Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Receiving Answers to Prayer through Scripture Study

I was asked to speak in church this past Sunday. This is a similar version of what I presented (not exact because I wasn't clever enough to save the revised copy to my computer and I no longer have the original in my posession), so if it doesn't sound quite right, please forgive me.

I’m so excited to have this opportunity to speak today, and I’ll tell you why. Somewhere in December last year I decided that I was going to set some really ambitious goals for the year. I was serious about taking charge of my life and wanted to become more than I was then. A few of the goals I set were to walk 500 miles, grow my hair out to donate it (which is taking a LOT longer than I would like), and to read the standard works cover to cover. That was a goal I had set for myself a long time ago but I don’t think I ever intended to do it any time soon (in all honesty I think I imagined myself with gray hair before that one ever actually happened). Don’t get me wrong, I love the scriptures and I love to study them, but the idea of reading the Old and New Testament, Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants and the Pearl of Great Price all in one stretch seemed just a  bit out of reach and a little more time consuming than I felt I wanted. But January 1st came and with it came my determination! I started this goal. I had a counselor in one of my student wards that would always tell us that if we read just 7 pages a day we would complete the entire set of scripture by sometime in November. I’ll tell you now that I’ll likely still be reading to complete this goal in December, but I will finish it this year if it is the last thing I do (and it very well may be). This goal of mine has turned what was a love of the scriptures into a passion for them. I’ve learned so much during this journey and it’s truly only scratching the surface of the experiences that I know I can have with the scriptures.
To continue with the reason that I’m excited to speak today…about a month ago I started school again. I’ve returned to BYU-Idaho where I started my college experience, this time doing so online. One of the classes I’m taking is a religion class entitled Family Foundations. The course is broken up into six – two week units. During each unit, we are asked to focus on a project above and beyond our course study called a “Provident Living Project”. As I’ve outlined, I set a lot of goals already for the year and had a pretty stringent schedule to accomplish these things. Then I decided to add just a bit more excitement with school. THEN I found out about these projects. Before I even knew what I was going to be required to do I started feeling a little overwhelmed. That evening as I began my study, I started with a prayer as I always do, but asked specifically for help to organize myself in such a way that I could accomplish all of these tasks whatever they may be. Imagine my surprise when I opened the project to find that the first assignment was to create a plan to implement/improve scripture study in my life. This wasn’t necessarily adding anything to my existing list, but it would enhance the experiences I was already having. It was such a sense of relief and felt like a direct answer to my prayers.
Now, I’m going to shift gears slightly, but I’ll be coming back to explain this further.

Why do we have the scriptures?
In a talk entitled, “A Reservoir of Living Water”, Elder David A. Bednar said:
   “You and I must look to and come unto Christ, who is “the fountain of living waters”, by reading, studying, searching, and feasting upon the words of Christ as contained in the Holy Scriptures. By so doing, we can receive both spiritual direction and protection during our mortal journey.”
The scriptures are our road map, our game plan, and our warning system. If you are heading out on a cross country trip, you use a mapping device. If you’re going out for the big game, you reference the game plan. And if you are experiencing stormy weather, you consult some sort of warning system to know what you can expect and how to prepare yourself to weather those conditions and to come through it undamaged.
How we study?
Is there a right or wrong way? Absolutely not! Just get in there and read! Due to your own circumstances, there may be times where you study or use them differently. For instance, from the same talk, Elder Bednar stated that there are “three basic ways or methods of obtaining living water from the scriptural reservoir: (1) reading the scriptures from beginning to end, (2) studying the scriptures by topic, and (3) searching the scriptures for connections, patterns, and themes.” Based on my need to complete this goal, I’m focused on reading the scriptures from start to finish. There are times where I want to gain deeper understanding of a certain topic and I study that specifically. And as Elder Bednar mentioned, there are times where we should or have need to search the scriptures seeking for patterns and themes. It’s up to you!

