4 Ways to Break a Bad Scripture Study Habit

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I asked our Sunday School class how they felt about the classic board game ‘Monopoly’, and they responded mostly in unison that they HATED it. There were a few fans in the audience, but by and large, people were just over it and had little interest to play. I probed to find out why, and the most common response was “It’s boring and goes too slowly.”

I then asked if they remembered how they learned to play and the most common response was that a friend, sibling, or parent taught them (very few people learned by reading through the instruction manual) So their perception of the game and how it was supposed to be played was a result of traditional, institutional knowledge passed down from one generation to another.

And that’s probably one reason why they hated it.

You see, if you read the original instruction manual, you’ll find a couple of rules that are usually overlooked and change the flow of the game. The most oft broken rule is the ‘no money from landing on Free Parking’. I mean, wasn’t that just assumed to be true, that you ALWAYS get money from landing on Free Parking?

But beyond that, a key rule that was usually forgotten was the proper procedure for purchasing properties: if a player lands on an unowned property and elects NOT to buy it, it goes up for auction and is sold to the highest bidder. With this rule in play, all the properties on the board will quickly be purchased and players move to the mid-game stage of collecting rents and developing additional properties. The game designers put this rule into place to prevent the game from dragging on too long, but most people overlooked it and then passed on their traditional ignorance.

Isn’t it amazing how we can grow up thinking we know what is written in the Rule Book, how we can form an opinion of The Game and how it is supposed to be played, and how we can even teach others how to play while still not knowing everything about it? I wonder how many times we’ve read through God’s Rules, thinking we already know how to play, and wind up skipping right over a plain and precious truth that, had we known it, would have changed everything.

As we study the Old Testament this year, it’s helpful to keep in mind the reality that there’s always a chance that we missed something. If you’re trying to hold on to a New Year’s resolution to improve your scripture study or are just ready for a change, these 4 Ways to Break a Bad Scripture Study habit will be helpful for you. After all, Joseph Smith taught “Those who have read [the scriptures], and who have drunk of the stream of knowledge which they convey, know how to appreciate them.” So let’s discuss how to take a better drink from that well of Eternal Life.

4 Ways to Break a Bad Scripture Study Habit

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1. Change WHY you read

Are you reading your scriptures because you’re trying to stay on a schedule?
Or to win a prize or reward?
Because you feel guilty if you don’t read?
Are you reading because someone else set a goal for you, or because you’ve been assigned to do it?

Or are you reading because you want to?
Or because you want to learn something new?
Or because you have questions and need answers and have faith that they can be found in ancient and modern inspired words?
Or because you believe God’s will and word can be found in many places, the Scriptures being one of them, and what you really seek is further light and knowledge?

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If you change why you are reading, everything will change.

2. Change WHAT you read

If you’d like to stick with only LDS materials, there are countless resources available to supplement your scripture study.

Online websites such as Encyclopedia or Mormonism, the D&C Revelations in Context,  the Joseph Smith Papers Project, and the Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship have been indispensable this past year for our D&C class.  The Church’s Daily Inspirational Message gives you nuggets of wisdom and light in simple digest. The new  Come, Follow Me program for Youth Sunday School changes the traditional lesson manual approach and instead allows teachers and students to widely and deeply study 1 topic per month.

The New 2013 Edition of the LDS Scriptures, unbeknownst to many a member, gives much-needed updated information about the history and heritage of the scriptures. And they’re all available in a variety of digital formats. 

Bookstores are full of LDS authors’ commentaries and reading guides to the scriptures. And there is never a shortage of blogs, social media groups, and podcasts designed to expand your horizons and deepen your understanding.

Don’t forget all the non-LDS sources out there, and don’t assume that anything not of our faith isn’t faith building. I’m a firm believer that humans NEED exposure to different cultures and assumptions, and that being challenged by a differing viewpoint is a sure way to grow. It may feel uncomfortable, but listening with genuine humility to opinions with which you disagree, be they left-wing, right-wing, Catholic, Evangelical, atheist, whatever, has the potential to teach you something. Don’t cheat yourself of the opportunity to grow.

Perhaps that’s one way to interpret Gordon Hinckly’s admonition to BYU students that they shouldn’t limit their post-college learning:

Gordon B. Hinckley, laying out the truth

Gordon B. Hinckley, laying out the truth

“Now all of that is behind me.’ No, there is much more ahead than there is behind. We live in a world where knowledge is developing at an ever-accelerating rate. Drink deeply from this ever-springing well of wisdom and human experience. If you should stop now, you will only stunt your intellectual and spiritual growth. Keep everlastingly at it. Read. Read. Read. Read the word of God in sacred books of scripture. Read from the great literature of the ages. Read what is being said in our day and time and what will be said in the future.” – BYU Commencement Address, April 27, 1995

Another gem from Dieter Uchtdorf contains the similar truth:

Dieter Uchtdorf, minus the planes

“Please encourage your families, your quorum members, everyone to learn and become better educated. If formal education is not available, do not allow that to prevent you from acquiring all the knowledge you can. Under such circumstances, the best books, in a sense, can become your “university”—a classroom that is always open and admits all who apply. Strive to increase your knowledge of all that is “virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy.” Seek knowledge “by study and also by faith.” – General Conference, Oct. 2009

