3 World-Changing Ways to Look at Prayer

Mormonism forgiveness

I can still remember, as a young man, the first time I felt the confirming power of the Spirit come to me in comfort and assurance as I prayed to know if God was there, if he really heard me, and if the Book of Mormon was true.

I can say without any doubt that I felt that very real power then, and that by following the promptings and seeking the promises that followed that first witness, I gained a knowledge strong enough to stake my life on—that God and Jesus Christ live, the Book of Mormon is their true revealed word to their children here on Earth, and that the atonement is real and has infinite power to save us.

In order to develop that knowledge, though, trials of faith and testimony had to occur. A relationship with my Father in Heaven and His Son and Their Spirit had to be developed.

It is through personal, private and intimate prayers that Father’s will is made known individually to His children, and by following that will with full purpose of heart, we enable Him to bless us with spiritual gifts, temporal prosperity and inner peace. These blessings are poured out in response to willing obedience as naturally as a river flowing downstream; for “there is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of the world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated” (Doctrine & Covenants 130:20-21).

If our object in life is to come closer to Father in Heaven and emulate Him, we have only to “knock,” “ask,” and “seek” through prayer.

Communing personally with the Father through Christ is one of the greatest blessings afforded to every member of mankind. It is important, then, that we seek to be better at it—that we look for ways to improve our communion with God and increase our capacity to hear and understand His voice.

Prayer isn’t just a ritual. It’s a conversation, and it can happen “always.”

Many of us may think of prayer as being a morning and night ritual, to be performed while kneeling at our bedside, next to a companion, spouse or at mealtimes with family.

Nephi describes the events leading up to his singular and defining vision of the future of the House of Israel: “After I had desired to know the things that my father had seen, and believing that the Lord was able to make them known unto me, as I sat pondering in mine heart I was caught away in the Spirit of the Lord, yea, into an exceeding high mountain” (1 Ne. 11:1).

If you’re like me, you often sit pondering just as Nephi did, about life and its mysteries—but how often do we consider these necessary and often life-defining moments of personal reflection as a fulfillment of the Lord’s commandment to “pray always?”

Marion G. Romney, an apostle of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints until the late 1980s, said, “There is no doubt in my mind but that Nephi’s pondering was in essence a prayer.”

With this in mind, the words of Alma to the poor-in-spirit Zoramites start to mean something else entirely:

Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening… cry unto him against the power of your enemies…cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.

Alma spoke as though what we call “personal prayer” was only an addendum to the general idea of “prayer,” not the complete definition of the word.

He closed his remarks with the advice we should all strive to incorporate more fully into our daily routines: “… And when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you” (Alma 34:17–27).

To the people left in the New World after his death and resurrection, Jesus offered counsel that I have to think was at least as much for us as it was for them, “Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” (3 Ne. 18:18)

The very real danger the adversary poses in our society should be foreign to no one. His influence is seen everywhere, and sad stories of families torn apart by addiction, betrayal, and selfishness are heard too often.

When the Lord tells us “pray always,” he is talking about where our minds by reflex go when trials and temptations come upon us. He is referring to both the tone and the direction of our inner musings.

Rather than complain inwardly and withdraw ourselves to sulk and stew on our myriad problems, “pray always,” invites us to take our complaints instead to the One who can save us from them and from ourselves, if we are humble enough to live as He directs.

Prayer is all about attitude.

Prayer, then, doesn’t have much at all to do with us getting what we want. It is about earnestly seeking to bring ourselves in alignment with the light and will of Father in Heaven.

In order to more make an effective and lasting change in ourselves for the better, our hearts must be both drawn out constantly in prayer, and they also must be in the right place—submissive and childlike—when we do so.

In the April 2006 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ, President Henry B. Eyring recounted a personal experience that served to teach him the most effective attitude in which to approach our prayers, if we truly wish to be recipients of the Lord’s will:

I prayed through the night to know what I was to choose to do in the morning. I knew that no other choice could have had a greater effect on the lives of others and on my own. I knew what choice looked most comfortable to me. I knew what outcome I wanted. But I could not see the future. I could not see which choice would lead to which outcome. So the risk of being wrong seemed too great to me.

I prayed, but for hours there seemed to be no answer. Just before dawn, a feeling came over me. More than at any time since I had been a child, I felt like one. My heart and my mind seemed to grow very quiet. There was a peace in that inner stillness.

