In the fall, I gave a talk in Stake Conference on teaching children, (especially young children) how to study the scriptures.
Rose Park North Stake Conference, October 17, 2015
Good morning brothers and sisters. What a sacred privilege and honor it is for me to be with you for a few minutes today.
At the end of the Book of Mormon, father and son, Mormon and Moroni witness the decline and almost entire annihilation of their race. There are some gruesome scenes of terror, violence, and man’s inhumanity to man that they face and yet the two of them stay firm in the faith of Jesus Christ. Moroni tells us that “their wars are exceedingly fierce among themselves; and because of their hatred they put to death every Nephite that will not deny the Christ.” And then he boldly states, “And I, Moroni, will not deny the Christ” (Moroni 1: 2-3).
How were they able to stay faithful at the worst of times? How did they stay true to their testimonies, even when their own lives were at stake?
May I submit that it was, at least in large measure, due to their callings as witnesses and historians. They spent many hours daily in the revelations of God – abridging, recording, and translating them, hoping that someday their records would benefit total strangers and even the posterity of those that were trying to take their lives. Every day, the word of God must have fortified their souls, even when the ferocity of brutal carnage was, as Mormon puts it, “a continual scene of wickedness and abominations [that had] been before [his] eyes ever since [he was old enough to understand] the ways of man” (Mormon 2:18).
This state of wickedness, unfortunately is not unusual to that time. Throughout the history of mankind there have been multiple periods when mankind has rejected and turned away from God. Then God would set up a new dispensation in which a prophet would be called who had the holy priesthood, keys, and a divine commission to dispense the gospel to the inhabitants of the earth. Through all of these times, the prophets looked forward to two events – 1) the birth, atonement, death and resurrection of the Savior Jesus Christ, and 2) the dispensation of the fullness of times – the last restoration of priesthood, authority, keys, and missionary work. A time when the gospel would not be taken from the earth again and the people would prepare the earth and also be prepared to welcome the Savior to His millennial reign. Which is a joyful thought, but it also comes at a very wicked time, a time called in scripture “the latter days” … our day.
Listen to these words that confirm this truth from President Russell M. Nelson from conference just two weeks ago –
“Attacks against the Church, its doctrine, and our way of life are going to increase. Because of this, we need women [and men] who have a bedrock understanding of the doctrine of Christ and who will use that understanding to teach and help raise a sin-resistant generation.” President Russel M. Nelson, A Plea to My Sisters, General Conference, October 2015.
Like Mormon and Moroni, we need to have a group of people who remain strong in their testimonies, however this time instead of physical battles; it is during some of the worst spiritual battles the earth has ever known. When many (even some of our own) will “call evil good, and good evil;” and will “put darkness for light, and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). How will our children know truth in the midst of such confusion? It is our sacred duty as parents, grandparents, and teachers to teach our children not only to LOVE the scriptures (as many of them do) but to understand and live them so that Satan will not have power over their hearts as is prophesied in 1 Nephi 22:15.
Our children cannot know right and wrong without us teaching them. They cannot know who the Savior is simply by our hoping that “somehow they’ll figure it all out.” They will not have spiritual experiences unless we teach them who they are, who God is, and how to approach Him and ask for those sacred blessings (Doc. & Cov. 93:19).
In Doctrine and Covenants section 93, the Lord chastises Joseph Smith, Jr., Frederick G. Williams, and Sidney Rigdon, (the first presidency at the time) because they had not been teaching their children “light and truth.” “Light and truth” they are told “forsake that evil one” and “that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience … and because of the tradition of their fathers.”
How will our children to have enough light and truth so that they will forsake the evil one? We teach them.
In the topical guide, there are 31 scriptures listed under “Children, responsibilities toward” and the vast majority urges parents to teach children the word of God through the scriptures. May I share three ideas that will help in our quest to teach the gospel using the scriptures?
