Scripture Study Tips: Patterns

The scriptures are full of patterns. Patterns are helpful to find as they are usually simple ways we can impliment the doctrines of the gospel into our own lives.

Patterns present a plan or a model for us to follow (or – at times – not to follow) (see A Reservoir of Living Water By Elder Bednar). Elder Bednar also explains that a pattern is usually pretty broad and comprehensive. Just like a pattern we may use to sew a garment, a pattern in the scriptures will give us specific steps on how to deal with something in our lives.

A few examples of patterns found in the scriptures include:

  • The Pride Cycle
    • This, of course is NOT a good pattern to follow. However, it is a great one to recognize so we can work to avoid the sin of pride from creeping up into our own lives.
  • Church Governance
  • Preaching the Gospel
  • Obtaining Eternal Life
  • Receiving Revelation

There are many more examples of patterns in the scriptures, but I’d like to take a closer look at receiving revelation.

This pattern is found very clearly stated in Doctrine and Covenants 9:7-9. This revelation was given to Oliver Cowdery (through Joseph Smith) in response to his difficulty in translating the Book of Mormon.

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

Oliver mistakenly thinks that the Lord would have given him the ability to translate when he had done no research or real effort. He only asked the Lord for the ability. The Lord teaches him what is actually required to receive this kind of power of revelation. The Lord teaches Oliver how to receive revelation. Watch for the steps in the pattern.

“8 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must 1study it out in your mind; 2then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right aI will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.

9 But if it be not right byou shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.”

The Pattern for receiving revelation and direction from God:
1. Study the problem and possible solution out in your mind.
2. Ask Heavenly Father if it is right
In return:
a. Heavenly Father will cause your “bosom to burn” and you will feel that it is right.
b. You will have no feelings but, instead, a stupor of thought if it is wrong.

As we study this pattern we learn:

  • The way to receive revelation from the Lord.
  • We need to live worthy of the Spirit so that we can be open to the Lord’s revelations. Without the Spirit, there is no way to feel the nuanced impressions of revelation.
  • It is possible for us to receive communication from the Lord.
  • The Lord is interested in our lives.
  • Heavenly Father wants for us to learn and think for ourselves. Yet he wants to be involved in the process. He is teaching us how to be interdependent with Him – so that we can grow in the right way.
  • Heavenly Father loves us enough to listen to and teach us.

Understanding the pattern of revelation has been a help in my life. I have been able to implement it when I have needed help and direction. I have felt the gentle guidance of the Lord – sometimes as a confirmation that what I’m doing is good. Other times, I’ve felt the stupor of thought that accompanies his disapproval or guidance in a different direction.

The best thing about receiving the guiding direction from the Lord that comes from the proper channel of revelation is that when we make such decisions, we can be confident in our choice. Such confidence can help strengthen us as we continue along the paths of our lives.

So…the point of this is: Look for Patterns! They are interesting and informative. As you study them, they will make your scripture study applicable to your life.

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Scripture Study Tips: Connections

When studying the scriptures, we can look for connections.

Before I get into this topic for too long, I’d like to reference a CES talk given by Elder Bednar – A Reservoir of Living Water. He speaks about finding connections in this talk, and I will probably quote him here.

Connections are usually related and mentioned together. They are relatively easy to find in the scriptures. Usually, they are links between ideas, people, things, events, etc. Some examples include:

  • Mercy and Grace
  • Clean Hands and a Pure Heart
  • Broken Heart and Contrite Spirit
  • Immortality and Eternal Life
  • Liberty and Bondage
  • The Father and The Son
  • The Wheat and the Tares
  • The Sheep and the Goats

It is easy to notice the connections. When noticing the connections, however, it is also useful to ask why they are connected. We can learn more about the gospel from these connections.

Let’s look at the example of the Broken Heart and the Contrite Spirit.

“Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” – Ezekiel 18:31

This scripture teaches us that both our Hearts and our Spirits must become new in order for us to overcome transgression and death.

“And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost, even as the Lamanites, because of their faith in me at the time of their conversion, were baptized with fire and with the Holy Ghost, and they knew it not.” – 3 Nephi 9:20

Christ is speaking to the Nephites in this verse (during His appearance to them after His resurrection). He is teaching them that he has fulfilled the law of Moses, and blood sacrifice is no longer needed. Sacrifice, however, is not to be done away completely. Instead, the people are asked to sacrifice a broken heart and a contrite Spirit. When we do this, we will be baptized with fire and the Holy Ghost.

