"Three Keys to Getting More out of the Scriptures"
William D. Oswald
Former Second Counselor in the Sunday School General Presidency
Brothers and Sisters, Sister Oswald and I thank you for your kind invitation to come to Rexburg and to be with you today.
I know that many of you are approaching the times and seasons of your life when you will be making some of the great decisions of mortality: Should I serve a mission? What career choice should I make? Whom should I choose as my eternal companion?—and, of equal importance,will they also want to choose me?
Today I begin my remarks with a compelling question: “Where would we—or should we—or can we go for directions on how to live our lives?” The answers to all of these questions are so
important that I recommend that you seek out the divine help to which you are entitled.
In addition to fasting and praying for confirming answers, the holy scriptures—those books filled with deep insight, wisdom and knowledge—should also occupy a prominent place in helping you make the important decisions in your life.
May I share with you three keys which have been helpful to me in opening the door to a greater understanding and appreciation of the scriptures?
Key No. 1—“Feast upon the words of Christ. . .” The blessing promised for obedience to this commandment is that “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:3, emphasis added).
Key No. 2—“Ask,” “seek” and “knock.” The blessing promised for obedience to this commandment is that “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:8, emphasis added).
Key No. 3—“Receive the Holy Ghost. . .” The blessing promised for obedience to this commandment is that the Holy Ghost “will show you all things what ye shoulddo” (2 Nephi 32:5, emphasis added).
Key No. 1—“Feast upon the words of Christ. . .”
Let us begin by discussing Key No. 1. Throughout the scriptures we are commanded to “feast upon the words of Christ. . .” Some elements of feasting on the words of Christ include the Savior’s admonition to:
“Searchthe scriptures” (John 5:39);
“Study my word . . .” (Doctrine and Covenants 11:22);
“. . . (L)earn of me” (Matthew 11:29);
“Search these commandments” ((Doctrine and Covenants 1:37); and
“[Treasure] up my word@ (Joseph Smith translation of Matthew 1:37), with this accompanying promise: “And whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived. . .”
Notwithstanding the plain and precious meaning of these commandments, we often neglect the scriptures. We do not take the time to “feast upon the words of Christ” as we should. Instead, we treat the scriptures like a “fast food” snack waiting to be picked up at some drive through window while rushing off to some other activity.
My former neighbor Elder Neal A. Maxwell described what feasting on the scriptures ought to entail: “For me,” he said, “the Book of Mormon is like a vast mansion with gardens, towers, courtyards, and wings. My tour of it has never been completed. Some rooms I have yet to enter, and there are more flaming fireplaces waiting to warm me. . . There are also sumptuous banquet tables painstakingly prepared . . . which await all of us. Yet, we as Church members sometimes behave like hurried tourists, scarcely venturing beyond the entry hall to the mansion.”
In his last General Conference Elder Maxwell shared this humorous true story suggesting that even his young grandchildren knew him for his love of the scriptures. He told about the time he visited his grandchildren late one evening. His grandson Robbie had already gone to bed when he arrived. Robbie’s mother called to her son: “Robbie, Grandpa Neal is here!” Elder Maxwell heard a tired little voice coming from the bedroom asking, “Shall I bring my scriptures?”
Let us begin by turning to one of my favorite scriptures—Alma, chapter 31, verse 5—as an example of how the scriptures can unexpectedly change lives of people. You will remember that the Prophet Alma became the leader of a mission to try to reclaim the apostate Zoramites—those who had once been active members of the Church, but had been seduced by false doctrines and had fallen away.
From the language in this verse, it appears that Alma tried a number of different ways to reclaim the apostates, but nothing seemed to work. Finally, Alma decided to do something different, to teach the Zoramites the word of God out of the scriptures. His success is reflected in these words: “And now, as the preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just–yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened to them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient they should try the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5).
Each of the latter-day Prophets I have known has counseled the members of the Church to “feast upon the words of Christ” and to “try the virtue of the word of God.” Let us review some of their teachings on these topics:
In recent years, each time I met with President Thomas S. Monson, he has shared the story of how he came to love the scriptures. “It was my experience as a small boy” he said, “to come under the influence of a most effective and inspired teacher who . . . taught us [from the scriptures] concerning the creation of the world, the Fall of Adam, [and] the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. She brought to her classroom as honored guests Moses, Joshua, Peter, Thomas, Paul, and, of course, Christ. Though we did not see them, we learned to love, honor, and emulate them . . . while [she] ‘opened to us the scriptures?’”
President Gordon B. Hinckley was a Prophet who practiced daily scripture study. He said: “I love to read the scriptures, and I try to do so consistently and repeatedly. . . I do not claim distinction as a scholar of the scriptures. For me, the reading of the scriptures is not the pursuit of scholarship. Rather it is alove affair with the word of the Lord and that of His prophets . . .”
