How What We Should Be Becomes What We Are


Dear Will:

From what I can recall, Jesus has wanted me to be a sun-BEAM pretty much my entire life. So I couldn’t possibly tell you when I was first admonished to say my prayers, read my scriptures, and go to church, but that particular set of mandates was already so familiar by the time I reached high school that my friends and I referred to it simply as The List. If a teacher in Sunday School asked a question and you weren’t sure of the answer, it was a pretty safe bet that you could pluck something off of The List and get it right more than half the time.

Say your prayers. Read your scriptures. Go to church. These simple injunctions have been drilled into me by teacher after teacher, week after week, throughout the course of my life. If Sunday School were the sort of institution that required a proficiency exam for graduation, you can bet The List would be featured prominently on the final:

17. How can you show Jesus that you love Him?

A.  Say your prayers
B.  Read your scriptures
C.  Go to church
D.  All of the above

In spite of my youthful cynicism, over the years I have come to appreciate the personal benefit to be derived from daily devotional practice. And something I read recently caused me to consider The List in an even brighter light.

In his book, Predictably Irrational, Dan Ariely, an economics professor at Duke University, describes a two-step experiment he completed several years ago with a couple of colleagues. They asked those in Group A to write down 10 books they had read in high school and those in Group B to write down the Ten Commandments. Then they gave the two groups identical sets of simple math problems, rewarding them with cash for each problem they claimed to have solved in the allotted time. When they compared the results from the two groups, they discovered a curious difference. On average, Group A overstated their success rate by 33%, while Group B reported their results honestly, without exaggeration.

In another experiment, Ariely gave two groups of people different word-search puzzles: one with words related to rudeness and the other with words related to patience. During Phase 2 of the experiment, the “rudeness” group proved to be significantly more impolite than the “patience” group.

Isn’t it interesting that simply being reminded of virtue seems to have a measurable impact on behavior? Doesn’t it make sense, then, that God would want us praying and reading and attending services on a regular basis? At the risk of reading too much into this, we might even hypothesize that faithful Christians are enticed to become better people at least in part by their ongoing exposure to the Word. By regularly reminding ourselves of what we should be, what we should be becomes what we are.

Seems like I read that someplace—perhaps during my daily scripture study, maybe during a Sunday School class. Ah, yes. Here it is in The Book of Mormon: “The preaching of the word had a great tendency to lead the people to do that which was just—yea, it had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them. . .“ (Alma 31:5).

What are some things we can do to become better people? Go ahead. Guess. There’s a pretty good chance you’ll get it right.


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