Wednesday, July 28, 2010

First Chapter Wednesday--Simple Steps to More Meaningful Prayer

Need a little prayer pick-me-up?

Then these steps from Simple Steps for More Meaningful Prayer
by Leigh Brown is your solution.



Introduction

It all begins and ends with prayer. Church meetings begin and end with prayer. Family home evenings begin and end with prayer. Each day of our lives should, if we heed the prophets, begin with prayer and end with prayer. We’re blessed as babies and our graves are dedicated when we die. The standing joke is that if Mormons had their way, car repair would begin and end with prayer.

But there is a great principle underlying our propensity to pray. Prayer is the most fundamental expression of spirituality and the foundation for all religious experience. President David O. McKay called it the “the pulsation of a yearning, loving heart in tune with the Infinite” (David O. McKay, Pathways to Happiness [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1957], 225). And echoes of its fundamental importance are quite deliberately all around us. The Book of Mormon begins and ends with prayer. It starts with the humble prayer of a prophet yearning for the righteousness of his people: “Wherefore it came to pass that my father, Lehi, as he went forth prayed unto the Lord, yea, even with all his heart, in behalf of this people. And it came to pass that as he prayed unto the Lord, there came a pillar of fire and dwelt upon a rock before him; and he saw and heard much” (1 Nephi 1:5–6). And it ends in much the same way. In the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, the prophet Moroni exhorts us to pray: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them . . . that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true” (Moroni 10:4).

In our own dispensation, all the glories of the Restoration quite pointedly begin with prayer: “At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to ‘ask of God,’ concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture. So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt” (Joseph Smith—History 1:13–14).

The truth is that we cannot begin our own spiritual journey without prayer. In the second chapter of the Book of Mormon, young Nephi tells us the foundation of his own spiritual quest: “And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart and I did believe in the words which have been spoken by my father” (1 Nephi 2:16).

It will begin and end with prayer for us too. And how we learn to pray—how effective our communications with Deity become from day to day—has everything to do with how things go in the middle.

President Brigham Young declared, “Were I to draw a distinction in all the duties that are required of the children of men, from first to last, I would place first and foremost the duty of seeking unto the Lord our God until we open the path of communication from heaven to earth—from God to our own souls” (Brigham Young, Discourses of Brigham Young, comp. John A. Widtsoe [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1954], 41). President Heber J. Grant taught, “Earnest, honest, and sincere prayer to God is worth more to you than all I can say or write” (Heber J. Grant, Improvement Era, Apr. 1938 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009]). And President Gordon B. Hinckley stated that “nothing helps so much as putting a matter in the hands of the Lord. . . . Prayer is a marvelous and miraculous resource, the most marvelous and miraculous resource we have available to us” (Gordon B. Hinckley, address given 20 Apr. 1996 at Smithfield/Logan Utah Regional Conference).


Prayer is the purest form of worship. It doesn’t require a pulpit or any equipment. It doesn’t take a group, although we can pray with others. It doesn’t have to be done in certain places or at certain times; in fact we are commanded to “pray always” (Luke 21:36) and to “pray . . . in [our] heart” (D&C 19:28) wherever we go. Yet power in prayer is a lifetime pursuit.

This book contains dozens of ideas for more meaningful prayer. Some are practical suggestions about how, when, and where we pray. Some clarify the doctrine of prayer. The ideas are supported by scripture and by counsel from Church leaders.

The Lord wants each of us to be powerful in prayer. We hope that as you read through this collection of ideas, you will discover new ways to improve your prayers and come closer to Heaven. Ultimately, it will be the Spirit of God that will teach you to pray, but the words of scripture and inspired leaders can help point the way.


Let Your Prayers Come from the Heart

Sometimes when we pray, we say the words but our heart is not involved and our mind is not focused. The Lord Himself declared, “And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). President Joseph F. Smith taught, “True, faithful, earnest prayer consists more in the feeling that rises from the heart and from the inward desire of our spirits to supplicate the Lord in humility and in faith, that we may receive his blessings. It matters not how simple the words may be, if our desires are genuine and we come before the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit to ask him for that which we need” (Joseph F. Smith, Conference Report, Apr. 1935 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1935]). Praying from the heart means that we send a bit of our souls heavenward. President David O. McKay instructed, “Prayer is the pulsation of a yearning, loving heart in tune with the Infinite. It is a message of the soul sent directly to a loving Father. The language is not mere words” (David O. McKay, Treasures of Life, comp. Clare Middlemiss [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co.,1962], 308).


