“Chapter 5: Prayer, the Passport to Spiritual Power,” Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Spencer W. Kimball (2006), 46–58
“Chapter 5,” Teachings: Spencer W. Kimball, 46–58
“I always have very tender feelings about prayers and the power and blessings of prayer,” said President Spencer W. Kimball. “In my lifetime I have received more blessings than I can ever adequately give thanks for. The Lord has been so good to me. I have had so many experiences in sickness and in health that leave me with no shadow of doubt in my heart and mind that there is a God in heaven, that he is our Father, and that he hears and answers our prayers.”1
One of these experiences came when President Kimball and his wife, Camilla, traveled to a conference in New Zealand. When they reached the city of Hamilton, they were so sick that President Kimball asked President N. Eldon Tanner, First Counselor in the First Presidency, to represent him at a cultural event planned for that evening. Some hours later, President Kimball “awakened with a start and asked Dr. Russell Nelson, who sat watching over him, ‘Brother Nelson, what time was that program to begin this evening?’
“‘At seven o’clock, President Kimball.’
“‘What time is it now?’
“‘It is almost seven.’
“Spencer was soaked with perspiration. His fever had broken. … He said, ‘Tell Sister Kimball we’re going.’
“Camilla got out of bed, and they both hurriedly dressed and then drove the short distance to the stadium where the program had just convened. President Tanner had explained at the beginning of the meeting that they were too sick to attend. In the opening prayer a young New Zealander petitioned fervently, ‘We three thousand New Zealand youth have gathered here prepared to sing and to dance for thy prophet. Wilt thou heal him and deliver him here.’ As the prayer ended, the car carrying Spencer and Camilla entered and the stadium erupted in a spontaneous, deafening shout at the answer to their prayer.”2
Prayer is not an optional activity; it is basic to our religion.3
Why should we pray? Because we are the sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, on whom we depend for everything we enjoy—our food and clothing, our health, our life itself, our sight and hearing, our voices, our locomotion, even our brains.
… Do you give to yourself your breath, your life, your being? Can you lengthen your days by a single hour? Are you so strong without the gifts of heaven? Are your brains made by self, and did you fashion them? Can you give life or give it prolongation? Do you have power to do without your Lord? Yet I find that many fail to pray. …
You who pray sometimes, why not pray more regularly, more often, more devoutly? Is time so precious, life so short, or faith so scant? …
We all are under heavy obligation to our Lord. None of us has reached perfection. None of us is free from error. To pray is required of all men like chastity is required, and Sabbath observance, and tithing, and living the Word of Wisdom, attending meetings, and entering into celestial marriage. As truly as any other, this is a commandment of the Lord.4
When I used to travel throughout the stakes and missions of the Church in earlier years, I often met people who were in trouble or who had great need. My first question to them was, “What about your prayers? How often? How deeply involved are you when you pray?” I have observed that sin generally comes when communication lines are down. For this reason the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you.” (D&C 93:49.)5
There is a great need in the world today for prayer which can keep us in touch with God and keep open the channels of communication. None of us should get so busy in our lives that we cannot contemplate with prayer. Prayer is the passport to spiritual power.6
About what shall we pray in our prayers? We should express joyful and sincere gratitude for past blessings. The Lord has said, “And ye must give thanks unto God in the Spirit for whatsoever blessing ye are blessed with.” (D&C 46:32.) A wonderful and assuring spirit comes over us as we express sincere gratitude to Heavenly Father for our blessings—for the gospel and the knowledge of it that we have been blessed to receive, for the efforts and labors of parents and others in our behalf, for our families and friends, for opportunities, for mind and body and life, for experiences good and helpful throughout our lives, for all of our Father’s helps and kindnesses and answered prayers.
We can pray for our leaders. Paul wrote:
“I exhort therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men;
“For kings, and for all that are in authority.” (1 Tim. 2:1–2.)