“And behold, I have given you the law and the commandments of my Father, that ye shall believe in me, and that ye shall repent of your sins, and come unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Behold, ye have the commandments before you, and the law is fulfilled.” – 3 Nephi 12:19

Repentance of sins means that our hearts are broken and our Spirits contrite. In order to keep the commandments of the Father, we should have faith in Him and repent.

“Neither did they receive any unto baptism save they came forth with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, and witnessed unto the church that they truly repented of all their sins.” – Moroni 6:2

Once again, we see the connection between having a broken heart and contrite spirit – and how this signifies our willingness to repent.

“For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” – Isaiah 57:15

When we do humbly repent – with a broken heart and a contrite Spirit, then the Lord’s Spirit can dwell with us.

So…A Broken Heart and a Contrite Spirit:

  • Will enable us (through Christ) to overcome death
  • Now that the Mosaic law is fulfilled, having a broken heart and contrite spirit is the sacrifice required of each of us.
  • Is a key part of our Repentance
  • Is requisite before baptism
  • (read between the lines): many of us have been baptized, and will not be baptized again. A broken heart and a contrite Spirit is a necessary part of our renewing our baptismal covenants at sacrament.
  • As we do cultivate a broken heart and a contrite Spirit, we create an environment within ourselves where the Holy Ghost can dwell. The Lord cannot fulfill His part of the baptismal covenant unless we provide a place for the Holy Ghost. That place is in each of our hearts and spirits.

Understanding connections can help us better understand fundamental principles of the gospel. As we can see from this example, when we study the connection between a broken heart and a contrite Spirit, we get a better understanding of repentance, faith in Christ, our Baptismal Covenant, and how the Lord will bless us when we give such a sacrifice.

We can find various connections all over the scriptures. Study them! Let them help enrich your understanding of the gospel.

Scripture Study Tips: Asking Questions

One of the most effective thing to do while studying the scirptures is to read them actively. I’ve thought a lot about how to do this. It seems like some people are able to read something, finish, and realize that they have no idea what they just read. I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve never had that problem.

I think that the thing is, while reading, you need to be observant. Sometimes, it is easier to observe when you are asking yourself questions. This is when it becomes active reading. This is how you learn to read between the lines.

Of course, this is kind of tricky – in that I don’t literally ask myself questions while I read. At least, not any more. However, when I first was learning how to read the scriptures, I did take more time to find answers to both obvious and less obvious questions. Over time, this thought process has become a habit. I hope it helps.

Three Types of Questions
In general, there are three types of questions:

  • Search These will help you get the facts of the scriptures that you are reading. Sometimes they seem kind of “dumb”, but they are actually very useful.
  • Analyze These questions will help you synthesize the facts of the scriptures. You will begin to make meaning.
  • Apply These questions will help you to apply the scriptures to your own life.
  • In order to learn how to apply these to scripture reading, I’ll include an example of how it might work.

    “I AM the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman.

    2 Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.

    3 Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.

    4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.

    5 I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.

    6 If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.

    7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.

    8 Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples.” – John 15:1-8

    1. Who is the vine? (see vs. 1) – Search
    2. Jesus Christ is the True Vine.

    3. What happens to the branch that doesn’t bear fruit? (see vs. 2) Search
    4. The branch that doesn’t bear fruit is taken away.

    5. What happens to the branch that does bear fruit and why? (vs. 2) – search
    6. It is purged – so that it can bear more fruit.

    7. Why does the Lord want to bring forth good fruit? (based on vs. 1-2) Analyze
    8. I suppose that he wants to bring forth good fruit because that’s the whole point of the vine. It is frustrating to have a plant/vine that doesn’t fulfill it’s purpose.

    9. Where does the Lord instruct us to Abide? (vs 4) – search
    10. He wants us to abide in Him, the true vine.

    11. Why do you think it is important for the branch to abide in the true vine? (vs 4) – analyze
    12. If we don’t abide in Him, then we won’t bring forth good fruit. Also, if the branch is separated, it will probably die.

    13. Christ again mentions that He is the vine. What does he tell us that we are? (vs 5) – search
    14. We are the branches.

