In this day of computers, phones, and pagers, people communicate with one another better than ever before. Even so, good communication is often lacking. Recently while visiting a nursing care facility, I spoke with a woman about her family. She told me that she had three sons, two of whom visit her regularly.
“What about your third son?” I asked.
“I don’t know where he is,” she replied tearfully. “I haven’t heard from him for years. I don’t even know how many grandchildren I have.”
Why We Pray
If such a mother yearns to hear from her sons, it is easy to see why a loving Father in Heaven wants to hear from His children. 1 Through prayer, we can show our love for God. And He has made it so easy. We may pray to Him any time. No special equipment is needed. We don’t even need to charge batteries or pay a monthly service fee.
Some people pray only when confronted with personal problems. Others don’t pray at all. A scripture makes this observation: “Ye do not remember the Lord your God in the things with which he hath blessed you, but ye do always remember your riches, not to thank the Lord … for them.” 2
Prophets have long told us to pray humbly and frequently. 3
How to Pray
Jesus taught us how. 4 We pray to our Heavenly Father, 5 in the name of Jesus Christ, 6 by the power of the Holy Ghost. 7 This is the “true order of prayer,” 8 in contrast to “vain repetitions” 9 or recitations given to “be seen of men.” 10
Jesus revealed that we pray to a wise Father who knows what things we have need of, before we ask Him. 11
Mormon taught his son, Moroni, that we should pray “with all the energy of heart.” 12 Nephi exclaimed, “I pray continually for [my people] by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, … and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.” 13
The sweet power of prayer can be intensified by fasting, on occasion, when appropriate to a particular need. 14
Prayers can be offered even in silence. One can think a prayer, especially when words would interfere. 15 We often kneel to pray; we may stand or be seated. 16 Physical position is less important than is spiritual submission to God.
When to Pray
When should we pray? The Lord said, “Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.” 19
Alma said, “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God.” 20
We pray privately, with our families regularly, at mealtime, and in daily activities. Simply summarized, we are a praying people.
Personal Experience with Prayer
Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.
Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.
Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: “Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.” 21
His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, 22 my assistant asked, “What are you going to do for that?”
I said, “I do not know.”
We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, 23 we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.”
But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.”
I responded, “It’s an answer to prayer.”
The patient’s recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers. This faithful man lived for many more years and has since gone to his eternal glory.
Inquire of the Lord
When we pray, we should not presume to give counsel but should inquire of the Lord 24 and hearken to His counsel. 25 Joseph Smith’s first prayer ushered in the Restoration of the gospel. 26 In 1833, he received the Word of Wisdom after asking the Lord for counsel. 27 The revelation on the priesthood received in 1978 by President Spencer W. Kimball came after intense inquiry. 28 Inspiration regarding the construction of smaller temples came after the pondering of President Gordon B. Hinckley. 29
Answers to Prayers
Not all of our prayers will be answered as we might wish. Occasionally the answer will be no. We should not be surprised. Loving mortal parents do not say yes to every request of their children. 30
At a recent extended family home evening, our grandchildren were having a wonderful time. A six-year-old grandson became very upset when his father said it was time to go home. So what did this dear boy do? He came to me and said, “Grandfather, may I have your permission to disobey my father?”
I said, “No, sweetheart. One of life’s great lessons is to learn that happiness comes through obedience. 31 Go home with your family, and you will be happy.” Though disappointed, he dutifully obeyed.
We should pray in accord with the will of our Heavenly Father. 32 He wants to test us, to strengthen us, and to help us achieve our full potential. When the Prophet Joseph Smith was held in Liberty Jail, he pled for relief. His prayers were answered with an explanation: “All these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” 33
Song of Prayer
I have felt impressed to conclude this message on prayer with a prayer—presented as a hymn. The Lord has said that “the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me.” 34 The music comes from our book of Hymns, 35 for which I have written new words. With thanks to Craig Jessop, Mack Wilberg, and other dear friends in the Tabernacle Choir, we may hear that song of prayer. Brother Jessop, please:
Our Prayer to Thee
In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.
For an arrangement of Elder Russell M. Nelson’s hymn text, see the
Bruce R. McConkie, A New Witness for the Articles of Faith (1985), 380.
See Matt. 6:8.
One of our hymns recounts that “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, / Uttered or unexpressed, / … The upward glancing of an eye / When none but God is near” (Hymns, no. 145).
As may be appropriate for the occasion.
For other helpful instruction, see Dallin H. Oaks, “The Language of Prayer,” Ensign, May 1993, 15–18.
See The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed. (2000), 57: “amen. … Used at the end of a prayer or a statement to express assent or approval. [Middle English, from Old English, from Late Latin amen, from Greek, from Hebrew ’amen, certainly, verily, from ’aman, to be firm.]”
D&C 90:24; emphasis added.
While his words may not have been quoted verbatim, this is an accurate representation of his declaration.
This operation was performed 24 May 1960.
He had stenosis (narrowing) of his mitral valve, caused by an earlier attack of rheumatic fever.
The Lord said, “If thou shalt ask, thou shalt receive revelation upon revelation, knowledge upon knowledge” (D&C 42:61). For an example, refer to section 9 of the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord explained that “you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought” (D&C 9:8–9). See also Jacob 4:10.
See JS—H 1:15–20.
See D&C 89.
See Official Declaration 2.
See Church News, 1 Aug. 1998, 3, 12; 13 Mar. 1999, 9; 4 Mar. 2000, 7; 24 June 2000, 9.
Even the Son of God endured such an experience, “saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). The Father and the Son both knew what had to be done.
See Hel. 10:4–5.
Hymns, no. 337; music composed by Joseph Parry; tune: SWANSEA.