President Hinckley was a practical man who said: “I know that with the demands of daily living there is little time to read anything.” But for those who would take the time, he gave this prophetic promise: “. . . I promise you that if you will read . . . (the) scripture(s), there will come into your heart an understanding and a warmth that will be pleasing to experience.”
Most of you will remember when President Hinckley invited all of us to read the Book of Mormon in 2005. With that invitation came this promise: “. . . I promise you that if each of you will . . . read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes”  “an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord,”  “a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and”  “a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God.”
President Ezra Taft Benson was another Prophet whose ministry focused on getting members of the Church to read the scriptures, especially the Book of Mormon. He said: “I urge you to recommit yourselves to study of the scriptures. Immerse yourselves in them daily so you will have the power of the Spirit to attend you in your calling. . . [W]hen individual members and families immerse themselves in the scriptures regularly and consistently . . . Testimonies will increase. Commitment will be strengthened. Families will be fortified. Personal revelation will flow.” “Always remember, there is no satisfactory substitute for the scriptures and the words of the living prophets.”
When President Spencer W. Kimball was serving as president of the Church, it was my privilege to be called to serve as his bishop. This close relationship gave me the opportunity to closely observe the importance of scriptures in his life. Often I would walk or drive by the Kimball home late at night where I noticed that the only light on in the Kimball home was the light in President Kimball’s study. I knew that he was occupied in either studying the scriptures or writing in his personal journal.
President Kimball recommended the practice of “Daily reading of the scriptures . . . as a powerful tool against ignorance and the temptations of Satan.” In an Ensign article, President Kimball wrote: “I am convinced that each of us, at least some time in our lives, must discover the scriptures for ourselvesCand not just discover them once, but rediscover them again and again.”
“All through the scriptures” President Kimball said, “every weakness and strength of man has been portrayed, and rewards and punishments have been recorded. One would surely be blind who could not learn to live life properly by such reading . . .”
President Kimball found that the scriptures were a bridge connecting him to his Heavenly Father. “I find,” he said “that when I get casual in my relationships with divinity and when it seems that no divine ear is listening and no divine voice is speaking, that I am far, far away. If I immerse myself in the scriptures the distance narrows and the spirituality returns.”
Key No. 2—Learning to “Ask,” “Seek” and “Knock”
Key No. 2 is one of the most common themes in all of scripture and is reflected in this passage from the Sermon on the Mount when Jesus said, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. . .” (Matthew 7:7).
A similar, but slightly different version of this theme is this one found in the Doctrine and Covenants: “Seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:63). Similar passages are also found in the Old Testament; the New Testament; the Book of Mormon; the Pearl of Great Price and in more than a hundred places throughout the scriptures.
These scriptures describe the Lord’s divine pattern for receiving personal revelation. The Lord’s promise to those who will “ask”, “knock” and “seek”— “in faith, nothing wavering”—that they would enjoy these promises:
“. . . everyone that asketh receiveth,”
“. . . he that seeketh findeth,”
“. . . to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (See Matthew 7:8; Luke 11:10; and 3 Nephi 14:8, emphasis added).
These same promises from the New Testament and the Book of Mormon were renewed in this dispensation when the Lord through the Prophet Joseph restated this same theme, but added clarity by stating exactly what would be received: “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receiverevelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge, that thou mayest know the mysteries and peaceable things—that which bringeth joy, that which bringeth life eternal” (D&C 42:61, emphasis added).
The commandment to “ask,” “seek” and “knock” is not merely an academic exercise, but a process that can lead to our receiving personal revelation. Elder Bruce R. McConkie said, “I sometimes think that one of the best‑kept secrets of the kingdom is that the scriptures open the door to the receipt of revelation.”
The classic example of how Key No. 2 works is to examine the life of Joseph Smith and the unfolding of the Restoration of the gospel. This dispensation commenced in the spring of 1820, when an untutored 14 year old boy, read the familiar Bible passage in the first chapter of James. The familiar passage read: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him” (James 1:5). Joseph’s response to this scripture was to do exactly as James directed.
First—Joseph read the scriptures: He tells us: “I was one day reading the Epistle of James . . .”
Second—Joseph felt the influence of the Spirit as he read: He writes: “Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart.”
Third—Joseph pondered on the scripture:He said: “I reflected on it again and again . . .”
Fourth—Joseph made the decision to ask: He declared: “At length I came to the conclusion that I . . . must do as James directs, that is, ask of God.”
Fifth—Joseph prayed to God: He recorded: “So, in accordance with . . . my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt” (JS-History 1:11-14, emphasis added).
Is not this the same heavenly pattern that each of us can follow as we read the scriptures, feel the Spirit as it touches our hearts, ponder what we have studied, then pray to God for wisdom and knowledge each time we open the scriptures?