Another way to study is to memorize scriptures. Elder Scott once said: “Scriptures are like packets of light that illuminate our minds and give place to guidance and inspiration from on high. They can become the key to open the channel to communion with our Father in Heaven and His Beloved Son, Jesus Christ.” 
“Great power can come from memorizing scriptures. To memorize a scripture is to forge a new friendship. It is like discovering a new individual who can help in time of need, give inspiration and comfort, and be a source of motivation for needed change.”
Why do we need to study the scriptures?
Elder Perry shared an experience in the April 1993 General Conference of the Saints in Peru who, due to strife within the country, were struggling. The area presidency realized a need to fortify them through this time. After much fasting and prayer, they determined that they needed to emphasize prayer and scripture study within each family. Of this experience, Elder Perry stated:
                Among the Peruvian Saints, who live in this nation racked with heartache and despair, there has emerged a stronger faith and devotion to our Father in Heaven because they heeded the counsel of His servants to hold daily family prayer.
A special maturing in the gospel has developed among the members of the Church in Peru because they added to their daily family prayers the practice of having daily family scripture study. When the revealed words of the prophets found their way into the hearts of the Saints, they brought about a mighty change in the way they lived and believed. Questions, personal problems, and important concerns were answered for them by the inspired counsel of the scriptures”.
It is interesting to me that two of the most basic teachings of the gospel, prayer and scripture study, can have such a profound effect. From his talk we note that not only do the scriptures provide a spiritual strength to us, but in studying the scriptures, we can receive answers to our prayers.
I’m sure we’ve all heard the saying, if you want to talk to God, pray; if you want God to talk to you, read the scriptures! I know that this is true. God does hear and answers prayers, and often uses the experiences we have in the scriptures to give us those answers.

Examples of how scripture study has helped me receive answers to my prayers
Elder Scott mentioned memorizing scriptures. There was a time that I was trying to break a habit I had. I knew I didn’t need to do this thing, but I was having a hard time breaking myself of it. I prayed sincerely for help to overcome this thing, but I still struggled. One night after weeks and likely months of struggling to break myself, I was reading in Moroni 9 and came across verse 28 which says:
Be wise in the days of your probation; strip yourselves of all uncleanness; ask not, that ye may consume it on your lusts, but ask with a firmness unshaken, that ye will yield to no temptation, but that ye will serve the true and living God.”

As I read that, I realized that I needed to change my prayer and desire just a bit. Instead of simply asking for help I needed to ask with a firmness unshaken and commit to always serve God. With that as my focus I knew I could go ahead and change my life for the better and break this habit. That night I committed this verse to memory. I would recite it throughout the day, especially if I started trying to allow myself to get off track. The answer to my prayer was found then through the scriptures and because of the time I took to study and memorize it, I continue to be blessed by it.
So, do you remember the assignment I mentioned from the beginning of my talk? Implementing or improving my scripture study? As I mentioned, I already had my goal to read the Standard Works this year, so I was trying to figure out a way to improve the quality of my time in the scriptures. At that point it was about trying to maximize my efforts as opposed to expanding them. I prayed for some guidance as to what would be the most beneficial thing for me given my circumstances. I considered everything I had going on, my concerns, and the things I had been focusing on in my prayers. I decided that as I read the scriptures, I would seek specifically for examples of having patience and trusting in the Lord. I was amazed as I read how frequently examples of this theme came up! They are everywhere!! 
At the beginning of the project I thought I was busy and was a little stressed. This week, the game changed a bit due to an extended work schedule, a lot of transitions and a variety of other factors, all of which equated to even less time to do my homework and do the thing I had committed to do outside of work, and that sent my stress level right through the roof. You can ask my parents. I would be the person having mini breakdowns in stores and restaurants. I could never have predicted that the themes I was seeking in my study a couple of weeks ago would help me in a VERY future time. At the time I started the project, things were going pretty smoothly. I was adjusting to my class schedule and though I felt nervous about things, I was managing. There was really no need to suppose that things would change from that. I believe that because I prayed to know what Heavenly Father wanted me to know, I was assisted in making my theme selection. It is also because of continued prayers for guidance, strength and comfort that the scriptures have been opened to me in a way at this time that is strengthening my testimony that Heavenly Father knows and loves us individually, and is quite literally sustaining me day to day.
One last experience that I’d like to share occurred on Friday night. Mom and I had talked a bit about everything and she was trying to help me realize that I need to find a way to free my schedule just a bit. As we were driving, I pondered everything I’ve been tasked to do right now, and the thing I realize is that I’ve brought most of it on myself. As I tried to think of things I could either rearrange or eliminate, a verse came to mind. Mosiah 4: 27 which says: “And see that all these things are done in wisdom and aorder; for it is not requisite that a man should run bfaster than he has strength.”
In times of need, when the prayers of our heart say more than we could with words, the scriptures that we have read can be brought to our remembrance and provide us  with the answers and direction we desperately need.
A Promise
President Gordon B. Hinckley made a promise regarding reading the Book of Mormon. He said: “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.”
In addition to the blessings promised by a prophet of God, I testify that our Heavenly Father uses the tools He’s given us to speak to us. As we pray and study in faith, we will be blessed to find the answers we seek. I can tell you that because I’ve tested and tried it, and know it to be true.
I know our Heavenly Father loves us! I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior and Redeemer. I’m grateful for the gospel in my life and the ways it helps me strive to be a little better each day.

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