As my wife and I have travelled throughout sub-Saharan Africa and to the islands of the Indian Ocean, we have attended many Church meetings. We have heard talks and testimonies that have been inspiring and uplifting. Additionally, we have been deeply touched by the prayers we have heard. We have come to recognize that the Saints in the Africa Southeast Area know how to pray. I have learned much by listening to those prayers.
Natural and Instinctive Prayer
When I listen to our members pray, I feel as though they know to whom they are praying. That not only makes a big difference, it makes all of the difference. As stated in the Bible Dictionary: “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God ... then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part.” For our Saints who understand that God is our Father and that we are His children, prayer does indeed seem natural and instinctive.
When a natural prayer is offered, content is more important than grammar. Fluency in a particular language is not necessary. Prayers do not need to be long to be effective. Expressing gratitude to our Heavenly Father for life and life’s simple necessities invites the Spirit. I believe God loves hearing that someone is “so much grateful.”
I have learned that asking God for specific blessings or specific answers to questions allows God to be more specific in His answers and blessings. As further stated in the Bible Dictionary: “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”
Mighty prayer leads to a mighty change of heart. Praying with all the energy of heart requires mental and emotional focus. Prayer is a form of work and is the way by which we obtain the highest of all blessings (see again, the Bible Dictionary).
When we pray in the appropriate way, when we give adequate time to receive answers, and especially when we ponder the challenges facing us, we are sometimes inspired as to what we should pray for. This happened to the Nephite disciples of the Savior who prayed without ceasing, “...and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray ...” (3 Nephi 19:24).
This inspired way of praying requires us to be repentant and worthy. The Lord said, “And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask...” (D&C 50:29-30).
Nephi knew that if he did the best he could, trying his utmost to live righteously, God would give him what he asked for if he did not ask amiss (2 Nephi 4:35). This means that aligning one’s will to that of God allows God to respond to petitions. When our prayerful petitions align with God’s will we can receive what we seek. God granted that blessing to Nephi, son of Helaman, that he would receive what he asked for because God trusted him to not ask for that which was “contrary” to God’s will (Helaman 10:5).
Receiving Answers to Prayer
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught us how answers to prayers come. Understanding what Elder Scott taught enables us to have greater confidence in ourselves and in God. Elder Scott said:
“[God’s] answers will seldom come while you are on your knees praying, even when you may plead for an immediate response... He will reply in one of three ways. First, you can feel the peace, comfort, and assurance that confirm that your decision is right. Or second, you can sense that unsettled feeling, the stupor of thought, indicating that your choice is wrong. Or third—and this is the difficult one—you can feel no response.
What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust. When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. When you are living righteously and are acting with trust, God will not let you proceed too far without a warning impression if you have made the wrong decision” (Elder Richard G. Scott, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” General Conference, April 2007).
Elder Scott’s instruction helps us understand how the Lord answers prayers. Answers to prayers require not just effort on our part, but also patience. We must never get discouraged. Heavenly Father wants us to express our hopes and our fears. He wants us to receive blessings. He wants us to pray.
Ironically, when we need to pray the most, we are sometimes least likely to pray. When the most challenging times have occurred in my life, I have sometimes not felt like praying or I have felt that my prayers were rather useless. Yet, I needed desperately to pray. I believe that the diminished desire to pray occurs most often when we have made mistakes, when we are angry, depressed, or emotionally hurt.
President Brigham Young’s counsel was wise and clear on this issue. He said, “It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do.” He said that we should pray even if we have “not a single particle of the spirit of prayer in us,” that when it is the time and place to pray, we should simply tell our knees to bend and to do so at once. We should pray even if all we can say is, “God have mercy on me a sinner.” President Young also taught, as only he could, “If the devil says you cannot pray when you are angry, tell him it is none of his business, and pray until that species of insanity is dispelled and serenity is restored to the mind” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, Chapter 6: “Communication between God and Man”).
Experience has taught me, and my testimony is, that Nephi was right when he said, “For if you would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint...” (2 Nephi 32:8-9).
If we do so, our Heavenly Father will pour out His blessings upon us, we will draw closer to Him, and we will be filled with the hope and peace that comes only through His Son, Jesus Christ.