We will develop loyalty to country and to the laws that govern us if we so pray. And we will develop love and faith in our Church leadership, and our children will come to respect them. For one can hardly be critical of Church officers if honest prayers are offered for them. It is a joy to me that all my life I have sustained my leaders, prayed for their welfare. And in recent years, I have felt a great power coming to me because of similar prayers of the Saints, raised to heaven in my behalf.
The all-encompassing missionary work should be the constant object of our prayers. We pray that the doors of nations will be opened to receive the gospel. We pray for opportunity and guidance to share the glorious gospel news with others. When each child prays all his life for the missionary cause, he will be a good missionary.
… We pray for that person we felt was an enemy, for we remember the beautiful and powerful counsel of our Lord: “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you.” (Luke 6:27–28.) Can anyone long have an enemy when he prays for persons around him about whom he may have hard feelings?
We pray for wisdom, for judgment, for understanding. We pray for protection in dangerous places, for strength in moments of temptation. We remember loved ones and friends. We utter momentary prayers in word or thought, aloud or in deepest silence. We always have a prayer in our hearts that we may do well in the activities of our day. Can one do evil when honest prayers are in his heart and on his lips?
We pray over our marriages, our children, our neighbors, our jobs, our decisions, our church assignments, our testimonies, our feelings, our goals. Indeed, we take Amulek’s great counsel and we pray for mercy, we pray over our means of livelihood, over our households and against the power of our enemies; we pray “against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness,” and over the crops of our fields. And when we do not cry unto the Lord, we “let [our] hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for [our] welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around [us].” (See Alma 34:18–27.)7
We pray for forgiveness. I have interviewed numerous prospective missionaries. Too often I find them not praying, even though they have unforgiven follies. “Why don’t you pray,” I have asked, “when you have such a great obligation to repay? Do you think you can merely write it off and shrug your shoulders and rationalize that it is just a common practice? Are you ashamed to kneel, ashamed of Christ? Is there some disbelief in God? Do you not know he lives and loves, forgives when repentance is forthcoming? Do you know that sins cannot be erased, transgressions cannot be forgiven through evasion and mere forgetfulness?” …
We pray for everything that is needed and dignified and proper. I heard a boy about fourteen years of age in family prayer imploring the Lord to protect the family sheep upon the hill. It was snowing and bitterly cold. I heard a family pray for rain when a severe drought was on and conditions were desperate. I heard a young girl praying for help in her examinations that were coming up that day.
Our petitions are also for the sick and afflicted. The Lord will hear our sincere prayers. He may not always heal them, but he may give them peace or courage or strength to bear up. We do not forget in our prayers the folks who need blessings almost more than the physically imperfect—the frustrated and confused people, the tempted, the sinful, the disturbed.
Our prayers are for our children’s welfare. Sometimes as children grow up, there comes into their lives a rebellious attitude in spite of all that we can say and do. Alma found his admonitions futile with his [son] and he prayed for [him], and his prayers were mighty ones. Sometimes that is about all there is left for parents to do. The prayer of a righteous man availeth much, says the scripture, and so it did in this case [see James 5:16; Mosiah 27:14].8
It is such a privilege and joy to pray to our Father in Heaven, such a blessing for us. But our experience is not finished after our prayer is completed. Amulek correctly taught: “And now behold, my beloved brethren, … after ye have [prayed], if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” (Alma 34:28.) We must never forget that we are to live the gospel as honestly and earnestly as we pray.9
Some things are best prayed about in private, where time and confidentiality are not considerations. Prayer in solitude is rich and profitable. Praying alone helps us to shed shame or pretense, any lingering deceit; it helps us open our hearts and be totally honest and honorable in expressing all of our hopes and attitudes.
I have long been impressed about the need for privacy in our personal prayers. The Savior at times found it necessary to slip away into the mountains or desert to pray. Similarly, the Apostle Paul turned to the desert and solitude after his great call. Enos found himself in solitary places to commune with God. Joseph Smith found his privacy in the grove with only birds and trees and God to listen to his prayer. Observe some keys in his story: “So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. … It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.” (Joseph Smith—History 1:14; italics added.)
