Good afternoon brothers and sisters. Today I have been asked to speak on the topic of prayer. As a reference, I was given the talk “Lessons from the Lord’s Prayers” by Elder Russel M. Nelson in the April 2009 General Conference.
Throughout this talk, Elder Nelson points to various examples in the scriptures where Jesus has prayed, and draws out examples and principles of how to pray and what to pray for. As in all areas, Jesus Christ is our perfect exemplar. In 3 Nephi 27:27 it says, “Therefore, what manner of man ought ye to be? Verily I say unto you, even as I am.” I think following the example of the Lord when it comes to prayer is particularly meaningful when we consider the perfect relationship Jesus has with Heavenly Father. This relationship shows us the kind of attitude with which we should approach prayer. I believe there is a symbiotic relationship between prayer and our relationship with God. As we develop a closer relationship, we are better able to pray and receive the blessings we desire. At the same time, as we pray, we draw closer to Heavenly Father and learn to better understand and accept his will.
As we pray to the Father, in the name of the Son whom we strive to emulate, we receive answers from the Holy Ghost. It struck me as I was preparing this talk that effective prayer relies on all three members of the Godhead. We pray to Heavenly Father, who, as our Father, blesses us and directs us. In Matthew 7:9-11 it says, “Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?”
Meanwhile, Jesus Christ is our Mediator with the Father. We pray in His name. I still remember very clearly the time when I gained a testimony of the significance of this. I was extremely concerned for the well-being of a friend of mine. Though I had prayed many times, I did not receive an answer. One night, I was unable to sleep for worrying, and was reading in the Book of Enos. I came across verse 15, which says, “Whatsoever thing ye shall ask in faith, believing that ye shall receive in the name of Christ, ye shall receive it.” As I began to think about the power, mercy, and love of the Savior, the significance of praying in the name of Christ struck me powerfully. I prayed again, but this time I exercised faith in Christ, and as I closed my prayer in His name, I knew it would be answered. The most powerful feeling of warmth and peace filled my entire body, and I knew that my friend would be okay.
This answer came through the Holy Ghost, who is an important part of prayer. What good is it to ask, if you don’t do everything you can to try to receive an answer? Without the direction of the Spirit, we can only cry Lord, Lord instead of doing His will. In 3 Nephi 19:21 Jesus says, “Father, I pray thee that thou wilt give the Holy Ghost unto all them that shall believe in their words.” Commenting on this, Elder Nelson said, “If companionship of the Holy Ghost is that important, we should pray for it too. As we so pray, the Holy Ghost can become a vital force for good in our lives.”
It seems to me that many aspects of the Savior’s example in prayer are designed to teach and prepare us to be worthy of the Holy Ghost. For example, we are taught to pray with respect. Elder Nelson says that using the formal language of praryer, such as “thee” and “thou,” helps us to be humble. D&C 112:10 reads, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” In my own life, I have found that without humility, I am not prepared to listen to the Spirit. I have never received an answer to prayer when I approach it in a mindset where I will only accept the one answer I want. I must be humble and prepared to accept what the Spirit has to say; otherwise, I drown out or ignore the whisperings of the still, small voice.
Next, in the Lord’s Prayer, we are counseled to pray, “forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” How can any of us expect to be in harmony with a loving, forgiving Heavenly Father, pray without hypocrisy in the name of our Redeemer who atoned for the sins of the world, and have an open heart to the promptings of the Spirit, if we are filled with bitterness and ill will towards another?
In fact, the Lord expects us to go a step beyond forgiveness. Matthew 5:44 says, “But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Why would we need to pray for our enemies? I believe as we pray, our hearts are softened and we can more easily forgive. This facilitates unity. When Jesus visited the Nephites, he prayed, saying in 3 Nephi 19:23, “And now Father, I pray unto thee for them…that they might believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one.” Elder Nelson says, “We too can pray for unity. We can pray to be of one heart and one mind with the Lord’s anointed and with our loved ones. We can pray for mutual understanding and respect between ourselves and our neighbors. If we really care for others, we should pray for them.”
Elder Nelson points out that prayer begins with individual initiative. In order to receive the Lord’s help, we must first ask. But ask for what? Alma taught in Alma 37:37, “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.” And when we finish our prayers, Jesus teaches us in 3 Nephi 20:1 “that they should not cease to pray in their hearts.”
Elder Nelson says that we should pray during crucial hours, but also during our daily lives. I believe that even when there is nothing we specifically need help with, we should always take the opportunity to build our relationship with the Lord. After all, answers don’t come all at once; we learn “line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little.” For this reason, I find it instructive that the Lord’s prayer asks for us to be given our daily bread. Not only does this suggest not asking for more than we need, but it suggests that we must pray each day for spiritual nourishment and sustainment, just as the Israelites of old had to gather new manna each day. After all, one large feast cannot make up for the nutritional deficiencies of going without food for the rest of the year.
Similarly, our need for spiritual nourishment cannot be filled by binging on prayer during times of crisis. In the October 1912 General Conference, President Joseph F. Smith says, “there is such a thing as overdoing. A man may fast and pray until he kills himself; and there isn’t any necessity for it, nor wisdom in it. …The Lord can hear a simple prayer, offered in faith, in half a dozen words, and he will recognize fasting that may not continue more than twenty-four hours, just as readily and as effectually as He will answer a prayer of a thousand words and fasting for a month. …The Lord will accept that which is enough, with a good deal more pleasure and satisfaction than that which is too much and unnecessary.”
