There is a knowledge that our Father in Heaven wants each of us to have, and that is a personal knowledge that He hears and answers our prayers. I have always had very tender feelings about prayer and the power and blessings of prayer. And for this I thank our Heavenly Father and my dear parents and teachers, who taught me by word and example about righteous and heartfelt prayer.
I am sure that if we pray fervently and righteously, individually and as a family, when we retire at night and when we arise in the morning, and around our tables at mealtime, we will not only knit together as loved ones but we will grow spiritually through communion with our Heavenly Father.
We each have so much need for His help as we seek to learn gospel truths and then live them, as we seek His help in the major decisions of our lives, decisions involving schooling, marriage, employment, place of residence, raising our families, serving with each other in the work of the Lord, and seeking His forgiveness and continual guidance and protection in all we do. Our list of needs is long and real and heartfelt.
When I used to travel throughout the stakes and missions of the Church in earlier years, I often met people who were in trouble or who had great need. My first question to them was, “What about your prayers? How often? How deeply involved are you when you pray?” I have observed that sin generally comes when communication lines are down. For this reason the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:49.)
It was the Master who taught us how to pray when He said:
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
“For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.” (3 Nephi 13:9–13.)
There is much to contemplate in these guidelines—of attitude, of love for his purposes, of love for others, of demonstrating that our faith and lives are in proper focus. If we as a people will seek to learn from these basic guidelines, then we will be prepared to advance in spirituality and in our understanding of prayer.
As we group ourselves in prayer, whether in home, Church, social or public settings, we should remember the purpose of our prayers—to communicate with our Father in Heaven. Difficult as it seems, I have found when praying with others that it is better for our attitudes to be concerned with communicating tenderly and honestly with God rather than with worrying over what listeners may be thinking. Of course, the setting of prayers needs to be taken into account, and this is one reason why public prayers, or even family prayers, cannot be the whole of our praying.
But in our family circles, our children will learn how to talk to their Heavenly Father by listening to their parents. They will soon see how heartfelt and honest our prayers are. If our prayers are hurried, even tending to be thoughtless ritual, they will see this also. Better that we do in our families and in private as Mormon pleaded, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart.” (Moroni 7:48.)
Now, some things are best prayed about in private, where time and confidentiality are not considerations. Prayer in solitude is rich and profitable. Praying alone helps us to shed shame or pretense, any lingering deceit; it helps us open our hearts and be totally honest and honorable in expressing all of our hopes and attitudes.
I have long been impressed about the need for privacy in our personal prayers. The Savior at times found it necessary to slip away into the mountains or desert to pray. Similarly, the Apostle Paul turned to the desert and solitude after his great call. Enos found himself in solitary places to commune with God. Joseph Smith found his privacy in the grove with only birds and trees and God to listen to his prayer. Observe some keys in his story: “So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. … It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:14; italics added.)
We, too, ought to find, where possible, a room, a corner, a closet, a place where we can “retire” to “pray vocally” in secret. We recall the many times the Lord instructs us to pray vocally: “And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private.” (D&C 19:28.) So central is this to our prayers and personal religious life that the Lord instructed the priesthood brethren to “visit the house of each member, exhorting them to pray vocally and in secret and attend to all family duties.” (Doctrine and Covenants 20:51.)
And about what shall we pray in our prayers? We should express joyful and sincere gratitude for past blessings. The Lord has said, “And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.” (Doctrine and Covenants 46:32.) A wonderful and assuring spirit comes over us as we express sincere gratitude to Heavenly Father for our blessings—for the gospel and the knowledge of it that we have been blessed to receive, for the efforts and labors of parents and others in our behalf, for our families and friends, for opportunities, for mind and body and life, for experiences good and helpful throughout our lives, for all of our Father’s helps and kindnesses and answered prayers.
We can pray for our leaders. Paul wrote:
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men; For kings, and for all that are in authority.” (1 Timothy 2:1–2.)
We will develop loyalty to country and to the laws that govern us if we so pray. And we will develop love and faith in our Church leadership, and our children will come to respect them. For one can hardly be critical of Church officers if honest prayers are offered for them. It is a joy to me that all my life I have sustained my leaders, prayed for their welfare. And in recent years, I have felt a great power coming to me because of similar prayers of the Saints, raised to heaven in my behalf.
The all-encompassing missionary work should be the constant object of our prayers. We pray that the doors of nations will be opened to receive the gospel. We pray for opportunity and guidance to share the glorious gospel news with others. When each child prays all his life for the missionary cause, he will be a good missionary.
We pray for the frustrated, the disturbed, the sick, those in need, the sinful. We pray for that person we felt was an enemy, for we remember the beautiful and powerful counsel of our Lord: “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27–28.) Can anyone long have an enemy when he prays for persons around him about whom he may have hard feelings?
We pray for wisdom, for judgment, for understanding. We pray for protection in dangerous places, for strength in moments of temptation. We remember loved ones and friends. We utter momentary prayers in word or thought, aloud or in deepest silence. We always have a prayer in our hearts that we may do well in the activities of our day. Can one do evil when honest prayers are in his heart and on his lips?