- Teach the doctrine simply and plainly whenever you can –
When children are taught gospel doctrines simply and plainly, they will change. Let me share a story that illustrates this. A few years ago, I went to pick up my daughter from her second grade class. As I walked up to the door, I saw a little boy hit my daughter’s friend in the face. No teacher was there to help, and after making sure that the girl was okay, I sat the boy down and taught him a doctrine from the Proclamation to the World on the Family. I told him that his job as a man was to protect girls and women, that he was never to hit one again, and that if he took on his role to protect them that they would always love and respect him. After that moment, every time I saw him that year, he would run up to me and say, “I’m doing what you told me to, I’m protecting women” and then he would go on to tell me about a time when he stopped his friends from chasing the girls or something similar.
Now, I didn’t know all of the background of this little boy, but I did know something about who he is, he is a spirit son of Heavenly Father and he chose to follow the Savior in the pre-earth life. True doctrine, taught in love, by the Holy Ghost has the power to change lives. Hopefully (now four years later) that little boy has not had that piece of “light and truth” taken out of his heart by disobedience, or worse for children, by the traditions and examples of his fathers (meaning the male figures in his life).
- Teach the scriptures consistently in daily devotionals and with questions and discussions, not just reading –
Teaching children to read out of the scriptures can be a monumental task. It is easy to find excuses and reasons not to, but like everything worthwhile in life, consistency and training will pay great rewards. Please note that I give the following simply as ideas to help the Holy Ghost springboard personalized revelation of how you can implement scripture study into your own family and circumstances.
When my children were very young (before they could read) I read the scriptures to them
Scripture Stories for Children can be read online or purchased at low costs.
out of the scripture stories for children. These can be found online at lds.org or purchased at the distribution center in many languages for under $10 each. We read out of them every night beginning with the Old Testament, New Testament, then the Book of Mormon and finished with the Doctrine in Covenants. This did two things, it taught an overview of the scriptures and it gave a consistency to our scripture reading (they knew that every night before bed, we would read and pray).
As we got to the final scripture story book, I found that asking questions was essential in making sure that they understood what they were learning. For example, in teaching about the first vision I could ask questions like, “What did Joseph Smith go into the grove to do?” That would help me learn whether or not they understood the story line. At some point, they would discuss the fact that Joseph went to seek an answer to prayer (if not, I could point that out to them). Fact finding questions can be very helpful and necessary questions, but it’s even more important to connect scripture with their experience.
Asking connecting questions like, “Have you ever had a time that you wanted the Lord to answer a question for you? Tell me about it?” will give them these connecting opportunities and allow for beautiful moments of testimony.
Finally, to help them apply the teaching into their lives, I could ask something like, “Will you think of a question that you would like the Lord to answer?” and then testify that if they will search out the answer from Him, that they will find it. With experience and follow through at our daily devotionals, I can gauge how my children (or grandchildren, or students, as the case may be) are internalizing gospel truths. It adds to deeper learning and shared family experiences.
After we finished all of the scripture stories, (again, before my children had learned to read) I read the scriptures to them and they would repeat the words and phrases. That continued the consistency of daily study, but also introduced them to the beautiful (and challenging) language of the scriptures. As the children got older we begin reading together as a family, but always, we continue to discuss what we are reading and how it applies to our lives.
Even the very young children can relate their few precious life experiences to the gospel. Last week, in Primary we talked about times when they had scary experiences and needed to talk to Heavenly Father in prayer to help change the thoughts in their heads. After thinking about it for a while (and long after the conversation was over), a sunbeam [aged 3-4] wanted to share her experiences of being scared in the night. Sharing time was due to end and so I asked her to wait until after the closing song and prayer. Then she told me about waking from a scary dream and we discussed that the next time it happened she could pray and ask Heavenly Father to give her peace and comfort.
It is so important to have frequent conversations with your children about the gospel. Listen to the command of the Lord –
“Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul … And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
“And thou shalt write them upon the door posts of thine house, and upon thy gates” (Deuteronomy 11:18-20, 22).
