures. What do you hope to accomplish? What will be the end result of years of pondering and study? Do you want to come across as a “know-it-all” in the gospel doctrine class? I don’t. What I want from my time is pure and simple. I want to receive revelation.

The second required part of my personal gospel study plan is inspiration. If I don’t have some goal or vision or idea of what I want to learn or discover in exchange for the investment of my time, then I struggle with the natural man in me, the inner child that needs a reason why. Let’s face it – self-discipline is not fun without a reward. I have found over the years that I need to reward myself for the work of study.

My reward, and this is personal so it may not appeal to you, is to take what I have studied and present it to the Lord in prayer, asking for a confirming witness that my conclusions are correct. Because I have invested the time in study, it’s as if I give myself permission to talk to the Lord in a language that is beyond my own natural ability. It feels as if the heavens open. There is a real closeness to the Lord that is undeniable.

Inviting Revelation

There is something about the language of scripture, particularly as found in the Doctrine and Covenants that brings the spirit of revelation into my heart and mind. It is especially powerful when read out loud. After completing a study session, I’ll retire to a private place where I can sit and read a section of the D&C out loud, as if I were acting as voice for an assembly found just on the other side of the veil. It is powerful.

I then kneel in sacred prayer. I find that if I have completed my preparations satisfactorily, I am enabled to exercise sufficient faith in prayer – and I pray out loud – to call down the powers of heaven upon me. The words just seem to flow. I know what to pray for and even how to phrase it. I am able to report to the Lord what I have studied, what I have learned and conclusions I have reached about truth and its relevance.

For me, the process works best when I am confirming what someone else has taught or claimed to be true. I confess I have received very little personal or “new” revelation through this process although there are times I can say with absolute certainty that the Lord has given me something sacred that is meant just for me. I then write it down. I do the same when I have a dream that I know has come from the Lord.

Sharing Revelation

This is a sacred process. If you have not experienced it you may think it unusual or strange. I can tell you it is different from the way the world teaches we should study and gain knowledge. The difference is in the addition of the elements of prayer, revelation and a confirming witness of the Holy Ghost. I have been taught and have believed from my youth that a testimony is built with both study and sincere prayer.

I am impressed by those who know history or who know how to explain a doctrine well in an expository manner. But I am more impressed by those who know how to take that knowledge and nurture or build the testimony of someone else. Knowledge of the truth shouldn’t be like a club to be wielded in a challenging or threatening manner. What you gain from heaven should be used to uplift and strengthen.

If the Lord gives you light and truth through your efforts in study and prayer then it should be sweet to you and to others if you are directed to share it, especially in a teaching capacity. To edify means to bring a focused clarity to the mind and a confirming, sweet witness to the heart. If it does not edify when shared then it is not done in the Lord’s way. Even a call to repentance has a comforting spirit to it.

My Personal Motivation

There’s a reason the Lord commanded us to study and search the scriptures. The primary song “search, ponder and pray” teaches us that the responsibility to know the Lord and his ways rests squarely upon our own shoulders. Nephi’s lament that men will not search knowledge was meant for us in our day. We are the gentiles that need to come unto Christ through a deeper knowledge of the doctrines of the Book of Mormon.

The Lord isn’t trifling with you or me when he commands us to repent and to cast off the chains of the adversary that bind us. The Holy Ghost will inspire you with exactly what you need to do to remove the condemnation from your own life. I know that I must repent and am grateful for the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon that helps me through that process. I have a long way to go and hope the Lord gives me time.

I intend to get serious about my gospel study in a way that I have not done for a long time. I intend to recapture the spirit that accompanied me as I spent hours each day in gospel study while preparing for my mission. While I may not be preparing for a mission, I am preparing for an audience with the Lord and intend to be prepared when that day comes. I also intend to have that audience while yet in this mortal life.

The Invitation

How about you? How are you doing on your preparations to meet the Lord? Are you motivated and do you spend the time required to know what He expects and needs you to know before He can reveal Himself unto you? How much time do you spend in gospel study each day? Are you consistent? Are you discovering new things, immersing yourself in the scriptures and coming to understand the voice of the Lord?

I invite you to join me in getting serious about studying the gospel. Make it a higher priority. Be aware of the natural tendency to think that you have learned enough. Believe that the Lord has so much more that He wants to reveal to you. Be willing to pay the price through study and prayer. If you are already serious and consistent in your studies then I congratulate you and pray for the Lord’s choicest blessings upon you.

