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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Pondering the Word of God, Part 2 - Principles

The Principles of Pondering

As we learned in my last blog post, Joseph Smith showed us a very simple example of how he pondered the scriptures.  In Joseph Smith-History, we read how he agonized about a particular challenge he was having in his life: a “war of words and tumult of opinions” regarding which church to join.  For answers, he turned to the word of God.  And there, in James 1:5, was the key to resolving his internal conflict:

"While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know; for the teachers of religion of the different sects understood the same passages of scripture so differently as to destroy all confidence in settling the question by an appeal to the Bible." (JSH: 11-12)

He just didn’t passively read James 1:5 then move on.  No.  He “reflected on it again and again.” And in classic Alma 32:28 fashion, he planted the seed of James 1:5 in his heart and nurtured it with belief as it swelled within him.  This enlarged his soul, enlarged his understanding and was delicious to him.  As a result, he “came to the determination to ‘ask of God’”…and the opening stanzas of the Restoration began.

1.  Turn to the Word of God

To ponder the word of God, you must first acquire it.  As with all things heavenly, there is order even in this endeavor: start general, then work specific.  Author Stephen R. Covey once stated:

“General Commandments are given by God through prophets for the benefit of all His children.  They are the natural laws of growth and happiness for individuals, of stability and freedom for nations.”

Obedience to General Commandments schools and prepares us to discern and obey the "Personal Commandments" given us by the spirit.” (Stephen R. Covey, “The Divine Center”, p. 247; emphasis mine)

The Prophet Joseph Smith said:

"...we never inquire at the hand of God for special revelation only in case of there being no previous revelation to suit the case . . ." (HC, Vol. 1, p. 339)

“We cannot keep all the commandments without first knowing them, and we cannot expect to know all, or more than we now know unless we comply with or keep those we have already received” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 256; emphasis mine).

2.  Search – Not Read – the Scriptures

The Prophet Joseph Smith once gave us a key in how to effectively start the pondering process:

“Search the scriptures—search the revelations … and ask your Heavenly Father, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to manifest the truth unto you, and if you do it with an eye single to His glory nothing doubting, He will answer you by the power of His Holy Spirit. You will then know for yourselves and not for another. You will not then be dependent on man for the knowledge of God; nor will there be any room for speculation.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 11–12.)

Note that Brother Joseph said searching, not reading.  There’s a difference between the two. 

"The word 'search' means to inquire into, study, and examine for the purpose of discovering the meaning. Searching implies more than just reading or even memorizing." (Marion G. Romney, "Records of Great Worth," Ensign, Sept. 1980, 3; emphasis mine).

This may be why we see in D&C 1:37 that we are to "Search these commandments.”  It doesn't say, “Read these commandments” or “Study these commandments.” It says “Search.” (Elder Jacob de Jager, "Perfecting The Saints", BYU Fireside talk, Feb. 5, 1989).

(You can see a long list of scriptures which tell us to “search” – not “read” – the scriptures in my post “Why You Shouldn't Just ‘Read’ the Scriptures,” here)

The blessings of searching the scriptures are immeasurable. The sons of Mosiah:

"waxed strong in the knowledge of the truth; for they were men of a sound understanding and they had searched the scriptures diligently, that they might know the word of God." (Alma 17:2; emphasis mine)

President Joseph Fielding Smith said:

“If we will search these revelations then we will be fortified against errors and we will be made strong” (Oct. 1931 General Conference; emphasis mine).

President Spencer W. Kimball said,

“There are blessings that come from immersing ourselves in the scriptures. The distance narrows between ourselves and our Father in heaven. Our spirituality shines brighter. We love more intensely those whom we should love. It is much easier to follow counsel. The lessons of life are learned more readily and surely.” (Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, "Men of Example" -- Address given to Religious Educators, September 12, 1975, p. 2; emphasis mine)

And this, from Pres. Marion G. Romney:

"If we will be obedient to the Lord’s counsel to study the scriptures, the solemnities of eternity will indeed rest upon our minds." (Marion G. Romney, Ensign, Aug. 1985, p. 5.)

You may be asking yourself, “OK, great!  I’ll search the scriptures.  But what do I search?”  Try this:

“The best approach to studying the scriptures is one that is tailored to you.  Most books are read from beginning to end, but how often have you read “I, Nephi, having been born of goodly parents …” (1 Ne. 1:1) and not gotten to the end? I find most people don’t have the interest or discipline to completely read scriptures this way. For the motivated it does have the strong advantage of giving an overall perspective, since the scriptures are usually chronological.

There are several alternatives. Try approaching the scriptures with a specific subject or more general theme, using an index, concordance, and cross referencing footnotes. This can turn into an exciting adventure. Or, start with a need or problem facing you now. Such relevance is highly motivating.” (Stephen R. Covey, “Likening the Scriptures Unto Ourselves,” Ensign, Sept. 1974, 80)

In my opinion, Covey’s last suggestion – “start with a need or problem facing you now“ – is particularly helpful.  All of us have something we need to be praying about.  Maybe it’s the injustices and hurt of abuse or neglect, the weight of our sins, relationship problems, maybe some kind of fear, no matter if it's rooted in the present or future.  

