Why is “Why” one of the most often repeated questions to escape out of a little child’s mouth when you tell them to do, or not to do, something? Is it just because there is so much they don’t know? Or even that there are so many things they don’t know that they don’t understand? Those are definitely key. However, there’s another step that is vitally important to children. They need to feel like it’s important. Knowing that there are important reasons for your instructions helps them to accept the truth behind your words. The same is true of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The difference? We’re the little children.
Now that we have identified doctrine and principles, and understand them, we need to work out how to feel the importance of them. This is the fourth step of really digging deep into the scriptures and learning how to feast upon the words of Christ. As mentioned in the last of this series, the bridge between understanding and feeling is looking for situations where you have seen the principle in your life and the lives of others. Getting an idea of what it looks like when your principle or doctrine is put into practice. Once you have that idea, it’s important to go deeper than just “what it looks like”.
“The Goal of Gospel Teaching… is not to ‘pour information’ into the minds of class members… The aim is to inspire the individual to think about, feel about, and then do something about living gospel principles.” (Thomas S. Monson, in Conference Report, Oct 1970, 107)
Learning to feel the importance of a doctrine or principle is not about getting your facts straight. It isn’t even about being able to recognize when you’re following the principle. Attempting to feel the importance of a doctrine or principle is attempting to gain a spiritual witness. The attempt is an invitation for a testimony. Trying is the first step to fanning the flame on your ember of faith. If you feel the truth and importance of a principle, you are more likely to live it. This is where your scripture study starts to change who you are inside. By feeling the importance of what you are learning, discovering, you will desire to live it. You’ll learn to be excited by it.
So how do I feel the importance of doctrine and principles?
It should probably be predictable to you at this point that my answer is: Questions. However, you’re going to aim your questions just a tiny bit further forward than where you left off asking them. You were asking when you had seen someone follow this principle. Now ask how that worked out. When have you seen the blessings of living this principle? What are some of those blessings? How have I seen this principle or doctrine change someone’s life? How has it changed mine?
That’s it? You might ask. There’s no big long list of questions to help me feel how important they are? That was my reaction, too. It seems like there should be a big list like there was for understanding content and context. After all, surely this one is more important? This is the step we REALLY want to get right! But there’s a really good reason why there are only a few questions for this part of the scripture study process. They should still take you just as much time.
How to take the time
This is one of the biggest struggles. We are all so busy nowadays. The lack of time is one of the biggest challenges of our day. It’s not like there are less hours in the day, but we seem to cram more and more into the day every year. I look at what our youth are trained to deal with as acceptable schedules and it makes me a little emotional. I firmly believe that this is the challenge we are here for. Heavenly Father knows when to put everyone so that they have the challenges they need and our challenge is setting Him as a priority. Be that as it may, even when you have scripture study as a firm priority, your time will not be unlimited. Goodness knows mine isn’t! Yet you have to take the time. Especially for this step of your study.
How can you do that? Understand the value of this step. Realize that asking these questions and spending time pondering on them is as valuable, in fact, MORE valuable, than reading another chapter. Realize that you ARE fulfilling the command to read and ponder your scriptures daily if, after putting your scriptures away on Tuesday, having taken a principle through to understanding, you only open them on Wednesday to review the verse that you saw the principle in, then settle in to try and feel the importance of it. In fact, you are probably fulfilling the commandment better.
Where does it lead?
Once you feel the importance of any given doctrine or principle, you will almost certainly feel a natural desire to live the principle. Heavenly Father is awesome like that. Sometimes it will be a bitter sweet desire, as we war against our past sins, and shy away from the work involved. But the desire will be there, and will be real. When you feel that desire, you know you’re ready for the next step… Applying the doctrine or principle to your life.