In our church, members of the congregation are asked in advance if they would be willing to prepare and then give a talk on Sunday on a certain topic. This past week I was asked to prepare a talk on "Improving personal prayers." I learned a lot, refreshed my memory and enjoyed the spirit that studying the doctrine can bring. I'd love for you to read my thoughts in hopes that it brings a spirit to you too.
Elder Kevin W. Pearson of the 70 gave a devotional address at BYU–Hawaii on May 17, 2011 titled “Improving your personal prayers.” Many of the quotes I share will be from his address. Elder Pearson states,
“ The divine invitation to pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus Christ is the single most mentioned commandment in all recorded scripture and is the most basic form of personal worship. Yet many of us struggle in our attempts to make personal prayer meaningful and revelatory.
I am convinced that personal prayer is one of the most significant challenges facing members of the Church, particularly youth and young adults. And because they struggle with prayer, they struggle spiritually.
To pray is to speak with God, the Eternal Father of our spirits—not at Him but with Him. He loves each of us perfectly and is full of mercy and understanding. He knows everything about us. He knows what we need, even when we can see only what we want. He has infinite power and capacity to sustain and guide us. He is always willing to forgive us and to help us in all things. We can speak with Heavenly Father vocally or by forming thoughts and expressions in our minds and hearts.”
Since God knows each of us so perfectly he is able to prepare others to be answers to the prayers we may not know we will even pray. For example, my younger brother Javier is serving in the Nevada, Reno mission. He has been out 16 months and is loving his area, his companions and his experiences. In a letter home this week he shared the following:
“We were in this neighborhood in Fernley a few days ago and we were knocking on the door of a person that had talked to the missionaries before. Across the street a man was coming out of his house, walking to his car. We went over and started talking to him. His name is Al, and Al has been going through a lot of stuff lately, and he was praying at the very moment we saw him, that something would happen that could help him. He was really surprised to see us, and knew that we were an answer to his prayers. It taught me that you really never know when you might be the answer to somebody’s prayer.”
He didn’t go into detail about why their original contact had fallen through or what became of his conversation. Sometimes we need to humble ourselves and realize that the Lord will use us to answer the prayers of others if we let him. My brother had previously written about his aversions to striking up a conversation with people about the gospel. He said, “Our Mission President had us make a goal to talk with everybody that we see. At first I was really nervous about doing that because I figured that nobody really wanted to talk to us or know what we were doing. I’m not sure why I thought that, because now we really don’t have a problem going up to somebody and starting to talk to them. In my mind I make up excuses to not go and talk to somebody. Like, “Oh they don’t look interested.” Or, “They look busy.” And then we don’t talk to that person. It happens a lot less often than in the beginning of my mission.
How different would this afternoon have been if he and his companion felt too timid to talk to this man as he had mentioned. Not only will praying allow us to be in tune with the spirit it will help us to follow the will of the father in our day to day lives blessing others along the way.
Elder Pearson commented on personal prayers. He stated, “Personal prayers should be solemn, sacred expressions of praise and gratitude; heartfelt petitions for specific needs and desires; humble, contrite confessions and requests for cleansing forgiveness; pleadings for comfort, direction, and revelation. These expressions often cause us to pour out our very souls to our loving Heavenly Father.
Prayer is often a brief communication, but it can also be an open and continuous dialogue all throughout the day and night”
I love to think of it as that, continuous dialogue. The communication line doesn’t have to be cut as soon as we say Amen. We can continue to speak with the Lord throughout the day in our hearts and minds.
Elder Pearson pointed out that “Satan will be the only one who tells you that you cannot or should not pray. The Holy Ghost always encourages us to pray, even if we are struggling with obedience and personal worthiness.” By the time evening rolls around I’ve been picking up messes all day and dealing with the day to day struggles of being a mother. When my husband gets home and we finally sit down to eat a meal that was made with a child attached to my pant leg I don’t feel in a very spiritual mood and have occasionally declined my husband’s invitation to say the prayer over dinner. I realize that by declining that communication with the lord and the opportunity to show my gratitude for all that we do have I am only hurting myself. I am choosing to keep myself away from his spirit. I am learning that when I don’t feel that I want to pray is the time where I need to pray the most.