We pray over our marriages, our children, our neighbors, our jobs, our decisions, our church assignments, our testimonies, our feelings, our goals. Indeed, we take Amulek’s great counsel and we pray for mercy, we pray over our means of livelihood, over our households and against the power of our enemies; we pray “against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness,” and over the crops of our fields. And when we do not cry unto the Lord, we “let [our] hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for [our] welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around [us].” (See Alma 34:18–27.)
But is prayer only one-way communication? No! One of the reasons “prayer is the soul’s sincere desire” (Hymns, no. 220) is because prayer is such a privilege—not only to speak to our Father in Heaven, but also to receive love and inspiration from Him. At the end of our prayers, we need to do some intense listening—even for several minutes. We have prayed for counsel and help. Now we must “be still, and know that [He is] God” (Psalm 46:10.)
What will be the language the Lord will use? Through the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Lord counseled Oliver Cowdery, who wondered about an answer to his prayers:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:22–23.)
Sometime later, the Lord again instructed Oliver Cowdery through the Prophet Joseph Smith: “You must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought.” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8–9.)
Learning the language of prayer is a joyous, lifetime experience. Sometimes ideas flood our mind as we listen after our prayers. Sometimes feelings press upon us. A spirit of calmness assures us that all will be well. But always, if we have been honest and earnest, we will experience a good feeling—a feeling of warmth for our Father in Heaven and a sense of His love for us. It has sorrowed me that some of us have not learned the meaning of that calm, spiritual warmth, for it is a witness to us that our prayers have been heard. And since our Father in Heaven loves us with more love than we have even for ourselves, it means that we can trust in His goodness, we can trust in Him; it means that if we continue praying and living as we should, our Father’s hand will guide and bless us.
And so in our prayers we say, “Thy will be done”—and mean it. We would not ask a leader for advice, then disregard it. We must not ask the Lord for blessings and then ignore the answer. Thus, we pray, “Thy will be done, O Lord. Thou knowest best, kind Father. I will accept and follow thy direction gracefully.”
We do this because the scriptures remind us that sometimes we may “ask amiss” (James 4:3), or ask for that which is not expedient (see D&C 88:66), or ask for that which may not be “right” (see 3 Nephi 18:20). Yet even in this, our loving Father is as a kind parent, for the Master taught:
“If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children: how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?” (Luke 11:11, 13.)
It is such a privilege and joy to pray to our Father in Heaven, such a blessing for us. But our experience is not finished after our prayer is completed. Amulek correctly taught: “And now behold, my beloved brethren, … after ye have [prayed], if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” (Alma 34:28.) We must never forget that we are to live the gospel as honestly and earnestly as we pray.
If we will do that, the blessings of heaven will be ours. Our prayers will be seen to reflect the truth about our lives. In our total honesty of word and deed with our Father, we will find the capacity to sincerely seek His help, particularly his forgiveness, as we repent and witness to Him that we do righteously live as we pray.
I have always loved the story of Enos, who had great need. Like all of us—for none of us is perfect—he had strayed. How dark were his sins I do not know, but he wrote, “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.”
The account is graphic and his words impressive: “Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests …”
But he took no animals. He was searching his soul, reaching, knocking, asking, pleading. He was being born again. He would have lived all his life in a weed patch, but now he sought a watered garden.
He continues: “… and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.”
Memory opened the door to his past, and he was warmed and inspired by the word pictures his father had painted which now stirred his soul.
“And my soul hungered. …” The spirit of repentance was taking hold. He was remorseful, eager to bury the old man of sin, eager to resurrect a new man of faith, of godliness.
“… and I knelt down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul. …” He realized that no one can be saved in his sins, that no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God. He came to realize that there must be a purging, a new heart in a new man.
He knew it was not a small or easy thing, for he wrote: “… and all the day long did I cry unto him.”
Here is no casual prayer, no trite and worn phrases. Minutes turned to hours, and when the sun had set, relief still had not come; for repentance is not a single act, nor forgiveness an unearned gift. So precious to him was this communication with God that his determined soul pressed on without ceasing: “Yea, and when the night came, I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.”
And then, after crying mightily, covenanting sincerely, having surely demonstrated the integrity of his prayer, the voice of the Lord came to him: “Thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” (Enos 1:1–5.)
What a blessing and a joy for each of us to know that our Father lives and that He loves us, that He forgives us when repentance is forthcoming, that He is ever willing to help and give love to His beloved children.
After a lifetime of prayers, I know of the love and power and strength that comes from honest and heartfelt prayer. I know of the readiness of our Father to assist us in our mortal experience, to teach us, to lead us, to guide us. Thus, with great love, our Savior has said, “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always.” (Doctrine and Covenants 93:49.)
If we will do so, we shall gain for ourselves personal knowledge that our Father in Heaven truly hears and answers prayers. This knowledge He wants each of us to have. Seek it, my beloved brothers and sisters! Seek it!
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.