“Chapter 3: True, Faithful, Earnest Prayer,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith (2011), 21–29
“Chapter 3,” Teachings: Joseph F. Smith, 21–29
In the fall of 1847, nine-year-old Joseph F. Smith; his widowed mother, Mary Fielding Smith; and his uncle Joseph Fielding were camped along the Missouri River on the way to Winter Quarters. The next morning they discovered that their best team of oxen was missing.
Joseph F. and his uncle searched long and hard for the oxen, becoming “soaked to the skin, fatigued, disheartened and almost exhausted.” Joseph F. said: “In this pitiable plight I was the first to return to our wagons, and as I approached I saw my mother kneeling down in prayer. I halted for a moment and then drew gently near enough to hear her pleading with the Lord not to suffer us to be left in this helpless condition, but to lead us to recover our lost team, that we might continue our travels in safety. When she arose from her knees I was standing nearby. The first expression I caught upon her precious face was a lovely smile, which discouraged as I was, gave me renewed hope and an assurance I had not felt before.”
She cheerfully encouraged Joseph and his uncle to sit and enjoy the breakfast she had prepared and said, “I will just take a walk out and see if I can find the cattle.” Despite her brother’s protests that further searching would be fruitless, Mary set out, leaving him and Joseph F. to eat breakfast. She encountered a nearby herdsman who indicated that he had seen the lost oxen in the direction opposite to her course. Joseph F. said, “We heard plainly what he said, but mother went right on, and did not even turn her head to look at him.” She soon beckoned to Joseph F. and his uncle, who ran to the spot where she stood. There they saw the oxen fastened to a clump of willows.
President Joseph F. Smith later said, “It was one of the first practical and positive demonstrations of the efficacy of prayer I had ever witnessed. It made an indelible impression upon my mind, and has been a source of comfort, assurance and guidance to me throughout all of my life.”1
I pray that you will know how to approach God in prayer. It is not such a difficult thing to learn how to pray. It is not the words we use particularly that constitute prayer. Prayer does not consist of words, altogether. True, faithful, earnest prayer consists more in the feeling that rises from the heart and from the inward desire of our spirits to supplicate the Lord in humility and in faith, that we may receive his blessings. It matters not how simple the words may be, if our desires are genuine and we come before the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit to ask him for that which we need.2
He is not afar off. It is not difficult to approach Him, if we will only do it with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, as did Nephi of old. This was the way in which Joseph Smith, in his boyhood, approached Him. He went into the woods, knelt down, and in humility he sought earnestly to know which church was acceptable to God. He received an answer to his prayer, which he offered from the depths of his heart, and he received it in a way that he did not expect.
My brethren and sisters, do not learn to pray with your lips only. Do not learn a prayer by heart, and say it every morning and evening. That is something I dislike very much. It is true that a great many people fall into the rut of saying over a ceremonious prayer. They begin at a certain point, and they touch at all the points along the road until they get to the winding up scene; and when they have done, I do not know whether the prayer has ascended beyond the ceiling of the room or not.3
My brethren and sisters, let us remember and call upon God and implore his blessings and his favor upon us. Let us do it, nevertheless, in wisdom and in righteousness, and when we pray we should call upon him in a consistent and reasonable way. We should not ask the Lord for that which is unnecessary or which would not be beneficial to us. We should ask for that which we need, and we should ask in faith, “nothing wavering, for he that wavereth,” as the apostle said, “is like the wave of the sea, driven by the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive anything of the Lord” [James 1:6–7]. But when we ask of God for blessings let us ask in the faith of the gospel, in that faith that he has promised to give to those who believe in him and obey his commandments.4
I was greatly impressed and moved by [President Heber C. Kimball’s] manner of praying in his family. I have never heard any other man pray as he did. He did not speak to the Lord as one afar off, but as if conversing with him face to face. Time and again I have been so impressed with the idea of the actual presence of God, while he was conversing with him in prayer, that I could not refrain from looking up to see if he were actually present and visible.5
We … accept without any question the doctrines we have been taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith and by the Son of God himself, that we pray to God, the Eternal Father, in the name of his only begotten Son, to whom also our father Adam and his posterity have prayed from the beginning.6
I think that it is desirable for us to look well to our words when we call upon the Lord. He hears us in secret, and can reward us openly. We do not have to cry unto him with many words. We do not have to weary him with long prayers. What we do need, and what we should do as Latter-day Saints, for our own good, is to go before him often, to witness unto him that we remember him and that we are willing to take upon us his name, keep his commandments, work righteousness; and that we desire his Spirit to help us. Then, if we are in trouble, let us go to the Lord and ask him directly and specifically to help us out of the trouble that we are in; and let the prayer come from the heart, let it not be in words that are worn into ruts in the beaten tracks of common use, without thought or feeling in the use of those words.
