Talk given 15 January 2012
Atlantic Branch, Iowa
When our missionary son was a toddler he used the point and grunt method of communication. I encouraged him to use words and helped him learn the words he wanted to use. One particularly tiring day when I said “PW, use words,” the spirit said to me “This is why I want you to pray. I know what you need before you even ask; but I want you to use words to ask me.” (Matthew 6:8)
I gained a great insight into the why of prayer that day. In fact being a parent has helped me understand that Heavenly Father sends us to earth into families and commands us to have children ourselves so we can learn about him and learn to be like him.
We had many tender, and sometimes humorous, experiences as we taught our children to pray. Missionaries have similar experiences teaching their contacts how to pray. I have had solemn and sacred experiences while being taught to pray in the temples.
Every week the Young Women stand and repeat the words “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us,” We should understand who we are praying to. Our Father in Heaven, the Father of our Spirits, God the Eternal Father. From Moses (6:57) we learn that “Man of Holiness is his name,” He is infinite, eternal, and real. Joseph Smith taught us that “The Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s;” (D&C 130:22). It is to him that we address our prayers. We begin a prayer by saying something like Our Father in Heaven or Heavenly Father.
I find it helps to picture in my mind the person I’m addressing. I think of him as wise, loving, inviting, warm, caring, ready to listen to me, undistracted by anything else. Without being irreverent I think of him as my Dad, knowing me intimately, better than I know myself, because he has known me longer.
After addressing him reverently, we begin to express gratitude for our blessings. We thank thee for, we are grateful for, naming some of the most important things pertaining to the group or situation we are in. Naming specific blessings focuses our minds on the many things our Father does for us and gives us each day. Many things we take for granted are actually wonderful miracles: electric lights, hot and cold running water, telephones and computers; washers and dryers; homes, cars, fresh food, health and life itself.
After expressing sufficient gratitude we may ask for specific blessings using phrases such as we ask thee, wilt thou bless us with, please bless this or that, as needed.
It was when I was a missionary that I realized the importance of asking for specifics rather than generalities. Joseph Smith asked specific questions, never receiving a revelation except in answer to a question. Think of a child—does he ask for a toy? Or for a specific one? There are instances when generalities are appropriate, and others when specifics are called for.
We end our prayers in the way the Savior taught. To the Nephites he said “And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.” (3 Ne. 18:20)
After the Savior departed from the Nephites, his twelve apostles continued to teach the people that they “should pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus.” (3 Ne. 19:6) So we end our prayer using language such as In the name of Jesus Christ, or In the name of thy son Jesus Christ.
We address our prayers to God the Father, and end them in the name of His son Jesus Christ, because as the Apostle John taught “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous.” (1 John 2:1)
The four steps of prayer are simple and straightforward.
We address our Father in Heaven, we thank him for all he has given us, we ask him for specific blessings, we conclude in the name of Jesus Christ.
We use special pronouns in prayer, thee, thy, thine, thou. Often these are referred to as formal language. I know only two languages, English and some Spanish, so I can’t speak authoritatively for any other languages, but in Spanish the equivalents to thee, thy, thou, and thine are not the formal pronouns one would use with a superior or someone with whom you are not familiar, but they are the intimate pronouns one would use with close family or friends. This fits with the feeling we should have of reverence and closeness to our Father in Heaven. He is not far away, impersonal and cold. I picture him sitting on my bed, me kneeling at his feet, telling him about my day, pouring out my heart in gratitude for the tender mercies he has given me, pleading for some special need I have. He is very near and I use intimate language with him.
It doesn’t take very long to be able to correctly use the special pronouns in prayer. It does take practice. Reading the scriptures and listening carefully to prayers will help you become familiar with this special language.
Jesus’ teachings to his followers recorded as the Sermon on the Mount include important instructions about prayer. One thing he said was to “use not vain repetitions.” What does this mean?
I will share a personal example from a recent experience. I was asked to give the opening prayer at my sister’s funeral. I thought long and hard about what to say. I didn’t want to say “We’re so thankful to be here and bless those who aren’t here this time that they may be here next time.” I pondered all that we in the family were feeling and got up to pray still not exactly sure what to say. The Lord taught Joseph Smith “treasure up in your minds continually the words of life, and it shall be given you in the very hour, yea in the very moment, what ye shall say.” (D&C 84:85 & 100:6). As I began the prayer the words came and the spirit of comfort and healing was very strong.
