“Words of Jesus: Prayer,” Ensign, Jan. 2003, 48
Jesus prayed as no other person His disciples had ever known. During His mortal ministry, He gave no teaching more persistently, He urged no practice more prominently than prayer. “Ask, and it shall be given you,” Jesus said; “seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matt. 7:7).
Prayer is the first and vital link between God and man. Little wonder that millions of people the world over give themselves to daily prayer. Tragically, millions have forsaken it, and the world suffers terribly because of such neglect.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are under strict command to pray. We know that regular, humble communication with Heavenly Father is as essential to our well-being as breathing. Our desire to draw closer to God prompts us to ask ourselves: Am I praying correctly? Does God hear me when I pray? Will He answer me? How can I make my prayers more meaningful?
The answers to these and many other questions can be found in the words of Jesus. One day “as [Jesus] was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). As we study and put the following teachings into practice, our prayers will become more effective.
Jesus taught us to pray with complete faith and trust in God. To His disciple’s request that Jesus teach them to pray, the Savior responded: “When ye pray, say, … Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth” (Luke 11:2). As mortals, it is our nature to be concerned about our immediate physical needs. We often skip over this instruction regarding Heavenly Father’s omniscience; rather, we express our gratitude and go directly to our requests. The phrases “We ask thee …” or “Bless us that …” seem to fall effortlessly from our lips. “Thy will be done” is frequently more of an afterthought, if mentioned at all. This should not be so.
The pattern of prayer taught by Jesus recognizes that Heavenly Father comprehends all things. He is all-knowing and all-powerful. We submit to Him because He is able to do precisely what is needful for each of us. He is filled with infinite love and the eternal perspective essential to resolving our needs in the proper way. “Thy will be done” should be the crux of our petitions, for it is a foundation stone upon which effectual prayer rests. Jesus exemplified this teaching in Gethsemane when He prayed, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42).
Jesus taught us to watch and pray always. The influences that draw us away from God most often begin subtly, almost imperceptibly. In a fast-paced world, our minds can become occupied with constant pressures, leaving us with seemingly little time to pray. And while the world grapples for more efficient ways to manage time, Satan is convincing many that they are too busy to pray. Mortal life, however, is not a struggle with time but a struggle between good and evil.
Although not always apparent, evil lurks in the shadows around us. To overcome evil in the last days, the Savior taught, “Watch ye therefore, and pray always, and keep my commandments, that ye may be counted worthy to escape all these things which shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man when he shall come clothed in the glory of his Father” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 21:36; see also Alma 34:39).
Our natural inclination is to pray only at particular times or on special occasions. By admonishing us to “watch … and pray always,” the Lord warns us to be ever vigilant and spiritually alert to the evil around us.
President Brigham Young (1801–77) said: “I do not know any other way for the Latter-day Saints than for every breath to be virtually a prayer for God to guide and direct his people. … If you are making a bargain, if you are talking in the house, visiting in the social party, going forth in the dance, every breath should virtually be a prayer that God will preserve us from sin and from the effects of sin.”1 As we apply this principle, the powers of darkness yield, the Holy Spirit illuminates our way in all things, and peace settles upon our hearts and lives.
Jesus taught us to be divinely guided or inspired as we pray. Our prayers tend to reflect the limited way in which we perceive our needs. But Jesus said, “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:8).
The spirit of revelation should guide us in the things we pray about as well as in the answers we receive. Obtaining revelation requires faith and pondering. When the mind and heart are humbly open to the promptings of the Holy Ghost, the substance of one’s prayers often changes. The words spring from inspired thoughts, and our petition harmonizes with the divine will. Asking amiss2 is no longer a concern. This is when answers come.3 As Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) taught: “Perfect prayers are always answered; proper petitions are always granted. The Lord never rejects a prayer uttered by the power of the Spirit, or denies a petition sought in the name of Christ, that accords with the divine will.”4
Jesus taught us to pray with sincerity of heart. Our prayers should not be superficial or offered solely out of habit or duty. Approaching Deity is a serious matter requiring earnestness and attentiveness. While some repetition may be appropriate, vain repetition is not. Praying to be admired by others, using prayers to sermonize, recounting endlessly the details of our lives, or overusing the names of Deity are not in keeping with the pattern of prayer taught by the Master. He said: “When thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites … [for they pray] that they may be seen of men. … When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6:5, 7; see also Eccl. 5:2).
Public prayers should be simple, concise, and appropriate to the occasion in which they are offered. The person voicing a prayer bears a sacred duty to express the feelings of those present so that they can affirm the prayer with their personal “amen.”
Private prayers are usually more beneficial when spoken aloud. Hearing oneself often sharpens the spiritual faculties and helps prevent mental wandering. We become more completely and sincerely engaged in prayer. To pray in this manner, a quiet, undisturbed place should be sought. If circumstances require that a private prayer be offered silently, it should still command our undivided attention. Prayers said with a sincere heart, with real intent, nothing wavering, are powerful and productive.
Jesus taught us to attend to all things in prayer. Jesus’ instruction and example bear witness that we are to remember God and pray over all that we do.5 Consider this sampling from His New Testament words about what we should pray for:
“Pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).
“Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matt. 6:12).
“Suffer us not to be led into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Joseph Smith Translation, Matt. 6:14).
“Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (Luke 18:1).
“I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22:32).
Some feel that praying over all we do is impractical, unnecessary, even burdensome. They feel that we should only trouble God with the “big things” and work through the “little things” on our own. What a colossal mistake! For it is the little things that make up the fabric of our lives.
The Savior made this point in a parable about the friend who comes knocking at the door at midnight, asking for three loaves of bread. The friend is in desperate need, but because of the hour, the man of the house says to his friend, “Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee.” Jesus then said, “Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity [persistence] he will rise and give him as many as he needeth” (Luke 11:7–8; emphasis added).
Prayer offers each of us the privilege of divine guidance in a troubled world. God, our Heavenly Father, desires that His children speak with Him. Take time to pray. Go to Him in humility, in faith, and in the sacred name of Jesus Christ.6 He hears. He knows. He answers. “For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:8). God be thanked for the precious and wondrous gift of prayer.