We, too, ought to find, where possible, a room, a corner, a closet, a place where we can “retire” to “pray vocally” in secret. We recall the many times the Lord instructs us to pray vocally: “And again, I command thee that thou shalt pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private.” (D&C 19:28.)10
If in these special moments of prayer we hold back from the Lord, it may mean that some blessings may be withheld from us. After all, we pray as petitioners before an all-wise Heavenly Father, so why should we ever think to hold back feelings or thoughts which bear upon our needs and our blessings?11
In our prayers, there must be no glossing over, no hypocrisy, since there can here be no deception. The Lord knows our true condition. Do we tell the Lord how good we are, or how weak? We stand naked before him. Do we offer our supplications in modesty, sincerity, and with a “broken heart and a contrite spirit,” or like the Pharisee who prided himself on how well he adhered to the law of Moses? [See Ether 4:15; Luke 18:11–12.] Do we offer a few trite words and worn-out phrases, or do we talk intimately to the Lord for as long as the occasion requires? Do we pray occasionally when we should be praying regularly, often, constantly?12
Prayer is such a privilege—not only to speak to our Father in Heaven, but also to receive love and inspiration from him. At the end of our prayers, we need to do some intense listening—even for several minutes. We have prayed for counsel and help. Now we must “be still, and know that [he is] God.” (Ps. 46:10.)13
The Church urges that there be family prayer every night and every morning. It is a kneeling prayer with all or as many members of the family present as possible. … All of the members of the family, including the little ones, should have opportunity to be mouth in the prayer, in turn, as directed by the one presiding, which will generally be the father who holds the priesthood, but in his absence the mother, and in their absence the oldest child present.14
Our Father in Heaven has given us the blessing of prayer to help us succeed in our all-important activities of home and life. I know that if we pray fervently and righteously, individually and as a family, when we arise in the morning and when we retire at night, and around our tables at mealtime, we will not only knit together as loved ones but we will grow spiritually. We have so much need for our Heavenly Father’s help as we seek to learn gospel truths and then live them, and as we seek his help in the decisions of our lives.15
The family group prayer should be in length and composition appropriate to the need. A prayer of a … couple would be different from one for a family of grown children or for one of small children. Certainly, it should not be long when little children are involved, or they may lose interest and tire of prayer and come to dislike it. When the children pray, it is not likely they will pray overlong. The Lord’s Prayer, given as a sample, is only about thirty seconds and certainly one can do much thanking and requesting in one or two or three minutes, though there are obviously times when it might be appropriate to commune longer.16
When we kneel in family prayer, our children at our side on their knees are learning habits that will stay with them all through their lives. If we do not take time for prayers, what we are actually saying to our children is, “Well, it isn’t very important, anyway. We won’t worry about it. If we can do it conveniently, we will have our prayer, but if the school bell rings and the bus is coming and employment is calling—well, prayer isn’t very important and we will do it when it is convenient.” Unless planned for, it never seems to be convenient.17
No mother would carelessly send her little children forth to school on a wintry morning without warm clothes to protect against the snow and rain and cold. But there are numerous fathers and mothers who send their children to school without the protective covering available to them through prayer—a protection against exposure to unknown hazards, evil people, and base temptations.18
In the past, having family prayer once a day may have been all right. But in the future it will not be enough if we are going to save our families.19
In our family circles, our children will learn how to talk to their Heavenly Father by listening to their parents. They will soon see how heartfelt and honest our prayers are. If our prayers are hurried, even tending to be thoughtless ritual, they will see this also. Better that we do in our families and in private as Mormon pleaded, “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart.” (Moro. 7:48.)20
