“Sweet Power of Prayer,” Liahona, May 2003, 7–9
In this day of computers, phones, and pagers, people communicate with one another better than ever before. Even so, good communication is often lacking. Recently while visiting a nursing care facility, I spoke with a woman about her family. She told me that she had three sons, two of whom visit her regularly.
“What about your third son?” I asked.
“I don’t know where he is,” she replied tearfully. “I haven’t heard from him for years. I don’t even know how many grandchildren I have.”
If such a mother yearns to hear from her sons, it is easy to see why a loving Father in Heaven wants to hear from His children.1 Through prayer, we can show our love for God. And He has made it so easy. We may pray to Him any time. No special equipment is needed. We don’t even need to charge batteries or pay a monthly service fee.
Some people pray only when confronted with personal problems. Others don’t pray at all. A scripture makes this observation: “Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord … for them.”2
Prophets have long told us to pray humbly and frequently.3
Jesus taught us how.4 We pray to our Heavenly Father,5 in the name of Jesus Christ,6 by the power of the Holy Ghost.7 This is the “true order of prayer,”8 in contrast to “vain repetitions”9 or recitations given to “be seen of men.”10
Jesus revealed that we pray to a wise Father who knows what things we have need of, before we ask Him.11
Mormon taught his son, Moroni, that we should pray “with all the energy of heart.”12 Nephi exclaimed, “I pray continually for [my people] by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, … and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.”13
The sweet power of prayer can be intensified by fasting, on occasion, when appropriate to a particular need.14
Prayers can be offered even in silence. One can think a prayer, especially when words would interfere.15 We often kneel to pray; we may stand or be seated.16 Physical position is less important than is spiritual submission to God.
When should we pray? The Lord said, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.”19
Alma said, “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.”20
We pray privately, with our families regularly, at mealtime, and in daily activities. Simply summarized, we are a praying people.
Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.
Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.
Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: “Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.”21
His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced,22 my assistant asked, “What are you going to do for that?”
I said, “I do not know.”
We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve,23 we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.”
But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.”
I responded, “It’s an answer to prayer.”
The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory.
When we pray, we should not presume to give counsel but should inquire of the Lord24 and hearken to His counsel.25 Joseph Smith’s first prayer ushered in the Restoration of the gospel.26 In 1833, he received the Word of Wisdom after asking the Lord for counsel.27 The revelation on the priesthood received in 1978 by President Spencer W. Kimball came after intense inquiry.28 Inspiration regarding the construction of smaller temples came after the pondering of President Gordon B. Hinckley.29
Not all of our prayers will be answered as we might wish. Occasionally the answer will be no. We should not be surprised. Loving mortal parents do not say yes to every request of their children.30
At a recent extended family home evening, our grandchildren were having a wonderful time. A six-year-old grandson became very upset when his father said it was time to go home. So what did this dear boy do? He came to me and said, “Grandfather, may I have your permission to disobey my father?”
I said, “No, sweetheart. One of life’s great lessons is to learn that happiness comes through obedience.31 Go home with your family, and you will be happy.” Though disappointed, he dutifully obeyed.
We should pray in accord with the will of our Heavenly Father.32 He wants to test us, to strengthen us, and to help us achieve our full potential. When the Prophet Joseph Smith was held in Liberty Jail, he pled for relief. His prayers were answered with an explanation: “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.”33
I have felt impressed to conclude this message on prayer with a prayer—presented as a hymn. The Lord has said that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.”34 The music comes from our book of Hymns,35 for which I have written new words. With thanks to Craig Jessop, Mack Wilberg, and other dear friends in the Tabernacle Choir, we may hear that song of prayer. Brother Jessop, please:
Our Prayer to Thee
We pray to Thee, our Heavenly Father,
With grateful hearts and fond emotion.
We thank Thee for our great Exemplar—
Thy beloved and atoning Son—
Who gave Himself as sacred ransom,
That we could live again with Thee!
Our joy is full, our song so gladsome;
Renew our faith and hope in Thee.
We pray to Thee, our Heavenly Father,
With thankful hearts and adoration.
We thank Thee for our loving Savior,
Who redeemed us from death and sin;
He gave to us His truth to brighten
Our path, to help us walk His way,
To love and serve, to lift and lighten
The lives of all who will obey.
We pray to Thee, our Heavenly Father,
With gratitude and deep devotion
For loving faith and endless splendor—
Eternal glory—bound as one!
We pray for mercy and forgiveness
And hope to know Thy holy will.
We yearn for Thee, we plead in meekness,
Thy trust in us may we fulfill.
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
For an arrangement of Elder Russell M. Nelson’s hymn text, see the inside back cover of this magazine.