    15. Obviously, this is a symbol. Christ is not literally a vine. We are not literally branches. Why do you think that He is making this relationship? What are we supposed to be learning from the illustration of a vine and branches? – analyze
    16. I suppose that this symbol – a vine and its branches – helps us to realize how we are totally dependent on Christ for life. Without him, we die. It is also teaching us that we need to be fruitful, or productive. Otherwise, we are cut off.

    17. What can we do without Christ? – apply
    18. Nothing. Without Him, there is no life. He created me. He has atoned for my sins. I need Him.

    19. Through verses 5-7 Christ invites us to abide in Him. He also tells us the consequence of each choice. What is the consequence of NOT abiding in Christ? (vs. 5-6). What is the consequence of abiding in Christ? (vs 7) – search
    20. If we don’t abide in Christ, then we are withered, removed from the vine, and gathered up to be put in the Fire. However, if we abide in Christ, then we will ask what we will, and it will be done. (Also, we won’t be burned!) 🙂

    21. Why do you think that Christ is doing so much to illustrate the consequences of our decision to abide in Him? – analyze
    22. I think that He is trying to teach us these consequences in a way we understand because they are truly the consequences that we will receive if we don’t turn to Him. If we refuse Christ, then we will succumb to Satan – and Spiritual Death. It is Christ who offers us life. He wants us to Live. He is willing to support us. But we must be willing to abide in Him. It cannot happen any other way. The branches of the vine cannot live without the true vine. It is a simple fact.

    23. What does it mean to actually Abide in Christ? – analyze
    24. I’d say that it means we take on His name through baptism, keep the commandments, pray often, and seek to come closer to Him through the scriptures.

    25. What can I specifically do (better) in my life to Abide in Christ? – apply
    26. There are always ways that I can improve. I think that personally, I can make sure my prayers are better. I can also be better at serving others.

    27. When we abide in Christ, and remember that Christ is the true vine, we then begin to bear good fruit. In verse 8, it tells how Heavenly Father feels about good fruit. What does it say? (vs 8) – search
    28. The good fruit glorifies Heavenly Father.

    29. Those who choose to abide in Christ, and bear good fruit are considered His disciples. What does it mean to you to be a good disciple of Christ?
    30. To me, it means that I try to live like Christ. I try to help and support others. I try to keep all of the commandments. I try to keep the Love of Christ in my heart – and let it motivate me to do good.

    31. How does it make you feel to know that Heavenly Father is glorified when you bear good fruit? – apply
    32. I’m so happy to know that I glorify the Lord when I bear good fruit. I’m happy because I know that my Heavenly Father Loves me. I often wonder how I can truly show gratitude to His mercy. I’ve been a beneficiary of His love for my whole life – often when I haven’t deserved it. Yet he has not held back his Love for me. So, I’m happy to know that there is a way I can please Heavenly Father. This truly motivates me to be a better person.

    Questions! I hope that this example has helped. Try asking yourself more questions while you study. These questions are also especially helpful when teaching a class.

    Thanks for taking the time to read! Do you have any additional insights? Please share if you do.

    If you would like more scripture study tips, then you can check out my free eBook here.

Scripture Study Tips: Parables, Allegories, and Metaphors/Similes

One of the challenges faced by prophets and spiritual leaders is explaining the abstract ideas of spirituality (such as faith) in a way that we can understand concretely. A solution to this problem is to use parables, allegories, and Metaphors / Similes.

All of these literary elements are very closely related, in some ways they even overlap, but they aren’t the same, so I will discuss each element in this post.

A parable is a simple story illustrating a moral or spiritual lesson. Here is an example:

And he spake many things unto them in parables, saying, Behold, a sower went forth to sow;

And when he sowed, some seeds fell by the way side, and the fowls came and devoured them up:

Some fell upon stony places, where they had not much earth: and forthwith they sprung up, because they had no deepness of earth:

And when the sun was up, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.

And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them:

But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold.

Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.” – Matthew 13:3 – 9

In this parable, Jesus tells the story of a sower who sowed seeds in various places. Some of the seeds never had a chance to sprout; others sprouted but died quickly; some began to grow but were killed in the heat of day; there were seeds that were choked off by weeds and thorns; finally there were seeds that came into maturity – bringing forth good fruit.

It seems like a simple story. After the story, Christ pleads, Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. This is not meant to be a story about gardening, although I’m sure you can learn a bit about gardening from it, but Christ wants us to open our spiritual ears and hear the true meaning of His story.

Later, the Savior explains the meaning of the parable.

Hear ye therefore the parable of the sower.

