Episode 25. July 17, 2016. I want to first give a shout out to our son-in-law, Brian Conley. It is his birthday. Happy Birthday Brian. Yesterday was our sweet granddaughter Lucy’s birthday. Happy Birthday to you as well Lucy. Today I want to talk about prayer.
Henry Ward Beecher once said, “It is not well for a man to pray cream and live skim milk.” To this quote, Elder Howard W. Hunter said in the Oct 1977 conference: “There is now before us a danger that many may pray skim milk and live that not at all.”
A scripture that lays the basic foundation for all of our prayers is found in 2 Nephi 32:8
“And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.”
This scripture teaches two basic tenets. First, that the spirit will teach us what to pray; and second, that we MUST pray.
With this as a background, here are three ways we can make prayer more effective in our lives: The three C’s. Confidence, Courage and Commitment.
First, Confidence in prayer
The Prophet Joseph explained in the lectures on Faith that
“An actual knowledge to any person that the course of life which he pursues is according to the will of God is essentially necessary to enable him to have that confidence in God, without which no person can obtain eternal life”.
This statement clarifies that what is important is the COURSE of LIFE on which we are on, rather than where we are on that journey. In other words, both the repenting sinner and the faithful temple recommend holding latter-day saint can have the same level of confidence in God as long as both are on a Course in Life that is according to the will of God.
Elder McConkie said it this way: “everyone in the Church who is on the straight and narrow path, who is striving and struggling and desiring to do what is right, though is far from perfect in this life; if he passes out his life while he’s on the strait and narrow, he’s going to go on to eternal reward in his Father’s kingdom.”
When we know that the course of our life is aligned to God’s will, we are instilled with a greater degree of hope that, as Mormon says acts as an anchor to our souls, making us “sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.” (Ether 12:4)
When we know for ourselves that our lives are aligned with his will, we can kneel and plead for help with confidence that we have the right to have him answer our prayers.
This makes the counsel of Paul the apostle recorded in Hebrews 4:16 take on added meaning: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”
Second, Courage in Prayer
Elder Richard G. Scott said the following in General Conference in April 1977: “A key to improved prayer is to learn to ask the right questions. Consider changing from asking for the things you want to honestly seeking what He wants for you.
In May 2011, Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the First Quorum of the Seventy spoke at a BYU devotional about prayer. He shared the story of his 3 month old son Benjamin who had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called retinal blastoma. After prayerfully identifying and selecting one of only two specialists in the US with experience in this particular cancer, the family fasted and prayed. They gave him a priesthood blessing and went into the surgery with perfect faith that the young boy would be healed.
An hour into the surgery, the doctor returned to the nursing station and confirmed that the tumor cells had destroyed Benjamin’s eye and that his other eye also had several serious tumors that needed immediate treatment. This was the worst possible scenario and the Pearson’s were devastated. Completely overcome with grief and disbelief, Br. Pearson walked out of the hospital into the dark damp San Francisco morning and began to walk and weep bitterly. He felt he done everything he had been taught to do. They had fasted and prayed and felt certain that their infant son would be healed through faith and through the power of the priesthood. The outcome could not have been worse. There had been no blessing, and clearly the Lord had not intervened. His faith was shattered and he began to question everything he had ever believed. As he walked, he felt betrayed and angry. After a time, he managed to get ahold of himself emotionally and while walking remembers the words of a primary song coming into his mind. “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer? He continued the thought…Because you clearly haven’t been listening to mine or maybe you just don’t really care about me and my son.”
In that moment, he says a tender mercy came. In his mind and heart, he felt these words: Kevin, he is my son too. He realized in that moment that he had not understood the purpose of prayer at all. He had assumed that, just because he had a righteous cause, he could use the priesthood and fasting and prayer to change the will of God. From that experience he learned that “Prayer is not a negotiation process. It is an alignment process.”
When we listen closely so that the spirit of the Lord is guiding our petitions we too can have this alignment. This is one of the reasons that we pray in Christ’s name, as an indicator that our mind is the mind of Christ and that our wishes are the wishes of Christ.
A second part of this courage is adopting the practice of praying for correction.
