“Chapter 8: The Power of Prayer,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: David O. McKay (2011), 70–79
“Chapter 8,” Teachings: David O. McKay, 70–79
In the spring of 1921, Elder David O. McKay and Brother Hugh J. Cannon visited New Zealand as part of their worldwide tour of the missions of the Church. One Sunday, Elder McKay was scheduled to speak to a conference of Saints in the afternoon. However, when he awoke that morning he was ill and so hoarse he could barely speak above a whisper. Nevertheless, he attended the conference with faith he would be able to deliver his message. He later recorded:
“A thousand people … assembled for the afternoon service. They came with curiosity and high expectations. It was my duty to give them a message, but I was not only too hoarse to speak and be heard by that crowd, but I was also ill.
“However, with a most appealing prayer in my heart for divine help and guidance, I arose to perform my duty. My voice was tight and husky. …
“Then happened what had never before happened to me. I entered into my theme with all the earnestness and vehemence I could command and spoke as loud as possible. Feeling my voice getting clearer and more resonant, I soon forgot I had a voice and thought only of the truth I wanted my hearers to understand and accept. For forty minutes I continued with my address, and when I concluded, my voice was as resonant and clear as it ever was. …
“When I told Brother Cannon and some other brethren how earnestly I had prayed for the very blessing I had received, he said, ‘I too, was praying—never prayed more fervently for a speaker in my life.’”2
I have cherished from childhood the truth that God is a personal being, and is, indeed, our Father whom we can approach in prayer and receive answers thereto. I cherish as one of the dearest experiences of life the knowledge that God hears the prayer of faith. It is true that the answers to our prayers may not always come as direct and at the time, nor in the manner, we anticipate; but they do come, and at a time and in a manner best for the interests of him who offers the supplication.
There have been occasions, however, when I have received direct and immediate assurance that my petition was granted. At one time, particularly, the answer came as distinctly as though my Heavenly Father stood by my side and spoke the words. These experiences are part of my very being and must remain so long as memory and intelligence last. Just as real and just as close to me seems the Savior of the world.
I feel as I have never felt before that God is my Father. He is not just an intangible power, a moral force in the world, but a personal God with creative power, the governor of the world, the director of our souls. I would have all men, and especially the young people of the Church, feel so close to our Father in heaven that they will approach Him daily—not in public alone, but in private. If our people will have this faith, great blessings will come to them. Their souls will be filled with thanksgiving for what God has done for them; they will find themselves rich in favors bestowed. It is not imagination that we can approach God and receive light and guidance from him, and that our minds will be enlightened and our souls thrilled by his Spirit.3
When you kneel down to pray at night, do you feel his nearness, his personality hearing you, do you feel a power that operates perhaps as the radio or a greater power so that you feel that you are communing with him?4
I would like to have the young men of Israel feel so close to [God] that they will approach Him daily, not in public alone, but in private. I would have them have the trust in Him which the little blind girl had in her father. She was sitting on his lap in the train, and a friend sitting by said: “Let me rest you,” and he reached over and took the little child on his lap. The father said to her: “Do you know who is holding you?” “No,” she replied, “but you do.” Oh, the trust of that child in her father. … Just so real should be the trust which the Latter-day Saint boys and girls have in their Father in heaven.5
It is a good thing for boys and girls to learn that they can go to God in prayer. You students in the university will learn, as students in every school should learn, when you have difficulties that you can receive help and guidance if you seek it in sincerity. Perhaps you will arise as some of us did in youth and feel that your prayers are not answered, but some day you will realize the fact that God did answer your prayers just as a wise parent would have done. That is one of the greatest possessions of youth to feel that you can go to our Father and pour out your heart to him.6
Prayer is the pulsation of a yearning, loving heart in tune with the Infinite. It is a message of the soul sent directly to a loving Father. The language is not mere words. …
The first and most fundamental virtue in effective prayer is faith. A belief in God brings peace to the soul. An assurance that God is our Father, into whose presence we can go for comfort and guidance, is a never-failing source of comfort.