I promise you that the Lord will reveal great and marvelous things to those who make the effort in this life to receive them. I have tasted just enough of those promises that I know I want more. I have been immersed in the light of truth and the sweet comforting spirit of the Holy Ghost on many occasions after study and prayer. I want more. I want to know the mysteries of Godliness that he offers to share with each of us.

8 thoughts on “Get Serious About Gospel Study”

  1. A little off-topic: Still trying to figure out the policy on using media from the church website. In one spot under Using Media to Share the Gospel you can read: “Post images to illustrate your testimony on your blog or Facebook page.” Yet when you download the image and read the terms and conditions, you read this: Ways you cannot use downloadable media from the LDS Media Library: Publish to other websites.” So which is it – can we use images found on in our personal blogs or is that considered publishing to another website?

  2. Scripture study isn’t all roses. It was tenon tense study of the Old Testament that led to my greatest questions, worries, and doubts in revelation, scripture, and the church.

    1. Larrin: Sorry to read about your unfavorable experience with studying the scriptures. I hope it hasn’t come between your and your relationship with God. Of course there are imperfections in the record but it’s been my experience that the Holy Ghost can help overcome that by directing you to quotes from others to help explain the imperfections. Is there anything in particular that caused your doubts that you would care to share?

      1. There might be too many things to talk about. Part of it is just growing up and recognizing the reality of the world and religion instead of the fantasy view of things I learned in Primary. Things started off with a bang with Genesis 1. My field is Materials Science and Engineering, so the science of creation was the first thing I needed to study. I started finding articles and books to read on the subject, and found Evolution and Mormonism. So I was able somewhat to reconcile evolution and Mormonism. There were still issues, however. I had to learn to read Genesis as “myth.” Myth here doesn’t mean not true, but stories for a community made to tell a story. For example, Genesis 1 tells a creation story to tell that God is the one that created the universe, and also as a story to disprove pagan religion, which is why the sun and the moon are called the greater light and the lesser light. However, this opened up the possibility for all of Genesis or even all of scripture to be myth rather than “history” or “reality.” This was very difficult to work through for me at the time, because though our church teaches that there are mistakes or interpolations or removals from the Bible, in practice we usually read it as completely factual. And while I reconciled evolution for myself, I still had the issue of now feeling like an outsider, since finding other church members who would accept evolution was very difficult. I remember clearly an institute teacher overhearing a conversation between me and another institute teacher about evolution, and he said only, “No death before the fall,” and left the room. And it states the same thing right in the Bible Dictionary. Evolution and Mormonism has interpretations for 2 Nephi 2:22 to say that maybe it doesn’t mean that, etc., but several leaders and the Bible Dictionary interpret it differently. So while I could make things work for myself, this was another step in my views on religion, now it is possible to have views not in line with the majority of members and even leaders.

        The next thing I learned was the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis is a theory for the composition of the books of Moses, and Moses didn’t write it. After learning the details it was/is difficult to accept that Moses actually wrote them. I won’t explain the reasons, but this was my conclusion. On the surface this might now seem like a problem, but it’s not something taught in church and it troubled me. The book of Moses (Joseph Smith’s revelation) makes it clear that Moses wrote the books of Moses, so either our books of Moses are HEAVILY re-written from Moses or they were never written by him at all. With the major focus on prophets in our church, it was hard to realize that Moses didn’t write the books. I also learned somewhere at this time that many books claiming to be written by apostles in the New Testament were not in fact written by them. I couldn’t believe that anyone could read these books as scripture while believing they were written by people pretending to be an apostle.

        However, in the Joseph Smith Translation none of these recognized changes or re-writings are what are modified by him. In fact, the changes that Joseph Smith made rarely if ever reflect earlier Old Testament manuscripts that have been found, and in fact when there are translation issues in the King James version he didn’t often make it any better. For example, when God is said to repent, he changed it to Noah repenting. However, the problem isn’t with who was repenting, but the problem was with the translation of the word that they chose to be repent. In face it doesn’t mean repent at all. Noah didn’t have any reason to repent any more than God did, according to the story. So Joseph found problems in the Bible, and attempted to fix them, but they were through his own thoughts, or inspiration. They did not reflect the original language. This led me to the realization that our leaders don’t have a perfect connection to God. Not even Joseph Smith. I had been taught in primary that our leaders aren’t perfect, but that was explained by saying that sometimes the prophet gets angry or upset too. It was never made in connection with revelation. As far as I was concerned, the general authorities would talk to Jesus and find out what to do. After this study I learned that they received revelation the same way I do, just praying and trying to make the best decisions they can. This was troubling to me. This may just be part of maturing and leaving behind a simple view of religion, but this is how I had been taught, and leaving it behind was difficult.