The result of Joseph Smith’s reading, pondering and praying led him into the Sacred Grove where the heavens opened and he received a personal revelation from the Father and the Son. The events leading to the First Vision set the pattern for other visitations which followed.
Notice that the visitation by Moroni in 1823, and by John the Baptist in 1829, came as a result of Joseph’s initiating the process of seeking personal revelation by “asking,” “seeking” and “knocking”—being hungry to know more about the things of God. Peter, James, and John and a host of other heavenly messengers numbering in the scores were sent to Joseph Smith. These heaven-sent messengers revealed ancient records, restored priesthood powers, conferred important keys, explained sacred ordinances, and fulfilled biblical prophecies.
Key No. 3—“Receiving the Holy Ghost. . .” Because the Holy Ghost “Will Show You All Things What Ye Should Do”
We learn from latter-day revelation that the Holy Ghost is a member of the Godhead and “. . . is a personage of Spirit. Were it not so, the Holy Ghost could not dwell in us” (D&C 130:22). Joseph was told that “A man may receive the Holy Ghost, and it may descend upon him and not tarry with him” (D&C 130:23). Our task is to ensure that the influence of the Holy Ghost, which is often referred to as a “still small voice,” remains with us. (See 1 Kings 19:9-12).
President Boyd K. Packer explains how this works: “The Holy Ghost speaks with a voice that you feel more than you hear. . . While we speak of ‘listening’ to the whisperings of the Spirit, most often one describes a spiritual prompting by saying, ‘I had a feeling. . .’” He continues: “This voice of the Spirit speaks gently, prompting you what to do or what to say, or it may caution or warn you.”
President Monson tells us that when we feel the promptings of the Holy Ghost, we should “Open your hearts, even your very souls, to the sound of that special voice that testifies of truth. . . Be influenced by that still, small voice.”
If we want the Holy Ghost to become our constant companion, we must live a righteous life so that the Holy Ghost will be comfortable dwelling with us and in us.
Several years following his martyrdom, Joseph Smith appeared to President Brigham Young with this message: “Tell the people to . . . keep the spirit of the Lord and it will lead them right. Be careful and not turn away the small still voice; it will teach you what to do and where to go. . .”
The Brethren have taught us that one way to invite the Holy Ghost to be with us is to have a prayer in our heart as we study the scriptures. It is also appropriate to have a formal prayer either before, during or after our study. The reasons we pray as we read the scriptures is to enjoy the influence of the Spirit of Truth and to feel the comfort of the Comforter having the quiet assurance that the Holy Ghost “will show you all things what ye should do.”
Recall with me this lesson from Church History which shows the enlightening power of the Spirit. After Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery received the Aaronic Priesthood under the hand of John the Baptist and had baptized each other, Joseph writes:
“Immediately on our coming up out of the water . . . We were filled with the Holy Ghost. . . . Our minds being now enlightened, we began to have the scriptures laid open to our understandings, and the true meaning and intention of their more mysterious passages revealed unto us in a manner which we never could attain to previously, nor ever before had thought of. . .” (JS-History 1:73-74).
Parley P. Pratt describes what happens when a person is born of the Spirit and receives the Holy Ghost: “His mind is quickened, his intellectual faculties are aroused to intense activity. He is, as it were, illuminated. He learns more of divine truth in a few days than he could have learned in a lifetime in the best . . . human institutions in the world.”
Over the last three decades, I have had the opportunity to meet with thousands of members of the Church located in more than 30 different countries. Many were your age and some were new in the Church. They would often ask me how they should study the scriptures. Let me share with you some of their most commonly asked questions and my response as I quoted to them these words of latter-day prophets and apostles:
Question 1—“How long should we read, search and study the scriptures each day?”
Answer: President Ezra Taft Benson stated: “I’ve always enjoyed reading the scriptures and do so on a daily basis . . . I “recommended studying (the Book of Mormon) half an hour each day (and) I commend that practice to you.”
Question 2—“How long does it take the average reader to read the entire Standard Works?”
Answer: Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “We can read all of the Standard Works of the Church in one year if we proceed at the rate of about six pages a day. To do the sincere searching and the solemn pondering required will take more time.”
On one occasion I interviewed for baptism a very unusual 23 year old Russian investigator. She told me that in the weeks between meeting the missionaries and the day of her baptism, she had read the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants, the Pearl of Great Price, and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder not once, but twice. I asked her: “What prompted you to become such of voracious reader of the scriptures?” She told me that once she picked up the Book of Mormon, she could not bear to put it down. She went without food and sleep to complete her reading. She confessed to me that each evening, she hurried home from work, picked up the Book of Mormon and read it until 4:00 a.m.
