In discussing prayer, I would like to use the letters in PRAY to focus on four aspects of prayer:
Prayer is a privilege. I love Psalms 116:1-8: "I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications. Because he hath inclined his ear unto me, therefore will I call upon him as long as I live. The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the Lord; O Lord, I beseech thee, deliver my soul. Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; yea, our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple: I was brought low, and he helped me. Return unto thy rest, O my soul; for the Lord hath dealt bountifully with thee. For thou hast delivered my soul from death, mine eyes from tears, and my feet from falling."
Pres. George Albert Smith said, “It is a wonderful blessing that we enjoy in these times of stress and absolute uncertainty to feel sure of divine guidance, to have absolute faith in a personal God who is interested in us and who hears and answers our prayers.”
He also taught, “The Lord…has explained to us how we may receive blessings through prayer. There are many people in the world who do not realize the real benefits of prayer. Prayer is a power. It has an influence that comparatively few people seem to understand…. How many are there in this Church who do not know that they have the right, the absolute right to pray to their Father in heaven, and ask Him to take from them their distress and lead them to contentment and happiness?”
How are we to approach the Lord in prayer? 2 Chronicles 7:14 teaches: "If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land." Humility is imperative as we speak with the Lord. I like the phrase, "seek my face." This is echoed in D&C 101:38, which says: "And seek the face of the Lord always, that in patience ye may possess your souls, and ye shall have eternal life." I think it is helpful to imagine Him there speaking to us face to face in order to truly converse with the Lord.
Pres. Smith tells the story of an orphan boy who, faced with surgery, asked the doctor to pray for him. When the doctor declined, the boy determined he would have to pray for himself. When a man asked the doctor about the experience later, he replied: “That boy opened the windows of heaven and talked to his Heavenly Father as one would talk to another face to face. I want to say to you that I am a better man for having had this experience of standing and hearing a little boy talk to his Father in heaven as if he were present.”
Prayer is not only a blessing for us individually, but also for our families. Pres. Smith taught, “We (as family members) will not always see alike; men will not always reason as their wives do and vice versa, but if you will pray together, with a real desire to be united, I can say to you, you will agree on all important matters. I noticed…on a billboard: ‘The family that prays together stays together.’ I do not know who placed it there, but I want to say that if you will think about it for a moment you will know that it is true. I admonish you to pray together to the Lord, and I do not mean by that to just say prayers, I do not mean to… repeat something over and over again, but open your souls to the Lord as husbands and fathers in your home, and have your wives and your children join you. Have them participate. There then comes into the home an influence that you can feel when you go there.... As one of those whom the Lord has asked to teach, I plead with you to set your houses in order. Don’t take too many things for granted. Don’t be led into the follies and foibles of the world. Safeguard your families in every possible way. Unite them under the influence of prayer….What a power prayer is to keep us in the pathway to eternal life and lead us into the celestial kingdom!”
That leads us to our next theme. We have a responsibility to pray and to teach our children to pray. We have been given this great privilege of speaking to our Father in heaven, God of all creation, as though He were sitting next to us. We are given many glorious promises that if we seek Him in prayer, He will be found. Where much is given, much is required. We are not only given the right and privilege to pray, we have a responsibility to pray. And we have a very serious responsibility to teach our children to pray.
Pres. Smith said, “It is strange that any member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should have to be urged to say his prayers, and yet there are some people who do not pray in secret or have their family prayers. Yet unless we pray we lose the protection that prayer offers.”
Pres. Smith goes on to say, “I would like to emphasize this: I hope that the Latter-day Saints will not fail to hold their prayers, their secret prayers and their family prayers. Children who are reared in homes where they do not have family prayers and secret prayers lose a lot, and I fear that in the midst of the world’s confusion, of hurry and bustle, many times homes are left without prayer and without the blessings of the Lord; these homes cannot continue to be happy. We live in an age when we need our Heavenly Father as much as they ever needed Him in any age.”
Is this quote not even more applicable today? I think this quote hit me the hardest. How many of us rush about to give our children every lesson, every opportunity, and then crash into bed at night and forget the very most important thing we can give our children. I know I often do. Our children and our homes will be happier, they will retain the influence and power of God as we pray with our families. That is an awesome blessing and a grave responsibility we have to ourselves and our children.
Pres. Smith continues, “Do not put away from you the power of God. Retain in your homes the influences of prayer and of thanksgiving, and let gratitude flow to him who is the author of our beings and the giver of all good…That is our privilege. I say to you that the power of prayer is something that cannot be measured.”
I think one of the reasons it is so important to teach our children to pray is summed up by Pres. Smith when he said, “I learned quite early in life that the Lord would answer prayer for He answered mine and in many ways He gave me evidence of His watchful care.”
That leads to our third theme. Our prayers will be answered. What do we need to do to receive answers to our prayers? As mentioned earlier, we must approach the Lord in humility. This is also a key to receiving answers to prayer.