When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side.

But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it;

Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.

He also that received seed among the thorns is he that heareth the word; and the care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word, and he becometh unfruitful.

But he that received seed into the good ground is he that heareth the word, and understandeth it; which also beareth fruit, and bringeth forth, some an hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” –
Matthew 13:18 – 23

The parable of the sower really has nothing to do with seeds or plants – it is about all of us – hearing the gospel and choosing to either neglect it, receive it for a while but then cast it aside at the first sight of difficulty, or nourish the gospel until we have a testimony.

This abstract idea is very succinctly taught by the parable. In fact, I find it hard to describe without alluding to the parable in one way or another.

The apostles asked the Savior why he chose to teach in parables. Christ responds.

“Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” – Matthew 13:11 – 13

We can choose to understand the parables by allowing our spiritual eyes and ears to see and hear what the Lord has to say.

An allegory is very closely related to a parable. Like a parable, it uses concrete images to explain an abstract concept. An allegory isn’t a side-by-side comparison. Instead, it weaves back and forth between the concrete story and the abstract ideas represented by the story.

I hope this definition helps. A good example of allegory is The Allegory of the tame and wild olive trees found in the Book of Mormon in Jacob 5.

You can understand the meaning of an allegory in the same way you understand a parable or any of the scriptures – open your ears and eyes – in other words, Get the Spirit.

Metaphors and Similes
Metaphors and similes are both ways we compare two things. In a metaphor, we say that something is actually something else.

“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: …” –Matthew 10:16

The disciples are not actually sheep; and the world to which they are sent are not actually wolves. It is understood that this is simply a comparison – Apostles of Christ = sheep; world = wolves. When the apostles see this image, they begin to better understand their assignment – and perhaps even the danger that is involved.

A simile is when something is being likened to another thing, and the words “like” or “as” are usually used. It is a more obvious comparison.

“…be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.” – Matthew 10:16

The comparison here is more obvious – the apostles need to be both wise and harmless. It is also very obvious that the comparison is not literal.

Jesus Christ gave this advice to the apostles as he gave them the assignment to go and preach the gospel. He wanted them to understand, concretely, the task that was before them.

Additionally, there is a huge difference between him saying Be wise and harmless versus Be as wise as a serpent and as harmless as a dove. The simile illustrates how they need to act. It emphasizes these qualities.

When we study the scriptures, and we begin to notice the parables, allegories, metaphors, and similes, we can get a richer experience and understanding of the meaning that is being expressed. We don’t need to shy away from these literary elements. Instead, we can enjoy them!

If you would like additional scripture study tips, check out my free eBook: Getting More from the Scriptures: Techniques and Projects for Effective Scripture Study.

Scripture Study Tips: Symbols

The scriptures are totally loaded with symbols. Looking for symbols and understanding them are a helpful way to get more meaning, and hopefully application, from the scriptures. Plus, symbols are fun!!!

Here is one of my favorite:

“And they thirsted not; he led them through the deserts; he caused the waters to flow out of the rock for them; he clave the rock also and the waters gushed out.” – 1 Nephi 20:21

First of all – some background. This scripture is found in First Nephi, but Nephi is actually quoting Isaiah. (See Isaiah 48:21).

This scripture references Moses and the children of Israel while they were in the wilderness. The children of Israel were thirsty. They begged Moses for water. Moses, smote the rock, and it brought forth water that they could drink. Of course, Moses didn’t do this in and of himself. He did it through the power of the priesthood – and because of the suggestion of the Lord – Jehovah.

So, Jehovah saved Israel. (He did that so much!)

This scripture has so many awesome symbols.

Symbol Meaning
Desert Mortal life – especially being cut off from God
Israel Children of God – all of us
The Rock Jesus Christ
Waters Jesus Christ
The cleaving of the rock Christ’s atonement
The gushing of the waters Christ’s ability to heal us

I think it is interesting that this scripture reference has two types of Christ in it. However, because of the use of these two references, we can understand more about the role of the Christ’s sacrifice and crucifixion and how it brought about the atonement. It isn’t until the rock is smitten that the waters gush. Similarly, it wasn’t until Christ was smitten of men (and subsequently resurrected) that He was able to save men.

I love finding examples of symbols because they help me to understand the scriptures better. They help me to understand everything of the gospel better. In this example, I am better able to understand that Christ needed to suffer in order to bring us the peace and redemption we desired. As sad as it is to know that He suffered, I’m grateful that He did so willingly, and that we are all beneficiaries of His sacrifice.