On one occasion I asked Elder Maxwell, how long he had spent reading the scriptures that morning. His answer surprised me and delighted me. He replied, “I spent 30 minutes this morning reading and searching a single verse. On another occasion I spent that much time pondering over the placement of a single comma.” While you may be tempted to speed read the scriptures, slow down and ponder the meaning of each single verse and comma.
Question 3—“Is there a difference between “reading” and “searching” the scriptures?”
Answer: Elder D. Todd Christofferson said studying (the scriptures) mean “something more than reading.” As you study (the scriptures), he recommends that you read “a few verses, stopping to ponder them, carefully reading the verses again, and as you think about what they mean, praying for understanding, asking questions in your mind, waiting for spiritual impressions, and writing down the impressions and insights that come so you can remember and learn more.” “Studying in this way,: he said, “you may not read a lot of chapters or verses in a half hour, but you will be giving place in your heart for the word of God, and He will be speaking to you.”
When you stop and ponder the scriptures in your “mind” and “heart” here are some questions you may want to ask yourself while you study:
! What principle or doctrine is the Lord teaching?
! What does the Lord want me to learn from this verse?
! Does the scripture teach something that will help me with a problem, concern, or challenge in my life?
! How might the teachings found in this scripture help me in my responsibilities at home, school, or in my current Church calling?
! What does the Lord want me to do or act upon as a result of the things I have learned?
Question 4—“What is the best and most effective way to study the scriptures?”
Answer: The “best way” to study the scriptures is to find the one that works best for you; however, always being open to new ideas from the Brethren and others. Elder David A. Bednar in a most interesting CES Fireside talk identified different ways to study the scriptures. These include: (1) “Reading a book of scriptures from beginning to end. . .” to study. (2) “Studying the scriptures by topic . . .”, and (3) “Searching the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes.” I recommend that each of you reads Elder Bednar’s talk.
Question 5—“What can I do to form the habit of daily scripture study?”
Answer: President Henry B. Eyring said: “The only way you can be sure that a busy schedule doesn’t crowd out scripture study is to establish a regular time to study the scriptures. I have found” he said “that the beginning of the day and the end of the day are mine. Those times I can usually control . . . When . . . I break out of the pattern, it’s hard on me. Once you get used to regular scripture study, you miss it if you don’t have it.”
President Boyd K. Packer suggests that the best time to study the scriptures is to follow the commandment “to arise from your bed early” (D&C 88:124) “. . . when your mind is clear . . .” The hard part about that, as some of can attest, is going to bed early.
Let me say a brief word about scripture memorization as part of your scripture study. We have in the Church a rich heritage from the early brethren who believed there was value in memorizing scriptures. Elder Orson Hyde memorized the entire Bible in both English and in Hebrew. It was said that you could read to him any verse of scripture and he would then, from memory, quote the verse before it and the verse that came after it as well as to give you the citation.
Charles W. Penrose, prior to age 20, had committed to memory most of the New Testament. Prior to his death at age 93, he had extended this scripture mastery to all of the Standard Works.
While these brethren had a capacity and a commitment beyond most of ours, there are some basic scriptures, which, if committed to memory, allow us to speak and teach with greater power and authority as we have the ability to recall these scriptures at will.
As a young missionary in Scotland, I committed myself to memorize all of the scriptures used in the 15 missionary discussions then in use. When I had mastered these scriptures, I turned to memorizing longer passages of scripture such as the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, Paul’s discourse on Charity, and Sections 4, 13, and 135 from the Doctrine and Covenants. I have never regretted that decision although it was hard at first to acquire the skill.
In summary, today we have discussed three keys to understanding the scriptures:
Key No. 1 admonishes youto “feast upon the words of Christ. . .” because “the words of Christ will tell you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32.3, emphasis added).
I urge you to “feast upon the words of Christ” and immerse yourselves in the scriptures daily. If you have not started your “love affair” with the scriptures, decide to start today!
Key No. 2 admonishes you to “ask,” “seek” and “knock” promisingthatthat “every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:8, emphasis added).
I testify that if you will “ask,” “seek” and “knock”there is spiritual knowledge and there are revelatory experiences that will come to you as you read, ponder and pray about the scriptures.
Key No. 3 admonishes you to “receive the Holy Ghost. . .” because the Holy Ghost “will show you all things what ye should do” (2 Nephi 32:5, emphasis added).
I testify that that as you read and study, your scriptures will become like a Liahona or a Urim and Thummim that will invite the Holy Ghost to attend you. They will open the door to personal revelation to give you direction and “show you all things what ye should do” as you seek His guidance in making the great decision of life.
Lastly, I testify that President Thomas S. Monson is the Lord’s prophet, seer and revelator in our day. His prophetic words when speaking as God’s Prophet become scripture to us and should be carefully followed. I thank him not only for his life-long “love affair” with the scriptures, but for his personal example in using the scriptures as a preacher and a teacher of righteousness.