Editor’s Note: This is the last of a five-part series that will teach LDS students how to study and learn – from a spiritual perspective. Read the introductory article here.
Learn of me, and listen to my words; walk in the meekness of my Spirit, and you shall have peace in me. (D&C 19:23)
Our purpose for living on the earth is to gain experience that will enable us to become like our Heavenly Father and return into his presence. There are things found in earth life that are incompatible with this goal, and these we must avoid. But earth is essentially a testing-ground and an educational institution, and therefore we must assume that much of what we experience here has application to our eternal goal.
In setting earthly goals that will bring us closer to our ultimate celestial goal, we must establish priorities. My own personal priority list for the various types of knowledge I can obtain is as follows:
- Knowledge of God and of his son Jesus Christ. Christ said, “this is life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent (John 17:3).
- Knowledge of the gospel, meaning what Jesus has done for me and what he expects of me in return.
- Knowledge that will help me grow and that will also enable me to assist others.
- Knowledge of the world and the universe in which we live.
Many students concentrate on the last of these and ignore or place little emphasis on the others. This I believe to be improper emphasis on priorities. While it is true that a knowledge of the world and of the universe will help us gain skills that will be useful in the celestial kingdom, those skills will be of no avail if we do not learn how to attain exaltation, for God will not entrust us with power and government in the eternal world if we do not first show ourselves worthy of that trust. Saving knowledge must be at the top of our list.
Knowledge, of course, is useless unless it has application, either now or in the future. James pointed out that faith without works is dead and that even the devils believe, but do not act according to their knowledge (James 2:14-20).
Often, we try to use our knowledge to bring other people to God. But we sometimes forget the all-important principle expressed by President Marion G. Romney: “You can’t lead anyone where you’re not going!” We must be examples of the knowledge we possess.
Priority of the Family
Of all earthly institutions, the most important by far is the family. You may be mayor today, bishop tomorrow or prisoner the next day. But titles such as father, mother, son, daughter, brother and sister do not change. Of all his titles, it is the one having family connections – Father – that God has chosen for us to use in addressing him in prayer (Matthew 6:9). He has made it clear that families are forever, that the early Church in Adam’s day was a family-oriented organization (D&C 107:40-57), and that priesthood in the celestial kingdom is a family affair (D&C 131:1-3).
President David O. McKay’s statement of eternal truth should remain our guide: “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.” Work, study, civil and church responsibilities are worthless if we fail the only eternal institution we have. I believe it a serious mistake to put off marriage and children (one of God’s first commandments to mankind) until studies at the university or elsewhere are completed. While working on my four degrees, I became the father of six children.
Our Debt to the Lord
Obedience to the Lord’s commandments should be a top-priority item in our lives. From the time of our birth, we have been under debt to Christ, who “bought [us] with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20). We have no right to set aside that debt until we complete some of our other personal goals. It would be wrong to put off a mission in order to complete one’s studies. It would also be wrong to break the Lord’s commandments for the sake of accomplishing lesser-priority goals. This is how I feel about desecration of the Sabbath day by school work.
I decided long ago that I would never study anything on the Sabbath day that was not in keeping with the sanctity of that day. In order to determine what is in fact suitable for Sabbath study, we can ask ourselves the following questions
- Does it make me think about the Christ or about his atonement or teachings?
- Will it help me become a better person by bringing me closer to God, to my family, to the Church?
- Can I use it to help other people improve their lives?
The last two of these questions are meant to exclude improvement in knowledge alone. A knowledge of science, languages, etc., may improve the individual mentally, but it does nothing towards fulfilling the goals of the Sabbath. We are to do our own work six days a week, but the Lord’s work on the seventh.
Two examples of misuse of the Sabbath for academic studies come to mind – both of them from my missionary experiences in Switzerland. A member of the Church in the Swiss town of La Chaux-de-Fonds never came to Sunday services, though most of her family – including her husband, an elder – attended. One day, during a visit, I questioned her about it. She indicated that she was working for a degree at the university and that she was so busy she found it necessary to study on Sunday.
During this visit, I learned that the family had a teenaged daughter whom I had never met. Following her mother’s example, she felt it important to use Sunday for study time and thus never came to church. Both of them promised to come to meetings at the end of the academic year, but I felt strongly that behavior was not so easily changed when the motivation was so flimsy. I told them that it was important to always keep good habits in order to do the right thing. Unfortunately, they did not listen, and when school ended, neither returned to church.