I found this out the hard way when I prayed to try to decide whether or not to serve a mission. I tried to obtain an important answer too quickly, with too little preparation. Although those who know me may find this difficult to believe, I was impatient. In D&C 9:8, it says, “But, behold, I say unto you, that 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.” However, I did not devote sufficient time to study, because I had never seriously considered a mission before they changed the ages. In fact, when I was a young child, the idea of leaving my mom and going on a mission so distressed me that when we would sing “I Hope They Call Me On A Mission” in Primary, I would cross my arms and refuse to sing.
In my haste to receive an answer, you might say that instead of studying, I was cramming. As any schoolteacher could tell you, this is not a valid study method. While you might remember the information long enough for the test, you forget it soon afterward. Cramming is not condusive to learning. It does not change our minds or our hearts. It is for this reason that I believe the Lord first wants us to study out our answers; prayer is not only intended to answer us, but to teach us. We learn about the Lord and about ourselves, and our minds and hearts are changed as our will aligns with the Father’s.
I found this to be my experience. I was frustrated that the answer was slow in coming, but as I humbled myself, I accepted the need for patience, and the need to trust the Lord’s timeline. This timeline gave me time to ponder and reflect on my reasons for wanting to serve a mission. While these reasons had always been in my heart, I had the opportunity to reflect on the importance of them and have my testimony strengthened. When I finally received my answer, it didn’t just answer whether to go on a mission, but it also answered the question I didn’t ask, of why I should go. By trusting the Lord’s timeline, I was better prepared to receive my answer and appreciate its importance.
So far, I have talked about the attitude with which we should approach prayer, but as we all know, sincere attitude will be reflected in our actions. From this, it seems reasonable that in addition to setting an example of how to pray, the Lord would set examples of what to pray for. I found it interesting that as I prepared this talk, I realized that these things paralleled my reasons for serving a mission. As I reflected on this further, it occurred to me that this is because both prayer and service are ways of aligning our will with God’s and drawing closer to Him.
In John 17, Jesus prays, saying, “I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. …For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me.” Elder Nelson comments, “From this prayer of the Lord we learn how keenly He feels His responsibility as our Mediator and Advocate with the Father. Just as keenly, we should feel our responsibility to keep His commandments and endure to the end.” When I decided to go on a mission, it was also due to a sense of responsibility. In my patriarchal blessing, I am told that I am from the tribe of Ephraim, and that Ephraim is given the responsibility to spread the gospel. Because we are commanded to pray for help in keeping the commandments and fulfilling our responsibilities, I know that as I remember to pray consistently on my mission, I will receive the help and guidance that I need.
This leads me to another thing that Jesus frequently prays for: for the Kingdom of God to be established. The Lord’s Prayer includes the phrase “thy Kingdom come.” In the same prayer I quoted earlier in John 17, Jesus prays that he might be able to glorify the Father. What does it mean to glorify the Father? Well, in Moses 1:39 it says, “For behold, this is my work and my glory – to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.” From this, we learn that we should pray for opportunities to bring the children of God, our brothers and sisters, to salvation. This can mean building up the Church, as the mission of the Church is to strengthen the members, spread the gospel, and redeem the dead. All of these are ways we can glorify the Father by bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.
However, this doesn’t explain why we are supposed to pray for it. If this is God’s work, can’t he just do it? That’s how I used to feel about missionary work; it seemed hard and scary, and required things like leaving my family, waking up early, and talking to strangers. However, as I grew up, I began to take to heart what it says in Mosiah 2:17, that “when ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God.” I gained a testimony of D&C 18:10 that every soul has great worth in the sight of God. As I began to love these people as God’s children, I realized that nothing I could do for myself in my mortal life could possibly compare to the importance of the immortality and eternal life of these people, and that there could not possibly be a better or more fulfilling use of my talents than to have the honor of our Heavenly Father using them as instruments in His hands to accomplish His work.
It is for this reason that I believe we are commanded to pray for the Kingdom of God to be established. Even when we aren’t missionaries, there are always things we can do to help other people strengthen their testimonies. Furthermore, keeping this in our prayers gives us perspective on the day-to-day tribulations of life, reminding us of what’s really important in this life and why we were sent to Earth. After all, our own eternal life is a part of this work, and prayer is one means of keeping our priorities focused on it.
Our willingness to accomplish the work of the Lord instead of our own selfish purposes leads me to my final point, which is both an attitude of prayer and a thing we should pray for. In the Lord’s Prayer, it says “Thy will be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.” To sincerely pray for this means to have faith and trust in our Heavenly Father. It means to surrender and sacrifice our will and selfish desires, and to believe that a loving, omnipotent Father will direct us towards what will ultimately bring us the greatest happiness, even if we can’t see it at the time. I would like to quote from the final paragraphs of Elder Nelson’s talk, where he says,
“President Monson said, “As we offer unto the Lord our family and our personal prayers, let us do so with faith and trust in Him.” And so, in praying for temporal and spiritual blessings, we should all plead, as did Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy will be done.”
“Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world – He who ransomed us with His blood – is our Redeemer and our Exemplar. At the close of His mortal mission, He prayed that His will – as the Beloved Son – might be swallowed up in the will of the Father. In that crucial hour the Savior cried, “Father, …not as I will, but as thou wilt.” So should we pray to God, “Thy will be done.”
“And let us ever pray “that [the Lord’s] kingdom may go forth upon the earth, that the inhabitants…may…be prepared for the days…[when] the Son of Man shall come down…in the brightness of his glory, to meet the kingdom of God which is set up on the earth.”
Brothers and sisters, I am so excited to go and serve the people of Halifax and serve the Lord. I know that this is His church that he restored to the Earth, that the Book of Mormon is the word of God, and that Jesus Christ really did atone for all of God’s children, that they might return to live with him again. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to share this glorious truth. I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.