And finally, my favorite quote on this topic is from Elder Bruce Hafen, given while he was President of Ricks College:

“We need to develop the capacity to form judgments of our own about the value of ideas, opportunities, or people who may come into our lives. We won’t always have the security of knowing whether a certain idea is “Church approved,” because new ideas don’t always come along with little tags attached to them saying whether they have been reviewed at Church headquarters. Whether in the form of music, books, friends, or opportunities to serve, there is much that is lovely, of good report, and praiseworthy that is not the subject of detailed discussion in Church manuals or courses of instruction. Those who will not risk exposure to experiences that are not obviously related to some Church word or program will, I believe, live less abundant and meaningful lives than the Lord intends.

 “We must develop sufficient independence of judgment and maturity of perspective that we are prepared to handle the shafts and whirlwinds of adversity and contradiction that may come to us. When those times come, we cannot be living on borrowed light. We should not be deceived by the clear-cut labels others may use to describe circumstances that are, in fact, not so clear. Our encounters with reality and disappointment are, actually, vital stages in the development of our maturity and understanding.”  Elder Bruce Hafen, “On Dealing with Uncertainty” 

So have the courage to change what you’re reading. Branch out. Step outside your bubble. Find something new, and you’ll likely surprise yourself with what you find.

3. Change WHEN You Read

By this I don’t mean only the time of day (although you’ve probably heard at least one story of someone modifying their schedule to read at a different time of day, and finding great success.) What I’m referring to is when you choose to move on to something new…your scripture pacing.

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The simplest advice I could give in regards to scripture reading is to SLOW. IT. DOWN.

If you blaze through a scripture study session because your goal is to finish it a book by some arbitrary deadline, you’ll likely overlook a lot and miss out on great opportunities for insight and growth. Take away the deadlines and allow yourself to really mellow on what you read, chew it over, and take your sweet time. If you feel the struggle of wanting to stay inline with the institutional schedule of a class, then by all means do so, but find a way to give yourself extra pondering time on something truly meaningful to YOU.

I’ve recently heard of institute classes that decided to change their study model by completely throwing out the ‘schedule’. One class took 3 full years just to get to the Book of Alma, while another spent an entire year just studying 1 Nephi – Omni. When asked what their schedule was, the teacher simply said “We didn’t move on until there was nothing left to say about a particular passage.” In my own family, we’re studying the New Testament and have decided that it will take us as long as it takes us. If we spend the entire night discussing only 3 verses, but in that time we really understand the parables and the history and the culture and the deeper meanings of what the Savior was teaching, then we succeeded.

Don’t worry about how quickly you’ll finish, or even whether you finish; scripture study has always been about what you learn along the way, your personal journey and encounter with God, and how you become a better person.

4. Change HOW You Read

I finally got it’ when, as a missionary, I realized that anything I read in my personal morning scripture study was fair game to be teaching material to someone that day. So my personal ‘how I read’ method was to assume that I was going to be teaching it to someone who had never heard it before, and therefore I needed to be able to quickly reduce several verses down to the absolute core doctrine and make it accessible to the new listener.

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Don’t read scriptures as if they were a novel – read them as if they were your script that you were later going to rehearse from memory.

Don’t assume that you already know what the scriptures say – if you open the book believing you already know what’s inside, then it won’t be able to teach you. Your cup must be empty in order for it be filled. Or as Master Yoda would say “You must unlearn what you have learned.” Remember – there’s no money in Free Parking…and there’s probably another overlooked rule that you keep on missing.

Some people read as if they’re going to teach it to others of another faith, or a different age group. Others read and then write a simple summary of what they understand, in their language. Some may write down a list of questions ahead of time and then search scriptures for answers, or will keep a running personal commentary in their own notebook, margins, blog, journal, or online website. And let’s not forget how social media can help you – one group of LDS members created their own online Scripture Study sub-reddit, where anyone can come and discuss any scriptures they’d like.

However you choose to do it, if you change HOW you study the scriptures, you’ll likely look at the same book with refreshed eyes and a new perspective.

So there you have it – 4 simple ways to break a bad scripture study habit. Pick 1 or all and stay with it. You’ve likely heard the stats on how long habits take to break and reform. Don’t be discouraged if you’re not consistent every single day; sometimes courage really is the small voice that says “I’ll give it another shot tomorrow.” Be gentle on yourself as you grow and change. And remember: if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.

(Originally presented to the adult Sunday School class at the Laguna Creek 1st Ward on January 12, 2013)

Posted in Old Testament, Writings.


  1. Wonderful post–I have been going along these same lines for awhile. Recently taught a class to our YM on this and one of the parent/leaders looked at me as if I was crazy and said “It could take you 40 years to get through the Book of Mormon!” I said “…that’s the point!”
    Thanks for the refocusing and encouragement.

  2. Love this! I think poor or no scripture study is what is derailing people today. They don’t like it, so they don’t do it, so they don’t know it and understand it and then they get caught up in the world’s doctrine.

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