Somewhat to my surprise, I found myself praying, “Heavenly Father, it doesn’t matter what I want. I don’t care anymore what I want. I only want that Thy will be done. That is all that I want. Please tell me what to do.”

In that moment I felt as quiet inside as I had ever felt. And the message came, and I was sure who it was from. It was clear what I was to do. I received no promise of the outcome. There was only the assurance that I was a child who had been told what path led to whatever He wanted for me. (source: LDS.org)

The “attitude of prayer” is one that recognizes Father’s claim that His “ways are higher than [our] ways,” and likewise are His thoughts (Isa. 55:9).

At the beginning of the day, it says “I have many things planned today that I think are productive and worthy of my time, Heavenly Father, but I want to be receptive to change if you know of a better way to accomplish them.” It prays to recognize promptings, begs for the courage to follow them even when we don’t understand why or how, and fully intends to “go and do as the Lord commands” (1 Ne. 3:7).

It prays to for opportunities to be a blessing to others and share the light of the gospel through a humble testimony. It prays for opportunities to have talents tested and convictions tried, because the attitude of prayer understands that through these growing experiences we are made more like our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ.

At the end of the day, the true attitude of prayer is mindful of shortcomings, prays for forgiveness and relies on the mercies of Christ and pleads for grace through His atonement. It resolves to do better tomorrow.

It “[considers] the lilies of the field,” (Matt. 6:28-29) taking comfort in the priceless knowledge that the Lord loves His children and takes care of those who are faithful. When life is dark and the way seems hard, it says, “it doesn’t matter what I want. I don’t care anymore what I want. I only want that Thy will be done. Please tell me what to do.”

In a separate address, about five years earlier, President Eyring also offered these words of comfort and wisdom: “Those who submit like a child do it because they know that the Father wants only the happiness of His children and that only He knows the way. That is the testimony we must have to keep praying like a submissive child, in the good times as well as the times of trouble” (General Conference, October 2001. source: LDS.org).

When Heaven seems silent, the answers are found in serving others.

To Oliver Cowdery, who sought the ability to translate ancient scripture as the Prophet Joseph Smith did, the Lord promised, “if thou wilt inquire, thou shalt know mysteries which are great and marvelous,” and then counseled, “therefore exercise thy gift, that thou mayest find out mysteries.”

The Lord desired of Oliver what He desires from all of us: that we exercise that portion allotted to us of the Spirit to bless and improve the lives of those around us.

We all have talents, and our love Father in Heaven has left it up to us to discover what they are—and how we can use them to benefit His work, our families and others.

When we learn to serve God by serving others, when we make our business His business and our testimonies become an integral part of our everyday lives, then will the Spirit most clearly be able to reveal to us the “mysteries” we each seek to know for ourselves.

The Lord instructs those who doubt or fear that their mortal strength will somehow prevent them from performing valuable Christlike service to “cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:14-15, 22-23)

If we stand in need of personal guidance or reassurance, we have only to keep in remembrance all the times the Lord has answered our cries, calmed our fears and quieted our minds, and remind ourselves that that is how His Spirit speaks to us: not frantically or with great and nervous whirlwinds of thought, but with calm clarity and peace of mind.

The words of a hymn come to mind:

Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire,
Uttered or unexpressed,
The motion of a hidden fire
That trembles in the breast.

Prayer is the burden of a sigh,
The falling of a tear,
The upward glancing of an eye,
When none but God is near.

Prayer is the simplest form of speech
That infant lips can try,
Prayer, the sublimest strains that reach
The Majesty on high.

Prayer is the Christian’s vital breath,
The Christian’s native air;
His watchword at the gates of death;
He enters heaven with prayer.

Oh, thou by whom we come to God,
The Life, the Truth, the Way!
The path of prayer thyself hast trod;
Lord, teach us how to pray. (Hymns, no. 145)

Seth has been an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints since the age of eight. In his youth he tried to kill his poor parents by deliberately involving himself in more extracurricular activities than either of them had time or mortal energy to drive him to. Luckily for him, his parents are superhuman. Seth played soccer, hockey and any other team sport that involved arms, legs and fast-moving rubber spheroids, wrote short stories, poetry and music, and was far too involved in his High School's drama and mock trial programs for his social life's own good. Ice hockey stuck. So did writing. Seth doesn't know everything--but he knows that God and Jesus Christ live, that They love us, and that They always keep Their promises.