In D&C 10:5 it reads:
Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.
Sister Carol F. McConkie of the Young Women General Presidency gave a talk which was entitiled ‘The Soul’s Sincere Desire’. We know that in order to truly hone our desires, in order to come closer to the Lord and ultimately overcome Satan and his temptations we must call upon the powers of heaven to support us – we must pray.
Prayer is, I feel, one of the simplest principles we have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, however it is one that is understood or utilised the least. I feel this at least in my own life. Whilst I do pray on a daily basis, my prayers do not contain or produce the power that they should.
Sister McConkie made the blessings of powerful prayer clear when she said:
“For us, miraculous healing, powerful protection, divine knowledge, liberating forgiveness, and precious peace are among the answers that come when we offer up a “soul’s sincere desire” in faith.” Can you say that your prayers offer the blessings listed here as much as they should or could? I know we all will be at different stages in the power of our personal prayers but we must all progress.
What is Prayer?
The key to starting this progress is to ask the very basic question – what is prayer? This is something that already we can easily misunderstand. Whilst it is indeed an opportunity to commune with and interact with our Heavenly Father, prayer is so much more.
Prayer is a miraculous gift. We have been sent to Earth to live by faith and yet we have been provided with something so precious as it allows us to contact the Being who allowed us to come here. However, there are some very important things to remember with prayer. Prayers are not an opportunity to place an order and accept things instantly. To begin with, a look in the Bible Dictionary will tell us “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. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.” Prayer is the means by which we can come closer to God and, as such, bring our will closer to His. We can ask for blessings and if we receive that blessing, it is because the Lord is willing to give it to us and would have if we asked.
This is why it is vital we remember prayer as being a two-way communication. If you wanted to have a conversation with me, you would not approach me, list a number of thoughts and questions you had and then leave without me responding. Then why are we so easy or willing to have this kind of conversation with Heavenly Father?
I don’t think we do this on purpose – perhaps we are unused to talking with the Lord in a way that we speak to him and converse with Him?
Thinking about this – I was visiting a ward recently to speak in on Sunday and a sister missionary spoke before me. She spoke of prayer and an experience she had over Christmas. All the missionaries were invited on Christmas Day to engage in a 45 minute prayer. As this daunting task lay before her, she planned what she would discuss with her Heavenly Father and was able to pause for answers. This illuminated me. In all my years of, quite frankly, failing to consistently hold meaningful prayers I had never thought of this! Actually sitting down and planning what I would discuss in my prayers. I am a very methodical person so I decided to give this a go. As I planned the prayer then called to Heavenly Father, three amazing things happened:
- Before I even started the prayer, I found that through the day I was picking things up or noticing things I wanted to talk to my Heavenly Father about – things that I would have forgotten about at the ridiculous hour at which I go to sleep when saying my closing prayer for the day
- My prayer was a lot more focused. As I had prepared prayerfully the things I would discuss, I found that I was able to form more coherent thoughts which led to a more effective discussion
- I wanted answers. Because I had clear things to discuss, I was more eager to listen to the Spirit for answers Heavenly Father had for me so I waited for them. Then, when I received answers, I wanted to explore those answers more in detail because I had a clearer purpose to my prayer rather than just saying my prayers because I should say my prayers!
Our Desire’s Answer
As you pray with more power, you will find your soul’s sincere desires addressed more by Heavenly Father. Sister McConkie talked about a parable that Christ gave – she said:
He told of a judge who did not honor God and did not have any regard for mankind. Repeatedly, a widow came before him, pleading to be avenged of her adversary. For a while, the judge would offer her no relief. But as a result of her faithful, consistent pleading, the judge finally thought, “Because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”
Then Jesus explained:
“Shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him … ?
In other words, if we ask a mortal person repeatedly about something they will probably answer eventually because we are pestering them. So then, our Heavenly Father, who loves us dearly, will surely hear out prayers and answer them because He loves us with a perfect love. He knows the sincere desires of our soul and when we call upon His name, He will be able to help us.
The Best Gifts
However, this promise does come with a clear condition. If we pray with a sincere desire Heavenly Father will hear and answer our prayers. It does not mean that we govern His answer. Our Heavenly Father will always bless us with what we NEED, not necessarily what we WANT – and very often those two things are different.
Sometimes, this outcome of prayer is difficult to understand. We must remember the words of Isaiah in of my favourite verses which reads:
“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.”
Even if we know and understand this principle, it is not easy. The most asked question I had on my mission was not about plural marriage or tithing, but it was an honest question which more people have than you might think. The question was this – “If God was really there, why does he let bad things happen to this person who is a really good person?”
A while ago we were teaching prayer in our Family Home Evening and we were considering how we could get across to our 4 year old son that we should pray to Heavenly Father for help but sometimes He will know how best to help us even if we want something a lot. We came across this analogy which I really liked:
It was Saturday morning, and father was home. He had brought some work from the office to complete and went into the study to be alone.
(1) Soon his little daughter came into the room crying. Someone had broken her new doll. Her father told her not to worry: he would fix her doll. She thanked her father and ran happily back to play.
(2) Next his son came in. He asked his father for money to buy a new model boat to take sailing with his friends. His father took time to explain that the boy had already received his weekly allowance two days ago with the understanding that it was to take care of such things.
(3) His teenage daughter came in next. She wanted a new dress for the coming dance. Her father told her that she would have to wait. He told her that if she saved as much as she could herself, he would help her buy the new dress.
(4) His teenage son interrupted the father next. The son was doing his homework and needed help with a problem. His father gave him some suggestions, but did not work the problem for him. A few minutes later, his son returned to say, “Thank you for the idea you gave me. It worked!”
(5) Finally, the youngest child came in. His father looked down at the boy and asked kindly, “What do you want, son?” “I don’t want anything,” the little boy answered as he reached his arms around his father’s neck and kissed him. “I just wanted to be with you.”
I loved this. I wish I knew this story when I was on my mission. This story breaks down various glorious understanding as to why we have different answers to prayers as a witness to how a loving father works – and it is the same with our loving Heavenly Father.
For (1) the child was ready to receive and the father listened, intervened and supported the children. In this instance, the child does need that help but cannot help themselves and so the father listens and acts.
For (2) the child had to understand responsibility. They were listened to but did not get the response they wanted. If they were to receive it they would quickly become spoiled and presume to receive things whenever they wish. They had to learn to do without the thing they didn’t really need.
For (3) the child again was listened to by this loving parent. This was a blessing that was required, but this child had means wherewith they could contribute. It would be foolish of the parent to give the money or the blessing in full instantly – what would the child learn? They had to put the work in beforehand and the father would make up the rest.
For (4) the child had to work out the answer themselves. If they were given the answer they would not grow or develop. The loving parent listened and gave suggestions but then let the child go away and work it out. As a result, the child was so grateful to the parent and had developed.
For (5) the child clearly loved their father. They only wanted to interact to say how much they loved their parent and were grateful for all he had done for them. I’m sure Heavenly Father would love to receive more prayers like this!
Sister McConkie added this in her remarks: “The answers we receive in prayer may not be what we would desire. But in times of trouble, our prayers become a lifeline of love and tender mercy.”
“He does not want us to suffer longer or endure more trials than needed. He does want us to turn to Him and allow Him to ease our burdens, to heal our hearts, and to cleanse our souls through His purifying power.”