The other incident took place in Geneva, where we were teaching a young married couple expecting their first child. Both were medical students and had met in class at the university. The husband was expecting to complete his MD that year and the wife would finish the following year. One evening, as we tried to set a further appointment, our young friend declined, on the pretext that his preparation for the final exams would take all of his time for the next two weeks. The Spirit prompted me to tell him that if he did not see us for two weeks, not only would he fail his exams, but he would so lose the Spirit of God that he would no longer wish to be baptized. He laughed at this. He felt certain of passing the exams and guaranteed that their baptismal date would be set when we returned in two weeks. When we did return, he informed us that he had failed the exams and that they were no longer interested in the Church.
In spite of much work, schooling and family activity, I have made it a point never to study non-gospel subjects on the Lord’s time and to always attend to my Church callings and activities.
I have been blessed for this commitment. Because I have done what he has expected of me on the Sabbath, the Lord has helped me during the week to accomplish my academic goals. A number of my friends have recounted similar stories.
The Fountain of All Truth
Our ultimate goal in study is to come closer to a knowledge of that which is true. While we cannot expect to attain complete satisfaction in this goal during our mortal lifetime, this is, nevertheless, “the day for men to perform their labors … for after this day of life, which is given us to prepare for eternity, behold, if we do not improve our time while in this life, then cometh the night of darkness wherein there can be no labor performed” (Alma 34:33-33). The next verse makes it clear that the spirit to which we will subjected if we do not repent is the devil, who will possess our bodies “in that eternal world” where there is no progress (Alma 34:34).
It behooves us, then, to learn all the truth we can during this lifetime and to apply it in practical ways. But how can we know the truth? The Lord has given us a plan for this. It includes the following steps, some of which we have already discussed:
- STUDY. “Search the scriptures” and “seek learning out of the best books.” How can we believe in that of which we have no knowledge? (Romans 10:14-15)
- PRAYER. “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). “Ask, and it shall be given you; see, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:4-5).
- ACTIVITY. “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:17). “If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).
Rejecting the Truth
The gospel can be compared to a jigsaw puzzle. The Lord starts us out on our task to reconstruct the puzzle by giving us some key pieces. They are labeled “faith,” “repentance,” “baptism,” and “gift of the Holy Ghost.” He even shows us how they fit together. He informs us that other pieces will be added to the puzzle as time goes by, depending upon our progress with what we have already received.
I always begin a jigsaw puzzle by putting together the border or frame. That will tell me how large the puzzle is. Such a system cannot work with the puzzle the Lord has given us, for it is infinite in size, comprising an eternity of knowledge. Moreover, he has given us first the central pieces – the first principles and ordinances of the gospel listed above.
From time to time, additional pieces are given to us to add to the puzzle. They have various labels, such as “priesthood,” “family history and temple work,” “missionary service,” and so on. The picture of truth begins to form as we place them in their proper slots. But then, one day, a new piece arrives in the form of revelation from the Lord’s mouthpiece. Unfortunately, we are unable to find a place for it on the outside of our growing puzzle. What should be our reaction to this dilemma?
To some, it is tempting to merely throw the puzzle to the floor, believing that the Lord has lied to us – or, at least, that the men through whom he has given us the new pieces have been lying. At such a point, a once-faithful Latter-day Saint can begin a journey down the road of apostasy.
But my experience with jigsaw puzzles and other problems of life has taught me to take a different attitude. I reason that there are other possibilities that would explain my predicament. Perhaps it is I who have erred in putting the various pieces together as I have. (Why should I consider my reasoning powers to be infallible?) By examining my work, I can perhaps determine where I went astray, rearrange the pieces and find the proper slot for the new one. If this does not work, rather than destroy the foundation I have begun, I prefer to lay aside the new piece, in the anticipation that it will some day find a place. This does not mean a rejection of the piece itself; rather, I decide to use its principles – in ignorance if necessary – until more pieces come in and I can find its proper position.
To some people, I must seem a most gullible and blind fool to accept such religious matters on faith. But the system has proven valid, for I have always ultimately found a place for the pieces I could not initially identify, even when their very existence seemed illogical to me at the first.
On occasion, I have heard members of the Church say, “This new program from the Brethren won’t work – at least not in our ward.” And they list a number of arguments against it. “Maybe it would do for some wards and stakes, but not for ours.” But to those possessing such an attitude, I must repeat the common phrase, “Don’t knock it until you try it.” Give the Lord and his chosen servants a chance. If you can’t support the Church in full faith and confidence, at least do so on a trial basis until you can see the results of obedience to principles you don’t yet understand.
