Your slightly skeptical friend is discussing the translation of the Book of Mormon with you, and he’s having a hard time accepting the fact that Joseph Smith had divine help. He’s read the pamphlet you gave him that mentions the Urim and Thummim, and you’ve done your best to explain its role in the translation process. You’ve told him that it was actually used through the ages by many prophets. “Aaron and Moses had the Urim and Thummim,” you say, “and then Lehi and his family brought it to the Americas.”
“If Aaron and Moses had it,” your friend replies, “then why don’t they talk about it in the Old Testament?”
Here’s your chance.
“They do,” you say. “Turn to Exodus 28:30 [Ex. 28:30]: ‘And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron’s heart, when he goeth in before the Lord: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his head before the Lord continually.’
“Besides that,” you continue, “it’s also mentioned in Leviticus 8:8 [Lev. 8:8], Deuteronomy 33:8 [Deut. 33:8], Ezra 2:63, and Nehemiah 7:65 [Neh. 7:65].” Your friend, needless to say, is dazzled, and if nothing else, he can tell that you know your scriptures.
Whoa now, wait a minute! That all sounds fine on paper, you say. But that’s not the way it happens in real life. Your memory bank isn’t exactly maintained and serviced by IBM. When you try to remember scriptures, they all come out in a jumble. Welcome to the club! Not many of us are able to rattle scriptures off right and left as in the imaginary conversation above. Those who can, feel free to take a bow—you’re a rare species, equipped with a powerful (when used correctly) missionary tool.
But scripture scholars don’t have to be rare. How many of you would like to know your scriptures better, even know many of them from memory? “Now you’re talking,” you say. Okay. I’ll show you how.
In a nutshell, you have to be in the habit of daily scripture reading. Seminary is a huge help, but scripture reading on your own is the key. If you’re already reading the scriptures on a regular, prayerful schedule, you may be well on your way to becoming a scripture scholar. If you aren’t, try these seven steps toward forming the habit. You may want to jot them down in a briefer form as a reminder.
1. Have the desire. Cultivate it if necessary. The standard works are full of interesting, action-packed stories, better by far than any novel. To help yourself gain enthusiasm, you may also want to list the unlimited benefits of scripture reading. Look at your list, and you’ll wonder why you haven’t started before. But the best reason is that both the Lord and our prophet have commanded us to do it.
2. Acquire your own scriptures as soon as possible. This is an essential. Make sure you have copies of all four standard works. If you have your own, you’re more likely to keep them with you all the time. Inexpensive, paperback editions are available.
3. Decide when you want to read. It could be at night, at noon, or in the morning. I’ve found it easiest to get started at night, just before bed. If you’re reading another book already, try reading it in the morning and your scriptures at night (or vice versa), or if you want to read two standard works, you could follow the same schedule. Whatever you decide, set a date on the calendar to begin your scripture reading.
4. Keep your scriptures in a convenient place. Perhaps they’ll be most handy on a desk or table by your bed, or maybe you’ll want to carry them with your schoolbooks. Just make sure you can get to them easily every day. When you take them to church, make sure to return them to their place when you get home. I keep mine by my bedside lamp. Then I can read at night and hop into bed, and when the alarm goes off in the morning, my close-to-automatic reaction is to reach up, turn on the light, then grab my Bible and start reading.
5. Use a large bookmark. You won’t waste time wondering where you left off. If you don’t mind writing in your books, you could make an “X” at the end of each completed chapter. (I always complete a chapter; I find it’s easier than trying to remember which verse I’m on.)
6. Create a system for marking important passages. It will help you get the most out of what you read and will increase your power to recall ideas and concepts. The seminary system, in which you mark the scripture, then write the key word(s) at the top of the page, is a good one. One of your parents or friends may have a system he’s willing to share. There are also some scripture marking systems sold commercially. (See But It Was in Amos Last Time I looked! by Richard G. Wilkins, New Era, Nov. 1975, p. 45, for additional scripture-marking ideas.)
Every time you run across a scripture that crystallizes an idea or explains a doctrine, mark it and put a key word nearby. Be neat. You don’t have to memorize the whole scripture each time; the key word and reference are much easier. Link the main concept together with some kind of a memory clue, such as a funny mental picture, that you can’t help but remember. For example, Leviticus 8:8 [Lev. 8:8], the Urim and Thummim scripture, could be remembered by imagining eight pairs of size eight Levi denim trousers translating the Book of Mormon. Or think of 2,000 football players, all named Al, all wearing the number 53, and you’ve got an easy way to recall that the story of the 2,000 stripling warriors begins in Alma, chapter 53. [Alma 53] (For additional methods of remembering scriptures, see Squeezing Milk from an Orange, by Kenneth L. Higbee, New Era, May 1977, p. 10.) Once you imagine something really silly, you ought to remember it for a long time.
7. Take your time. Progress at your own pace. Start out easily, a chapter a day, and then increase if you want to. Many chapters are short; some are long. Stick with it. Some people prefer reading for a certain number of minutes daily. President Kimball suggests 15 minutes a day. Maybe an egg timer hourglass would be a good investment, or perhaps you could just set an alarm clock. Above all, remember you’re studying and pondering while reading, not racing to see how fast you can get done. Feel free to read all you want.
Those are the steps. But that’s not all. There is another tip that may help you. Elder Rex D. Pinegar of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at our stake conference recently. He said that when he reads the scriptures, he personalizes them by inserting his own name. It’s a good idea. Try reading the following passage aloud, putting your name in the blanks:
“Peace I leave with you, _________, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, _________, neither let it be afraid.” (John 14:27.)
Doesn’t that make you feel good? It’s a great message when you’re upset or depressed and always testifies of the Lord’s love for us. But, for a different effect, try this message:
“Behold _________, could ye suppose that ye could sit … and because of the exceeding goodness of God ye could do nothing and he would deliver you? Behold, if ye have supposed this ye have supposed in vain.” (Alma 60:11.)
That’s very humbling, isn’t it? It’s a forceful way of reminding yourself you have to work for your salvation.
Also, you will find as you read regularly that scriptures have a way of arranging themselves to suit your needs. For example: I was upset one evening, feeling sorry for myself because of some minor tribulations, one of which was the fact that I had to wear glasses. As I went to bed that night, I turned to read my usual chapter in the New Testament. I was amazed. It told of the trials of Jesus, how he was whipped and mocked mercilessly. Suddenly my troubles seemed puny by comparison. Another time, quite by coincidence, my assigned chapter turned out to be in Luke, describing the story of Christ’s birth. That’s not so unusual, except that the night was December 24, Christmas Eve.
Our standard works, both old scripture and new, are no less than divine. The daily reading of them will drive the fact that they are the true word of God deeper and more firmly into your heart. I am thankful that I have formed the habit of reading them, and you will be, too. The best way to learn to read the scriptures is to start reading. In no time at all, you’ll have formed a good habit. Never break it.