Nourished by the Good Word of God
In Moroni 6:4, the prophet Moroni was speaking of the people of Christ, “…they were numbered among the people of the church of Christ; and their names were taken, that they might be remembered and nourished by the good word of God….”
What does it mean to be nourished by the good word of God?
When I was a young man, I watched my father study the scriptures. I could tell by the way he studied that something more than reading was going on. It was almost as if a conversation was going on in his head while he pondered and made notes. As he read, he had a dialog—asking questions and weighing potential answers. He listened giving the Spirit a chance to whisper, he built his thoughts line upon line, and he used clarifying thoughts to build the reasoning or patterns that he noted in his scriptures. He had a great habit of writing these impressions down as part of his scripture study.
Often Dad’s understanding of the scriptures, built through a lifetime of study, helped him make connections between what he read and a lesson he learned months or even years before. This ordering of experience and knowledge based on years of study, was a vast source of truth from which he could recall discernments that taught him and re-taught him how the Lord administers his gospel in the lives of his children.
An instructor of ancient scripture at BYU, said it best:
“We can prepare ourselves to hear the word of the Lord by realizing that in opening up the scriptures, we are about to have a conversation with the Lord. Thus, we approach such an encounter in a spiritual, prayerful, thoughtful, and solemn way. We read trying to feel, to listen, to hear, and even to make notes. Our heart must be prepared to be written on; we must want to hear what the Lord wants to say to us, what the Lord’s counsel is to us. So, we approach the scripture with as much humility as we can, with willingness to repent and to grow.
Coming to Christ is the main objective of all scripture…if we have prepared, he speaks to us through feelings and impressions and happiness and even words, and thus we come to Christ as we study scripture and hear his voice.
This kind of immersion in reading, this knowledge of the Book of Mormon, this learning to discern, to hear or feel, and then to obey the voice of the Lord to us personally may do more to prepare the Saints for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ than nearly any other activity we could engage in.”[i]
The most unique part of Dad’s study was that his learning, through the Spirit, transferred from the notes he wrote in his scriptures to actions he carried out in his life. Not only did he read and hear the message, but he also obeyed the message in the best way he knew how. This is a far less talked about yet critical part of effective scripture study. For Dad, this quick-to-observe obedience sealed the scriptural teachings to him and that obedience made those scriptures his own.
Most of all, Dad’s obedience opened the door to ongoing personal revelation and allowed the Lord to speak more clearly to him the next time.
Richard G. Scott said, “The more closely you follow divine guidance, the greater will be your happiness here and for eternity—moreover, the more abundant your progress and capacity to serve.”[ii]
In D&C 71:5-6 the Lord says, “Now, behold this is wisdom; whoso readeth, let him understand and receive also; for unto him that receiveth it shall be given more abundantly, even power.” I believe that the word “receive” in these verses means to “take into your heart and do.” If we read and receive (take into our heart and do) then we are given more power to guide our life. The more we do this, the more the Lord gives to us.
Alma 12:10 speaks to this same principle: “And therefore, he that will harden his heart, the same receiveth the lesser portion of the word; and he that will not harden his heart, to him is given the greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full.”
My Dad, through his soft and humble heart, came to know many things of God in full. “In full” may mean that you have pondered, listened, learned and lived. Then, you know.
I also think Dad’s obedience sealed him to Christ a little more each day and seemed to fuel his desire to learn more. His obedience was a binding power to connect the scriptures to his mindset and behavior. As the Savior taught, “Whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven. (Matt. 16:19). Dad literally bound himself to the principles of the gospel.
D&C 132:46 says, “And verily, verily, I say unto you, that whatsoever you seal on earth shall be sealed in heaven; and whatsoever you bind on earth, in my name and by my word, saith the Lord, it shall be eternally bound in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you remit on earth shall be remitted eternally in the heavens; and whosesoever sins you retain on earth shall be retained in heaven.”
If sins on earth are retained in heaven, then conversely isn’t the word of God written on our hearts through obedience retained in heaven? Can we not “bind” the word of God to us and retain it in the eternities?
More Than Reading—The Liahona’s Second Spindle
Many of us approach scripture study as a reading session. We read and we’re done. By doing so, we may gain some knowledge; however, studying scriptures like my Dad is different.
A powerful principle of scripture study is found in Alma 37. Alma teaches his son Helaman about the Liahona. In part, he teaches the following:
- By small means great things are brought to pass (vs. 6,7)
- Liahona was prepared by the Lord (vs. 38)
- The “on switch” for the Liahona was “faith to believe that God could cause the spindles to point the way they should go” (vs. 40)
- The “off switch” for the Liahona was “they were slothful (slow) and forgot to exercise their faith and diligence” (vs. 41)
- The Liahona of our day is the word of Christ (vs. 44)
So, using Alma’s analogy, what is the “on switch” for the word of Christ for us? When we have and exercise faith that God could cause the scriptures to point the way in our life, we find they work in our life like the Liahona.
The Liahona was not a crystal ball. The Liahona was a manifestation of the will of the Lord. This is an extremely important distinction. When we study the scriptures, we are seeking his will, his mind and his way.
The Liahona not only worked according to faith but also by diligence. Nephi said, “I, Nephi, beheld the pointers which were in the ball, that they did work according to the faith and diligence and heed which we did give unto them” (1 Ne. 16:281 Nephi 16:28).
