“Prayer in a Practical Vein,” Ensign, Aug. 2002, 56–57
As a single mother, I have had many opportunities to pray for Heavenly Father’s help with all kinds of challenges, from fixing a broken furnace in subfreezing temperatures to seeking a master’s degree so I could earn enough to support my family. Heavenly Father has always responded wisely and generously—though not always as I have expected—and I have come to understand some practical things about prayer.
I begin my day praying for Heavenly Father’s help in guiding my activities. I am then able to order my priorities correctly and set attainable goals. Many times I have so much to do that I know I can’t get it all done, and I feel overwhelmed. In prayer I choose a few of the most important things to do that day. Often what seemed so important in the daily grind of life takes its proper place during prayer. As I ponder choices and alternatives, the most important tasks seem to become more vivid in my mind, and the less important ones become dimmer (see D&C 9:8–9).
When I have asked for Heavenly Father’s help and if I am receptive to promptings from the Holy Ghost, I am often guided in carrying out the day’s activities. Many times I have seen what I might once have called coincidences happen to help me meet my goals. I feel that beginning the day with prayerful planning, helps all things work together for our good (see D&C 90:24). Even when things don’t go as planned, I am satisfied that I have done my best to seek inspiration and wisdom and that other divinely approved opportunities and lessons are in store for me.
Inspiration often comes as we participate in everyday righteous habits. Tasks that can seem mundane are actually the foundation of inspiration, revelation, and miracles. Scripture reading, family prayers, church attendance, and all the things we do hundreds and thousands of times during our lives are stones that build mountains of spirituality. When I am deeply involved in doing a much-needed and worthwhile project, it is easy to bypass often-repeated religious tasks. Yet they are the very tasks that exercise my spiritual muscles and open my understanding to the Lord’s communications.
One habit that helps prepare me for receiving answers to prayers is service. Not only is our spirituality increased when we are thinking of others and looking for ways to serve them, but we can receive blessings of our own. For example, one time a family member needed to pick up a friend at the airport. She didn’t know the way, so I took time despite my busy schedule to drive her there. At the airport I happened to see a man I knew, and it turned out he was able to give me the name and address of another person I had been praying to find. I counted that episode a blessing of service.
Other good habits that don’t necessarily seem spiritual can contribute to receiving Heavenly Father’s help and influence. For example, Doctrine and Covenants 88:124 has become my standard for work habits: “Cease to sleep longer than is needful; retire to thy bed early, that ye may not be weary; arise early, that your bodies and your minds may be invigorated.” I have found that by retiring early and arising early, my understanding is enhanced and my energy is increased.
Writing down thoughts and experiences is an excellent way to recognize and remember inspiration that comes through prayer. I personally find it difficult to take time to write things down, but I am always rewarded when I do. On the other hand, I have lost ideas and insights when I have failed to write them down. One summer morning, for example, I heard beautiful flute music as I awoke. After I got up, I felt I should write down the tune, but it was so vivid in my mind that I thought I would never forget it. I got busy with daily tasks, and when I finally made time to write down the tune it was gone from my memory.
Often inspiration comes as a flood. Many times problems have more than one possible solution, and some challenges have many facets to deal with. When we ask for help in prayer, inspiration may come then or later with many answers for many aspects of our request. In such cases, writing down the flood of ideas becomes the only way to save all the ideas. Often I find myself needing to write in short sentences or sentence fragments, perhaps returning later to organize and complete my notes after the flood is over.
Our minds work on problems while we sleep, and sometimes when we wake up our minds will surge with ideas. It is wise to have paper and pen handy for such moments. In fact, many people who deal in ideas keep paper handy at all times. While we control when we pray, we cannot predict when the Spirit will speak ideas and inspiration to our minds.
Gratitude encourages a positive attitude that enables inspiration to flow to us. Gratitude mirrors our priorities: what we are thankful for reminds us of what means the most to us. Gratitude influences our spiritual progress: what we are grateful for tends to be increased, and what we are not grateful for is decreased or eliminated.
An attitude of gratitude helps us prayerfully use opportunities that would otherwise be a burden. For example, driving is a burden for me. During a special project at work, it was necessary for me to drive long distances. By directing my attitude into positive gratitude, I found those drives to be valuable for thinking without everyday interruptions. The long stretches often became a time to communicate my thoughts and feelings to God. We can find many other ways to turn seemingly wasted or irritating facets of life into opportunities that increase our prayerfulness and receptivity to inspiration.
I am grateful that prayer can be a constant part of our lives if we so choose. Some people see the gospel as a religious compartment that is removed from the daily tasks and concerns of life, but in reality the gospel is a necessary component of everyday living. Prayer is the most powerful source I know of to plan and accomplish our goals and dreams, overcome or endure our problems and challenges, and grow closer to Heavenly Father each day.