"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
November 13, 2013
Asking Questions: Key to Learning
by Kathryn Grant

Children love to ask questions about anything and everything. They want to understand the “what,” “why,” and “how” of things. When the Lord said that we should “become as little children” (Matthew 18:3), perhaps asking questions was one of the qualities He had in mind.

As adults, we sometimes lose this quality. But asking questions and seeking answers is one of the great keys to learning, one we can use successfully in our study of the scriptures.

So how do we become as a little child, and regain or improve our ability to ask questions as we study the scriptures? There are some simple steps we can take.

First, we need to become aware of things we’re not understanding, instead of just glossing over them. We need to stop ourselves mentally when something doesn’t quite make sense. As Elder Bednar teaches, it’s important to exercise our agency in our own learning.

The second step is to determine why we don’t understand something. Is the meaning of a word unfamiliar? Is the sentence structure confusing? Does the passage seem to contradict another passage? Could there be references to an unfamiliar culture?

Finally, it helps to frame a specific question. For instance, don’t just say to yourself, “I don’t get this,” but ask a focused question like, “What does ‘betimes’ mean in this verse?” (see D&C 121:43) or “Why would Nephi grieve because we’re wondering what to do after we have entered in by the way?” (see 2 Nephi 32).

Sometimes people get down on themselves, thinking they’re somehow flawed because they don’t understand everything they read in the scriptures. But it’s okay not to understand things right away. We all start at the beginning and grow in our learning “from grace to grace” (D&C 93:13). Rather than feeling frustrated, why not be patient with ourselves as we grow and learn?

Once we have a question, what can we do to find answers? Here are some tips:

  1. Pray specifically for help finding answers to your question.

  2. Ponder, and help your pondering along, by writing in a scripture journal. Often as you write, insights will come.

  3. Let the scriptures teach you how to read the scriptures. Research other scriptures on the same topic. Read surrounding verses for context and insights.

  4. Look at general conference talks that quote the verses you’re studying. Scriptures.byu.edu is a great resource to find talks that quote a particular scripture.

  5. Use study aids, such as the Bible Dictionary, Guide to the Scriptures, and of course footnotes and cross-references. In addition, trustworthy commentaries like Victor Ludlow’s Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, Poet can offer helpful background and insights.

  6. Recognize that while some answers may come quickly, others may come over time, “line upon line, precept upon precept” (Isaiah 28:10). Answers may also come from unexpected sources. A patient heart and an observant mind will help us recognize answers.

  7. Express gratitude to the Lord for the answers you receive. As we’re grateful, we open our minds and hearts to receive further answers.

Here’s a simple example from my own study. Several times in the scriptures the word of the Lord is described as “quick and powerful” (see, for example, Hebrews 4:12 and Helaman 3:29).

Describing the Lord’s word as “powerful” made sense to me, particularly having felt that power in my life: the power of the Lord’s word to touch our hearts, move us to repentance, and motivate us to service in His Kingdom.

But what does it mean for the Lord’s word to be “quick”? We usually think of “quick” as speedy or fast. That didn’t make as much sense to me.

So with that question in mind, I started looking for answers. This one was close by: the footnote for “quick” in Hebrews 4:12 indicates that it means “living.” (“Quick” is also used in this sense in 1 Peter 4:5, where Peter speaks of the Lord judging the “quick and the dead” — in other words, the living and the dead.)

And that makes a lot more sense: the Lord’s words are alive and relevant to us today, and they bring us life. As the Lord Himself said, “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

As you study the scriptures, try asking more questions and prayerfully seeking answers. Does doing so help you find greater understanding and enjoyment as you study the word of the Lord?

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About Kathryn Grant

Kathryn Grant is a user assistance professional with a passion for usability and process improvement. She also loves family history and enjoys the challenge and reward of building her family tree.

As a child, she lived outside the United States for four years because of her father's job. This experience fueled her natural love of words and language, and also taught her to appreciate other cultures.

Kathryn values gratitude, teaching, learning, differences, and unity. She loves looking at star-filled skies, reading mind-stretching books, listening to contemporary Christian music, attending the temple, and eating fresh raspberries.

Kathryn teaches Sunday family history classes at the BYU Family History Library, and presents frequently at family history events. For more information, visit her Family History Learning Resources page

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