Doubt Not and Fear Not

Feelings of doubt and fear can cast out faith, which is essential to effective prayer. Joseph Smith taught, “Doubt and faith do not reside in the same person at the same time” (Joseph Smith, Lectures on Faith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1835], 6:12). To ensure a powerful prayer, we must root out any doubt before we pray. Elder Gene R. Cook said, “One of the greatest difficulties of trying to accomplish something through faith and prayer is to really believe it will happen. Doubt and fear are so powerful that they can sometimes dissuade you from starting the endeavor in the first place, or when you get started they can motivate you to quit” (Cook, Answers, 54–55). Doubt can hinder our righteous desires. “When we worry about the future,” Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin explained, “we create unhappiness in the present. Righteous concern may lead us to take appropriate action, but worrying about things we cannot control can paralyze and demoralize us” (Joseph B. Wirthlin, “Improving Our Prayers,” Ensign, Mar. 2004, 24).


Strive to Better Understand the Character of God

The Prophet Joseph Smith observed that “it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another” (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, comp. Joseph Fielding Smith [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1938], 345). Improving our understanding of the character of God is not only important, but it is necessary for more meaningful prayer. As emphasized by Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, “To pray meaningfully requires that one, insofar as possible, knows the true character of God . . . we have been commanded to know God. Prayer leads to salvation, and ignorance is a deterrent to that goal” (Bernard P. Brockbank, “Prayer to Our Heavenly Father,” Ensign, Nov. 1979, 58). To learn the character of God we must study the scriptures. Joseph Smith emphasized the importance of searching God’s word to better understand His character: “As we have been indebted to a revelation which God made of himself to his creatures, in the first instance, for the idea of his existence, so in like manner we are indebted to the revelations which he has given to us for a correct understanding of his character, perfections, and attributes; because without the revelations which he has given to us, no man by searching could find out God” (Smith, Lectures, 3:7). But prayer itself can be a means to coming to know God. Charles W. Penrose taught how prayer is necessary to better comprehend the character of God: “No man by his own researches can find out God. He may, by reason and reflection, by observing and pondering upon the wonders of creation, by studying his own internal and external nature, come to the sure conclusion that there is a God, and to a very small extent make an estimate of his character. But without the Almighty manifests Himself in some manner, finite man can never obtain a knowledge of infinite Deity” (Charles W. Penrose, Contributor, vol. 2 [Oct. 1880–Sept. 1881], no. 1 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009], 7).


Acknowledge That You Need the Lord’s Help

While we sometimes long to be independent, we must recognize that we ultimately need to rely on God in order to make it successfully through life. President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized, “You can’t do it alone. You know that. You cannot make it alone and do your best. You need the help of the Lord . . . and the marvelous thing is that you have the opportunity to pray, with the expectation that your prayers will be heard and answered” (Gordon B. Hinckley, Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1997], 468). “No person possesses intelligence, in any degree,” noted Brigham Young, “that he has not received from the God of heaven, or, in other words, from the Fountain of all intelligence, whether he acknowledges his God in it or not. No man, independent of the Great Ruler of the universe, is capable of devising that which we see and are well acquainted with. All mechanism, good government, wholesome principle, and true philosophy of whatever name or nature, flows from God to finite man” (Young, Discourses, 148). Acknowledging our dependence on our Father in Heaven is a way for us to develop a humble and contrite heart as we petition for His love and support.


Ask Heavenly Father to Manifest His Love for You

“One of the greatest daily evidences we have of God’s great love for each of us,” Elder Marvin J. Ashton declared, “is our relationship to Him in our prayers” (Marvin J. Ashton, Ye Are My Friends [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1972], 36). Our Heavenly Father loves us beyond measure and desires to express His love to us. When we ask Him with humility for a manifestation of this love, we can receive a powerful witness. “When filled with God’s love,” Elder John H. Groberg testified, “we can do and see and understand things that we could not otherwise do or see or understand. Filled with his love, we can endure pain, quell fear, forgive freely, avoid contention, renew strength, and bless and help others in ways surprising even to us” (John H. Groberg, “The Power of God’s Love,” Ensign, Nov. 2004, 9).


Pray for Strength through Trials and Chastisement

Often, our trials are not meant to be removed but to be endured, for our own growth and benefit. Elder Richard L. Evans proclaimed, “Most of us might be disposed to pray for unbroken good fortune, for uninterrupted happiness, for perpetual prosperity, for victory, for assured success, for affluence and ease. But life isn’t an uninterrupted holiday; nor, obviously, was it intended to be. Rather it is a time of training, and often of trial, of education, and of self-effort, . . . Prayer is not a matter of asking only. It should not be always as the beggar’s upturned hand. Often the purpose of prayer is to give us strength to do what needs to be done, wisdom to see the way to solve our own problems, and ability to do our best in our tasks. We need to pray not only for freedom from difficulty but for strength to endure, for faith and fortitude to face what sometimes must be faced” (Richard L. Evans, The Man and the Message [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1973], 289). Following counsel and chastisement from the Lord also requires more strength in order for us to move forward and progress through our difficulties. As Brigham Young taught, “I know it is hard to receive chastisement, for no chastisement is joyous, but grievous at the time it is given; but if a person will receive chastisement and pray for the Holy Spirit to rest upon him, that he may have the Spirit of truth in his heart, and cleave to that which is pleasing to the Lord, the Lord will give him grace to bear the chastisement, and he will submit to and receive it, knowing that it is for his good” (Brigham Young in Journal of Discourses, [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009], 3:47).


