Mormonism Answers: How to Pray

Mother Teresa, the founder of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, is quoted as once having said, “Prayer is not asking. Prayer is putting oneself in the hands of God, at his disposition, and listening to his voice in the depths of our hearts.” President Abraham Lincoln must have been keenly aware that his life was in the Lord’s hands when he said, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go. My own wisdom and that of all about me seemed insufficient for that day.”

What is prayer?

Prayer may be defined as a devout and reverent petition, or a solemn request to God for help. It may also be defined as a spiritual communion with God in the form of devotion, supplication, adoration, or an expression of thanksgiving.

In the simplest layman terms, prayer is communication with God. It is asking and receiving. It is making requests known to Him in faith. Prayer is a person’s acknowledgment of a being higher than himself. It brings a person into close fellowship with God, admitting his need for Him and his utter dependence upon Him. The Master teaches us to,

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened (Matthew 7:7, 8.)

These three little, but yet powerful words – ask, seek, knock – cover the entire gamut of prayer. For all things are possible when we ask, seek, and knock.

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The Bible Dictionary explains what prayer is as follows:

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.

Why pray?
"By becoming the answer to someone's prayer, we often find the answer to our own." - Dieter F. Uchtdorf; A closeup photo of a man's hand holding a bandaged hand of someone in the hospital.The late Marion G. Romney who served as a counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (inadvertently referred to as the Mormon Church by the media and others) once said, “No divine commandment has been more frequently repeated than the command to pray in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ensign, November 1979, p. 16.) Brigham Young, the 2nd President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ, once said, “If we draw near to him, he will draw near to us if we seek him early, we shall find him (JD, 13:312.)

But, someone may ask, “If God is in control; if He is all-knowing, and knows everything about us and what we stand in need of; then why should we pray?” Even though our Heavenly Father knows our every need, James reminds us “ye have not, because ye ask not” (See James 4:2.) The Savior taught in Luke 18:1 “that men ought always to pray, and not faint.” He further taught in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

The Book of Mormon (a volume of scripture that is a companion to the Bible, of which Latter-day Saints testify is Another Testament of Jesus Christ) teaches in 2 Nephi 32:9,

But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.

Eugenia Brown, a history instructor at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin “sees prayer not so much as a grocery list of wants or a way to change God’s mind, but rather as a way to regain perspective in her relationship with God.” [1]

 Like Jesus, she says, “we pray to deepen our relationship with God. We pray to remind ourselves of our place of humility, to remind ourselves that God is God, and we are not. To submit myself to God in prayer changes me. I believe that God loves me enough to want to transform me into all that God created me to be, but I must cooperate in that transformation. Every time I pray, I cooperate just a little bit more. [1]

Another Book of Mormon scripture, 3 Nephi 18:20, teaches “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.” Alma the younger, a prophet in the Book of Mormon exhorted the people:

Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day (Alma 37:37.)

Family prayer is also essential. In 3 Nephi 18:19 the Lord teaches, “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed.

We should also pray because there is joy in prayer. In John 16:24 the Master taught “Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full.” In Moroni 7:48 this counsel is given,

Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all energy of heart, that ye may be filled with his love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure.

We should also pray because prayer unlocks the treasure chest of the wisdom of God. Joseph Smith, the first prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ, came to this realization when as a young boy he was seeking an answer as to which of the churches was right, and which, if any of them, he should join. He read these words in James 1:5 “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” After reading those words he sought the Lord in earnest prayer and was told that none of the churches were right and that he was to join none of them.

Most importantly, we should pray because Jesus Christ, our Great Exemplar, while here on earth prayed often to the His Father. If He needed to pray then we who are His disciples should pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things as we are directed in 1 Thessalonians 5:17, 18.

How should we pray?

David O. McKay, the 9th President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, taught:

Prayer is the yearning of the spirit. Sincere praying implies that when we ask for any virtue or blessing we should work for the blessing and cultivate the virtue…Why pray for the Kingdom of God to come unless you have in your heart a desire and a willingness to aid in its establishment? Praying for His will to be done and then not trying to live it, gives you a negative answer at once. You would not grant something to a child who showed that attitude towards a request he is making of you. If we pray for the success of some cause or enterprise, manifestly we are in sympathy with it. It is the height of disloyalty to pray for God’s will to be done, and then fail to conform our lives to that will.

The Late Neal A. Maxwell, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (the second-highest presiding group within the Church of Jesus Christ), taught,

Petitioning in prayer has taught me that the vault of heaven, with all its blessings, is to be opened only by a combination lock: one tumbler falls when there is faith, a second when there is personal righteousness, and the third, and final tumbler falls only when what is sought is (in God’s judgment, not ours) ‘right’ for us. Sometimes we pound on the vault door for something we want very much, in faith, in reasonable righteousness, and wonder why the door does not open. We would be very spoiled children if that vault door opened any more easily than it does now. I can tell, looking back, that God truly loves me by the petitions that, in his perfect wisdom and love, he has refused to grant me. Our rejected petitions tell us not only much about ourselves, but also much about our flawless Father (Neal A. Maxwell, Insights from My Life, BYU devotional address October 26, 1976; see also New Era, April 1978, or Ensign, August 2000.)

It is a great joy, and a great blessing to be able to talk with our Heavenly Father at any time, in any place, and under any circumstance. He is never too busy, or too far away to give attention to our humble prayers. Sometimes His answer may be yes. Sometimes His answer may be a resounding no. And still, at other times, His answer may be to be still and wait. The answers that we receive may oftentimes be different from what we expect, but it is His answer, given in His time, and in accordance with His perfect will.

We should always pray because prayer is a channel of power. We are invited in His word to “Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not” (Jeremiah 33:3.) And as Joseph F. Smith, the 6th President and Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ, taught, “Do not forget to pray. Don’t suppose for a moment that you are safe and secure in the favor of the Lord when you feel independent of Him as you will be if you feel your dependence upon Him all the day long” (CR, April 1915, p. 140.)

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