A mental picture of Jesus teaching His followers to pray to the Father brings sublime feelings to the heart. On one occasion in the Americas, we find the resurrected Savior surrounded by little children who were encircled by a multitude of faithful Saints on bended knee. Listening intently, the people were overcome with joy as He “prayed unto the Father” words that “cannot be written” (see 3 Ne. 17:11–18).
Like us, Jesus Christ, our exemplar and advocate with the Father, was born into this earth life and faced with uncertainties, challenges, and temptations. The Savior taught us by both word and example that we don’t have to be alone while in the unfamiliar surroundings of this mortal probation. There is great security in knowing that we can communicate with our Heavenly Father and that He will hear our sincere prayers.
The following steps are taught to those who are learning to pray:
Our Heavenly Father,
We thank thee …
We ask thee …
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
This basic format is helpful and always appropriate, no matter how complex our prayer might be.
Let us examine these four elements of prayer.
Praying is not only a commandment but also one of the greatest of all privileges given to the sons and daughters of God. There is solace in knowing that He hears and that He cares, but we must take advantage of His invitation to call upon Him. “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:63).
Jesus Christ set the example regarding how to pray as well as unto whom we should pray. He clearly taught that we are to pray to our Heavenly Father. While visiting the inhabitants of ancient America, the Savior instructed, “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed” (3 Ne. 18:21).
Children of God have many reasons to pray to their Heavenly Father. These reasons include a heart’s sincere desire to express gratitude for blessings received, calling upon Heavenly Father as a family, petitioning Him in public prayer, pleading for forgiveness, or seeking divine intervention to preserve life itself.
As children of God, we are dependent upon Him for all that we have, even the very breath we take (see Mosiah 2:21). Our natural tendency as we come to know and love the Lord is a desire to express gratitude for these abundant blessings. Often we reflect on the innumerable blessings that have come to us and can’t wait until we can just be alone and express thanks, without any particular thought of further requests. It would seem awkward and lacking in respect to ask for more if we have failed to thank the Lord for blessings already received.
Paul said to the Saints at Thessalonica: “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you” (1 Thes. 5:17–18).
The Lord is not pleased when we fail to express gratitude. “And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments” (D&C 59:21).
A poignant example of the Savior’s response to ingratitude is illustrated by His healing of the 10 lepers:
“And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
“And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
“And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
“And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
“And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
“And Jesus answering 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.
“And he said unto him, Arise, go thy way: thy faith hath made thee whole” (Luke 17:12–19).
Let us remember to constantly express gratitude for blessings received.
Both personal revelation and revelation for the benefit of mankind come as answers are sought through sincere prayer. As Abraham was about to be sacrificed to false gods, deliverance didn’t come until he called upon the Lord for divine help:
“And as they lifted up their hands upon me, that they might offer me up and take away my life, behold, I lifted up my voice unto the Lord my God, and the Lord hearkened and heard, and he filled me with the vision of the Almighty, and the angel of his presence stood by me, and immediately unloosed my bands;
“And his voice was unto me: Abraham, Abraham, behold, my name is Jehovah, and I have heard thee, and have come down to deliver thee” (Abr. 1:15–16).
The Restoration of the gospel in our present dispensation was not initiated until the Prophet Joseph Smith sought answers through solemn, personal prayer. From his own account we read:
“In the midst of this war of words and tumult of opinions, I often said to myself: What is to be done? Who of all these parties are right; or, are they all wrong together? If any one of them be right, which is it, and how shall I know it?
“While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: 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. …
“At length I came to the conclusion that I must either remain in darkness and confusion, or else I must do as James directs, that is, ask of God. I at length came to the determination to ‘ask of God,’ concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture” (JS—H 1:10–11, 13).
We know that as he ventured, the marvelous process of the Restoration was begun. As the Restoration moved forward, revelation after revelation came forth as questions were asked in sincere prayer.
King Benjamin, the great Book of Mormon prophet-king, is an example of a righteous man who wanted to teach his people how to live in such a way as to ultimately receive the blessings of eternal life. He did all in his power to set a righteous example; and the Lord not only heard his sincere prayers but also sent an angel, who said: “Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
“For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy” (Mosiah 3:3–4).
