“Chapter 2: Pray Always,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson (2014), 46–57
“Chapter 2,” Teachings: Ezra Taft Benson, 46–57
“All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above almost any other advice I have received,” said President Ezra Taft Benson. “It has become an integral part of me, an anchor, a constant source of strength, and the basis for my knowledge of things divine.
“‘Remember that whatever you do or wherever you are, you are never alone’ was my father’s familiar counsel to me as a boy. ‘Our Heavenly Father is always near. You can reach out and receive His aid through prayer.’ I have found this counsel to be true. Thank God we can reach out and tap that unseen power, without which no man can do his best.”1
President Benson followed this counsel in every aspect of his life. When he was appointed to serve as the United States secretary of agriculture, he “prayerfully and carefully” selected a group of men to work with him, “asking God to give [him] a spirit of discernment.”2 At their first meeting, he asked “if anyone objected to opening their meetings with prayer. No one dissented. And so began a practice that [he] perpetuated for eight years. He invited each staff member to take turns offering the invocation.”3 His associates came to appreciate this practice, even though they may have been uncomfortable with it at first. One staff member later admitted that some of the men had not prayed aloud since they were children. “We stumbled and fumbled for words,” he said. “But the Boss [President Benson] never let on that he noticed. And after a few trials everybody was at ease. Has it helped? Well, I’d say that when you start a meeting that way, people aren’t stuck up with the pride of their opinions. You pretty quickly come to an agreement as to what ought to be done in any situation.”4
President Benson’s brethren in the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles also benefited from his prayerful nature. President Gordon B. Hinckley, who served as President Benson’s First Counselor in the First Presidency, said:
“I have knelt with him and heard him pray.
“His prayers were always interesting. Almost without exception, they consisted for the most part of expressions of thanks. He asked for very little. He expressed gratitude for very much.
“He thanked the Lord for life, for family, for the gospel, for faith, for sunlight and rain, the bounties of nature, and the freedom-loving instincts of man. He thanked the Lord for friends and associates. He expressed love for the Savior and gratitude for His atoning sacrifice. He thanked the Lord for the opportunity to serve the people.”5
President Benson and his wife, Flora, established a home where everyone prayed, individually and together. Their son Mark observed: “When Dad knelt down to pray, he didn’t rush things. There was meaning behind his words. It came through loud and clear that he was communicating with our Father in heaven.”6 President and Sister Benson taught their children to pray for personal guidance and strength and also to pray for one another. A friend of the family once observed the influence of those teachings when she attended a session of general conference with the Bensons. She wrote:
“On an April day … , I discovered one source of a General Authority’s strength.
“I was seated with the six children of Elder Ezra Taft Benson, one of whom was my college roommate. My interest heightened when President [David O.] McKay arose and announced the next speaker. I watched respectfully as Elder Benson, whom I had not yet met, walked toward the microphone. He was a big man, well over six feet tall. He was … a man internationally known as the United States Secretary of Agriculture and a special witness of the Lord, a man who seemed serene and sure, one who had addressed audiences throughout the world. Suddenly a hand touched my arm. A little girl leaned toward me and whispered urgently, ‘Pray for Dad.’
“Somewhat startled, I thought, ‘This message is being passed down the row, and I am to pass it on. Shall I say, “Pray for Elder Benson”? Shall I say, “You’re supposed to say a prayer for your father”?’ Sensing the immediate need to act, I leaned over and whispered simply, ‘Pray for Dad.’
“I watched that whisper move along the row to where Sister Benson sat, her head already bowed. …
“As years have passed, general conferences have come and gone, and each time President Benson has stood to speak, I have thought, ‘His children, who are scattered across the continent, are united now in prayer for their father.’”7
During His earthly ministry, Jesus taught us a pattern for prayer:
“After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
“Give us this day our daily bread.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:9–13.)
He further instructed, “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” (Luke 18:1.)
“Watch and pray,” He said, “that ye enter not into temptation.” (Matt. 26:41.)
In this dispensation He admonished, “Pray always lest that wicked one have power in you, and remove you out of your place.” (D&C 93:49.)
The Savior declared to Joseph Smith, “In nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments.” (D&C 59:21.)
