I’m glad I didn’t lose my assignment as Gospel Doctrine teacher a few months ago. When I was called to serve in another position in the ward, I was afraid I would be released from teaching. But the bishop allowed me to carry both assignments.
At first I thought I was being generous. But now I realize I was being a bit selfish in wanting both assignments—for even though my motive is to help others, I can’t keep from growing myself. Teaching from the scriptures, being tutored along the way by the Spirit, nourishes and blesses my life.
One sister in my class turns pink and confesses to me before class, “I haven’t done the reading.” She really does want to do her personal scripture study and is struggling to make the time for it. I encourage her, telling her that wanting to read is the first step and that she can start reading this week. When she is sustained to serve in the ward meetinghouse library, she decides to use waiting time there to read the scripture assignment. She begins.
Another sister confides, “You’ve really got me reading at home.” I smile, knowing that her scriptural harvest at home will be greater than what she could ever reap in our short time together in class on Sundays.
A couple sits near the front of the class each week, with the scriptures open on their laps. He has recently become active in the Church again; she has recently been baptized and is a “graduate” of the Gospel Essentials class. Both have obviously prepared before class, and they make insightful comments—enriching all of us. They tell me afterwards that they get far more out of their private study than they can share. They feel themselves growing.
One day we study about priesthood blessings, and I encourage class members to reread their patriarchal blessings. One sister says she lost hers years ago and asks how to get a replacement. I assign her to find out, and the following week she reports back to the class. (For information on getting a duplicate copy, call Church headquarters for a recorded message: 801-240-3581.) She later tells me that she appreciates our class’s practical approach of applying the scriptures and the lessons to our daily living.
Although we appreciate the literary beauty and historic drama of the scriptures in our class, we try to see beyond these qualities to the essence of the word. We continually ask, “How does today’s scripture affect our lives?” Each week that question involves making the transition from understanding concepts on the printed page to actually putting the principles into practice.
What are the steps in that process? Let me illustrate with experiences we had during the recent Doctrine and Covenants and Church history year.
The first step I take in my preparation is to read the scriptures assigned for the week’s lesson, looking for themes. The week we were to study sections 125 through 128, I was a little discouraged at first. Sections 125 (a total of four verses) and 126 [D&C 125; D&C 126] (only three verses) did not seem to contain relevant concepts that we could apply to our own lives. At first glance, sections 127 and 128 [D&C 127; D&C 128] didn’t appear to have much modern application either: they give instructions for keeping records of baptisms for the dead in the Nauvoo Temple. This could be a dull or academic lesson, I thought.
The second step is to decide what topic or topics are most important for the class to discuss. That can be a little difficult to determine sometimes. As I reread sections 125 and 126, for example, I discovered that although they are short and are directed specifically to events in Church history, they do contain concepts that apply to today. Section 125 is an answer to a question; we, like Joseph Smith, must take our questions and problems to the Lord—for if we ask not, we receive not. (See James 4:2.) And section 126 illustrates how the Lord positioned Brigham Young so he could be tutored for future callings; He does the same for us.
Next I looked again at section 127 and learned that the Lord wants records to be in a particular order—and in section 128 (D&C 128:6) I found that we will be judged from records. During the class, in response to an assignment I had given earlier, the ward clerk told us of the requirements for accuracy in Church record keeping. He shared examples and experiences with us. Then as we looked back to 1842, the year sections 127 and 128 were given, we visualized a quill pen and one temple—and we compared them with today’s computers and forty-three temples. We can even purchase computer software that prints official forms with personalized data in our own homes. Suddenly, we could get a glimpse of the prophetic vision of hundreds of temples dotting the land.
By the end of the lesson, we saw three main ways to apply these scriptures in our lives. I challenged each class member to choose one and do it during the following week: (1) meet with the ward clerk and check your membership record for accuracy, (2) work on your personal or family history, or (3) attend the temple.
We came away from the lesson feeling that as we do our family history and temple work, we are participating in the great effort the Prophet Joseph Smith referred to:
“Shall we not go on in so great a cause? … On, on to the victory! Let your hearts rejoice, and be exceedingly glad.” (D&C 128:22.)
After class one Sunday, a friend shared an experience. She was struggling financially in a business she was pursuing and had prayed often for guidance. One night she set her worries aside to catch up on our class reading assignment. Within a few minutes, counsel once spoken to W. W. Phelps leaped off the pages of the Doctrine and Covenants and spoke to her personally. With grateful emotion, she whispered to me, “Powerful confirmation came.” We rejoiced together.
Just as studying the scriptures helps us apply them to our lives, sometimes our experiences help us understand the scriptures. One Sunday our class had a poignant experience that helped us relate to the events taking place in our lesson material. A sister in the ward stood in testimony meeting and, struggling with her emotions, told us a heart-wrenching story about her son. Years earlier in another state, he was falsely accused of a serious crime, was arrested, and, for a time, was jailed. Although the court eventually pronounced him innocent, some members of his ward misjudged him and turned against him. In time, he no longer wanted to be a member of the Church and asked that his name be removed from Church records.
When this sister had shared her son’s story with us, she happily told us that that very day—after many long years—he was to be baptized. As we listened, we all rejoiced with this family. But we also couldn’t help but agonize with their pain—and even weep—as the story unfolded.
After the meeting, still feeling the emotions of her story, we went to our Gospel Doctrine class. The lesson that day included Joseph Smith’s experiences of being falsely prosecuted not once, but forty-seven times! (See Orson Hyde, in Journal of Discourses, 2:213.) Suddenly we had a small but real feeling of what the Prophet and his family must have gone through.
During our lessons, we simply read the scriptures and talk about them together. Often as we discuss, additional scriptures flow into our minds that support or illustrate the points. I love the scriptures because I have felt their truth. Sometimes I supplement the lessons with information from the Ensign or other appropriate sources. But I always pray to have them supplemented with the Spirit.
Trying to weigh the impact of gospel study on our daily living is like trying to measure a sack of wheat with a ruler. Even though we can’t accurately measure such impact, we can sometimes feel it in ourselves and see it in others. As I feel and see signs of the impact of gospel study on my own life, it’s not hard to understand why I wanted to keep my assignment as a Sunday School teacher, why many others love their callings to teach in the various Church organizations, and why many members of the Church—like those in my class—are making the time in their personal lives to prepare for class discussion. We are learning more about the scriptures. We are receiving more rewarding spiritual experiences. We are learning how to put principles into practice. We are coming to know the Lord better as we study and ponder his word in depth.