Is this scene familiar? During a lesson you open the scriptures and assign each person to take a turn reading a verse out loud. After everyone has read, no one responds to your questions. “Maybe reading the scriptures does not work in my lessons,” you wonder. “Perhaps an entertaining fictional story or a movie clip would better gain their attention.”
Reading from the scriptures can be one of the most uplifting and spiritually powerful parts of a lesson. Unfortunately, too often we pass the scriptures by in favor of materials we think will be more interesting to our children or students. Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has counseled, “While examples and anecdotes will help to understand principle, you will find that power comes from scriptural doctrine.”1
The Prophet Mormon taught that the word of God is “quick and powerful, which shall divide asunder all the cunning and the snares and the wiles of the devil” (Hel. 3:29). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could arm our children and students with this kind of power, thus enabling them to withstand the deceptions and temptations they face daily? Here are some suggestions to help you and those you teach find such power.
Avoid paraphrasing instead of reading. During one class discussion, I was in a hurry to get through my lesson and began to tell in my own words what I felt a certain verse said. When I saw that the students were not grasping its meaning, we all found the verse and a student read it. I was surprised at how much more powerful and clear the verse was when read together rather than paraphrased. I saw the light of new gospel insights come into the students’ eyes and was grateful we had taken the time to read the verse directly from the scriptures.
Elder Scott also taught, “When scriptures are used as the Lord has caused them to be recorded, they have intrinsic power that is not communicated when paraphrased.”2 Paraphrasing can be helpful when our children or students are struggling to understand what they are reading. But paraphrasing should not replace reading the actual words of the Lord or His prophets.
Ensure that students understand the passage. I often ask my students to look for anything they do not understand while they read. I encourage them to use a dictionary, Church-approved materials, and study helps in the scriptures, such as the chapter headings, footnotes, Bible Dictionary, or Topical Guide. Inevitably students tell me that researching the meaning of a word or phrase from these resources opens up insights to the truths in the chapter.
Help students apply the scriptures to their own lives. You can do this in two ways: (1) by explaining why the passage is important before reading it or (2) by asking questions that help students discover how the passage relates to problems or concerns in their daily lives.
Several years ago I had a student who related the scriptures to a problem encountered in organizing the annual Christmas party for her ward. Realizing that her building did not have enough tables and chairs for the expected crowd, she asked for permission to borrow tables and chairs from another meetinghouse but was told this was not allowed. Convinced that the Lord could show her how to solve her problem, she searched the scriptures for several days. When she contemplated Mark 2:27—“The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”—a phrase came to her mind: “The tables were made for man and not man for the tables.” She shared her experience and this thought with her leaders and was given permission to borrow the tables and chairs. Her leaders expressed the following: “We have learned that people are more important than things and that the people coming to the party are far more important to the Lord than the tables.” The Christmas celebration was a big success, with many less-active members and investigators attending. She had applied the scriptures to her own situation, and she and her leaders experienced their power to answer her concern. This is the power of scripture when, in Nephi’s words, we “liken all scriptures unto us, that it might be for our profit and learning” (1 Ne. 19:23).
When our students and children believe they can do this, they will look forward to reading the scriptures with us.
The most common way to read the scriptures together is to have each person take a turn reading a verse until the passage is finished. But what are some other ways? Using a variety of methods will help everyone pay more attention, learn, and have spiritual experiences. Consider these ideas:
Read aloud to your students or family members. Many people struggle with reading aloud to others. Often you will be more familiar with the verses and how to pronounce the difficult words. Set a good example by reading aloud to your children or class. Pause at the end of sentences, emphasize key words, and speak each word clearly. Read slowly if necessary. While reading aloud, encourage your children or students to mark ideas and phrases that interest them or to look for specific facts and concepts. After reading, invite them to share what they marked. Ask how many people marked a certain phrase or which words were difficult to understand. Use what interested your students to start a discussion.
Read silently. If a passage is not too difficult, ask your children or students to read it by themselves. Tell them before they read what you want to discuss when they’ve finished. For example, you could ask them to identify words or phrases that are particularly meaningful or powerful to them.
When teaching, I sometimes ask students to write down a concern or worry they are currently facing. I then invite them to read a specific chapter from the scriptures. After 10 minutes, I ask how many received some direction or inspiration concerning their personal concern. Many times nearly all students raise their hands. Encouraging children or students to read by themselves as part of a lesson can be a golden opportunity for them to receive and feel promptings from the Holy Ghost.
Read aloud in unison. Reading together this way can help slower readers learn to read better and can create a sense of unity in the class. You may even want to have everyone stand while reading. This method is a common practice for full-time missionaries.
Try a readers’ theater.3 If a scripture passage describes two or more people talking, you could have students or children read aloud the words of the narrator and the people in the story. For example, when teaching Acts 26 you could have family members read the parts of the narrator (Luke), Agrippa, Paul, and Festus.
Using the scriptures with young children offers special challenges to hold their attention. Materials appropriate for younger children include pictures, storybooks, puppets, objects described in the scriptures, music, games, and videos. However, I believe that reading directly from the scriptures can have a dramatic spiritual effect even on young children. When our twins were young, they wanted to read from the Book of Mormon like their older brothers. As they took their turns reading, we had to go much slower than usual and help them pronounce most of the words. As a result they gained a love for the scriptures at an early age. Today they read with amazing perception and constantly make thought-provoking comments during our family scripture reading.
Whether we are speaking to a congregation, teaching a class, having a family discussion, or studying privately, reading the word of God directly from the scriptures helps us feel the Spirit, learn of our Heavenly Father and His plan, understand our need for a Savior, and find answers to our personal concerns. As our students and children engage in the daily battle against the deceptions and temptations of the adversary, the words of the Lord and His prophets will fill them with spiritual strength.
The promise of Paul to Timothy is the Lord’s promise to each of us as we read His words together: “From a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).