This good man’s faith, desire for the welfare of his people, and personal worthiness were rewarded as his people took upon themselves the name of Christ and were blessed with peace and prosperity.
Our Heavenly Father loves us and has a much greater vision than we do regarding those things that will give us eternal happiness. Jesus said, “For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matt. 6:8). With our prayers we need to indicate, “Thy will be done,” and truly mean it.
A few years ago I was observing a bug as it moved across the floor. From my vantage point I could see that approximately 15 feet ahead he was going to run into an obstacle that would cause him to lose quite a bit of travel time. I wanted to say, “Little bug, if you will change your direction and go 25 degrees to the left, you will save yourself a lot of time and trouble.” But of course he continued his path and ran head-on into the obstacle. He butted his head against it no fewer than 20 times as he first made a series of futile attempts to the right, then finally found his way around to the left.
I thought, Is it not so with us and the Lord? Is His vantage point not higher and greater than our own? Does He not know how our prayers need to be answered, even before we ask for His help? Through the scriptures, through prophets, or by the influence of the Spirit, does He not invite us to turn 25 degrees to the left or to the right where He can keep us safe and out of harm’s way, when our natural instincts would take us in another direction and oftentimes into sorrow or suffering?
As the Prophet Joseph Smith languished in the Liberty Jail amidst bitterness and persecution, he asked the Lord, Why? He probably wasn’t referring so much to his physical situation, which was deplorable, as he was to the fact that his family and his people were scattered in the wilderness and that the wonderful cause of Zion seemed to be stalemated. In answer to the Prophet’s prayer the Lord said, “Know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:7–8). Obviously the Lord knew that both Joseph and the Church would be stronger because of the challenges both were called upon to endure.
President David O. McKay reminded us of the importance of communication with our Heavenly Father, even while we are being seriously challenged. He said: “Great events have happened in this Church because of such communion, because of the responsiveness of the soul to the inspiration of the Almighty. I know it is real. You will find that when these most inspirational moments come to you, you are alone with yourself and your God. They come to you probably when you are facing a great trial, when a wall is across your pathway, and it seems that you are facing an insurmountable obstacle, or when your heart is heavy because of some tragedy in your life. I repeat, the greatest comfort that can come to us in this life is to sense the realization of communion with God.”
He went on to say: “Great testimonies have come in those moments. It is just such experience as that which came to my father in the north of Scotland when he prayed to God to remove from him the spirit of gloom and despondency that overwhelmed him. After a night of worry and restlessness, he arose at daylight and repaired to a cave on the shore of the North Sea. He had been there before in prayer. There, just as the rays of the morning light began to come over the sea, he poured out his soul to God as a son would appeal to his father. The answer came: ‘Testify that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God!’ The cause of his discouragement flashing upon his mind, he said aloud: ‘Lord, it is enough!’” (Man May Know for Himself: Teachings of President David O. McKay, comp. Clare Middlemiss , 25).
Jesus instructed the Nephites that they should “pray … unto the Father, always in my name” (3 Ne. 18:21). Writing to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul instructed, “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him” (Col. 3:17). Hence every prayer should be offered to our Heavenly Father in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ.
President Gordon B. Hinckley stated: “Of all the great and wonderful and inspiring promises I have read, the most reassuring to me are the words of the Savior: ‘Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.’ (Matt. 7:7.) … Let us never forget to pray. God lives. He is near. He is real. He is our Father. He is accessible to us” (“Pillars of Truth,” Ensign, Jan. 1994, 2).
While in mortality may we be wise enough to constantly call upon the Father in the name of His Only Begotten Son. As we pray in the manner we have been taught, we can avoid the lack of personal growth and the self-induced loneliness that are natural consequences of a failure to respond to His invitation. It gives great comfort to the soul to know that “He is our Father” and that “He is accessible to us.”
Most Ensign articles can be used for family home evening discussions. The following questions are for that purpose or for personal reflection:
What does the Savior’s example teach us about to whom, how, and why we pray?
What do the examples of such leaders as Abraham, King Benjamin, and the Prophet Joseph Smith teach us about prayer?
What are some of the blessings in our lives for which we can give thanks to God?
How can we more effectively respond to the divine invitation, “Draw near unto me”?