It is great that you now feel the importance of the doctrine and principles that you have found. Really, it is! But it doesn’t do you any good. You can feel the importance of it until the day you die, but if you don’t do something about it, you’ve just wasted your time! We are now to the practical stage of scripture study. Applying doctrine and principles to our life. This is where we start to make actual changes to how we act, who we are, and where we are headed. To put it simply, this is where the rubber meets the road.
In this final section of our five-part series, we will learn how to apply principles to our lives. We’ll do this in two parts. First, we will analyze ourselves and our situation with questions. Secondly, we will make a plan to act and set a goal.
Wait! It Seems So Overwhelming!
Stop and take a deep breath. Applying doctrine and principles isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon. A life-long marathon towards eternal life. It’s ok to feel a little overwhelmed when you look at the list of principles and doctrine you’ve outlined in your scripture blocks. It’s ok not to know where to start. What isn’t ok, is to give up at this point. You’ve gained knowledge and now you’re accountable to it. So just press on as you have done, using whatever time you can scrounge together for the task, and, once again, start asking questions.
#1 Analyzing Ourselves and Our Situation
Unlike when you learned how to feel the importance of a given doctrine or principle, you won’t be asking a lot of ‘why’ questions as you seek to work out how to apply this to your life. Instead, you are mostly working with the words ‘how’ and ‘what’. What you’re trying to accomplish is to work out what it will look like when you succeed at applying this doctrine or principle. You’re also trying to figure out how to get there. This starts with – you guessed it – questions.
As you ask these questions, please keep in mind how vital it is that we don’t fall into the pity trap of discouragement. It’s easy to look at how poorly we have followed a teaching of the Lord and decide that we will always be that way. It is a convenient scapegoat to allow us to avoid the work we have to undertake. Alma hit the nail on the head when he said to his son to “only let your sins trouble you, with that trouble which shall bring you down unto repentance.” (Alma 42:29) If it troubles you that you didn’t live up to it in the past, then do something about it.
How Have I Applied It?
- How well do I do at applying this doctrine or principle currently?
- What did I do to live it in the past?
- How have I improved, or worsened, over time?
- What action did I take that improved, or worsened, my application of this doctrine or principle?
How Can I Improve?
- What would it look like if I was applying this doctrine or principle perfectly?
- How about if I was applying it better than I am now?
- How will I know when I have improved?
- What is the difference between how I live it, and how I should?
- What action can I take to improve how I follow it?
- Am I willing to take that action?
- What promise can I make the Lord that will help me follow it?
- Am I willing to make that promise?
First Learn His Doctrine.
Then Live It.
#2 Making A Plan For Applying Doctrine and Principles
You have already, by this point, identified what action you need to take, as well as what promise you need to make. It doesn’t, perhaps, seem like there really is a step #2. Yet, identifying actions and promises, without doing them and making them, is just a neat mental exercise. Plus, you want this to stick, right! You want this to work! That takes more than just deciding what you should do. It even takes more than just promising that you’ll do it. What you need for applying doctrine and principles is a bonafide plan, with two goals, checkpoints of success, and a timeframe to get it done.
“Aim for the stars, and you probably won’t hit the pavement.” Papa.
Don’t be afraid to aim big. Your end goal is eternal life and perfection, after all. Obviously, your goals along the way are going to be pretty huge. However, perfection is a lot to live up to. Not only that, but we’re literally not going to attain it in this life. That’s a fact. Which is why for applying doctrine and principles, I feel you need two goals.
Your first goal is the long term one. Perfection. This is the star you are aiming for to keep your face off the pavement. One day, you WILL reach this goal. Realize that. It’s true. Heavenly Father has prepared every needful thing to get you from where you are, to perfection. Trust Him.
Your second goal is the short term one. You might call this the practical goal. If you were doing SMART goals, this would be it: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Timely. You don’t need to aim for perfection with this goal, you need to aim for improvement.
Checkpoints of Success
One mistake I think we often make, especially with SMART goals, is to set a time to be done by, and not identify progress along the way. We say that in 3 months we will know the scriptures better, and then don’t think about them until 3 months later rolls around. Whoops. So instead, take a look at the attainable goal you have set and decide on some mini-goals. Break the goal down into bite-sized pieces, something you can actually come to grips with. Then move to the final step.
Setting the Timeframe
Finally, set the timeframe for your goal and for each of your checkpoints. Be realistic about all of these. Applying doctrine and principles is a weighty matter, and you want to set yourself up for success. Setting your goal this way, with short-term goals leading to longer-term goals will allow you to build your momentum. One success will lead to another. All it takes is to get the boulder rolling down the mountain and then the mountain does all the work! Make sure you celebrate your successes, that will drive you on to the next.
This step can be one of the hardest to fit into your scripture study program. Mostly, that is because you will find excuses to leave it out. Or, you’ll decide you are going to do it, yet will not make a realistic plan with checkpoints for success and a sturdy timeframe. Mostly, it is hard because this is where the adversary really wants you to fail. Studying your scriptures every day is one of the most basic principles. It should be easy. But for some reason, it is not. Some of that is our own weaknesses. Some of that is the adversary’s fear that we will do it. He is afraid of you delving deep into the scriptures and applying the principles of the gospel to your life. Because if you do it, you’ll be moving out of his reach.
I testify to you of the amazing potential of this divinely inspired method of studying the scriptures. This isn’t my method. I’m not trying to take any kind of ownership or pretend I came up with it. All I did was add my thoughts on how to apply it. This method is approved by prophets, apostles, seers, and revelators. Use it and I promise it will change your life. It has changed mine. I testify of that in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.