I’m going out on a limb here and guessing there haven’t been very many of us who haven’t had a tough time reading the scriptures at some point in our lives. Someone was asking for help with this problem on social media, and it got me thinking about the process of becoming committed to studying the scriptures. Scripture study is something you grow into, like your parent’s shoes. It takes time and development.
Some things, like brushing your teeth or making your bed are habits that don’t really take a lot of thinking. These types of habits become ingrained in us as children because we are always being told to go and do them. We are taught that such behaviors are part of being a grownup and being responsible for our own care. But scripture reading is a different animal altogether.
Most of us didn’t have someone teaching us how to read scriptures when we were growing up. We didn’t have family scripture reading and an accompanying lively discussion in the family about what was being read. Some did, but not most of us. So in this regard we are in virgin territory. We have to stumble through the dark and figure it out on our own. Here are some things to consider that might help you in your efforts to come to love your time in the scriptures. And to further assist you in your efforts, I have included a number of links at the bottom of the article about other articles I’ve written that are related to this subject to help you get a broader picture.
Tie the new habit to existing habits
We forget to read. It happens to all of us. We get busy and the time slips quietly away from us. Before you know it half the day is gone before we realize we didn’t do what we said we would. As my wife and I get older we are discovering that nothing interrupts our daily routine like a change in routine. As long as we get up at the same time every day and do the same thing every day, the habit of taking medicines, reading scriptures, going to the temple weekly, etc. is easy to do. But change our routine, even a little bit, and suddenly it has been a month since we last went to the temple, and we both forgot to take our meds in the morning.
Tying our scripture reading to something that we do, almost no matter what else might happen in our day, makes it easier to get our scripture reading in. For example, we have tied our scripture reading in with our daily routine of eating breakfast. Breakfast is not considered finished until we are sitting down to read scriptures. We have made a contract with ourselves that we don’t go anywhere or do anything else until we have eaten and read our scriptures.
One would think that such a contract would be easy to keep, but even something as basic as “eat then read” is difficult to always maintain. This is why the next suggestion is so helpful.
Get a study buddy
If you are single it can be even more difficult to begin and maintain your reading habit. This is especially true when you are first starting out. When you are beginning a habit of reading a book that was written in an old version of your language, you aren’t comfortable speaking the words, and you don’t know all the vocabulary. This makes it all the easier to avoid having to face the task each day.
Getting someone to study with can be a real benefit, if you are able to find someone you trust spiritually. And this is an important point. Don’t study scriptures with someone who is skeptical about religion or about the truthfulness of what you are doing. You are studying the scriptures to strengthen your testimony, not have your testimony whittled away by skepticism and doubt from your reading partner.
Whether you get your spouse to read with you or a friend, the act of reading needs to be a commitment you make to each other. That means there are no excuses for missing a reading unless someone is having a baby, or has lost a job, or something else major has happened in their life. I read with a family I was assigned to minister to for a year and a half. Once a week I went to their house and read with the man of the house. He wanted to read the Book of Mormon by himself, so I rarely read, but instead listened and explained vocabulary and historical context issues. I also helped with explaining the doctrines as he had questions about them. It was one of the best study experiences of my life. It created a wonderful bond between us.
Read with a purpose
Whether you have someone to read with or not, at least try to figure out why you are reading. There are so many choices! Once I read through the Book of Mormon with the sole purpose of figuring out who was speaking from verse to verse. If it was commentary by Mormon or Moroni then I ran a blue pencil down the column next to the commentary. Once someone was being quoted, like a sermon from Alma, for example, the color of my marking was red. By the time I was finished with the book of Mormon I had a completely new way of looking at how the book was constructed. I no longer had to read a passage not knowing who was speaking, I knew it was either Mormon/Moroni or one of the prophets or people being quoted. It was pretty exciting once I was finished with the project.
Another purpose you could try is to look for a particular doctrine or set of doctrines. Every time you come across one of the designated doctrines, even if it isn’t labeled as such in the scriptures, mark it so you can identify that this is one of your chosen topics. This will really help in your future studies. It will make it so much easier to find. Just the other day when we were reading the scriptures (in Helaman) I said to my wife, “Wow, this sounds just like current politics.” I then noticed that I had marked that verse in the margin. And what did it say? “This sounds just like current politics.” So this wasn’t the first time I had had that same thought.
One final suggestion here: hunt for relationships between doctrines as you read. What do you think you might find if you looked for all the scriptures in that book of scripture where there is some connection you can make between faith and works, or obedience and blessings? If there is one thing I know its that all the doctrines are connected in some way. It is basic to our understanding that truth is like a point at the center of all doctrine. They all pass through that point and connect to every other doctrine in one way or another. It is up to us to find those connections. Coming to understand how all truths support each other really helps to strengthen our faith and our commitment to the gospel of Christ.
Talk about what you have read
Studying and pondering are great activities in and of themselves. But to solidify what we have studied and thought about we need to talk about it with someone. When we start to put into words what we have been thinking, all kinds of misunderstandings emerge. This gives us a chance to clarify and correct our mistakes. This is the principle behind bearing our testimonies to strengthen our testimonies. As we say the words the Spirit bears witness to our souls of the truth we speak. This strengthens us and helps us be more confident in what we have learned.
Keep a dictionary handy
I know that suggesting someone have a dictionary on hand, either physically or electronically, is tantamount to heresy in many homes. But you can’t read in another form of the English language and understand by just reading and rereading the same passage over and over again. That is like thinking that if you read a passage in Sanskrit enough times its meaning will magically become clear to you. That just isn’t the way it works.
My mother suggested to me that when it comes to looking up wording from the Book of Mormon I try reading from the 1828 edition of the Webster’s Dictionary. These are the definitions of the words Joseph Smith would have had in mind as he translated the Book of Mormon. As I have used this version of the dictionary, I have occasionally looked up the same words in the current Webster’s Dictionary, and often times the meanings of the words have shifted significantly in the last 190+ years. In these cases using modern dictionaries might lead to more confusion, not less. By the way, here is the link to the electronic version of the 1828 dictionary: Websters 1828 dictionary.
Learning to read scriptures faithfully every day is not an easy habit for most of us to pick up. It requires a purpose, a determination, and a will to set up as a daily part of our life. But it can be done, and the Lord wants us to do it. The prophets have all told us that our own personal happiness and safety in the last days depends on our willingness to do it.
There are many more things I’ve written about to help you with scripture study. Below are a number of links to previous articles that talk about different ways to get meaning out of your scripture reading. Meaning is what makes reading the scriptures come alive in your life. As long as they are just words to you it will be difficult to continue to read them. Take a look at these other articles and I think you will have plenty of things to fill your time in the scriptures.