Lesson 34: Individual and Family Prayer

The Latter-day Saint Woman: Basic Manual for Women, Part B, (2000), 293–302


The purpose of this lesson is to inspire us to draw nearer to our Heavenly Father through prayer.

Communicating with Our Heavenly Father

  • Sing “Did You Think to Pray?” (Hymns, no. 140; or Gospel Principles, 356).

On several occasions President Heber J. Grant was strongly impressed with President Brigham Young’s ability to talk with the Lord. President Grant said: “I was familiar with the Prophet Brigham Young. I knelt down time and time again in his home in the Lion House at family prayers, as a child and as a young man; and I bear witness that as a little child, upon more than one occasion, because of the inspiration of the Lord to Brigham Young while he was supplicating God for guidance, I have lifted my head, turned and looked at the place where Brigham Young was praying, to see if the Lord was not there. It seemed to me that he talked to the Lord as one man would talk to another” (“He Talked to the Lord,” in Leon Hartshorn, comp., Classic Stories from the Lives of Our Prophets [1975], 44).

All of us can communicate with our Heavenly Father. When we pray, we are actually speaking with Him, either vocally or by forming thoughts in our minds. Prayer is a form of worship.

In prayer we express appreciation and seek divine guidance. We confess sins and weaknesses, confide our thoughts and feelings, and share successes and disappointments. Through prayer, we can ask for help for ourselves and others.

We have been commanded to “pray vocally as well as in thy heart; yea, before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private” (D&C 19:28; italics added). To help us fulfill this commandment, the Lord has provided us with instruction, including a pattern of prayer known as the Lord’s Prayer (see Matthew 6:7–13 and 3 Nephi 13:7–13).

To help us in our efforts to draw nearer to Him, Heavenly Father has given us counsel through our leaders on how to pray. Bishop H. Burke Peterson suggested:

“As you feel the need to confide in the Lord or to improve the quality of your visits with him … may I suggest a process to follow: go where you can be alone, go where you can think, go where you can kneel, go where you can speak out loud to him. … Now, picture him in your mind’s eye. Think to whom you are speaking, control your thoughts—don’t let them wander, address him as your Father and your friend. Now tell him things you really feel to tell him—not trite phrases that have little meaning, but have a sincere, heartfelt conversation with him. Confide in him, ask him for forgiveness, plead with him, enjoy him, thank him, express your love to him, and then listen for his answers. Listening is an essential part of praying. Answers from the Lord come quietly—ever so quietly. In fact, few hear his answers audibly with their ears. We must be listening so carefully or we will never recognize them. Most answers from the Lord are felt in our heart as a warm comfortable expression, or they may come as thoughts to our mind. They come to those who are prepared and who are patient” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1973, 13; or Ensign, Jan. 1974, 19).

Heavenly Father listens when we talk to Him.

Our Father in Heaven will answer our prayers if we are humble and ask according to His will.

Meeting Personal Needs through Prayer

If we are to communicate meaningfully with Heavenly Father through prayer, we must spend time with Him.

“One religion teacher suggested to his class that they spend at least fifteen minutes a day in personal prayer. That seemed to many class members unreasonably long! One student came up to him later and said, ‘I just don’t believe I can think of that much to say.’

“The teacher asked, ‘Don’t you spend at least that much time every day talking to your roommate?’

“‘Of course,’ the young woman replied.

“‘Then give some thought,’ said the teacher, ‘as to why it is you have more to talk over with your roommate than you do with the Lord’” (Karen Lynn, “Prayer: The Heart of the Sabbath,” Ensign, Jan. 1978, 31).

  • How could quiet pondering of her blessings and her needs help this young woman find more to talk about in her prayers?

  • Why is it important that we learn to meet our needs through prayer?

  • Read Alma 37:37. How does the Lord bless us when we pray?

We should not limit ourselves to a set number of subjects for prayer. Rather, we should involve Heavenly Father in everything related to our personal lives—our work, our households, and our private struggles.