I think that you can also look at this symbol in our own lives, too – as we seek to become Christ, we will have times when we feel smitten (through trials or adversities), and it is when we navigate these times, with the Help of our Savior, we begin to see how the Living Water can be found within us, too.

What are your favorite symbols in the scriptures???

Scripture Study Tips: Compare and Contrast

Recognizing comparisons and contrasts in the scriptures can be especially interesting and informative. There are many examples of these elements in the scriptures.

One example – is Nephi and Laman (and Lemuel). A quick refresher: Lehi is the father of Laman, Lemuel, Sam and Nephi. They have left Jerusalem, headed for a promised land. One morning, Lehi tells his family of a dream he had – the vision of the Tree of Life. This dream is totally symbolic. Upon hearing the dream, Nephi’s reaction is as follows:

And it came to pass after I, Nephi, having heard all the words of my father, concerning the things which he saw in a vision, … I, Nephi, was desirous also that I might see, and hear, and know of these things, by the power of the Holy Ghost, …” – 1 Nephi 10:17.

Now let’s see the reaction of Nephi’s brothers, Laman and Lemuel:

And it came to pass that I beheld my brethren, and they were disputing one with another concerning the things which my father had spoken unto them.

For he truly spake many great things unto them, which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord; and they being hard in their hearts, therefore they did not look unto the Lord as they ought.” – 1 Nephi 15:2-3.

By comparing Laman and Lemuel with Nephi, we learn a great deal about obtaining revelation. If we want to understand the mysteries, of God, then we need to display faith and humility by going to the Lord in prayer. Otherwise, we will be like Laman and Lemuel – angry and confused by the saving principles of the gospel.

There are sooooo many other great examples of comparison and contrast in the scriptures. Personally, I find them really interesting. They are also useful in helping us apply the scriptures to our lives.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any practical way of marking comparison/contrast in my scriptures. Usually, I just write a quick note in the margin of my scriptures. If you have any advice, please feel free to comment.

Scripture Study Tips: Lists

One fun thing to notice while studying the scriptures is lists. Here is an example:

“And it came to pass that he said unto them: Behold, here are the waters of Mormon (for thus were they called) and now, as ye are 1 desirous to come into the fold of God, and 2 to be called his people, and are 3 willing to bear one another’s burdens, that they may be light;

Yea, and are 4 willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and 5 comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and 6 to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death, that ye may be A redeemed of God, and B be numbered with those of the first resurrection, that ye may C have eternal life—

Now I say unto you, if this be the desire of your hearts, what have you against 7 being baptized in the name of the Lord, as a witness before him that ye have entered into a covenant with him, that ye will 8 serve him and 9 keep his commandments, that D he may pour out his Spirit more abundantly upon you? – Mosiah 18:8 – 10.

In this scripture block, we find 2 handy lists concerning the baptismal covenant:

What we Promise to the Lord
1 We desire to come into the fold of God.
2 We desire to be called His people.
3 We will bear one another’s burdens.
4 We will mourn with those that mourn.
5 We will comfort those that stand in need of comfort.
6 We will stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things and in all places.
7 We will be baptized in the name of the Lord – as a witness that we’ve entered into this covenant with Him.
8 We will serve God.
9 We will Keep His commandments.

Look at how much we’re learning by identifying this list!

What the Lord Promises to Us
A We will be redeemed.
B We will be included in the first resurrection.
C We may have eternal life.
D We will have His Spirit poured out abundantly upon us.

I like to write the numbers directly into my scriptures – as I have done in the blog. Then, in the margin, I’ll write a note:

“Our Baptismal Covenant –
1-9- What we promise the Lord.
A-D – What the Lord Promises Us.”

The promises listed in this scripture are so important. Recall the context in which it was given: Alma (the Elder) was preaching the gospel and exhorting those who believed to be baptized. Knowing and identifying this specific list in the scriptures helps us to remember the covenant we’ve made with our Father in Heaven. It helps us to better keep our covenant. I was baptized when I was eight. I do not remember all of the details, but thanks to scriptures like this one in Mosiah, I am able to always remember the covenant I made with my father. I know what He expects of me. And I know how He will bless me if I keep my covenant.

There are many lists in the scriptures. I hope you have fun discovering them.

Oh…Do you have any lists that are you favorite? Please share!