Elder D. Todd Christopherson in the April 2011 conference said If we are to meet our Heavenly Father’s high expectations we must willingly accept and even seek correction. Correction is vital if we would conform our lives “unto a perfect man, [that is,] unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13). Paul said of divine correction or chastening, “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6).
He went on to say that divine chastening has at least three purposes: (1) to persuade us to repent, (2) to refine and sanctify us, and (3) at times to redirect our course in life to what God knows is a better path.
This processed is described in Mosiah 3:19:
“For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.“
Elder Maxwell said in a 1974 talk at BYU: If God chooses to teach us the things we most need to learn because he loves us, and if he seeks to tame our souls and gentle us in the way we most need to be tamed and most need to be gentled, it follows that he will customize the challenges he gives us and individualize them so that we will be prepared for life in a better world…. In the eternal ecology of things we must pray, therefore, not that things be taken from us, but that God’s will be accomplished through us.
Why should we invite chastening and correction, won’t that just make our lives more difficult? If we want to be worthy to stand in the presence of the Lord, we will all need to be refined. Since we are going to have to experience this refinement at some point, is it not better to invite it now so that the Lord has time to work with us? Will we not be better prepared to establish Zion as a result? As we feel the gentle chastening and correction of the Lord we will become better disciples of Jesus Christ, more attuned to the spirit of the Lord and more aware of our thoughts, our words and our actions and their impact on others.
May we all have the courage to pray for what Elder Christopherson termed Heavenly Father’s “love-inspired correction”.
Third, Commitment in prayer
The first commitment we must make when it comes to prayer is to simply pray. Elder Pearson said, “Our physical, mental, and emotional fatigue can prevent us from meaningful prayer. Speaking at God is not the same as speaking with Him.”
If we go to bed so late that we can only spend a couple of minutes praying before jumping into bed, we should rearrange our schedule to either pray earlier or come to bed sooner.
Praying for a total of 20 minutes a day during our morning and evening prayers is wonderful place to start. Before we start praying we should look at the clock. When we finish, we should look at it again. This will help us to stay on our knees longer. Often it takes a while to get to where we can feel we are speaking with Heavenly Father instead of at Him. Oh how wonderful to get to a place in prayer to which can only be described as more communion than communication.
We are familiar with Enos 2: “And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.” Perhaps the wrestle Enos had BEFORE God, was the wrestle we all have to simply stay on our knees, staying focused on our prayers, earnestly pleading for help. For the length of time Enos prayed, there is little doubt that Enos worked hard at pleading his case.
The second commitment we make is to get up off our knees and Act. Pres Monson tells the story of the Tahitian mission president’s comments about the success of the sea captains on that Island. He said, “They are amazing. The weather may be terrible, the vessels may be leaky, there may be no navigational aids except their inner feelings and the stars in the heavens, but they pray and they go.’ He repeated that phrase three times. President Monson said there is a lesson in that statement. We need to pray, and then we need to act.
In his April 2008 conference address, Elder Bednar stated: I long have been impressed with the truth that meaningful prayer requires both holy communication and consecrated work. Blessings require some effort on our part before we can obtain them, and prayer, as “a form of work, … is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer,” 753). We press forward and persevere in the consecrated work of prayer, after we say “amen,” by acting upon the things we have expressed to Heavenly Father.
He goes on to explain a prayer of faith such as “Asking for courage and boldness to open our mouths and share the gospel with our family and friends” is an example where we need to act upon that prayer.
In summary, if we are to pray cream rather than skim milk, we need to do so with Confidence, Courage and Commitment and if we are to live cream (and not skim milk), then we need to act upon our petitions.
And finally, a reminder from Elder Scott:
“You are here on earth for a divine purpose. It is not to be endlessly entertained or to be constantly in full pursuit of pleasure. You are here to be tried, to prove yourself so that you can receive the additional blessings God has for you. . . some blessings will be delivered in this life; others will come beyond the veil. The Lord is intent on your personal growth and development. That progress is accelerated when you willingly allow Him to lead you through every growth experience you encounter, whether initially it be to your individual liking or not.”
May our prayers become more meaningful so that we pray cream and live cream that we might become more fully sanctified disciples.