D&C 112:10 teaches: “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand and give thee answer to thy prayers.”
Another key is given in D&C 101:7-8: "They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble. In the day of their peace they esteemed lightly my counsel; but, in the day of their trouble, of necessity they feel after me." We must be obedient, listen to the Lord and follow His counsel if we want to continue to have our prayers heard and answered.
We also learn an important insight in D&C 9:7-8: "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right." The Lord expects us to do our part, by studying the question, weighing the decision, whatever steps we can take ourselves. Then we may ask if what we have learned or what we have decided is correct.
I have often had the experience when I have asked a question in prayer, only to receive the answer through studying the scriptures. I have often felt led to study certain passages, which the Spirit then testified to me was the answer to my question. It really is an amazing experience and one that I perhaps would not have had had I not put forth my effort to turn to my scriptures.
As I was studying this topic, I read in the Bible Dictionary under "Prayer." One of the paragraphs stood out to me as it had to do with something I had recently learned that was a wonderful insight for me and so I would like to share it with you also. It is the last topic of “Yada.”
"As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part. Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other." (Bible Dictionary, pg. 752, "Prayer").
I thought it was interesting that the BD says many of the so-called difficulties with prayer come from forgetting this relationship to our Heavenly Father. For that reason I thought it would be appropriate to expound upon this relationship.
Dr. Robert Norman teaches that our relationship to our Heavenly Father has a progression. It is Child – Servant – Friend – Faithful Bride/Beloved.
We are taught from an early age that we are children of our Heavenly Father. Deuteronomy 14:1 says: “Ye are children of the Lord your God.” Psalms 82:6 proclaims, “…Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.”
As we recognize that God is our Father and come to understand His plan for us and the Atonement, we begin to make the transition into becoming His servant.
What connotations does the word servant have? For me some of those connotations are of the idea of being bought, doing the master’s will and not his own, and obedience. A few scriptures referencing these ideas are:
1 Cor. 6:19-20 (We are bought with a price and are not our own.)
Romans 6:16-18. (We become the servant of him whom we choose to obey.)
The progression from child to servant happens when we learn the doctrine, begin to understand Christ’s atonement, choose to follow Christ and conform our will to His as we obey His commandments.
At some point we progress from being called servant to being called friend. An example of this is in D& C 93:45: “Verily, I say unto my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., or in other words, I will call you friends, for you are my friends, and ye shall have an inheritance with me.
John 15:7, 9-10 and 13-15 give us some insight into the progression from servant to friend: "If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.... As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you: continue ye in my love. If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father's commandments, and abide in his love.... Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you. Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you."
As His will becomes our will, as we continue in even greater obedience, abiding in His love, as our knowledge increases, we become His friends.
Exodus 33:11 says, “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.”
There is a lot of symbolism in the scriptures of Christ as the Bridegroom and the house of Israel as His bride. The last step in our progression is to become the faithful bride, to make God and Christ our Beloved. To quote Donna B. Nielsen in her book, Beloved Bridegroom, “Marriage is a beautiful type of the bond Christ longs to have with us.”
In Hosea 1:16 it says, “And it shall be at that day, saith the Lord, that thou shalt call me Ishi, and shalt call me no more Baali.” If you look down in the footnotes you will see that Ishi means "my husband." In Hebrew it is a very endearing way to refer to your husband. Baali means "my master." So we shall move from calling him master to calling him husband.
Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.”
Dr. Robert Norman says a lot of the meaning is lost in translation from Hebrew to English. He writes: "The word for 'mercy' is 'hesed' and refers to the deep spiritual and emotional bond that exists between two very close people such as husband and wife. Immediately, one perceives that God wants us to be as emotionally and spiritually close to him in thought and action as a devoted husband and wife would be. The word 'knowledge' comes from two Hebrew words 'yada' and 'daat' both of which mean 'to learn by close experience.' Again, the Lord reinforces the idea that he desires to have a personal and intimate association with each individual. It is a humbling moment when we realize that such a powerful, loving, and kind God wants this type of a relationship." (Forward to “Beloved Bridegroom.” by Donna B. Nielsen)
This is “yada.” Knowledge. “To learn by close experience.” We will know the Lord through our devotion and our close experiences with him. This is why I believe prayer is so important. It is through prayer that our will is brought in line with that of the Lord. It enables this progression from Child to Beloved. It is how we come to know our Lord in the personal and intimate way that He desires us to know Him.
John 17:3 says: “And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.”
Hosea 1:19-20 says, “And I will betroth thee unto me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in lovingkindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto me in faithfulness; and thou shalt know the Lord.”
That is the privilege and the power of prayer. Gaining this insight into “yada” and the relationship my Father in Heaven wants to have with me has motivated me to truly seek His face, to make my prayers more personal and meaningful and to further my progression through prayer. I hope it will for you too. That is my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.