The Elements of Study
We are trying to become natural in our habits, and are striving to fulfil the end and design of our creation. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses 13:233)
We humans are governed by the habits we have cultivated over the years. This includes the habits that help us learn and effectively use that which we have learned. As I see it, the elements of good study habits are basically four in number:
- TIME. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1). It is important to wisely use our time while here in this short mortal probation. Time must be allotted to every righteous endeavor, with priorities determined in accordance with the revealed word of God.
- INTEREST. As with time, we must have a priority of interests, conformable to what the Lord has told us is best for his children. It is often difficult to become interested in a given subject. Again, the best advice I can offer is: If it’s good and wholesome, don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!
- A PROGRAM. The program outlined here has proven effective in my life. Perhaps it is not the best, nor are all of its aspects necessarily suited for every individual. But I am convinced that these very elements are of such worth that they can be either adopted or adapted by every Latter-day Saint.
- PRAYER. Because of the extreme importance of this subject, let us now turn to a discussion of its application in studying both religious and secular subjects.
“Study it out in your mind,” the Lord told Oliver Cowdery, “then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right” (D&C 9:8; see also verse 9). Proper study cannot be complete without faith and prayer. The Lord has instructed us to “seek learning, even by study and also by faith” (D&C 88:118).
One cannot overemphasize the importance of seeking the assistance of our Father in Heaven in all that we do. Without him, we are weak, but with him we can accomplish all things (2 Corinthians 12:10; Ether 12:27; D&C 50:16). I learned the lesson of prayer when I was young, for at the age of nine I was the only member of my family to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I have long known that God answers prayers. But it was not until after high school that I used prayer to gain assistance for my studies.
I did not pray for good grades; rather, I prayed that the Lord would help me while I studied the material, that I might be able to remember the most important items. Later, I prayed that he would help me to identify that which was most important and I often simply disregarded the rest. In some areas, I was even able to sit down in class without taking notes and just pick out the salient points of each lecture and in the readings and still be one of the top students on the final exam.
At one point, I took the entrance examinations for the Air Force Academy, to which I had been nominated. The evening prior to the written exam, I prayed that I might have the highest score on that exam. My prayer was answered, but I flunked the physical exam because of poor eyesight. The following year, I was nominated to West Point and scored even higher on the same written exam, but again was not accepted for the same reason. I am convinced that had I prayed to be admitted to the academy – and not merely to do well on the written exam – that the Lord would have answered my faith. Though I no longer regret not having entered either academy, I have learned to be more careful and specific about what I want from the Lord.
The Holy Ghost is one of your best resources for knowledge. Ask the Father regularly to give you the influence of that Spirit. The Holy Ghost is authorized to:
- Instruct you directly in matters concerning salvation (cf. Moses 5:9).
- Confirm to you the truth of all things, if you first study them and ask sincerely in Christ’s name (D&C 9:8; Matthew 21:22; Moroni 10:5).
- Bring to your remembrance that which you have learned and experienced (John 14:27).
Do not deprive yourself of this special tutor. Remember, however, that his services are not entirely free. Their cost is outlined throughout the scriptures:
- Live a clean life.
- Study the subject before asking if it is true.
- Give God the glory.
- Pray sincerely with faith in Jesus (personal prayer).
- Regularly renew our covenants with God by partaking of the sacrament, the prayer of which promises that those who keep his commandments will have his Spirit to be with them (D&C 20:77, 79; Moroni 4:3; 5:2).
The methods discussed herein can be said to be tools of learning. They can be divided into three basic categories: (1) senses, (2) mental practices and (3) physical practices. Some of the more important tools bear repetition:
- SENSES. For the student, the two most important physical senses are sight and hearing. With these one gathers most of his information about the outside world.
- MENTAL PRACTICES. These can be listed as follows:
- · Symbolization. Information can be symbolized in many ways, by use of memorization, speech and mnemonic signs.
· Repetition, including rewording.
· Meditation and reflection.
· Correlation of information received with other facts already known.
· Definition (e.g., X is Y; X is not Z).
- PHYSICAL PRACTICES. Several are important for study:
· Demonstration or examination.
· Application or incorporation into one’s life.
Using these principles, I have found success in my own academic endeavors. It is not to boast that I have given the examples discussed in these articles, for none of the credit belongs to me. All the good I can claim in my life comes from my Heavenly Father. I struck a bargain with him some years ago. I pledged that if he would help me learn all that I wished to learn, I would use that knowledge for the advancement of his kingdom and his children. So far, I have diligently tried to keep my promise, and the Lord has filled my cup to overflowing. Thus, while gaining secular knowledge, I have also gained a much more important knowledge – that God has a great love for each of us and is anxious to help us in all our righteous endeavors.