        The next thing I dealt with is the actual content of the Old Testament. God destroys every living thing on the planet. Was every person really that wicked? Did all of the animals deserve to die? God tells the Israelites to destroy all of the Canaanites. Even the women and children. They are in fact punished when they will not kill them all. I also learned that there are no real prophecies of Christ contained in it. The New Testament just uses proof texts to show that Jesus is the Messiah. And of course the idea of a Messiah wasn’t developed until very late in the history of Israel (at least late for the Old Testament time period). Now Joseph Smith added in prophecies of Christ, and said these are the plain and precious things that were removed from the originals. I reconciled these things by saying that the Israelites were almost always in a state of apostasy, and most books of the Bible were either written much later than we think or re-written much later. So I said to myself that it was the later apostate Jews that wrote Jesus out of the Old Testament. However, like I said the idea of a Messiah was something that developed later, so why would the people that now believe in a Messiah be writing him out of the sacred texts? You can find symbolism for Jesus in the Old Testament, but this is us reading into the ancient text, not the intention of the original. You can find symbolism for lots of things. Part of the reason why the book of Isaiah is so difficult to Mormons because we’re always trying to find what it’s saying about Jesus or the Second Coming. It’s much easier to find ways to read Jesus into the text if you can learn what it meant originally, but we never do that in our church.

        The last problem with the content itself is the insane Law of Moses. Many of the laws didn’t derive from the people themselves but were present in surrounding cultures for thousands of years. Circumcision is one example. Other laws just don’t make any sense. You see many of these brought up when people explain why they believe the book of Leviticus should not be used to oppose homosexuality. Because there are plenty of other stupid things that you could be stoned for in the Law of Moses. Like you must not eat rabbit. Lastly, it was shocking to me to learn what was actually done in the temple during the Old Testament. I always thought that our current temple practices were based on the Israelite, but I learned that they simply slaughtered animals there.

        That’s enough for now.

  3. Response to Larrin:

    First, I’m honored that you both read my essay and that you took the time to add such a detailed response in addition to your first one. I’m impressed. Obviously, since I’m a computer guy, I looked you up and found out a little more about you. The fact that you are pursuing a Master’s degree says a lot. You’re a smart guy.

    I’d like to think I’m a smart guy too but I confess I am a fool when it comes to understanding a lot of things in the Old Testament. I wish I understood that world better. I have read the views of many other smart people which have helped but I have come to the conclusion that their world was very different from ours.

    I’m not going to try to respond to all the valid points you raised. That would not be right. Those are questions for you to sort out in your own mind. I’d rather focus on the thesis of the essay. I was trying to point out that personal revelation requires more effort on our part to study things out before presenting them to the Lord.

    I was focusing on the fact that obtaining knowledge, which is my goal in studying the gospel, is a two part process. First, I know I must make the effort to study what I can about a subject about which I want to know more. Then, and this was my main point, I have greater power when presenting it to the Lord for confirmation.

    The conflict between the world’s way of learning and the Lord’s way of learning has become very apparent to me over the course of a lifetime of study. I’m just now beginning to understand that what is written in the scriptures is intended to bring me to the Lord in prayer to seek and obtain my own revelations on things.

    For example, right now I am trying to better understand how the spirit world is composed, what types of beings are in it and how they interact with us here in the physical, mortal world. Like you, I’ve been taught a lot of things growing up that were perhaps a bit too simplistic. It’s up to me to seek out the deeper knowledge.

    So I have committed myself to study this subject out in great detail. I intend to find everything I can on the subject, understand it well enough to teach what has already been revealed and then to take it to the Lord in prayer to get the answers I seek that go beyond what we are allowed to teach in the classrooms of the church.

    My point is that I am responsible for my own spiritual education. I will read what apostles and prophets have shared and then I will decide for myself what I believe to be true, condense it into my own outline or summary and then take it to the Lord to find out if there is more. I am convinced that some things can’t be shared.

