“The Process of Prayer,” Ensign, Apr. 1987, 32
Throughout the ages the prophets have counseled us to be in constant communication with our Heavenly Father, who knows and loves us best. The Savior admonished, “Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof.” (D&C 19:38.)
As we each contemplate our own experiences with prayer, we may find that we have already discovered some truths about praying. And yet, we desire a more perfect understanding of how to receive answers. Often we want concrete answers or a “quantitative analysis” of what to pray for, how long to pray, and when to pray.
Little children can teach us lessons about faith and prayer as they spontaneously communicate without knowing all the specifics. At one time the Prophet Joseph was in a friend’s home in Nauvoo hiding from those who had threatened his life. Some children were in the home and overheard the older people tell of the Prophet’s danger. Brother Joseph passed by the bedroom in time to see the children kneeling together and to hear their simple prayer for his safety. Tears filled his eyes as he returned to his quarters. He there dismissed his friends who had come to guard him, telling them that he didn’t need them any longer. He said he knew that the prayers of the children would be heard and answered and that he could sleep in peace that night. And he did. (See Friend, Dec. 1972, p. 18.)
There is another story of a little child lying in a hospital bed whimpering. A nurse monitoring his room from the nurses’ station down the hall spoke to him over the intercom: “Jimmy, what’s the matter?”
The unexpected response was, “Oh, wall, I hurt!”
Truly, little children recognize help from all sources; they are submissive, believing, and full of love—qualities that we may perhaps need to relearn as we grow up.
During the years my husband and I lived in Spain with our family, I learned some principles about prayer. I prayed frequently and fervently that I would have an understanding of the people, of the Saints, of our missionaries, and of the history of that land. Without a knowledge of the language spoken there, I couldn’t even read a newspaper or a book; neither could I understand the radio or television. I couldn’t visit neighbors; I couldn’t converse with the mailman or others with whom, in the normal course of events, a homemaker would have to communicate. I was starting at “zero” with many of life’s experiences that I needed to learn all over again.
In short, I felt as if I had wandered from another planet, with few skills to deal with the challenges. It was a circumstance when the unknown outweighed the known, and I felt absolutely alone. But I did not despair. Although I felt that my communication with the “here and now” had been cut off, I had faith that Heavenly Father would not leave me alone. And so I studied and prayed, prayed and studied.
Still, I did not progress as I thought I should in learning to speak the language. My prayers seemed slow to be answered in spite of my extended efforts. At length I came to some rather interesting conclusions. I was being humbled. I was being taught to turn to the Lord in more than casual prayer. I soon realized that of myself I could do nothing. And since Heavenly Father was one of the last persons left with whom I could communicate—communicate with Him I did.
It was a two-way conversation. The listening was just as intense as the asking and telling. As I pondered the matter, I thought of the brother of Jared, who had prepared himself in all things to receive answers to his prayers. I remembered how he stood on Mount Shelem with sixteen small, transparent stones in his hands, praying that the Lord would grant his desire to light the ships on their transoceanic voyage. I marveled at his humility as he approached his Maker. He prayed:
“Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; … nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires.” (Ether 3:2.)
I learned some other sound principles about prayer as I struggled to gain confidence in heavenly communication. One day on my knees, the scripture came to my mind that I had memorized as a young girl: “Let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God.” (D&C 121:45.) So, I thought, I needed not only to be humble, but I needed to be pure—more so than I had ever been before—if I were to keep an open line of communication with him who knew my situation best.
By this time, I was aware that prayer was a process, an exercise of faith—not just vain repetitions and expected, hurried answers. I appreciated the struggles of the prophets to communicate in mighty prayer. I also became aware that perhaps the very thing I desired was not to be accomplished by what I had asked for—to speak a language—but it was being accomplished by my understanding a language, a people, a written history, a fascinating past.
At that point it occurred to me that I was receiving answers, just as the scriptures said, but in an unexpected way. I was learning to “trust in the Lord with all [my] heart; and lean not unto [my] own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5.)
The process was lengthening and becoming far more interesting as I searched the scriptures, read the words of the prophets in their conference talks, and experimented on those words. Often tears flowed as the Spirit whispered to me and answers and direction became apparent.
Sometimes, however, after a prayerful night, I doubted myself in the morning when reality emerged, even as the dews from heaven disappear with the rising of the sun. But then into my mind would come the comforting words: “Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (D&C 6:23.)
By now, some principles about meaningful prayer had become obvious. I had learned that I must add to faith, humility; to humility, virtue; and to virtue, knowledge—a knowledge of the scriptures and of how the Lord deals with his people. Through searching the scriptures, I found that great avenues of truth opened up to me. I learned that God’s truths do not vary—nor have they since the beginning of time.
We cannot afford to be casual in our communications with Him who is our guide and stay. We can’t put off establishing the practice of speaking intimately with the Lord. But as we pay the price, the rewards will come.
One last principle in the prayer process is patience. The Lord’s time is not our time. A young adult, disabled by a bicycle accident at age eighteen, struggled to live a life of service while in constant pain. She often carried with her the thought: “God does not always come when we call him, but he always comes on time.” This helped her grow in patience and saintliness. Those who prayed with her through her forty operations learned that man proposes, but God disposes; we only petition, we cannot control.
Only God knows our individual possibilities and limitations. He blesses us according to his plan for us, consistent with our need to grow. We must be sensitive to the whisperings of the Spirit, which often come in peaceful, unexpected ways.
May you know, as I know, that there are principles to mighty prayer that are worth learning and practicing. I pray that you may also know that:
—God is in his heavens,
—he does hear and answer our petitions,
—we must do our part to develop faith, humility, virtue, knowledge, and patience, in order to enhance our communication with him, and
—we may recognize answers to our prayers through the peaceful feelings of the Spirit.
May we all be blessed that we will not be dissuaded by the enticements of the world away from that most precious opportunity to draw down the powers of heaven daily and to receive the blessings that are promised to this generation.