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Cover image via ‘Scripture Study for LDS Families’.
What two symbolic instruments represent the secure means back to the presence of God? Neither symbolizes the Church, nor the Holy Spirit, nor the commandments, as important as each is, none of them stand as anchor symbols in holy writ. We might say they are essential but not sufficient.
Though each of us is given the Holy Ghost as a gift at the time of covenant-entrance onto the strait path, this essential gift is a still, small voice. It is sufficiently still, and small as to be accessible to only those willing to pay the price. Joseph Smith said that we may learn to recognize and understand it by “growing into the principle of revelation.[i] It is during this growing phase that we are subject to uncertainty and self-deception that leaves many wondering if they will ever know for certain.[ii]
Therefore, in His mercy, God has given us both the iron rod and the Liahona as symbols of the same tool by which we can find our way home; the one anchor by which we avoid deception[iii]; the conduit by which we learn the principle of revelation[iv]; the means by which we learn to recognize the voice of the Lord.
The Iron Rod
Nephi instructs that the iron rod is the word of God. The fact that it is iron, and not steel, silver, gold nor crystal, could be helpful in preparing us for the difficulty of the unrefined, often rusty, unpolished nature of scripture. Nephi, who loved the scriptures[v], found the most essential parts[vi] the most difficult to digest, note:
“which were hard to be understood, save a man should inquire of the Lord” 1 Nephi 15:3
“Isaiah spake many things which were hard for many of my people to understand” 2 Nephi 25:1
In each instant, the “word of God” to which Nephi referred, was the scriptures or the words of the prophets.
In Lehi’s Dream of the Tree of Life, the rod was key for those who were working their way to the tree along the covenant path[vii], through the mist of darkness or temptations of the devil[viii]. Though some chose to “cling” (insecurely) to the rod to get to the tree, the successful ones learned to “hold continually” to the rod. Likewise, some “cling” desperately to the scriptures. Almost Pharisee-like, they seem to use them as an end – for personal aggrandizement, rather than a means to the divinely intended end. The dream verifies that the intent of the scriptures lies in what it does to us not for us.
I have asked many a member what the Liahona represented. The response is usually a thoughtful pause, then…” The Holy Ghost.” That would be logical but not scriptural. Please note:
43…for as our fathers were slothful to give heed to this compass (now these things were temporal) they did not prosper; even so it is with things which are spiritual.
44 For behold, it is as easy to give heed to the word of Christ, which will point to you a straight course to eternal bliss, as it was for our fathers to give heed to this compass, which would point unto them a straight course to the promised land.
45 And now I say, is there not a type in this thing? For just as surely as this director did bring our fathers, by following its course, to the promised land, shall the words of Christ, if we follow their course, carry us beyond this vale of sorrow into a far better land of promise.
46 O my son, do not let us be slothful because of the easiness of the way…
So, both the rod AND the compass represent the scriptures. This round ball compass is a “curious” symbol for scripture. Like the rod, it kept the family moving towards the divine promise, but unlike the rod it gave direction without prescribing a narrow path. It contained two pointers, one of which pointed the way they should go if they looked with obedient faith in Jehovah, including family harmony.[ix]
Early in the use of the compass, they also discovered, by revelation to the prophet Lehi, that the ball contained some means of displaying written words that changed from time-to-time, again according to their faith and diligence. These words gave them “understanding concerning the ways of the Lord.” I have noted many times that the words in my own set of scriptures seem to change from time-to-time according to my faith and diligence too. I know that they really don’t change but I find new meaning or clarity in passages I have read many times. This seems to be the intent of the scriptures as modeled by past prophets and only comes to me by their same modeled process: pondering.[x]
I have found through years of helping students in their perceived struggle to learn beyond the stories, that pondering scripture requires training much like playing the piano, tennis, or any other skill; it is only “perfect practice” that makes perfect. That practice is made perfect by disciplined repetition of good form, with the aid of a mentor or coach. Practice even becomes enjoyable in the face of opposition that matches crescendoing skill levels. In June our mentors, The First Presidency, announced:
“We are pleased to announce Come, Follow Me-For Individuals and Families, a new resource to support personal and family scripture study.
Living by and reading the word of God will build faith in Heavenly Father and His plan of salvation and in the Savior Jesus Christ and His Atonement.”
Though we don’t know yet what this new resource will contain, its intent is to augment our skill levels in pondering scriptures long enough to allow both deeper learning and transformational revelation. Opening the scriptures is supposed to be like opening a revelatory window through the veil, but like those “clinging” to the rod, motivated by the social mirror, or expecting direction from the Liahona while reveling in contentious pride, no divine transformational breeze refreshes your efforts. Skillful pondering includes humble repentant self-analysis, preparatory to those still-small revelatory breezes. But then what?? Here are a few skills (5), simply applied with a prayerful heart, that will keep the scriptural window open or at least keep you diligently thinking and praying over a verse or chapter until the dove descends:
This may all seem like an invitation to take piano lessons. Most of us are in the thick of important things like family, community, callings, and work. Fortunately, there is no rush, just an imperative to be daily in our incremental feasting. Most of us think of feasting as an occasional special occasion but Nephi implores us to feast, daily on the scriptures[xi].
Snacking is certainly different than feasting, for scripture feasts, pondering is the invitation to revelation, the deeply satisfying and personally transformational result of a scripture feast. He promises that by so doing we will be told “all things what you should do.” This high leverage activity becomes the fuel by which we then accomplish more than we could without it. In the end when even the covenant elect are being deceived[xii] and misled, it will be “continually holding” and the “simpleness of the way” in daily following our scriptural compass that protects us from such a frightening latter-day demise.
“Whoso treasureth up my word, shall not be deceived.” JSM 1:37
[i] Teachings of The Prophet Joseph Smith p 151 A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.,) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.
[ii] Alma 32:26 Now, as I said concerning faith—that it was not a perfect knowledge—even so it is with my words. Ye cannot know of their surety at first, unto perfection, any more than faith is a perfect knowledge.
[iii] JSM 1:22, 37
[iv] DC 18:34-36
[v] 2 Nephi 25:5 Yea, and my soul delighteth in the words of Isaiah
[vi] 3 Nephi 23:1…a commandment I give unto you that ye search these things diligently; for great are the words of Isaiah.
[vii] 2 Nephi 31:17-18
[viii] 1 Nephi 12:17
[ix] 1 Nephi 16:10, 28; 18:12
[x] DC 138:1; 76:12-19
[xi] 2 Nephi 32:3
[xii] JSM 1:22