I can assure you that when you feel like you're down to nothing, God is unmistakably up to something. Resonating with God can help you learn the lessons of life more readily and surely, bless you with the “solemnities of eternity”, fortify us against errors, narrow the distance between you and God and help you love more intensely those whom you should love.

3.  Visualize to Generate Greater Faith

In the Book of Ether, we see the Brother of Jared facing a pretty complex “need or problem”: how to ensure internal lighting of the barges he had been commanded to build.  We have no record of him turning to the scriptures for guidance on this quandary.  Quite the opposite, it was the Lord who posed the Brother of Jared the following question: “Therefore what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?” (Ether 2:25). There’s nothing like God answering your question with another question...which sounds amazingly like the one you just asked Him.

Although we aren’t told this in Ether, I believe the Brother of Jared’s actions to solve this quandary were deliberate.  He intentionally climbed Mount Shelem, expended physical energy to acquire 16 small stones, expended more physical energy climbing to the top of the mount, expended emotional energy in crying again to the Lord, and in total humility and a fantastic expenditure of the spiritual energy called "faith", begged God to “touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea.” (Ether 3:1-4). 

I believe the Brother of Jared not only believed, but also expected God could and would illuminate the stones that would literally light the way to the promised land.  Not only that, but he backed up that faith with real physical, emotional and spiritual sacrifice.  It is no wonder a loving, giving God would be thrilled with the efforts the Brother of Jared made, and was rewarded with the desires of his heart.

However, God wasn’t done with the Brother of Jared.  As God so often does with us, he went above and beyond mortal expectations.  In Ether 3:6, the Lord showed his finger, causing the brother of Jared to fall down before the Lord, struck with fear.

Then in Ether 3:9-14, the conversation takes and even grander, more glorious direction:

The Lord: Sawest thou more than this?

Brother of Jared: Nay; Lord, show thyself unto me.

The Lord: Believest thou the words which I shall speak?

Brother of Jared: Yea, Lord, I know that thou speakest the truth, for thou art a God of truth, and canst not lie.

The Lord: (Showed himself unto him, and said): Because thou knowest these things ye are redeemed from the fall; therefore ye are brought back into my presence; therefore I show myself unto you. Behold, I am he who was prepared from the foundation of the world to redeem my people. Behold, I am Jesus Christ. I am the Father and the Son.

The Brother of Jared believed God could solve his problem.  He expended significant physical, emotional and spiritual energy in demonstrating that belief, and was rewarded – gifted – with an outpouring of the Spirit that quite likely he hadn’t even considered.

Start Pondering…Today!

I believe both Joseph Smith (who read the scriptures and believed God would answer a question about his life) and the Brother of Jared (who conversed with God, then believed God would answer a question about his life) show us how to appropriately ponder.  When you truly ponder the scriptures and expend the physical, emotional and spiritual energy to get answers about your life, or to know the Savior better, you will be rewarded…and make no mistake, God is fully capable of not only answering your questions, but also, giving you far greater insights than you may deserve.

In my previous blog posts, “Seeing Christ -- Part 2” and “Seeing Christ -- Part 3”, I gave you an easily implementable strategy which could help you visualize the scriptures.  Although I cannot be with you in person right now, if I could, I would look you in the eyes and testify to you that there is real faith, real power, in visualization.

It is no small thing to listen to John 8:1-7, and in your mind’s eye, you see a woman caught in adultery. And with tenderness and gentleness that only a God could give, he provides her with unparalleled understanding and hope.

It is no small thing to listen to Ether 3, then all alone, you expend great physical, emotional and spiritual effort to compose a resume in hopes of ending a sojourn in the deserts of unemployment, and to see God figuratively touch that very same resume with a result that far exceeded what you dreamed of.

It is no small thing to listen, all alone, in the stillness of the night, to a recording of 3 Nephi 11, and in your mind’s eye, you see the Savior of the world descend out of heaven in a pure white robe, announce his identity and reveal the piercings in his hands and wrists which he willingly received…for you.

It is no small thing to ponder what you saw throughout the days and weeks, and to reflect – time and again – on the tears that streamed down your cheeks as you saw these events unfold in your mind’s eye.

Brothers and Sisters, I invite you to prayerfully share your experiences pondering the scriptures – even anonymously, if you so desire.  But even more importantly, I invite you to position your tuning fork to resonate with God.  Search His word on whatever you’re inspired to study.  Ponder His words. Expend whatever energies you can in acquiring those insights, and fully expect a miracle from the God of Miracles. 

Joseph Smith did, Nephi did and the Brother of Jared did.  And, as you’ve been promised, you can, too.


  1. Years ago, I was given a blessing where I was told to ponder the lives of the Prophets of old while I read and study the scriptures and to actually try to feel what they are feeling. I have never forgot that blessing and when I read your blog it actually resonated very strong within me. I’m definitely going to apply this starting tonight.

