What is prayer?
We are all children of God. He loves us and knows our needs, and He wants us to communicate with Him through prayer. We should pray to Him and no one else. The Lord Jesus Christ commanded, “Ye must always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:19). As we make a habit of approaching God in prayer, we will come to know Him and draw ever nearer to Him. Our desires will become more like His. We will be able to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that He is ready to give if we will but ask in faith.
Our Heavenly Father is always ready to hear and answer our prayers. The power of our prayers depends on us. As we strive to make prayer a part of our lives, we should remember this counsel:
Make our prayers meaningful. The prophet Mormon warned that if anyone “shall pray and not with real intent of heart … it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such” (Moroni 7:9). To make our prayers meaningful, we must pray with sincerity and “with all the energy of heart” (Moroni 7:48). We must be careful to avoid “vain repetitions” when we pray (see Matthew 6:7).
Use language that shows love, respect, reverence, and closeness. The application of this principle will vary according to different languages. If we pray in English, for example, we should use the pronouns of the scriptures when we address God—Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine, rather than the more common pronouns you, your, and yours. Regardless of the language, the principle remains the same: When we pray, we should use words that appropriately convey a loving, worshipful relationship with God.
Always give thanks to Heavenly Father. We should “live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon [us]” (Alma 34:38). As we take time to remember our blessings, we will recognize how much our Heavenly Father has done for us. We should express our thanks to Him.
Seek Heavenly Father's guidance and strength in all we do. Alma counseled his son Helaman: “Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever. 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; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 37:36-37; see also Alma 34:17-26).
Remember the needs of others as we pray. We should offer prayers “for [our] welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around [us]” (Alma 34:27). We should ask our Heavenly Father to bless and comfort those in need.
Seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost so we will know what to include in our prayers. The Holy Ghost can teach us to pray and guide us in the things we say (see Romans 8:26; 2 Nephi 32:8; 3 Nephi 19:9, 24). He can help us pray “according to the will of God” (D&C 46:30).
When we make a request through prayer, we must do all we can to assist in its being granted. Heavenly Father expects us to do more than merely ask Him for blessings. When we have an important decision to make, He often will require that we “study it out in [our] mind” before He will give us an answer (see D&C 9:7-8). Our prayers for guidance will be only as effective as our efforts to be receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost. Our prayers for our own welfare and for the welfare of others will be in vain if we “turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need” (Alma 34:28).
If we have a difficult task before us, Heavenly Father is pleased when we get on our knees and ask for help and then get on our feet and go to work. He will help us in all our righteous pursuits, but He seldom will do something for us that we can do ourselves.
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus Christ counseled: “Enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matthew 6:6). Personal, private prayer is an essential part of our spiritual development.
At least every morning and every night, we should find a place that is free from distractions and kneel in humility and commune with our Heavenly Father. Although sometimes we may need to pray silently, we should make an extra effort at times to pray vocally (see D&C 19:28; 20:51).
Prayer is two-way communication. As we close our prayers, we should take time to pause and listen. At times, Heavenly Father will counsel, guide, or comfort us while we are on our knees.
We should never give in to the idea that we are not worthy to pray. This idea comes from Satan, who wants to convince us that we must not pray (see 2 Nephi 32:8). If we do not feel like praying, we should pray until we do feel like praying.
The Savior has commanded, “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work” (D&C 10:5). Although we cannot be continuously on our knees, always offering a personal, private prayer, we can let our hearts be “full, drawn out in prayer unto [God] continually” (Alma 34:27; see also 3 Nephi 20:1). Throughout each day, we can maintain a constant feeling of love for our Heavenly Father and His Beloved Son. We can silently express gratitude to our Father and ask Him to strengthen us in our responsibilities. In times of temptation or physical danger, we can silently ask for His help.
In addition to commanding us to pray in private, the Savior has exhorted us to pray with our families. He said, “Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed” (3 Nephi 18:21).
We should make family prayer a consistent part of our family's life. Every morning and every evening, we should kneel together in humility, giving each family member frequent opportunities to say the prayer and uniting in gratitude for the blessings Heavenly Father has given us. We should also unite in faith to plead for the blessings we need and to pray for others.
Through regular family prayer, our family members will draw nearer to God and to each other. Our children will learn to communicate with their Father in Heaven. We will all be better prepared to serve others and withstand temptations. Our homes will be places of spiritual strength, a refuge from the evil influences of the world.
At times we may be asked to offer a public prayer, perhaps in a Church meeting or class. When we receive this opportunity, we should remember that we are communicating with Heavenly Father, not giving a public sermon. We should not worry about what others may think of what we say. Instead, we should offer a simple, heartfelt prayer.
Receiving Answers to Prayer
The Savior taught, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). To the Nephites He said, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Nephi 18:20).
Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He may not always answer as we expect, but He does answer—in His own time and according to His will. Because He knows what is best for us, He may sometimes answer no, even when our petitions are sincere.
Answers to prayer come in many ways. They often come through the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost (see “Revelation”). They may come in the circumstances of our lives or through the kind acts of those around us. As we continue to draw near to our Heavenly Father through prayer, we will recognize more readily His merciful and wise answers to our pleadings. We will find that He is our “refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).