First Presidency Message

Importance and Efficacy of Prayer

By President N. Eldon Tanner

Second Counselor in the First Presidency

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    As I begin this article, I do so in all humility, and humbly pray to my Father in heaven that I might be guided in this effort.

    As a young boy in school, I was greatly impressed by these classic words, which almost every schoolchild has committed to memory:

    “More things are wrought by prayer

    Than this world dreams of. Wherefore, let thy voice

    Rise like a fountain for me night and day.

    For what are men better than sheep or goats

    That nourish a blind life within the brain,

    If, knowing God, they lift not hands of prayer

    Both for themselves and those who call them friend?”

    —Alfred, Lord Tennyson

    “The Passing of Arthur”

    Probably the impression was made because I lived in a home where we prayed individually, and as a family, night and morning, every day, and also because I had had my prayers answered at different times and on different occasions. What a wonderful feeling of security it was to know I could call upon the Lord, that he was actually my Father in heaven, that he was interested in me, and that he could hear me and answer my prayers. This knowledge has always been a great source of comfort to me. It has given me confidence and strength when I needed it most, and the ability to choose and make with confidence decisions that I could not have made otherwise. Having had these experiences, and feeling the need for divine guidance, it has always been my great desire and practice to ask for wisdom and guidance in all of my endeavors.

    During my early years I naturally thought that because we prayed in our home, people all over the world had the same belief and were praying to their Heavenly Father. But as I grew older, I learned that many people never pray for guidance, or express their gratitude for the blessings they receive, or return thanks at mealtime for the food they eat. It was still more shocking to learn that there are those who don’t even believe in God and therefore do not have faith in him and do not understand that he is a personal God, literally our Father in heaven, that we are his children, and that he can really hear and answer our prayers.

    I can never begin to express my gratitude to my parents for teaching me this important principle. My father really knew how to talk to the Lord, and made him seem so real and near to us. He would pray in the morning: “Let thy blessings attend us as we go about our duties, that we may do what is right and return tonight to report to thee.”

    I think of that very often, and what a help it is to me! If everyone kept that thought in mind during the day, in all of his activities, knowing that he was going to account to the Lord at night for what he had done that day, it would be a great deterrent to wrongdoing and a great help in accomplishing works of righteousness.

    The Lord has admonished parents to teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before him. (See D&C 68:28.) This is our most important obligation to our children—to teach them that they are the spirit children of their Heavenly Father, that he is real, that he has great love for his children and wants them to succeed, that they should pray to him expressing gratitude and asking for guidance, realizing that faith in him will bring them greater strength and success and happiness than they can receive from any other source.

    We as parents must teach by example and let the efficacy of prayer in our own lives show our children the value of faith in God. How sad to deprive a child of the great blessing of learning to know God and learning to depend on him for the comfort and strength and guidance the child needs so badly in order to cope with the problems of the day. It is equally sad when children are not taught that everything they have comes from God and that they should express their gratitude and strive to be worthy of the blessings they receive.

    You will remember the story of the ten lepers whom Jesus healed. When one returned to give thanks, the Savior said: “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine? There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.” (Luke 17:17–18.) The sin of ingratitude is grievous.

    As we give thanks for our blessings and pray for our own needs, we should be conscious of others who need our faith and prayers, and we must help the Lord answer our prayers. When we pray for him to bless the poor, the sick, and the needy, and to comfort those who mourn, we must follow our words with our deeds and be actively engaged in serving our fellowmen and ministering to their needs. We are the ones through whom the Lord accomplishes his purposes, and when we are blessed, we should in turn bless others.

    We had a sweet experience in our family. As we finished calling upon the Lord in family prayer one evening, one of my daughters said, “Daddy, we have so many blessings, and so much to be thankful for, I wonder if we should ask the Lord for more blessings or if we should thank him for what we have and ask him to help us to be worthy of the blessings we now enjoy.” I want to emphasize the importance of making ourselves worthy to accept all that our Father in heaven constantly bestows upon us.

    It is easy to pray and give thanks when all is going well and we feel blessed and prosperous. The real test of our gratitude and love for the Lord is in our ability to do as Job did when his trials and tribulations seemed to be almost more than he could endure. He still gave thanks, praised the Lord, and said with all humility and sincerity, “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” (See Job 19:25.)

