When I was at BYU, one of my professors shared an analogy that forever changed how I thought about studying the scriptures. His first PowerPoint slide of the semester featured an image of a glorious feast. It was the last class before lunch, and my stomach growled in chorus with the students sitting around me.
“If you were given a seat at this table,” the professor said (and I’m paraphrasing loosely here–I don’t remember his exact words), “would you just nibble on a few things and call it good? Or would you pile your plate high and sample as much of the food as you could?”
The answer from that class of hungry students was unanimously in favor of the latter.
“When you approach your studies—whether spiritual or temporal—you have the same choice. You can either take a few nibbles and miss out on the deliciousness and nourishment that are offered to you, or you can dig in and eat until you’re filled.”
It is no coincidence that the idea of feasting is so often related to our study of the scriptures. Just as our body needs nourishment, so does our spirit. Christ referred to himself as the Bread of Life. In our efforts to draw closer to Him, do we nibble on the goodness He has to offer us? Or do we dig in, feasting until we are filled with His love and His spirit?
I am by no means an expert in the art of scripture study, but here are some tricks I’ve learned to help me approach this spiritual feast with gusto.
Come Hungry, Every Single Day
There are days when I don’t get very hungry at all. Usually it’s because I’m distracted by work or errands or other concerns, and when I eat, it’s mostly due to a sense of obligation. I know I should eat so that I’ll have energy, but I don’t really enjoy it. I have exactly 2.3 seconds to eat, so I grab a quick snack that is neither nutritious nor satisfying and then wonder why I’m so hungry later.
And then there are meals that I am so ready for. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Pretty much everything I ate in Greece. By the time the food is ready, I’ve been smelling it for hours and I’m staaaaarrrrrving. I fill up that plate with delicious goodness, and then I savor every bite. These meals cannot be rushed. I eat until there’s no way I can fit one more crumb in my stomach—and then they bring out dessert and somehow I manage to eat an entire slice of pie.
If we approach scripture study out of a sense of obligation, we’re not likely to find it spiritually satisfying. We know we should read our scriptures, but we don’t really get much out of it. We might be distracted by work, family responsibilities, current events, or other concerns, and our hearts just aren’t in it. And then we wonder why we feel so spiritually drained later, or why our testimony seems to be slumping a bit.
But if we look forward to our scripture study and make it something special, we’ll be ready to feast. I’ve talked before about making journal keeping part of your “me” time, and the same goes for scripture study. Take time to savor your scriptures. Don’t rush it. Sit with the Spirit and listen to the things He’s teaching you. Write things down. Just when you think your heart couldn’t possibly make room for one more morsel of understanding, the Lord will bring out the extra good stuff—and give you the strength to partake.
Now, I know I’m speaking from the perspective of someone who works from home and doesn’t have any children (yet). I get that there are days when it’s all you can do to open your scriptures and read a few verses. But the attitude we foster as we approach our scripture study will make a huge difference to how much nourishment they provide. Even if all we have time for is a single verse, approaching it as something treasured and valuable rather than as a checklist item will allow the Lord to magnify your efforts. The Spirit will help you think back on that verse throughout the day and give you opportunities to ponder it or share it.
And as President Russell M. Nelson taught, “I promise you that as you consistently give the Lord a generous portion of your time, He will multiply the remainder.” The best way to add a few more hours to your day just might be taking time to study your scriptures.
Say a Prayer
Many families enjoy the practice of praying before a meal. Some call this practice “blessing the food,” others call it “saying grace.” Whatever you call it, it generally serves the purpose of expressing gratitude for the food you’re about to eat, and many also include a request for nourishment and health.
Opening a spiritual feast with a prayer is an opportunity to thank God for the blessing the scriptures are in our lives. Just as we depend on Him for the food that sustains our physical bodies, we depend on Him for the word that sustains our spirits. Prayer is also an opportunity to ask for spiritual nourishment and health. Pray for understanding and enlightenment. Ask Him the burning questions of your heart. Plead for clarity and direction. I know that as we do so, the Lord will open our minds and hearts to receive the things He has prepared for us.
Something Brett and I started doing shortly after we got married was to pray before and after studying together. Inspired by Elder Richard G. Scott’s talk “To Acquire Spiritual Guidance,” we have tried to follow the pattern of reading, writing down our thoughts, praying to know if there is more, and repeating the process until we have received all the Lord wants us to receive at this time. It has made a tremendous difference in our studies, and we have enjoyed an increase in our understanding of the scriptures as we have done so.
Forks and Knives
- Footnotes – Often overlooked, these are a great resource for gaining a deeper understanding of a particular verse. I have often spent weeks following a trail of footnotes stemming from a single verse.
- Come Follow Me Daily – an Instagram account that combines historical context, beautiful art, and profound insights into the weekly readings for Come, Follow Me
- Seminary and Institute Manuals, including the old ones. You can access these on the Gospel Library app. (To see the older versions, make sure “Show obsolete content” is turned on in your account settings.)
- Scripture Citation Index – an iOS app (sorry, Android…) that links scriptures to General Conference talks and other writings by Church leaders that reference those talks.
To truly get a taste for this spiritual feast, we have to eat like we mean it. Merely skimming the verses is like licking a piece of fine Swiss chocolate and then deciding you’ve had enough.
Nephi taught his brothers to “liken all scriptures unto [themselves], that it might be for [their] profit and learning.” When I was in seminary, our teacher suggested we could do this by replacing names in the scriptures with our own names. There have been many times when this has made a scripture feel directly applicable to me.
Another thing I like to do is to look for verbs—action words. What did people do? What does the pattern of their behavior teach about gospel principles. For example, this morning, I read the story in Acts 8 of Philip teaching the Ethiopian eunuch. I wrote down a few thoughts, but when I prayed about whether there was more for me to glean (see?), I felt prompted to revisit this story. I wrote down all the things Philip did, and my list looked like this:
- Philip lived worthy of the companionship of heavenly messengers (v. 26)
- He obeyed the angel even though it required a long, uncomfortable journey (v. 26-27)
- He recognized the eunuch’s earnest efforts to learn truth (v. 28)
- He was bold and didn’t let the eunuch’s high status intimidate him (v. 27, 29-30)
- He started with what the eunuch already knew (v. 30)
- He asked questions to help guide the eunuch’s studies (v. 30)
- He answered the eunuch’s questions with his own testimony (v. 34-35)
- He didn’t hesitate to offer baptism (v. 36-38)
By looking more closely at Philip’s actions, we find a great example of effective missionary service. Studying like this has helped the Spirit teach me many great lessons about faith, hope, dealing with adversity, and drawing closer to Christ.
Share it With Your Friends
As you study the scriptures, the Lord will prepare you to share His teachings with others. I’ll be the first to admit that I struggle with missionary work (maybe that’s why the Lord needed me to learn about missionary work from Philip’s example). But I have seen that as I’ve taken opportunities to share spiritual insights with friends and family members, the Lord has blessed me with even greater understanding.
And not only is there room for all of us at the feast, but it gets even better as the number of partakers increases. After all, aren’t the best meals—the ones that make it into journal pages and Facebook posts—the ones that we share with those we love?
May we all learn to feast more fully on the words of Christ and invite our loved ones to join us at the table.
How have you learned to feast on the word of Christ?
I’d love to hear the tips and tricks that help you glean more from your scripture study. What are your favorite study resources? How do you fit scripture study into your daily schedule? Share in the comments below!
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