Another essential virtue is reverence. This virtue is exemplified in the model prayer given by the Savior in the words “Hallowed be thy name.” [Matthew 6:9.] This principle should be exemplified in classrooms, and particularly in our houses of worship.
The third essential element is sincerity. Prayer is the yearning of the spirit. Sincere praying implies that when we ask for any virtue or blessing we should work for the blessing and cultivate the virtue.
The next essential virtue is loyalty. Why pray for the Kingdom of God to come unless you have in your heart a desire and a willingness to aid in its establishment? Praying for His will to be done and then not trying to live it, gives you a negative answer at once. You would not grant something to a child who showed that attitude towards a request he is making of you. If we pray for the success of some cause or enterprise, manifestly we are in sympathy with it. It is the height of disloyalty to pray for God’s will to be done, and then fail to conform our lives to that will.
A final essential virtue is humility. … The principle of humility and prayer leads one to feel a need of divine guidance. Self-reliance is a virtue, but with it should go a consciousness of the need of superior help—a consciousness that as you walk firmly in the pathway of duty, there is a possibility of your making a misstep; and with that consciousness is a prayer, a pleading that God will inspire you to avoid that false step.7
If you ask me where I first received my unwavering faith in the existence of a God, I would answer you: in the home of my childhood—when Father and Mother invariably called their children around them in the morning and at night and invoked God’s blessing upon the household and upon mankind. There was a sincerity in that good patriarch’s voice that left an undying impression in the souls of his children, and Mother’s prayers were equally impressive. I ask tonight that every father in the Church see to it that in all sincerity he impress his children with the reality of the existence of God and with the reality that God will guide and protect his children. You carry that responsibility. Home is one of the units—the fundamental unit—of society. Before I heard my father testify that he had heard a divine voice, I knew that he lived near to his Maker.8
Latter-day Saint children have been taught to recognize [God], and to pray to him as one who can listen and hear and feel just as an earthly father can listen, hear and feel, and they have absorbed into their very beings, from their mothers and their fathers, the real testimony that this personal God has spoken in this dispensation. There is a reality about it.9
I submit that where children are brought up in close communion with our Eternal Father that there can not be much sin or much evil in that home. When a little suffering child burning with fever, will look up to his father and in simple faith say, “Papa, bless me,” I want to tell you that from such homes arise the strength and the glory of any nation. Such are the homes of Latter-day Saints.10
“Lord, teach us how to pray” was the reverent plea of the disciples of the Master [see Luke 11:1]. Humble as children they sought proper guidance, and their appeal was not in vain.
Just as keenly as did the disciples, so at times may children sense the need of divine guidance and comfort, yet not express their yearning in spoken request. Hence the Lord placed upon parents the duty to “teach their children to pray.” [D&C 68:28.]
Worries, perplexities, and sorrows are as real in the life of a little child as in the adult world, and children are entitled to the comfort, consolation, and guidance obtained from God through prayer.