    Our Father in heaven knows our needs better than we. He knows what is for our good and the things we need to overcome in order to further our development and progression. We must learn to accept his will in all things, with the faith and assurance that in the end everything he does for us will redound to our good.

    I was greatly impressed with the attitude of my daughter and her husband who had a child suffering with leukemia. The doctors said the child could not live more than a year or two. I remember what a great shock this was to them and how they pled with the Lord, attended the temple, and fasted and prayed that the child might be made well; and the thing that impressed me most was the fact that they would conclude their prayers with, “Not our will, but thine, be done; and make us strong enough to accept thy will for us.”

    He lived much longer than the doctor had predicted but finally was called home, and it was thrilling to me to hear his parents thank the Lord that they had had the privilege of raising him as long as they did and that he was such a lovely child, and then ask the Lord to make them worthy to meet and live with him in the hereafter.

    When one feels that things are not going as they should or as he would like them to do, and discouragement comes, as it does to all of us at times, then is a time when he can gain great comfort, courage, and strength, and indeed happiness, by going privately to the Lord, alone, and in all humility, kneeling and giving thanks, naming one by one his blessings and praying that he might be worthy of them. It will surprise you to know what the Lord has done and how long it will take you to count your many blessings.

    Do not wait for these times of discouragement or until you are in difficulty to pray. We are told to pray often and for all righteous purposes. All the prophets from Adam down, and even Jesus Christ, felt the need to call on our Father in heaven in prayer and supplication. Men in high places in all walks of life have petitioned the Lord for guidance, and their greatness has been enhanced by their recognition of a Supreme Being and a Divine Power.

    Nearly every president of the United States found it necessary to call upon the Lord, and most called the nation to prayer on many occasions, realizing, as President Abraham Lincoln said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go: my own wisdom and that of all around me seemed insufficient for the day.”

    Samuel F. B. Morse, inventor of the telegraph, said: “Whenever I could not see my way clearly, I knelt down and prayed for light and understanding.”

    We have that sweet and simple prayer recorded by Astronaut Gordon Cooper, while orbiting the earth: “Father, thank you, especially for letting me fly this flight. Thank you for the privilege of being able to be in this position, to be up in this wondrous place, seeing all these many startling, wonderful things that you have created.”

    The words of humble and great people ascending in prayer to their Father in heaven are endless and comprise some of our most beautiful literature. There comes a time in every man’s life when he feels the need for some help outside himself. The individual who learns early in life how to pray, for what, and why has so much the advantage over one who has not learned or does not believe that prayer can be a powerful influence.

    I recently received a copy of a letter in which the writer, referring rather critically and sarcastically to a man holding a very responsible Church position, said: “Now there is a boy who really needs help.”

    As I read it, I thought how true it is that we all need help and guidance, and if there is any difference in the degree of help we need, it seems to increase with increased responsibility, with the importance of the position that we hold, which makes us responsible not only for ourselves but for others. I have concluded that the more humble one is, the more likely he is to succeed and enjoy the love and confidence of those with whom he is privileged to associate and labor.

    It is so important that parents call their children together night and morning, every day, and give each member of the family, one by one, the privilege of addressing the Lord on behalf of the family, expressing gratitude for the many blessings the family has received, concern for the individual and family problems existing, and asking for guidance in the morning, with the knowledge they will report at night.

    Children should learn early in life that they can call upon their Heavenly Father as they do their earthly parents, with the sure knowledge that he will hear and answer their prayers. I have always been impressed with the story Elder Hugh B. Brown has told about his mother’s encouraging words as he left on his mission when he was about twenty years of age. This, essentially, was her message:

    “Hugh, you remember when you were a little boy and you would have a bad dream or wake up in the night frightened, you would call from your room: ‘Mother, are you there?’ and I would answer and try to comfort you and allay your fears. As you go out into the world there will be times when you will be frightened, when you will feel weak and have problems, and I want you to know that you can call to your Heavenly Father as you used to call to me, and say: ‘Father, are you there? I need your help,’ and do it with the knowledge that he is there, and that he will be ready to help you if you will do your part and live worthy of his blessings.”

    May we all discover, if we have not already done so, that prayer is a vibrant, vital link with our Father in heaven that gives meaning and purpose to our lives, and that eternal happiness and progress can come only to those whose God is the Lord.