    We try to teach one another the doctrines of the kingdom but the best way to find out what is true and relevant for us is to ask the Lord, after we have studied it out. You know the process. Through your research you will eventually bring to the world some new knowledge on the effect of heating rate on dual-phase steels.

    It works the same in spiritual matters. We decide what is most important for us to know for ourselves, come to understand what everyone else has written about it and then if our questions aren’t answered, ask the Lord to reveal what more we need to know. Through experience I know the Lord delights to teach us this way.

    You’ve got some great questions about weird things in the Old Testament. Yes, there are those who are adamant that there was no death before the fall. If that were something that troubled me, I would study what everyone else has said about that, come to my own conclusion then take it to the Lord for confirmation and more.

    The same can be said for the Documentary Hypothesis. What scholars have decided about how the five books of Moses came to be and what we received through Joseph Smith in the Pearl of Great Price are two different things. One is a theory of priests and scholars and the other is revelation from a prophet of God.

    The bottom line is do you want to be a priest or do you want to be a prophet? A priest will take the order that was established by a prophet and promulgate it. The difficulty in being a priest is that without prophecy, it is easy to come to erroneous conclusions about the interpretation of prophecy. Don’t settle to be just a priest.

    Be a prophet. Receive revelation for yourself. Know what others have discovered for themselves through their written record, as poor as it may be. Be an expert on the question. But don’t stop there. Your job is to advance your knowledge on the subject just like you will do with the mechanical properties of dual-phase steels.

    I have no doubt you will study what others in your field have written. You will also experiment with their theories, attempt to replicate their results, and then prove to yourself and others they were right in some things and perhaps wrong in others. You will formulate new theories of your own and then set out to prove them.

    But you have to do the work first of learning and understanding what everyone else has already said they have done. Do you see the analogy? Put that to work in your spiritual learning and growth. The Lord’s not going to reveal answers to our questions that he has already revealed. We’ve got to do the research first.

    Once we can say that we have exhausted every avenue, read everything on the question that we can find and are certain that we understand it well enough to explain to others, then and only then can we take it to the Lord in prayer, present our conclusions and ask for revelation that will answer our questions.

    OK, I’m repeating myself. I think you get it. Thanks for letting me ramble. After a lifetime of study, I am finally discovering for myself the real process of learning as the Lord intended it. I hope this is helpful. I haven’t answered your questions but I hope I have provided some encouragement that you can get your own answers.

    That’s the whole point of studying the gospel for me. I need the confidence in prayer to be able to say to the Lord, “I’ve studied everything I could find. Here’s what I understand. It still doesn’t answer my question. Either show me where else I need to look or reveal it to me directly. I want and need to know.” We can do that.

  4. Being a father of teens and pre-teens, it is harder and harder to find really quiet blocks of time for pure study. My time competes with early morning seminary, afternoon activities, mutual, fulfilling church callings, quality time with the wife and kids etc. By the time 8:30/9 comes around, I’m beat. Wake up at 5:30 and repeat process. The only real quiet time is at work on break/lunch. That is when I read my scriptures. It is not the in-depth study I would like, but it seems to be working for now with all the other demands on time.

  5. Thank you for both the original post and the comments. I am similarly striving to engage in more meaningful scripture study. I seem to go through bouts of incredible spiritual edification through the scriptures and then periods of being somewhat lukewarm (or even cold) where I can’t quite find the doorway to those intense spiritual feelings, or the energy to be so emotionally engaged. I am hoping to find more consistency, although cycles seem to be an intrinsic part of mortality.

  6. I love your essay. I myself have fallen into a “reading the scriptures” rut instead of studying them. I found your essay to complement Elder Richard G. Scott’s conference talk “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance” from the October 2009 General Conference. A helpful paragraph for me follows.
    “I am convinced that there is no simple formula or technique that would immediately allow you to master the ability to be guided by the voice of the Spirit. Our Father expects you to learn how to obtain that divine help by exercising faith in Him and His Holy Son, Jesus Christ. Were you to receive inspired guidance just for the asking, you would become weak and ever more dependent on Them. They know that essential personal growth will come as you struggle to learn how to be led by the Spirit.”
    Thank you for your courage to publish this blog. I just found it yesterday and will continue to follow along.

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