We should pray to know what to talk about in our prayers. During the Savior’s visit to the American continent, the Nephite people were inspired in their prayers. “It was given unto them what they should pray” (3 Nephi 19:24). When we pray with the Holy Ghost as our guide, He brings many thoughts and feelings to us.

Heavenly Father knows our real needs better than we know them. He knows what is for our good and what we need to overcome. As we seek Him, He helps us know how to meet our needs. An elderly sister in distress asked for a priesthood blessing and was given this counsel by her bishop during the blessing:

“‘Sometime during each day, go upon your knees before your Heavenly Father and thank him. Don’t ask for a thing; but praise him for what he is giving you.’

“The sister’s distress was coming from serious problems in her environment. She felt that she had great need to ask for things, but she accepted the idea of a daily prayer of pure praise.

“The first time she knelt to offer such a prayer she was surprised to find gratitude flowing from her heart. She did not have to cast about in her mind to find things she was grateful for.

“Circumstances were depriving her of old friends and their companionship, but she was receiving letters from these friends in her former home. No one but her husband depended upon her anymore, but he was still with her. Although she yearned to do so, she could no longer look at the sunset from across a field; yet she still had eyesight to see and do many pleasant and needful things. …

“Memories were not dim. The joy of being in the temple of the Lord and of associating there with others was still real. She could relive the glorious dew-fresh mornings she had walked the fields with her dog. The responsive faces of Sunday School students, the genealogical groups, the MIA young people, and the Relief Society sisters she had taught could still be recalled. …

“No matter where she lived or whether she held any Church position, the fact that she was a daughter of God remained. …

“As the days sped by, the distressed sister looked forward to her prayers of pure praise. They were much longer than her prayers of petition. She found that she had far less need than supply. Through praise she received her blessings over and over again” (Wilma Logan, “Prayers of Praise,” Instructor, Dec. 1970, 461).

  • How did her prayers of thanksgiving meet the needs of this sister? How will thanking Heavenly Father for our blessings help us?

As we pray we must remember the wisdom of our all-knowing and perfect Heavenly Father and learn to accept His will in all things. Sometimes, in His wisdom, He answers our prayers in unexpected ways. This is illustrated in the following experience related by President N. Eldon Tanner:

“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” (“Importance and Efficacy of Prayer,” Ensign, Aug. 1971, 3).

  • How were the parents’ needs met through prayer? (They were blessed with the strength they needed to accept the Lord’s will.)

  • Why is it important to pray that the Lord’s will be done? (The Lord in His infinite wisdom knows what is best for us.)

In addition to praying for the needs of our families and ourselves to be met, we should pray for others in their needs. As members of the Church, we can unite in prayer for those with special needs.

We often have the opportunity to pray in our Church meetings. Of this opportunity, one member commented: “I always appreciate it if I can sit in front of the congregation before I give a prayer on their behalf. I look over their faces and try to get a sense of what their needs are and what blessings they are most grateful for. I ask the Lord to help me be in tune with the prayers that are in their hearts” (quoted by Karen Lynn, in Ensign, Jan. 1978, 32).

  • How could such a prayer help meet the needs of others?

Strengthening Our Families through Prayer

One sister told of her feelings about daily family prayer: “There was a time when I would have looked upon a ‘set-time family prayer’ … as a form that had no meaning. But now that I am the mother of a large family, I feel otherwise. I believe that one of my family’s most important spiritual weapons is a schedule for prayer; our set times for morning and evening prayers … spotlight spiritual moments that we know will occur no matter what distractions or worries the day may hold. We avoid any feel of ritual in our prayers: we simply know the prayers will be held, we know when and where, and those prayers are a bulwark as we pray with the Spirit. My heart soars as I see my family gather to pray” (quoted by Karen Lynn, in Ensign, Jan. 1978, 32).