Let us speak the simple words, expressing our need, that will appeal most truly to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. He can hear in secret; and he knows the desires of our hearts before we ask, but he has made it obligatory, and a duty that we shall call upon his name—that we shall ask that we may receive; and knock that it may be opened to us; and seek that we may find [see Matthew 7:7]. Hence, the Lord has made it a loving duty that we should remember him, that we should witness unto him morning, noon, and night, that we do not forget the Giver of every good gift unto us.7
Observe that great commandment given of the Master, always to remember the Lord, to pray in the morning, and in the evening, and always remember to thank him for the blessings that you receive day by day.8
No limit should be or can be set to the offering of prayer and the rendering of praise to the Giver of Good, for we are specially told to pray without ceasing, and no special authority of the Priesthood or standing in the Church is essential to the offering of prayer.9
A man may fast and pray till he kills himself, and there isn’t any necessity for it; nor wisdom in it. I say to my brethren, when they are fasting, and praying for the sick, and for those who need faith and prayer, do not go beyond what is wise and prudent in fasting and prayer. The Lord can hear a simple prayer offered in faith, in half a dozen words, and he will recognize fasting that may not continue more than twenty-four hours, just as readily and as effectually as he will answer a prayer of a thousand words and fasting for a month.10
What shall we do if we have neglected our prayers? Let us begin to pray. If we have neglected any other duty, let us seek unto the Lord for his Spirit, that we may know wherein we have erred and lost our opportunities, or let them pass by us unimproved. Let us seek unto the Lord in humility, determined to forsake everything that would be an obstruction to our receiving the intelligence and the light that we need, and an answer to our prayers, that we may approach him confident that his ears will be open to our petitions, that his heart will be turned unto us in mercy, that our sins may be forgiven, our minds enlightened by the influence and power of God, that we may comprehend our duty and have a disposition to perform it, not to postpone it, not to set it aside.11
We should carry with us the spirit of prayer throughout every duty that we have to perform in life. Why should we? One of the simple reasons that appeals to my mind with great force is that man is so utterly dependent upon God! How helpless we are without him; how little can we do without his merciful providence in our behalf!12
If you do not forget to pray God will not forget you, and He will not withdraw Himself from you if you do not withdraw yourselves from Him. Why do men apostatize? Why do they lose the faith? Why do their minds become darkened? Because they wander from the right path; they neglect their duties and forget to pray, and to acknowledge the Lord and He withdraws His Spirit from them and they are left in the dark. … [This will not happen] to the man who will pray morning, noon and night and humble himself before the Lord, and pray to the Lord in his prosperity just as he would pray to Him in his adversity. That man will never apostatize.13
The typical “Mormon” home is the temple of the family, in which the members of the household gather morning and evening, for prayer and praise to God, offered in the name of Jesus Christ, and often accompanied by the reading of scripture and the singing of spiritual songs.14
It is a simple thing to pray, yet how generally this duty is neglected. Parents forget to call together their households and invoke upon them the blessings of God; they are too often in a hurry, or are perplexed so much with the affairs of life as to forget the obligations they are under to the Almighty. Prayer in the family circle may be looked upon by some Latter-day Saints as a very simple thing, but its neglect will produce very serious results. … Some Latter-day Saints remember Him only when adversity overtakes them; in prosperity they forget him. Now the Lord may conclude to forget us when we most need his help, and if he should do so we would find ourselves in an unfortunate condition. Never forget God; seek him in prayer morning and night. … Be prayerful in storm and sunshine, then when darkness overtakes you, relief will assuredly come.15
Fathers, pray with your families; bow down with them morning and at night; pray to the Lord, thank him for his goodness, mercy and Fatherly kindness, just as our earthly fathers and mothers have been extremely kind to us poor, disobedient and wayward children.