Forget the Cares of the World during Prayer

Worldly concerns can become a barrier between a petitioner and Heavenly Father. Release anxious thoughts during your prayer and let your mind become clear to receive spiritual inspiration. Paraphrasing President David O. McKay, Harold B. Lee said, “It’s a great thing to be responsive to the whisperings of the Spirit, and we know that when these whisperings come it is a gift and our privilege to have them. They come when we are relaxed and not under pressure of appointment” (Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1996], 415). Then President Lee explained, “If we are worried about something and upset in our feelings, the inspiration does not come. If we so live that our minds are free from worry and our conscience is clear and our feelings are right toward one another, the operation of the Spirit of the Lord upon our spirit is as real as when we pick up the telephone” (Ibid). Let us follow the counsel of a beloved hymn: “There is an hour of peace and rest, unmarred by earthly care; ’tis when before the Lord I go, and kneel in secret prayer” (“Secret Prayer,” Hymns, no. 144).


Recall Heavenly Father’s Answers to You in the Past

President David O. McKay recalled powerful responses from the Lord to his humble petitions: “These experiences are part of my very being and must remain so long as memory and intelligence last” (David O. McKay, Conference Report, Apr. 1969 [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 2009], 153). Moments of personal revelation are sacred and should be recalled often to help us retain and strengthen our testimony of God’s love for us. As we treasure up in remembrance God’s answers to our prayers, our faith in prayer is increased and our prayers become more powerful. In the Book of Mormon, Alma asks if we have “sufficiently retained in remembrance” the Lord’s blessings and if we can still feel in our hearts to “sing the song of redeeming love” (Alma 5:6, 26). In 1829, the Lord commanded Oliver Cowdery to remember important answers that he had received from prayer: “Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind . . . if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart. . . . Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:15, 22–23).


Know That the Lord is Always There

“But when they in their trouble did turn unto the Lord God of Israel, and sought him, he was found of them” (2 Chronicles 15:4). God has blessed us with unlimited access to Him through prayer. President James E. Faust taught, “Access to our Creator through our Savior is surely one of the great privileges and blessings of our lives. . . . There is no limit on the number of times or how long we can pray each day. There is no quota of how many needs we wish to pray for in each prayer. He is reachable at any time and any place” (James E. Faust, “The Lifeline of Prayer,” Ensign, July 2002, 67–69). Know that whenever you need your Father in Heaven, you can pray and He is there. At the end of the book of Matthew the Lord promises, “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Since we have been baptized and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, we have special assurance that we can receive guidance and direction whenever we need it. We should have confidence that the Lord will be there for us, and we should call upon Him frequently.



Be Specific

We need to be specific in our prayers—pray for people by name, ask for specific blessings, and make specific promises to our Heavenly Father. Elder Gene R. Cook declared, “The Lord will be involved in the specifics of your life if you invite him to be . . . I bear testimony that the problem with most of us is that we do not ask specifically enough or perhaps with the strength of real intent. How much the Lord wants to bless us, and yet many of us will not ask” (Cook, Answers, 54). Concerning prayers of repentance and forgiveness, Elder Neal A. Maxwell cautioned, “A vague prayer is hardly a prayer at all. . . . We may be too embarrassed to bring before the Lord specific weaknesses we have, yet he knows of them anyway. We thus prevent ourselves from gathering and gaining the strength we might need to overcome them. Admitting aloud (though in private) our weaknesses and stating our promises is sometimes better than just thinking of them. Dealing with our specific weaknesses is far better than simply praying that we will be more righteous” (Maxwell, “What Should We Pray For?” in Prayer, 50–51).



Understand That Receiving Answers Will Not Always be Easy

When we petition the Lord for an answer, we should not automatically expect an immediate response. As a general rule, we must prove ourselves to the Lord before He can bless us, and this can take time and effort. “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” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer,” 753). Often, we must work hard to receive revelation from the Lord. Elder Bruce R. McConkie stated, “It is not, never has been, and never will be the design and purpose of the Lord—however much we seek him in prayer—to answer all our problems and concerns without struggle and effort on our part. This mortality is a probationary estate. In it we have our agency. We are being tested to see how we will respond in various situations; how we will decide issues; what course we will pursue while we are here walking, not by sight, but by faith. Hence, we are to solve our own problems and then to counsel with the Lord in prayer and receive a spiritual confirmation that our decisions are correct” (McConkie, “Why the Lord Ordained Prayer”).

Simple Steps for More Meaningful Prayer can be purchased from Amazon and of course your local LDS bookstore.

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