We have this instruction from our risen Lord as He ministered among the Nephite people on [the] Western Hemisphere: “Ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him. …
“Ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
“Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
If we would advance in holiness—increase in favor with God—nothing can take the place of prayer. And so I adjure you to give prayer—daily prayer—secret prayer—a foremost place in your lives. Let no day pass without it. Communion with the Almighty has been a source of strength, inspiration, and enlightenment to men and women through the world’s history who have shaped the destinies of individuals and nations for good.9
The Lord indicates that it is the responsibility of parents to teach their children to pray [see D&C 68:28]. This does not mean secret prayers only. I am sure it means to teach by example through family prayers. We need the sanctifying influence which comes from devotion in the home—prayer as a family.10
We need as families to kneel in family prayer, night and morning. Just a few words added to the blessing on the food, which is becoming the custom in some parts, is not enough. We need to get onto our knees in prayer and gratitude.11
Prayer has been and is the ever-present anchor for strength and a source of direction in our family activities. I remember kneeling at the bedside of our young children, helping them with prayers in their younger years, and later seeing the older brothers and sisters helping the younger ones. We had family prayer night and morning, with children given the opportunity to lead, and had special prayers to meet particular problems. Mention was made in family prayer, for instance, of children with [Church] assignments. … We asked for help when one of the children faced a difficult examination in high school. Special mention was made of members of the family [who were] away. … This special mention of particular concerns in our family prayers gave confidence, assurance, and strength to members of the family facing difficult problems and assignments.12
The differences and irritations of the day melt away as families approach the throne of heaven together. Unity increases. The ties of love and affection are re-enforced and the peace of heaven enters.
In such homes secret prayers are said night and morning by members of the household. Individual and family problems are approached with confidence after invoking the favor of heaven. Young people participating in such a family devotional have hearts freed from evil intent as they leave for an evening of entertainment. These [young people] will be the restraining influence in the group when gilded temptations arise. Parents who surround their children with the refining influence of daily devotion are making their contribution to the safeguarding of the … home.13
Here are five ways to improve our communication with our Heavenly Father:
1. We should pray frequently. We should be alone with our Heavenly Father at least two or three times each day—“morning, mid-day, and evening,” as the scripture indicates. (Alma 34:21.) In addition, we are told to pray always. (See 2 Ne. 32:9; D&C 88:126.) This means that our hearts should be full, drawn out in prayer unto our Heavenly Father continually. (See Alma 34:27.)
2. We should find an appropriate place where we can meditate and pray. We are admonished that this should be “in [our] closets, and [our] secret places, and in [our] wilderness.” (Alma 34:26.) That is, it should be free from distraction, in secret. (See 3 Ne. 13:5–6.)
3. We should prepare ourselves for prayer. If we do not feel like praying, then we should pray until we do feel like praying. We should be humble. (See D&C 112:10.) We should pray for forgiveness and mercy. (See Alma 34:17–18.) We must forgive anyone against whom we have bad feelings. (See Mark 11:25.) Yet the scriptures warn that our prayers will be vain if we “turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of [our] substance.” (Alma 34:28.)
4. Our prayers should be meaningful and pertinent. We should avoid using the same phrases in each prayer. Any of us would become offended if a friend said the same words to us each day, treated the conversation as a chore, and could hardly wait to finish in order to turn on the television set and forget us. …
For what should we pray? We should pray about our work, against the power of our enemies and the devil, for our welfare and the welfare of those around us. We should counsel with the Lord regarding all our decisions and activities. (See Alma 37:36–37.) We should be grateful enough to give thanks for all we have. (See D&C 59:21.) We should confess His hand in all things. Ingratitude is one of our great sins.
The Lord has declared in modern revelation: “And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more.” (D&C 78:19.)
We should ask for what we need, taking care that we not ask for things that would be to our detriment. (See James 4:3.) We should ask for strength to overcome our problems. (See Alma 31:31–33.) We should pray for the inspiration and well-being of the President of the Church, the General Authorities, our stake president, our bishop, our quorum president, our home teachers, family members, and our civic leaders. Other suggestions could be made, but with the help of the Holy Ghost we will know about what we should pray. (See Rom. 8:26–27.)
