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Try these 7 steps to make learning a spiritual — not just a secular — endeavor

Students from around the world who participate in the BYU-Pathway Worldwide programs have one thing in common, said Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency.

They, like all of God's children, need the Spirit to help them learn.

When individuals make learning a spiritual endeavor rather than simply a secular one, they are much more likely to be successful, Brother Ashton said during a devotional address Tuesday, Feb. 12, at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg, Idaho.

To help clarify the difference of learning and learning by the Spirit, Brother Ashton shared four key principles pulled from scriptures and the words of the prophets:

  • "The first principle is that all truth is is made understandable to us by the Light of Christ and the Holy Ghost," Brother Ashton said, adding "in other words, truth is not only revealed or made understandable to us by the Spirit, but it also proceeds forth from Jesus Christ through the Light of Christ.
  • "The second principle is that in order to learn truth, we must obey the specific laws that allow us to understand that principle of truth," he said, noting that the corollary to this principle is that light and truth can be taken away through disobedience to those same laws.
  • "The third principle is that the Holy Ghost and the Light of Christ can quicken our understanding and our capacity," Brother Ashton said. Simple acts like praying for help, pondering the scriptures or serving others can allow the Spirit to more easily help those who seek Him.
  • "The fourth principle is that if we exercise faith in Christ, we will 'have power to do whatsoever thing is expedient in' Him," he said, quoting a phrase from Moroni 7:17 in the Book of Mormon. "As it relates to learning, I take this to mean that when it is expedient in Christ, we can do the following: Overcome or work around challenges; develop talents that don’t come naturally to us; and persist in doing the things that allow us to learn even when it is very difficult."

Sharing two examples from his own past, Brother Ashton contrasted what it is like to learn with the Spirit and what it is like to attempt to learn without the Spirit.

As a young boy, Brother Ashton's mother encouraged him to learn the piano. But without a strong desire to learn the instrument, he put minimal effort into his daily practice and weekly lessons. He was convinced he would be bad at it and, rather than increase his efforts, he took the opportunity to quit when it was offered to him.

Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, greets attendees following the BYU Idaho devotional on Feb. 12.
Brother Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the Sunday School general presidency, greets attendees following the BYU Idaho devotional on Feb. 12. Photo: Cami Su, BYU Idaho

Years later, when he was called on a mission, Brother Ashton was afraid at the prospect of having to learn Spanish. But in this instance, he had a desire to learn the language and was thus willing to do the work necessary to practice, study, and learn the language.

The difference between the two experiences, Brother Ashton noted, was that when it came to learning Spanish, he made his attempt a spiritual endeavor.

"The Lord grants unto us according to our desire," he said. "What’s more, having a desire to learn opens our hearts such that the Spirit can reveal truth to us."

Not only did he have a desire to learn Spanish and call on the Lord for help in his efforts, Brother Ashton noted, but he followed through with his desire by obeying the "laws upon which the blessing of learning Spanish was predicated."

Learning piano, on the other hand, had been a distinctly non-spiritual endeavor for him. He noted his negative attitude, which he had from the beginning, made it nearly impossible for him to make learning the piano a spiritual endeavor at the time, even if he had wanted to.

Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the general Sunday School presidency speaks at a BYU Idaho devotional on Feb. 12.
Brian K. Ashton, second counselor in the general Sunday School presidency speaks at a BYU Idaho devotional on Feb. 12. Photo: Michael Lewis, BYU Idaho

The opposing experiences made clear for Brother Ashton the importance of recognizing the hand of the Lord in all things and the success that can come when one is willing to humble themselves to follow the Lord's path to enlightenment.

"So, what do you need to do to succeed in your learning endeavors?"

Brother Ashton listed 7 steps to accomplish learning by the Spirit:

  1. Recognize that learning is a spiritual process.
  2. Develop a desire to learn what you are studying.
  3. Ask for divine help. This includes daily and specific prayers to a Father in Heaven who is waiting to help, Brother Ashton noted.
  4. Do the work required to learn. The effort required to learn something will not always be the same when compared to others, he said.
  5. Repent. "Repentance helps us to have the Spirit to a greater degree in our lives," he said.
  6. Do things that bring an extra measure of the Spirit into your life.
  7. Trust that all things are possible with God. "Don’t give up because learning something seems impossible," Brother Ashton said. "Don’t 'take counsel from (your) fears.' Rather move forward in faith."

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