Do you pray? What do you pray for? You pray that God may recognize you, that he may hear your prayers, and that he may bless you with his Spirit, and that he may lead you into all truth and show you the right way; that he will warn you against wrong and guide you into the right path; that you may not fall astray, that you may not veer into the wrong way unto death, but that you may keep in the narrow way.16
When a little child bows down in its perfect simplicity and asks the Father for a blessing, the Father hears the voice, and will answer in blessings upon his head, because the child is innocent and asks in full trust and confidence. These are simple principles that I have sought to impress upon your minds. They are simple, but necessary, and essential.17
We are directed to call upon God in the name of Jesus Christ. We are told that we should remember him in our homes, keep his holy name fresh in our minds, and revere him in our hearts; we should call upon him from time to time, from day to day; and, in fact, every moment of our lives we should live so that the desires of our hearts will be a prayer unto God for righteousness, for truth, and for the salvation of the human family.18
When we come together each should have a prayerful spirit and let his soul go out, not alone for himself, but toward the whole church. If this were done, none would go away from the house of worship without experiencing the spirit of God. … [When prayer is offered,] everyone … should endorse it by a verbal amen.19
When a man seeks the spirit of wisdom and of inspiration from the Almighty, … the Lord will build him up, because he has the fear of God before his eyes, because he loves his neighbor as he loves himself, and he is not praying: “O Lord, bless me and my wife, my son John and his wife; us four, and no more. Amen.” Such a man does not pray in this way, but he prays for the welfare of Zion, and the longevity of these men who have been raised up of the Lord to be our leaders, our counselors and our advisers in the principles of the Gospel. He prays for his neighbor.20
The man who is prayerful before the Lord will set an example before all others who see and know his conduct.21
I never pray to the Lord without remembering His servants who are in the nations of the earth preaching the Gospel. The burden of my prayer is, “O God, keep them pure and unspotted from the world; help them to maintain their integrity, that they may not fall into the hands of their enemies and be overcome; lead them to the honest in heart.” This has been my prayer ever since I was in the mission field, and I will continue to pray thus as long as I live.22
[To his missionary son Joseph Fielding, Joseph F. Smith wrote on 18 July 1899:] Our hearts are full of blessing for you and … together with all your companions we hold you up in remembrance before the Lord whenever we pray. O! God, my Father, bless, comfort, sustain and make efficient my sons, and all thy servants in the mission field. When doors are shut in their faces, give them grace, forbearance and forgiving hearts. When coldly spurned by scornful men, warm them by thy precious love, when cruelly treated and persecuted be thou present to shield them by thy power. Make thy servants to know Thou art God, and to feel thy presence. Feed them with spiritual life and with perfect love which casteth out all fear and may all their bodily needs be supplied. Help them to store their minds with useful knowledge, and their memories to retain thy truth as a well filled treasure. May they be humble before Thee and meek and lowly as thy glorious Son! Put their trust in Thee, in thy word, and in thy gracious promises. And may wisdom and judgment, prudence and presence of mind, discretion and charity, truth and purity, and honor and dignity characterise their ministry and clothe them as with holy garments. O, God, bless abundantly thy young servants with every needed gift and grace and holy thought, and power to become thy Sons in very deed!23
What does it mean to “supplicate the Lord in humility and in faith”? What does it mean to have a broken heart and a contrite spirit? How do a broken heart and a contrite spirit help us to approach Heavenly Father in prayer?
Why is faith necessary as we pray? (See also Helaman 10:5.) Why should we avoid repetitious prayers? What can we do to make our prayers more meaningful?
Why must we be willing to “forsake everything that would be an obstruction” to receiving an answer to prayer? What are some of these obstructions?
How can we “carry with us the spirit of prayer throughout every duty that we have to perform in life”?
Why might a fast of less than 24 hours and a simple prayer be as effective as a longer effort?
What “serious results” might we face if we neglect family prayer?
What makes a child’s prayer so effective? How can we be more childlike in our prayers?
Why is it important to “endorse” the prayers of others “by a verbal amen”?
Why is it important to pray for others? How does praying for the general and local leaders of the Church bless them? How does it bless us and our families?