Not only that, but from the standpoint of faith, sincerity, and abiding trust, the prayer of an innocent child will surely receive most ready response from a loving Father.11
The inspiration of God is seen in requiring the Latter-day Saints to keep their homes intact, and to teach their children the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Now, I do not mean by that that we should make such teaching formal or in any way distasteful. I mean that the gospel of Jesus Christ should radiate in every home; that the prayer night and morning should be offered up in sincerity; that the children daily would realize that we desire in our home the presence of God. If we can invite the Savior there, we may know that the angels will be not only willing but eager to protect our boys and girls. I believe that in most homes boys and girls are taught to pray before retiring for the night. I believe, however, that, too generally, the morning prayers are neglected. When we come to think of it, though, it is during the waking hours that our boys and girls need the protection of God, and the guidance of his Holy Spirit, more even than when they are asleep.12
Are you following Christ’s admonition to pray to the Father and teach your children to pray, that godliness, reverence for God and his work, every day may be impressed upon the hearts of your children? That should be in every home. Pray not only for yourselves, but pray even for your enemies.13
Parents, if you do not do anything else, kneel down in the morning with your children. I know your mornings are usually busy, … but have some time when you can kneel and invite God into your home. Prayer is a potent force.14
Through family prayer let parents and children come into the presence of God.15
The potency of … prayers throughout the Church came to me yesterday when I received a letter from a neighbor in my old home town. He was milking his cows when the word came over his radio which he has in his barn that President [George Albert] Smith had passed. He sensed what that would mean to his former fellow-townsman, and he left his barn and went to the house and told his wife. Immediately they called their little children, and there in that humble home, suspending their activities, they knelt down as a family and offered prayer. The significance of that scene I leave for you to understand. Multiply that by a hundred thousand, two hundred thousand, half a million homes, and see the power in the unity and prayers, and the sustaining influence in the body of the Church.16
If we can get our young people to have … faith and so to approach their God in secret, there are at least four great blessings that will come to them here and now. The first is gratitude—gratitude for blessings before unrealized. Their souls will be filled with thanksgiving for what God has done for them. They will find themselves rich in favors bestowed. The young man who closes the door behind him, who draws the curtains, and there in silence prepares to plead with God for help, should first pour out his soul in gratitude for health, for friends, for loved ones, for the gospel, for the manifestations of God’s existence, as seen in the rocks and the trees and the stones and the flowers, and all things about him. He should first count his many blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise him what the Lord has done [see “Count Your Blessings,” Hymns, no. 241].
The second blessing of prayer is guidance. I cannot conceive of a young man’s going astray who will kneel down by his bedside in the morning and pray to God to help him keep himself unspotted from the sins of the world. I think that a young girl will not go far wrong who will kneel down in the morning and pray that she might be kept pure and spotless during the coming day. I cannot think that a Latter-day Saint will hold enmity in his heart if he will sincerely, in secret, pray God to remove from his heart all feelings of envy and malice toward any of his fellowmen. Guidance? Yes, God will be there to guide and direct him who “will seek Him in faith with all his might and with all his soul.”
The third blessing is confidence. All over this land there are thousands and tens of thousands of students who are struggling to get an education. Let us teach these students that if they want to succeed in their lessons, they should seek their God, that the greatest teacher known to the world stands near them to guide them. Once the student feels that he can approach the Lord through prayer, the student will receive confidence that he can get his lessons, that he can write his speech, that he can stand up before his fellow students and deliver his message without fear of failure. Confidence comes through sincere prayer.
Finally he will get inspiration. It is not imagination, that we can approach God and can receive light and guidance from Him, that our minds will be enlightened, our souls thrilled by His Spirit. … Joseph Smith knew it; and the testimony, the evidence of the Prophet Joseph’s inspiration is manifest to all who will but open their eyes to see and their hearts to understand.17
How has prayer strengthened your relationship with God? Why is it important to know that you are praying to your Father in Heaven, in whose image you were created? (See pages 72–73.)
What are some ways that God answers prayers? (See pages 72–73.) Why does it seem that some prayers are not answered immediately? What blessings have you had with prayers being answered?
What attributes or attitudes can we adopt that will help our prayers become more sincere and meaningful? (See pages 73–74.) How can we prepare ourselves spiritually before offering prayer?
How can parents teach children to pray? (See pages 74–76.) In what ways can individual and family prayer in the home influence the lives of children? (See pages 74–76.) Why is daily prayer such a significant part of strengthening and unifying families?
What are some blessings that come from regular prayer? (See pages 77–78.) What can we do to make our prayers more meaningful and less repetitive or mechanical?
How can sincere and earnest prayer help to cleanse our souls of unkindness or feelings of ill will toward others?