When called on to be voice for a group prayer think about who is in the group, the circumstances of the meeting, the needs of those in attendance, the blessings the group has received; then let the spirit guide you in what to say.
Prayer is not something to hurry up and get over with so we can get on to better things. It is direct communication with our Father in Heaven. We can speak slowly and thoughtfully. Enos prayed all night long! He didn’t hurry through a memorized prayer so he could get on with hunting. That was probably a once in a lifetime prayer, but I still think it is instructive that when we begin a meeting or class, or when we have family or personal prayer we don’t need to hurry through it.
For you young people who are in charge of classes or quorums, remember that prayer is not a punishment to inflict on others, but rather a privilege to be voice for a group of saints calling upon our Father.
We can liken prayer to a phone call. Do we call our family or friend, race through a checklist of items and then hang up? No. We tell and listen, ask and listen. We whine, exclaim, complain, explain, question, recommend, converse, laugh, and listen.
Granted prayer isn’t exactly like a phone call, but as we mature in prayer we can have more of the two way communication as we listen for the promptings and impressions that come to our mind as we pray patiently and allow time for answers.
We are commanded (at least a dozen times in the Doctrine and Covenants alone) to pray always and we are commanded to pray over everything. Amulek said to the people he was teaching
“Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; Yea, cry unto him for mercy for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. (In other words, when you are at work.) Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
President Spencer W. Kimball said: “When should we pray? The answer: pray always. But to be more specific, the Church urges that there be family prayer every night and every morning. It is a kneeling prayer with all or as many members of the family present as possible. Many have found the most effective time is at the breakfast and at the dinner table. Then it is least difficult to get the family members together. These prayers need not be long, especially if little children are on their knees. All of the members of the family, including the little ones, should have opportunity to be mouth in the prayer, in turn.” (New Era, March 1978)
Back to Amulek:
“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, 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. (What we do for a living again.)
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, 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)
I like Tevye, the father in Fiddler on the Roof. He has a habit of looking up and talking to God, almost as if he were the next door neighbor. He talked to God about everything! We should too. Parents can model for children the right kind of relationship with our Father in Heaven. If we are concerned about our children how much more is He concerned about them and us? We all, are first and last His children; He cares about us and wants us to return home to Him.
Sometimes it is wonderful to pray a prayer of gratitude only, without asking for anything else. We have learned in our family that this is useful for remembering how much we already have, and how much God loves us. We have knelt in a circle and beginning with the oldest have each prayed in turn expressing only gratitude with the youngest ending the prayer. Those have been sacred occasions, long remembered.
Sometimes we say prayers that are simply pleadings for help. I can testify that our Father in Heaven is interested in even the most mundane things in our lives. Once while making a shirt I couldn’t get the collar to go on straight. After ruining several I was ready to give up in frustration. The thought came into my mind to pray about it. I did. I asked for help in seeing what I was doing wrong and to have my hands guided in doing it right. After finishing the prayer I cut out a new collar and proceeded to sew it onto the shirt. My hands were guided and it was perfect.
He cares! He has helped me remember things, find things, and face fears. He has blessed me with strength to endure trials, press forward when hurt, and overcome offenses.
In all our praying, all our communing with God we must remember to submit to His will. Jesus modeled for us a life of bending to His Father’s will.
He taught us by example “Thy will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me.” (John 5:30) “For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38) “Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39)
At times it will seem as if our prayers are not being answered; or perhaps answered differently than we want. A no answer might be in our best interest. A “not now, or not yet” answer could be the right answer. We must be patient, not always easy or fun—ask any child if waiting is. But we must trust our Heavenly Parent that He knows best because he not only knows the end from the beginning, but he knows us better than we know ourselves and He has plan for us.
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)
By asking for God’s will to be done we acknowledge our dependence on Him and His superior knowledge of what is best for us. I have learned that His plan is always better than mine.
What a blessing it is to have a way to communicate with our Father in Heaven.
I testify that he is real; that he hears and answers our prayers. He loves us, with a love greater than we can comprehend. And has shown his love by sending his beloved son, Jesus Christ to earth to live and die for us that we can repent and follow the Savior back home to Him, Our Eternal Heavenly Father.
I testify that we are led by a living Prophet, who has asked us to pray that the countries of the world where the gospel is not now present will open their doors to the missionaries that the Kingdom of God can go forth and fill the entire world.
I testify that Joseph Smith was the prophet of the Restoration who opened this dispensation by offering a prayer to know which church to join.
I know this is the true church of Jesus Christ. I’m so thankful to be a part of it.
In the name of our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, Amen.