I Was a Bishop before I Really Learned to Pray

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    My personal goal had been to read the Book of Mormon at least once a year. At each reading I became greatly impressed by the experience of Enos—his forthrightness and persistence in seeking the Lord all the day and night, without ceasing, until he received an answer; his concern first for his own soul before he could be of help to others. I was moved by the great visions of the brother of Jared. His three-hour experience with the Lord in which he was chastened for not praying regularly was both exciting and sobering.

    I, too, desired closer communion with my Father, but while my prayers were dutiful and regular, I had never made the effort of an Enos to really communicate.

    Upon receiving a call to be branch president, I decided the time had come for me to achieve that closeness I so desired. I set aside a day and retired to the woods to spend the whole day and night in prayer, if necessary. Upon choosing my spot, I prayed with all the fervor of my soul. I really opened up and prayed, pleaded, suggested, and talked until there was no more left for me to say. I had said it all. I was empty of thought and word. Realizing that this effort had taken only a few minutes of my allotted twenty-four hours, I wondered what I should do for the rest of the day. Finally I decided that no revelations would come to such as I, and I returned home.

    President David O. McKay knew well my type: “There are too many of us content to dwell in the slums of the intellect and of the spirit. Too many of us seek for happiness in the sunless surrounding of indulgence.” (Man May Know for Himself, teachings of President David O. McKay, comp. by Clare Middlemiss, Deseret Book Co., 1969, p. 186.)

    Shortly our branch became a ward, and I became the bishop. At a stake meeting one of the bishops told how he had devoted an hour each day to prayer during the previous week. So moving was his spirit, so great his experience, that my soul desired this same joy. I vowed to myself that the next day would find me in an hour of prayer for myself, my family, my ward, and my job. But the next day was Sunday, and bishopric meeting was at 6 To arise early enough, I would have to get up at 4 A.M. My resolve vanished in sleep and fled to the corner of unfulfilled promises.

    With my resolve renewed by a successful Sabbath, I set the alarm for Monday morning. As it rang, I sat up, put my feet on the floor and attempted to rise. At once, and with great force, I was grabbed about the shoulders by a king-size mattress that pulled me forcibly back into its warmth and softness. I struggled valiantly for perhaps five or six seconds before I succumbed to its invitation. Then I gave up and slumbered on. After all, I consoled myself, I had become a bishop without any great sacrifice. I had my Duty-to-God award; I’d been on a mission, married in the temple, paid my tithing, and had a temple recommend. How much additional spiritual guidance did I really need? I was a good, average, “natural” elder. (See Mosiah 3:19.)

    The answer came from a young girl in our ward named Diana. She too had heard this talk on prayer and had put it to the test for an hour each day. One morning at a youth conference she bounded up to my wife and me, her face aglow and radiant with the light of the gospel as she bore witness to us of the greatness of a personal relationship and a daily communion with her Father. I thought, “How can I be a bishop of a ward if the members are praying harder than I am? How can I be a spiritual guide for them?”

    The next morning found me in a small wooded area next to our home, where I poured out my heart to the Lord and meditated. Nearly an hour went by. The rewards were gratifying. As I prayed and talked and listened, a calmness of spirit and an inner warmth permeated my whole being, and my soul rejoiced. There were no heavenly messengers, no great lights, no visions or voices, but I felt myself lifted to new spiritual levels in that hour, and I knew I would never again be satisfied with a lesser effort in prayer.

    Eventually, I retired to the meetinghouse each morning and there, with a chapter or two of the scriptures to stimulate my thinking to some serious meditation, I found myself pondering the things of the Spirit until I felt that I was ready to speak to my Father. Gradually, almost imperceptibly, I experienced the revelatory process Joseph Smith described, as strokes of pure intelligence entered my mind. Ideas for ward organization, solutions to family problems, new concepts for my seminary and institute classes, and a deep personal strength emerged daily and profusely from these prayers. I soon found a pen and pad of paper were necessary to write down the ideas as they came. The promptings proved valuable as we reorganized our ward auxiliaries and issued call after call to people who knew of their new callings before they were made.

    My family also benefited as their husband and father in the home, a priesthood bearer, gave more inspired direction and counsel. Feelings of love and peace increased, and we rejoiced in new spiritual strength. My institute and seminary classes became more vibrant and interesting as I could see myself teaching more and more by the Spirit. The scriptures began to open up as never before, and I actually understood for the first time some of the writings of Isaiah that Jesus had told the Nephites were so valuable. (See 3 Ne. 23:1–5.)

    But as great as was my joy, I found that I had not reached a final destination, but was on a long and beautiful road that would lead to the fountain of living water—to Jesus, the source of all our knowledge, our faith, our truth, our being.

    Richard D. Anthony, director of seminaries and institutes in the Nashville area, serves as high councilor in the Nashville Tennessee Stake.