  • Why was family prayer important to this sister?

It is important that we gather our families together for prayer each morning and night. All members of the family who are able, even the little ones, should take turns giving the prayer. Each family member should have the privilege of giving thanks for blessings the family has received. When any family member has a responsibility or a problem to face, the family should ask special blessings for this member in family prayer. This draws the family closer together and results in better feelings between family members. As children pray for one another, they feel closer and more a part of each other’s lives. When we are on our knees we tend to forget our differences and think of the best in others. We want to pray for their well-being and for strength to overcome our own weaknesses.

The power of prayer in strengthening a marriage is beautifully expressed by Catherine Marshall in her book A Man Called Peter: “Though like every normal couple, Peter and I were sometimes in disagreement, we found that these differences could never become serious or bitter so long as we could pray together. So thoroughly did we learn this lesson that it was one of the chief bits of advice Peter always gave to couples whose marriages were almost bankrupt. ‘If you will get down on your knees together,’ he would tell them, ‘your difficulties will soon be solved. You just can’t pray together and stay mad at each other’” ([1951], 119–20).

  • How can family prayer help our families?

Love and unity will grow in the home as family members kneel together and talk with Heavenly Father. They should pray for each other to be strengthened in fulfilling their duties in the home, in the Church, at work, and at school. Family members can be fortified against temptation through daily family prayer.

President N. Eldon Tanner explained the effect of family prayer in his life: “As I think back to when we used to kneel as a family in prayer every morning and every evening, I realize what it meant to us as children to hear our father call upon the Lord and actually talk to him, expressing his gratitude and asking for the blessings of the Lord on his crops and flocks and all of our undertakings. It always gave us greater strength to meet temptation when we remembered that we would be reporting to the Lord at night” (“The Power of Prayer,” Prayer [1977], 129).

  • How can knowing we are to report to the Lord at night influence our actions during the day?

  • How can prayer help us and our children resist temptation? (See 3 Nephi 18:15.)

Through prayer, children can learn principles that will be a strength to them all their lives. In our prayers we can include goals and ideals that we are striving for. For example, parents may encourage children to prepare for a mission by saying: “Bless John that he will continue to gain a testimony and prepare himself to be a missionary. Help us, as a family, to support him in these efforts.” Children can also be encouraged to stay pure and worthy to be married in the temple. In family prayers parents can teach their children that Heavenly Father loves them.

  • What are some other things that parents can teach their children through prayer? How can parents’ prayers for children show them that their parents love them?

Conclusion

“Prayer is something that humbles the soul. It broadens our comprehension; it quickens the mind. It draws us nearer to our Father in heaven. … We need his help. … We need the guidance of his Holy Spirit. … We need to have our minds quickened by the inspiration that comes from him, and for these reasons we pray to him, that he may help us to live so that we will know his truth and be able to walk in its light, thus, keeping the many commandments that have been given unto us that we may, through our faithfulness and our obedience, come back again into his presence” (Joseph Fielding Smith, Take Heed to Yourselves! [1966], 344).

It is comforting to know that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in Him and do what is right.

“As for me, I will call upon God; and the Lord shall save me.

“Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice” (Psalm 55:16–17).

Challenge

Think of a challenge that you face right now. In your prayers, thank the Lord for all the blessings you can think of. Then ask the Lord to help you as you put forth effort to resolve your challenge. As you pray, recall the steps outlined in Doctrine and Covenants 88:62–64 and remember the blessings that are promised.

Additional Scriptures

Teacher Preparation

Before presenting this lesson:

  1. 1.

    Assign a class member to give a brief report on how we should pray using the information found in Gospel Principles chapter 8, “Praying to Our Heavenly Father.”

  2. 2.

    Plan to begin the class with the hymn “Did You Think to Pray?” (Hymns, no. 140; or Gospel Principles, 356).

  3. 3.

    Assign class members to present any stories, scriptures, or quotations you wish.