And then the scriptures go on to promise that if we teach and speak with our children about the gospel that we will have many mighty blessings, some of which are that we will not be deceived by falsehoods [teachings, people, ways, patterns of living], and that our days and the days of our children will be multiplied in the land.
President Benson (13th President of the Church) said that youth who participate in daily family devotionals [prayer and scripture study] will have hearts that are freed from evil intentions and will be the restraining influence in a group when temptations arise (President Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, Chapter 2: Pray Always, (2014), 46–57).
Now, I know some of you may be saying, “It’s too late, my family is already grown.” But take the advice of Elder Foster from last conference who taught, “It’s never too early and it’s never too late” (Elder Bradly D. Foster, General Conference, October 2015). Text, Facebook message, or call your children and grandchildren. Share a scripture that you have been studying and your testimony, do it often. Teach, testify, and talk with them.
Some of you may be saying, “It’s hopeless, I don’t know, can’t learn, and don’t understand the scriptures. My kids will just have to learn it at Church or at Seminary.” To you, my dear brother or sister, may I testify that you know enough to start (see Elder Neil L. Anderson, You Know Enough, General Conference, October 2008). You are here, aren’t you? You chose to follow the Savior before you came to earth, and you are a covenant child of God. You have access to the Holy Ghost who can “teach you all things” and “bring all things to your remembrance” (John 14:26). Have faith in the Lord’s faith in you. You are part of the chosen generation, just as the youth are. At this age and stage, your responsibilities are different than they were when you were a youth, but you are still chosen. You will learn, you are able to do it, you have been chosen, it is prophesied that you will do it, and you must do it! Who better to prepare your children for their future gospel responsibilities and experiences than you? Your children are counting on you. The Lord is counting on you and He will not fail to help you.
Go to lds.org. Read the seminary and institute teacher manuals ahead of when you are going to share them with your family, even if you are a chapter ahead of them. Find out what the scriptures mean! Petition the Lord for help in this, your greatest calling, being a mother or father.
- Don’t just preach! We must allow our children to have their own experiences with the Holy Ghost who will lead them to the Savior.
A few months ago, my seven-year-old daughter was preparing a talk for primary and I decided to try some of the gospel teaching techniques that I had been learning with her. Her talk was on the Holy Ghost and so I sat her down at the kitchen table, we prayed, and then I asked her to read three verses about the Holy Ghost and write down what she thought they meant. Then, I asked her to write about how she could put those teachings into her life. When she excitedly called me back to her she started to tell me what she had learned. I went to stop her because clearly she hadn’t understood the main point of the verses – that the Holy Ghost would speak in her mind and heart – but I felt the Spirit hold me back. She’ll have plenty of opportunities to learn more about those verses, Laryssa, listen to what I taught her, was the impression that I got. She told me that from the verses she learned that even though she was only seven; she could have the Holy Ghost in her life, giving her promptings and encouragement. Yes! That was much more important than what I was going to teach her at that moment.
I know that teaching children, even young children the gospel out of the scriptures will work. I’ve been teaching the scriptures with your teenagers in Seminary and I’ve been teaching your children out of the scriptures in Primary. We are all capable of understanding and doing much, much more with the gospel. Let us have faith in our children, faith in ourselves, and faith in the Lord who was the one that gave the commandment to teach our children the gospel through daily scripture study. Let us, even in times of peril like Mormon and Moroni raise a “sin-free generation”, “a peculiar treasure … a holy nation” (Exodus 19:5) that will be ready to greet the Savior at His second coming which, given the state of the world, looks to be closer every day. May we capture the promise of the Lord given through Isaiah, “And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children” (Isaiah 54:13). This is my prayer. My testimony is that the gospel is true and that the Savior lives and loves us. I close in the sacred name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Notes: *Photo 1: courtesy of LDS.org, Congo Priesthood Father; *Photo 2: picture of Children Scripture Stories, the author of this article does not receive any monetary remuneration for this, it is simply presented as an option.