Grandmother was visiting us, and we were just ready to go out on a fun family outing when a minor disaster struck—we couldn’t find the keys to the car. Children, parents, and Grandmother searched everywhere, but the keys were not to be found, and we thought in dismay that we would probably have to stay home. Then Grandmother excused herself and went into her bedroom. In just a few minutes one of the children suddenly found the keys just barely hidden under a corner of a rug.
As we drove happily to our outing, someone asked Grandmother, “Why did you go into your bedroom instead of looking for the keys?” Grandmother’s answer was absorbed carefully by five young children: “I knew how disappointed everyone would be if we didn’t go on the outing so I went in and prayed that we could find the keys. I knew we would find them after that.”
Some time later another family crisis occurred. My teenage daughter lost her contact lenses—both of them. She accused herself, saying—“How could I be so stupid”—and other family members silently agreed. Again everyone scurried around looking everywhere for contact lenses. As I was doing my part in the search, I passed my daughter’s room. The door was slightly ajar, and I could see her kneeling by her bed and could hear her soft, pleading words asking if Heavenly Father would please, please help us find those contact lenses. We all hunted for hours, but despite our best efforts the contact lenses never appeared. My daughter was perplexed; she said, “After I said my prayer I knew we would find those contact lenses. Grandmother’s prayer helped us find the keys. But we didn’t find the contact lenses and I don’t understand why not.”
This teenage girl was wrestling with one of the great issues faced by many people—does the Lord truly hear and answer our prayers, for it seems that sometimes our prayers are answered, and sometimes they appear to be ignored. And some further questions arise because of experiences such as those with the contact lenses and keys—does the Lord answer prayers for Grandmothers and not for teenagers? Do some people have greater influence with the Lord than others? Or is the finding of keys or contacts merely a matter of chance, and the Lord has nothing to do with it?
For what and how should we pray?
To answer some of the above questions, let us go to the scriptures. When the Savior was on earth, he gave us the pattern for our prayers. He said, “After this manner therefore pray ye.” (Matt. 6:9–13.)
A. “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.”
First there is a recognition and acknowledgment of God as our Father in heaven and an expression of our personal reverence for him.
B. “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”
As we pray, Jesus advises us to ask always that God’s will be done. Many people do not include this as a part of praying. Even for lost keys or contact lenses we often want our will to be done—we want them found right now, please. When even more important matters are of concern—a loved one is ill, a child is away from home, a difficult decision must be made—many people want the Lord to answer their prayers in a specific way. They are afraid that if they ask for God’s will to be done, his will or plan may be different from theirs. It takes great maturity or faith to pray that our own desires be put aside and the Lord’s will be done. Even in little matters like lost contact lenses, the Lord might feel that the lessons learned from not locating them at all may be more important than giving a person what he wants immediately. In the Lord’s perspective of things, what is needed may be far more important than what is wanted.
C. “Give us this day our daily bread.”
Should we pray for such simple things as lost articles? Certainly. The Lord is aware of everything that happens to us. Jesus clearly taught that the very hairs of our head are numbered. (See Matt. 10:29–30.) We are advised to pray always, about all of our concerns, our fears, our sorrows, hopes, aspirations, and problems. In the Book of Mormon we are told to pray over all things in our daily lives. In the case of the Book of Mormon people, they were told to pray over their flocks and fields, representing the concerns of each day just as the Savior said we should ask for our daily bread. But recall that the admonition is to pray for the necessities, not luxuries, the unnecessary things or what you might like to have today. When you are not sure whether you are praying for a necessity, the basic rule is always to pray but ask that “thy will be done.”
D. “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.”
This matter of forgiveness is so important that immediately following the Lord’s prayer in Matthew, the Savior emphasized again the matter of forgiving. He said, “For if ye forgive men their trespasses your heavenly Father will also forgive you.
“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14–15.)