In the family prayer there is even more than the supplication and prayer of gratitude. It is a forward step toward family unity and family solidarity. It builds family consciousness and establishes a spirit of family interdependence. Here is a moment of the rushed day with blatant radios hushed, lights low, and all minds and hearts turned to each other and to the infinite; a moment when the world is shut out and heaven enclosed within.21
As we group ourselves in prayer, whether in home, Church, social or public settings, we should remember the purpose of our prayers—to communicate with our Father in Heaven. Difficult as it seems, I have found when praying with others that it is better for our attitudes to be concerned with communicating tenderly and honestly with God rather than with worrying over what listeners may be thinking. Of course, the setting of prayers needs to be taken into account, and this is one reason why public prayers, or even family prayers, cannot be the whole of our praying.22
Prayers in public should always be appropriate to the occasion. A dedication prayer may be longer but an invocation much shorter. It should request the needed things for that particular occasion. The benediction can be still shorter—a prayer of thanks and dismissal. The anointing with oil is a short and specific part of an ordinance and should not overlap the sealing which follows and which may be extended as is appropriate in calling down blessings on the recipient. The blessing on the food need not be long, but should express gratitude for and blessings requested on the food. It should not be repetitious of a family prayer that has just been given.23
How often do we hear people who wax eloquent in their prayers to the extent of preaching a complete sermon? The hearers tire and the effect is lost.24
Is prayer only one-way communication? No! …
Learning the language of prayer is a joyous, lifetime experience. Sometimes ideas flood our mind as we listen after our prayers. Sometimes feelings press upon us. A spirit of calmness assures us that all will be well. But always, if we have been honest and earnest, we will experience a good feeling—a feeling of warmth for our Father in Heaven and a sense of his love for us. It has sorrowed me that some of us have not learned the meaning of that calm, spiritual warmth, for it is a witness to us that our prayers have been heard. And since our Father in Heaven loves us with more love than we have even for ourselves, it means that we can trust in his goodness, we can trust in him; it means that if we continue praying and living as we should, our Father’s hand will guide and bless us.
And so in our prayers we say, “Thy will be done”—and mean it. We would not ask a leader for advice, then disregard it. We must not ask the Lord for blessings and then ignore the answer. Thus, we pray, “Thy will be done, O Lord. Thou knowest best, kind Father. I will accept and follow thy direction gracefully.”25
We should pray in faith, but with awareness that when the Lord answers it may not be with the answer we expect or desire. Our faith must be that God’s choice for us is right.26
After a lifetime of prayers, I know of the love and power and strength that comes from honest and heartfelt prayer. I know of the readiness of our Father to assist us in our mortal experience, to teach us, to lead us, to guide us. Thus, with great love, our Savior has said, “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always.” (D&C 93:49.)
If we will do so, we shall gain for ourselves personal knowledge that our Father in Heaven truly hears and answers prayers. This knowledge he wants each of us to have. Seek it, my beloved brothers and sisters! Seek it!27
Consider these ideas as you study the chapter or as you prepare to teach. For additional help, see pages v–ix.
How might your life be different if you did not pray? Ponder the reasons why the Lord commands us to pray (pages 48–49).
Review pages 49–52. In what ways are we influenced when we express gratitude in prayer? when we pray for others?
Review the second paragraph on page 52. Why are our prayers incomplete if we do not “live the gospel as honestly and earnestly as we pray”?
President Kimball said, “Prayer in solitude is rich and profitable” (page 52). What can we do to make time for meaningful personal prayers? Why do you think it is helpful at times to pray aloud in our personal prayers? Why is listening an important part of prayer?
On pages 54–55 President Kimball tells of blessings that come as a result of family prayers. What experiences have you had with these blessings? What can families do to make time for family prayer every morning and every night?
President Kimball taught that prayers in group settings should be appropriate for the occasion (page 56). When we are asked to offer such prayers, what is our responsibility? What can we learn from the example of the young New Zealander in the story on pages 47–48?
Read the paragraph that begins at the bottom of page 56. How has prayer influenced your relationship with Heavenly Father?