This means that if Nephi gave heed to and followed the directions given, it continued to work and worked more powerfully, the more heed they gave. Accordingly, the more heed we give to the scriptures, the more the scriptures will show us the way.
The curious thing about the Liahona is that the device contained two spindles or pointers. Why two? We know the purpose of the first spindle was to point the direction of travel.
Why the second spindle? One proposed theory is that the second spindle was a “confirmation” that when both spindles pointed the direction they should go, it was a firm confirmation. When the second spindle didn’t point the same direction, it indicated the Liahona was not working.
In searching the word of Christ, often we seek for confirmation, either from the Spirit or other sources. One could conclude that the second spindle could represent the Holy Ghost. May I propose another metaphor for the “second spindle.” It may be that when we do what we read, we soon gain experience of the truthfulness of the scripture. Testimony gained from faithful action is the second spindle.
Of all the lessons taught to us about the Liahona, this is the most important: our scripture study is not just study, but the seeking, finding, and following of God’s will in our life. After the book work comes the leg work.
Our Heart Can Become Like a Liahona
As Nephi followed the Liahona day by day, Nephi gained knowledge and ability to communicate with the Holy Ghost. Nephi said, “For behold, again I say unto you that if ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Nephi 32:5).
D&C 63:23 says, “But unto him that keepeth my commandments I will give the mysteries of my kingdom, and the same shall be in him a well of living water, springing up unto everlasting life.”
There may come a day, when my Dad had read and obeyed so many times, that his heart becomes in tune with the will of God. At that point, his heart becomes like a Liahona. We too can become fit receptacles of the Spirit.
John Taylor said, “But I will tell you what we have to do, my brethren and sisters, we must fear God in our hearts; we must lay aside our covetousness and our waywardness, our self-will and foolishness of every kind. As brethren, we must humble ourselves before the Lord, repenting of our sins, and henceforth preserve our bodies and spirits pure, that we may be fit receptacles for the Spirit of the living God, and be guided by him in all our labors both for the living and the dead.”[iii]
David Whitmer spoke of the Prophet’s heart in being able to receive revelation, “At times when brother Joseph would attempt to translate . . . , he found he was spiritually blind and could not translate. He told us that his mind dwelt too much on earthly things, and various causes would make him incapable of proceeding with the translation. When in this condition he would go out and pray, and when he became sufficiently humble before God, he could then proceed with the translation. Now we see how very strict the Lord is, and how he requires the heart of man to be just right in his sight before he can receive revelation from him.”[iv]
Suggestions for Inviting the Holy Ghost into our Study
Brother Gene R. Cook talks about the pattern for having the Holy Ghost attend our scripture study:
“This pattern is so easy to understand even a child can follow it. It involves four very simple suggestions. I’ll introduce them here, and then we’ll spend more time on each one.
First, we need to prepare ourselves by praying in faith—not just once in a while, but every time we read. I learned this principle from my older brother when I was twelve years old, when I first received the gift of testimony. “Gene,” he said, “you ought to pray over every page.” I took that literally. When I ran into a verse I didn’t understand, I offered a prayer: “Heavenly Father, I don’t understand this very well. Please help me understand.” Many times my mind was enlightened immediately as a result of my prayer. Sometimes the answer didn’t come until later. I learned that if I would keep reading, however, I would often find the answer.
Second, we need to prepare ourselves by humbling ourselves. A humble spirit can more readily be in tune with God’s Spirit.
Third, we need to search diligently as we’re reading. Again, even a child can learn to search diligently if he is taught the skills: Ponder while you’re reading. While you’re reading, continually ask the Lord questions about the verses and give him a chance to answer. Seek to discover the patterns the Lord has given us in the scriptures. Mark and cross-reference the things that are important to you. Apply what you are reading to yourself.
Fourth, we need to obey the truths we are learning. If you learn gospel principles but do nothing with them and don’t change, the Lord will be less likely to give you more. The converse of that statement is this: if you incorporate into your life the things you are learning, and repent and change, the Lord will immediately give you additional light and truth.”[v]
While ordinances including the sacrament, fasting and prayer, meeting attendance and other efforts will lead us to Christ; the words of Christ can lead us and teach us how to rely wholly on the merits of Christ.
Elder Scott promised, “The scriptures give eloquent confirmation of how truth, consistently lived, opens the door to inspiration to know what to do and, where needed, to have personal capacities enhanced by divine power. The scriptures depict how an individual’s capacity to conquer difficulty, doubt, and seemingly insurmountable challenges is strengthened by the Lord in time of need. As you ponder such examples, there will come a quiet confirmation through the Holy Spirit that their experiences are true. You will come to know that similar help is available to you.”[vi]
May we do our best to be nourished by the good word of God.
[i] Watch and Be Ready: Preparing for the Second Coming of the Lord [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1994], 35.
[ii][ii] Richard G. Scott, How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life, Conference, April 2012.
[iii] John Taylor, The Gospel Kingdom: Selections from the Writings and Discourses of John Taylor, selected, arranged, and edited, with an introduction by G. Homer Durham [Salt Lake City: Improvement Era, 1941], 347 – 348.
[iv] B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 6 vols. [Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1930], 1: 130 – 131.
[v] Gene R. Cook, Searching the Scriptures: Bringing Power to Your Personal and Family Study [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 45.
[vi] Richard G. Scott, How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life, Conference, April 2012.