The Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has said, “we’re not just bodies, but also minds; not just physical beings, but also spiritual beings.” This is an axiomatic truth for Latter-day Saints and connects well to a subject I’ve thought about recently — namely, the spiritual nourishment available to us through the scriptures during our individual spiritual journeys back to God. Because we are both physical and spiritual beings, we need both physical and spiritual sustenance.
A scene from John Bunyan's book, The Pilgrim's Progress, illustrates this truth quite well. Bunyan’s book is a poignant allegory about a man named Christian who has answered God's call to leave the sinful world behind and journey to the what is known as the "Celestial City." Toward the beginning of the journey, a messenger gives Christian a scroll (symbolic of the scriptures) designed to give him comfort and refreshment as he reads it along the way. Unfortunately, at one point on the journey, an exhausted Christian, still somewhat a spiritual novice, unwisely falls asleep under a large tree. A messenger chastises him for his sloth and Christian hastily continues the journey. But he forgets the scroll, which fell out of his hand during his rest.
After he travels some distance from that tree, Christian reaches into his pocket for his scroll, but it's not there. "Then was Christian in great distress, and knew not what to do," Bunyan writes, "for he wanted that which used to relieve him, and that which should have been his Pass into the Celestial City. Here therefore he began to be much perplexed, and knew not what to do.” Christian soon remembers the spot where he fell asleep, and he then falls down on his knees to ask forgiveness from God for his foolish action.
He soon finds the scroll, and Bunyan describes the scene this way: "Who can tell how joyful this man was, when he had gotten his roll again? For this Scroll was the assurance of his life, and acceptance at the desired Haven. Therefore he laid it up in his bosom, gave thanks to God for directing his eye to the place where it lay, and with joy and tears betook himself again to his Journey."
I like this story because I can relate to it. Like Christian, I’m on a journey to the Celestial City. Like Christian, I sometimes find myself exhausted, asleep, and losing my grip on spiritual things. But also like Christian, I can say with certainty that the scroll, the scriptures, comfort me, refresh me and guide me. But the scriptures can’t guide us if we don’t find time to read them.
Carving Out Study Time
Continuing that thought, Elder Tad R. Callister has spoken of the important role daily scripture study played throughout his three-decades long law career. He describes arriving early to work, where his Dad and brother (who also worked at the law firm) would be studying the scriptures for the first half hour. And so, seeing their example, he studied the scriptures as well. But he notes that the temptation would often come to cut short his scripture study so he could get to that day’s work more quickly.
He says, “[I would] see all the piles of legal file theres, and I remember many mornings [I would] say, ‘I’ve got to get to those files, they’re going to be on me today. I’ve got those phone calls.’ And then the little impression would come, ’No, stick with the scriptures.’ And somehow,” Elder Callister says, "the 34 years of law practice came and went, and I got to all of the files and I got to all of the phone calls, but I also had had the privilege of studying the scriptures.”
He then adds this valuable insight: "The Lord’s a good compensator. If you spend time in the scriptures, He will compensate and help you in all of the other decisions in life you have to make, whether it’s the business world or your family or your spiritual calling.”
A Few Personal Experiences
Let me provide two illustrations of how the scriptures have guided and compensated me on my journey.
The first example comes from October 2003, when I was in the Provo MTC learning the Russian language to prepare for a mission in Donetsk, Ukraine. While some others in my MTC group seemed to learn the language with enviable ease, I struggled mightily during my 12-week MTC stay — I was convinced that I was the furthest behind, the least able, the weakest link in my MTC district. Fortunately, the MTC teachers gave us time each day to step away from the intense language study to have personal scripture study in English, and this became a shady refuge for my weak mind from the scorching complexity of the Russian language. Like Christian in Bunyan’s allegory, I could go to my scroll, the scriptures, and be comforted and refreshed in the midst of another long day at the MTC. And gratefully, the habit of daily scripture study has blessed my life in similar ways ever since.
The second example comes from a morning in November 2005, shortly after returning from Ukraine. I was sitting at my parents' kitchen table in Logan, Utah, reading Mosiah chapter 4. I distinctly remember how the words of King Benjamin in verse 29 sunk deep into my heart: "if ye do not watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words and your deeds, and observe the commandments of God, and continue in the faith of what ye have heard concerning the coming of our Lord, even unto the end of your lives, ye must perish. And now, O man, remember, and perish not."
Rarely has a scripture touched my heart so tenderly and powerfully as it did at that time. I experienced an unmistakable feeling of admonishment from the Holy Ghost about the paramount importance of spiritual caution along the joyful yet dangerous path of mortality. This was a key message for me to receive at the tender time of transition from full-time missionary to full-time adult, consisting of college, marriage, parenthood, graduate school and full-time employment — experiences collectively so demanding and exhausting at times that there’s little energy left for spiritual things. (I would add as a side note: No wonder Peter, James and John struggled to stay awake in the garden with the Savior. Life is challenging and demanding — especially for followers of Jesus, who asks us to give all our might, mind and strength. The spirit is almost always willing, but the flesh is often weak.)
I’m grateful for these and many other burning witnesses I’ve received during routine daily scripture studies over the years. As Bunyan wrote, they are "the assurance of [my] life.” Some of these experiences have been surprisingly strong and clear; most are subtle, gentle almost imperceptible nudges from God that comfort and enlighten me. But whether strong or subtle, all these experiences teach me that the word of God truly is "sharper than a two-edged sword,” a personal Urim and Thumim providing light and truth to our spirits. I testify that "every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” has unique power. But to tap into that power, we must carve out quiet time in our busy lives, open the books (or the apps) and study.