5. After making a request through prayer, we have a responsibility to assist in its being granted. We should listen. Perhaps while we are on our knees, the Lord wants to counsel us.14
There is power in prayer. All things are possible through prayer. It was through prayer that the heavens were opened in this dispensation. The prayer of a boy fourteen years of age, in the Sacred Grove, opened a new gospel dispensation, and brought forth a vision of the Father and the Son, as they appeared as glorified heavenly beings before the boy, Joseph [see Joseph Smith—History 1:11–17].15
It is my testimony, my brothers and sisters and friends, that God does hear and answer prayers. I have never doubted that fact. From childhood, at my mother’s knee where I first learned to pray; as a young man in my teens; as a missionary in foreign lands; as a father; as a Church leader; as a government official, I know without any question that it is possible for men and women to reach out in humility and prayer and tap that Unseen Power; to have prayers answered. Man does not stand alone, or at least, he need not stand alone. Prayer will open doors; prayer will remove barriers; prayer will ease pressures; prayer will give inner peace and comfort during times of strain and stress and difficulty. Thank God for prayer.16
Even during hours of trial and anxiety, it is possible to draw close to the Lord, to feel of his influence and of his sustaining power—that one is never alone, if he will only humble himself before the Almighty. I am grateful for that testimony, for that assurance.17
Out of personal experience, I know the efficacy and power of prayer. …
In 1946 I was assigned by President George Albert Smith to go to war-torn Europe and reestablish our missions from Norway to South Africa and to set up a program for the distribution of welfare supplies.
We established headquarters in London. We then made preliminary arrangements with the military on the continent. One of the first men I wished to see was the commander of the American forces in Europe. He was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.
When we arrived in Frankfurt, my companion and I went in to seek an appointment with the general. The appointment officer said, “Gentlemen, there will be no opportunity for you to see the general for at least three days. He’s very busy and his calendar is filled up with appointments.”
I said, “It is very important that we see him, and we can’t wait that long. We’re due in Berlin tomorrow.”
He said, “I’m sorry.”
We left the building, went out to our car, removed our hats, and united in prayer. We then went back into the building and found a different officer at the appointment post. In less than fifteen minutes we were in the presence of the general. We had prayed that we would be able to see him and to touch his heart, knowing that all relief supplies contributed from any source were then required to be placed in the hands of the military for distribution. Our objective, as we explained it to the general, was to distribute our own supplies to our own people through our own channels, and also to make gifts for general child feeding.
We explained the welfare program and how it operated. Finally, he said, “Well, gentlemen, you go ahead and collect your supplies; and by the time you get them collected, the policy may be changed.” We said, “General, our supplies are already collected; they’re always collected. Within twenty-four hours from the time we wire the First Presidency of the Church in Salt Lake City, carloads of supplies will be rolling toward Germany. We have many storehouses filled with basic commodities.”
He then said, “I’ve never heard of a people with such vision.” His heart was touched as we had prayed it would be. Before we left his office, we had a written authorization to make our own distribution to our own people through our own channels.
It is soul-satisfying to know that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in Him and do that which is right. There is no place for fear among men and women who place their trust in the Almighty, who do not hesitate to humble themselves in seeking divine guidance through prayer. Though persecutions arise, though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is life’s greatest blessing.
As a boy in the Aaronic Priesthood, I learned this little poem about prayer. It has remained with me:
I know not by what methods rare,
But this I know, God answers prayer.
I know that He has given His Word,
Which tells me prayer is always heard,
And will be answered, soon or late.
And so I pray and calmly wait.
I know not if the blessing sought
Will come in just the way I thought;
But leave my prayers with Him alone,
Whose will is wiser than my own,
Assured that He will grant my quest,
Or send some answer far more blest.
… I bear witness to you, my beloved brethren and sisters, that God lives. He is not dead. … I testify there is a God in heaven who hears and answers prayer. I know this to be true. I would humbly urge all … to keep in close touch with our Father in heaven through prayer. Never before in this gospel dispensation has there been a greater need for prayer. That we will constantly depend upon our Heavenly Father and conscientiously strive to improve our communication with Him is my earnest plea.18
President Benson said that we should “let no day pass” without personal prayer (section 1). How have you been blessed as a result of personal prayer?
In section 2, President Benson mentions several blessings that come to families who pray together regularly. When have you seen family prayer lead to these blessings? What can we do to make family prayer a priority?
Consider President Benson’s five suggestions in section 3. How can each of these suggestions help us “improve our communication with our Heavenly Father”? Think about what you will do to follow this counsel.
How might President Benson’s words in section 4 help someone who doubts the power of prayer? What words of testimony can you add to President Benson’s?
A principle is a truth that guides decisions and actions. “As you read, ask yourself, ‘What gospel principle is taught in this passage? How can I apply this in my life?’” (Teaching, No Greater Call , 17).