  2. Thank you for asking for experiences. One thing I'd like to share is a way of studying that has been powerful for me in the last year. For me, it solely came through inspiration, so I can't take any credit for the idea.

    As I'm about to study, I take a moment in prayer, and ask where I need to read. I listen for the book that comes to mind, then the chapter, and sometimes even the verse. 9 times out of 10 it will be a reference that is very applicable for what I'm experiencing that day. So thankful for this bit of inspiration, as it's been a wonderful blessing in my study time and daily life, when I get to do it!

    1. Jen,

      Thanks for the really cool strategy!!!! I'm going to try that out, too.

      I remember one time when I was in the temple, and as I walked from an endowment session into the celestial room, I was "invited" to read a chapter in the book of Habakkuk. I was like, "Habakkuk? Did we even cover that in Seminary?" LOL Sure enough, there was a verse in Habakkuk that nailed something I'd been pondering about for the last week.

      That's when you know it's inspiration when you're told to read Habakkuk.

    2. That's funny @theperfectday because that just happened to methe other day. I was prompted to read Malachi. I'm already doing the challenge to go through every reference to Christ in the TG, so I thought I would put it off. Again I felt the prompting. I read through it and didn't understand what I was supposed to be getting. Then I realized that I needed to SEARCH it. I'm doing that now, and hopefully I'm in tune enough to get the message!

  3. My experience is similar to Jen.
    I have often been given book, chapter, and verse while pondering. Occasionally in this process He takes me on a profound journey using the scripture and then through the Spirit He expands the horizon beyond what I had previously thought possible or been able to comprehend or conceive.

  4. Recently a challenge was given by Sister Wendy Nelson (wife of President Russell M. Nelson of the 12) at a church educational broadcast . In it she challenged us the following. Daily kneel and thank your Heavenly Father for the scriptures. Tell Him the one question you most need to have answered that day. Plead to have the Holy Ghost with you as you read. Then open your scriptures anywhere, and read until you find the answer. Try it for 30 days and see what happens.
    Well anyway, I have tried this and without fail have received the answer I was requesting, EVERY time. They have been VERY profound answers, filled with light and revelation.

  5. 30 years ago, when I was single, I began what I now call "My Power HOUR", where I studied into D&C 88: 67,68. I reached a point where it felt like I was in the eye of my life's storm with my Savior, as everything that would have caused me turmoil whirled around me. I was in a state of total peace and harmony. While in that state, my little brother was killed in a car accident, leaving a wife and 3 little boys without a father. I was very close to this brother and should have been devastated, but found myself at an entirely different level of understanding and love. I was in the eye of the storm and felt totally at peace.

    This post explained that experience to me after 30 years of wondering how I got to that place. It was exactly what I did. I was there for approximately 4 months and could feel myself moving back into the storm of life. I wasn't studying like I had been before because my time was consumed with helping take care of my brothers little family. Three years later I got married into a family of 5 children. I sacrificed studying for the required service and lost track of how that Christ centeredness came about.

    Thank you for the reminder....I begin again!

  6. For years I read a scripture that bothered me. It used to be that as I read this scripture, I would try to ignore the uncomfortable feeling that I received from reading these verses and go on. One day I was reading this scripture again(Hebrews 12:15-17), the scripture says: 15. "Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled." 16. "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright." 17. "For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears."

    Finally I called out to God and said: " this can't be true, this isn't the God I know. I can't believe that you would turn away from someone that is genuinely seeking you through tears; Father help me to understand this." Immediately afterwards, I heard and felt the word of God in my soul. He said something like this: "Many times I sought to draw close to Esau; many times I sought to bring him comfort and to show him my limitless love, and to heal him, but he wouldn't let me in. He wouldn't allow himself to believe that he could be forgiven."

    I was shown that this "root of bitterness" that it speaks of in vs.15 doesn't come from God, but comes from Satan's lies about God that keeps us from being able to come to Him with the love and confidence that we should be able to come to Him with. The Spirit reminded me that it's the goodness of God that leads a person to repentance(see Romans 2:4). I was also reminded that the power, goodness, and mercy of God are over all the inhabitants of the earth, and because God is merciful, He will not allow those who come unto Him that they shall perish(see 1 Nephi 1:14). finally, Alma 33:16 came to my mind.

    After pondering and praying about this scripture, the answer that came completely changed the way I looked at this scripture; instead of God seeming hard and austere, He seemed loving and kind, completely willing to bless and strengthen us, but still honoring our agency. I felt completely amazed that my Father was so willing to answer this question that bothered me so much. Now when I come across a scripture that makes God seem hard and unloving, I know that there's more to it than what I am seeing. I know that the opposite is always true.

  7. Wow. Thank you so much for your posts. You truly have been led by the spirit to write these inspiring words. I really can’t thank you enough. I’m totally changing my outlook and focus on life.

  8. Thank you so much for this wonderful post and the comments as well. It helps me to get the blessings of scripture reading again i momentarily lost bec of distraction. This blogspot is a blessing.