“It is written…” Behavior change through studying behavior

I had an interesting conversation last Sunday with a member of our stake presidency. He is someone Courtney and I have known for many years. When we were first married, he was in the bishopric. Later, as our bishop, he wisely counseled Courtney during her post-partum depression. Now I serve with him in my current calling, and I don’t hesitate to say that he is one of my favorite people.

But on to the conversation….

During our missionary correlation meeting, we discussed ways in which we can encourage members in our wards to participate in missionary work. President Christensen mentioned Elder Packer’s famous “the study of doctrine will change behavior faster than the study of behavior will change behavior.” He then went on to discuss some additional thoughts that Elder Bednar offered, namely that studying any random doctrine will NOT change any random behavior and that only studying doctrine related to the behavior you are trying to change will change that specific behavior.

For example, if you want to change your behavior in relation to fasting, you will not succeed by studying the doctrine related to chastity.

As much as I love Elder Packer’s quote, I find it unfortunate that the interpretation of it is often that studying doctrine–any doctrine–is sufficient to change behavior, and I find Elder Bednar’s addition enlightening, clarifying, and hopeful.

Later on, President Christensen and I were talking more about that concept and we started to talk about something that I had missed before. When Christ is tempted (see Luke 4) three times by Satan, Christ always responds by saying first, “It is written….” He then goes on to explain the scripture that refutes the temptation Satan is offering. On previous readings of those scriptures, I understood them to mean that the Lord knew the scriptures. And that’s true. But in light of Elder Packer’s–and perhaps especially in light of Elder Bednar’s–thoughts, it seems reasonable to believe that the Savior’s thoughts and responses are direct result of behavior learned by studying the doctrine related to those behaviors.

To put it another way, how much more powerfully could we resist temptation if each time we were tempted we could respond, “It is written…?”

I wish we had had more time to talk about the subject, but at this point, President Christensen’s wife called. I’m happy to report that his ring tone for her is the truly awesome The Way You Make Me Feel by Michael Jackson. 🙂

But the thoughts have stuck with me for some time, and I think this is one of the keys to understanding the value of scripture study and our personal study of the gospel. I have been asked why I continue to read the scriptures and especially why I and others read the Book of Mormon over and over. I knew basic answers then, but this Sunday, I learned that “It is written…” just might be one of the most powerful tools we have available to us in facing our trials and temptations.

I hope to find myself able to confidently say, “It is written…” regardless of the temptations that come my way.

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