“Does God hear everyone’s prayers?” New Era, Dec. 1975, 13–14
Answer/Brother Roger Merrill
There are at least two different approaches people might take in response to the question, does God hear everyone’s prayers? One approach is exemplified by a fellow we will call Eric. People tell Eric that he is very smart, and he prides himself on his ability to think through ideas and explain them to people.
Recently Eric has been studying about the different nations of the earth. One afternoon as he was watching a film in school about the eastern countries, he was deeply impressed with the number of people on the earth and how varied their lives are.
As he was thinking, he asked himself, does God really near everyone’s prayers? After pondering for awhile he could not conceive how one being could really listen to all those prayers at one time. “It is just impossible; he must have angels assigned to listen for him,” he reasoned. This answer was logical but somehow made him feel a little farther away from his Father in heaven.
Richard is a good example of another approach. Born in the Church, Richard was not active until he was well into his teens. At that time a series of challenging events provided him with the opposition necessary to turn him toward the gospel. After a few weeks of reading and prayer, Richard had developed a testimony of Christ and the truth of the Book of Mormon. People remembered Richard because of his testimony and commitment to it.
One evening Eric and Richard were talking about the Church. Eric said, “You know one thing that bugs me about the Church is that it demands so much blind obedience.”
“What do you mean?” asked Richard.
“Well, for example, the other day in class we were talking about prayer, and I mentioned how many people there are in the world and said that God can’t possibly hear all those prayers. He must have others do it for him. Old Brother Edwards just said I was wrong, and I asked how he knew. He just quoted a bunch of scriptures. Boy, what a cop-out—just blind faith.”
“That’s really interesting, but I disagree on the blind faith idea,” replied Richard. “I thought about that same question not long ago. The first thing I asked myself was, what has the Lord already told us about it? I read some passages in the Doctrine and Covenants (see D&C 88:62–63) and also found a great statement by President John Taylor:
“‘We are told in relation to these matters that the hairs of our heads are numbered; that even a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without our Heavenly Father’s notice; and predicated upon some of these principles are some things taught by Jesus, where He tells men to ask and they shall receive. What! The millions that live upon the earth? Yes, the millions of people, no matter how many there are. Can He hear and answer all? Can He attend to all these things? Yes.’ (Journal of Discourses, vol. 26, p. 31.)
“Since I already have a testimony of the scriptures and the living prophets, the next thing I wanted to know was what do I have to do in order to understand more about how God hears and answers prayers.
“I’ve been praying about it, and last fast Sunday afternoon I was reading Doctrine and Covenants 88 [D&C 88] about the light of Christ and how it is in all and through all things. Of course, I know our Father in heaven is a distinct personage, but this taught that his power, spirit, glory, and influence emanate throughout the universe and create a channel through which light and life are given to all that live. As I’ve been thinking about this, I think l’m starting to realize how our Father can be in personal contact with all his children. I’ve concluded that God hears all who pray, but for us to receive his answers, we must live the commandments and seek him. I don’t feel like that is blind faith.”
Richard’s conclusion meets a great test because it fits with what President Harold B. Lee said in a talk on revelation. He said that we are much like a radio receiver; if our tithing tube is broken, or our keep-morally-clean tube is not operating correctly, we will never receive the messages the Lord sends. Even worse, we could be on the wrong station, thinking we are receiving messages from the Lord when all the time they are coming from the wrong source.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says, in effect, it is not knowing all the answers that indicates a man’s wisdom, but in knowing how to ask the right questions.
What are the right questions and how does that relate to prayer? Prayer is communication between God and man. When we approach the Lord in prayer to seek knowledge and wisdom, our questions should be faithful questions.
Faithful questions seek to understand rather than judge. When Joseph Smith was searching, he read in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” Joseph also read (which we sometimes forget), “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” The scripture goes on to say of one who wavers and doubts, “… Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”
Richard knew how to ask questions; Eric did not. The difference? “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering.” Eric asked a judgmental, challenging question not based on trust and faith in the things he had already received. “Let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord.”
Richard did not seek to judge but to understand. It is with faith and trust that we can learn to follow President Lee’s counsel to put periods after what the Lord has said, not question marks.
Faith in seeking brings knowledge, wisdom, and light.
I affirm that God does hear all our prayers; he loves us and seeks to communicate. We need to learn to ask the right questions and, in the things of God especially, seek to understand not to judge.