When we pray we should consider our own lives and pray for help in putting our own lives in order. It is interesting that the Savior identified the issue of forgiveness as one area we should all try to improve in.
E. “And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”
Would God ever lead us astray? Of course not. James E. Talmage comments about this part of the prayer: “We are not to understand that God would ever lead man into temptation … The intent of the supplication appears to be that we be preserved from temptation which we do not have the power to withstand.” (Jesus the Christ, Chapter 17, pp. 240–241, paragraph 20.)
When we look at the counsel of the Lord to us in these latter days, we find that many of the references to prayer in the Doctrine and Covenants have to do with praying that we will be able to resist the power of the adversary, that we will not be overcome, that we can be delivered from evil. Sometimes we pray only for the little daily crisis—for lost keys and contacts—and the more important matters are ignored. Surely we should ask for help in small matters, but we also should pray constantly that we will have the power to resist temptation.
F. “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.”
Again at the end, we should acknowledge the greatness and power of God. He is our Creator, our Heavenly Father, and we are dependent on him. Sometimes, if we think about all the matters that are important in his kingdom and the greatness of his power and glory, we may feel ashamed that we even bother him about misplaced glasses. But he is aware of every sparrow and hair of the head, and he is never too busy to hear the sincere prayer.
Does God listen to some prayers more than others?
Sometimes it seems that Heavenly Father might be more influenced by the prayers of a grandmother than of a teenager, because Grandmother has lived a long life of dedication and service, and teenagers are beginning life. God is no respecter of persons. (See D&C 1:35.) He does not favor one person over another. Each is precious in his sight. But we know that an increase in our own worthiness qualifies us for the blessings of our Father in heaven. It is not so much who prays, but the spirit in which the prayer is given and the faith of the person offering the prayer.
We must also remember that Jesus condemned those who prayed to be seen of men, (see Matt. 6:5) who used vain repetitions (see Matt. 6:7) and were boastful and proud. He was impressed by the humble prayer of the sinner who would not even lift up his eyes to heaven and who prayed only that God would be merciful unto him—a sinner. (See Luke 18:13.)
We are told in the scriptures, “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (D&C 112:10.) The Book of Mormon teaches us, “And he inviteth them all to come unto Him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; and he remembereth the heathen; and all are alike unto God, both Jew and Gentile.” (2 Ne. 26:33.)
Is it possible that things happen just by chance and not as a result of prayer?
Isn’t it possible that the keys would have been found whether Grandmother prayed or not. Yes, that certainly is possible. Good things occur by chance, or by diligence, or by practice and not just by prayer. Jesus indicated that the rain fell on the just and the unjust—everyone will receive some measure of good fortune (see Matt. 5:45). We are told that there are laws established “before the foundations of the world upon which all blessings are predicated. When we obtain any blessing it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.” (D&C 130: 20–21.) Anyone who obeys a law will receive the blessing attached to that law. Sometimes we will receive some blessings because of our obedience to a law not connected to a prayer.
The golfer, Arnold Palmer, once hit a golf ball into a hole that was quite far away to win a tournament. An observer remarked, “Arnold, you certainly were lucky.” Mr. Palmer then commented, “It is interesting that the more I practice the ‘luckier’ I get.” Would the Lord answer prayers to hit golf balls into holes far away if we didn’t practice? Probably not. Some blessings require more than just prayers for as James observed, “Faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.” (James 2:17.)
However, the scriptures are also clear that God is aware of everything that happens. Jesus told us that the Father was aware of our needs even before we asked him. The Lord has said, “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.) The Lord’s hand is in all things, and we should acknowledge that Heavenly Father can have an influence in those things that are for our good.
How then do we understand prayer? It is one of our most effective connecting links with Heavenly Father. We should be careful to use it wisely and in the right spirit. He knows what we need and in his wisdom will grant us the blessings we need and quality for. In all things we pray for his will to be done and we also pray for the faith to accept his will in our lives.