Elder Pearson reminds us that “Prayer is not a negotiation process. It is an alignment process. We don’t move God to our point of view. Prayer is less about changing our circumstances and more about changing us. It is about seeking His will and asking for His help to do what we need to do. When we align our will with Heavenly Father’s will, answers and spiritual power will flow more freely. Following this pattern allows us to pray with faith.”
He shared a story of his own personal struggle with prayer. I quote his experience, “Nearly 20 years ago, our fifth son, Benjamin, was born. My wife sensed that something wasn’t right with Benjamin’s eyes. We consulted a close friend and retinal specialist in our ward, who confirmed our concerns and diagnosed Benjamin’s condition as retinal blastoma, a rare form of cancer of the eye. The news was devastating.
A few weeks later, Benjamin was to have the first of many surgical treatments. Prior to the operation we met with the surgeon and told him that we believed that he would find that Benjamin’s eye would be healed and not need to be removed. Our entire family and many ward members were fasting and praying for our son, and we had great faith that Benjamin would be healed.
An hour later, the surgeon returned and confirmed that Benjamin’s eye had been destroyed by the tumor cells and that his other eye also had several serious tumors that needed immediate treatment. I was speechless. Completely overcome with grief and disbelief, I walked out of the hospital into the damp San Francisco morning and began to walk, weeping bitterly.
I had done everything I had been taught to do. We had prayed and received a strong impression to select this doctor. We had fasted and prayed and felt certain that our infant son would be healed through faith and through the power of the priesthood. Yet the Lord had not intervened. Our faith it seems had been no more than vain hope. I began to question everything I had ever believed. As I walked, I felt betrayed and angry. I was overcome with pain.
I am not proud of the conversation I had with Heavenly Father as I walked and wept that morning. After a time, I got hold of myself emotionally. I remember the words of a children’s Primary song coming into my mind. “Heavenly Father, are you really there? And do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” 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, a tender mercy came. In my mind and heart, I felt these words: “Kevin, he is my son too.” The clarity of the prompting was unmistakable. I realized in that moment that I had not understood the purpose of prayer at all. I had assumed that, just because I had a righteous cause, I could use the priesthood and fasting and prayer to change the will of God.
For the first time in my life, I fully realized that I was not in charge. I knew that I needed to submit to Heavenly Father’s will. I couldn’t have what I wanted when and how I wanted it just because I was keeping the commandments. The purpose of prayer was not to tell Heavenly Father what to do, rather to find out what He would have me do and learn. I needed to align my will with His.
We would face another six years of serious challenges as we battled our little son’s condition to save his other eye and his life. But I now knew that Heavenly Father was aware and in charge. And no matter how things ultimately worked out, He had heard and answered my prayer. Today our miracle son is serving a full-time mission in Spain.”
I’d like to share an experience from our own lives.
Travis and I were engaged July 2010. When we were trying to determine a wedding date we received a lot of feedback from family as to when it should be. We prayed and talked about it and consistently felt impressed that it should be March 2011. This time period was not well suited for our families. My sister was due with her third baby just two weeks before the date we picked. We planned to get married during our Spring Break from college and then we would live in Harrisonburg, an hour from Southern Virginia University, where I attended, while Travis went to James Madison meaning I would have to commute daily to my 8 am classes. Our family tried to help us understand why a Summer wedding would be a better option but we stuck to our guns and planned our wedding for March 19, 2011. The week before our wedding, a slot opened up with the JMU Army ROTC program that would allow Travis to join ROTC by first enlisting in the Army Reserves, which would allow him to become an officer after graduation. So, two days after our wedding Travis joined the Army and left for Infantry Basic Training a short four weeks after our marriage. His training lasted from April until August with limited communication, but he was able to get it all done while on summer break from JMU so he didn’t miss any school. We quickly realized that if our wedding had been planned for the Summer that would not have been plausible or possible. Since we got married two short days before he enlisted we were eligible for the extra financial benefits that married couples receive in the army. These funds are what sustained us while we both completed our degrees. In addition, my sister had her baby a month early and was fully recovered in time to attend our wedding. I know that our decision to be married when we did was guided by the spirit. Following the well intentioned direction of our families would have caused us more difficulty and struggle. I am thankful that the Lord saw fit to direct us when we couldn’t foresee what was ahead of us. His guiding hand allowed us to pick what turned out to be the only weekend on which we could have been married.
I know if we each make personal prayer a priority it can provide us with the spirit of the Lord which can help align our desires with His.