Today we live in a world of automation and instant gratification. Where once it took up to a minute to dial someones telephone number on a rotary phone, today we’re connected at the push of a touch screen icon. Even with the age of the internet and wireless technology we can transfer money between accounts in a matter of seconds. There is no need to wait minutes for a dial-up connection or for an internet page to load. One click and in the blink of an eye, today the page is loaded and ready to browse. You can connect with anyone around the world in seconds where once it required a written letter via air mail that would take between two to three weeks for a single correspondence. Even few people grow their own food when you can go to the nearest burger joint for a meal in under two minutes. We have spoiled ourselves rotten.
We tend to have this same mentality with prayer. We desire something, which in our finite wisdom we think is good, and ask it of our Father in Heaven. We tend to ask with superficial sincerity, with not much more than uttering a couple phrases, as if we were going to withdraw an instant blessing from a heavenly account and not give much more thought after our petition, thinking we’ll get what we prayed for within the next day or week. And when the answer doesn’t come as we expect, we give up asking and rationalize that there is always a reason for everything. That much, however, is true.
More often than not, most people pray hoping for an answer, but seldom, if ever truly praying with faith. There is a distinct difference between praying with hope and praying with faith. Most who pray may not doubt God’s ability to grant requests, but they seldom exercise faith long enough to wait for the right answer. When Jesus Christ walked on the stormy Sea of Galilee, Peter petitioned the Savior to bid him come out onto the water with Him. He hoped that the answer would be yes. Jesus Christ granted his petition but it was not until Peter exercised faith to take that first step, defying the laws of a natural world that he was able to do it. It wasn’t until the storm shook Peter’s faith that he began to immediately sink, even while in the very presence of and within the grasp of his divine mentor.
James 1:5 If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to allmen liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
6 But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.
When people pray for an answer, they may believe that God has the power to grant their request, but seldom do they believe that He will. What, therefore, separates those who receive answers from those who don’t? The primary answer is faith. Faith is evidenced by a person’s actions, not hopes. Peter’s example above illustrates this point. Consider also a Gentile by the name of Cornelius, who was a Roman Centurion, which we read about in the New Testament. It was his humble prayer accompanied by fasting that changed his life. After having fasted for four days, proving his determination to gain an audience with heaven, his petition was answered by a visit from an angel and soon after by the apostle Peter. I have no doubt that Cornelius would have continued fasting for as long as it took for heaven to take notice.
What is it about fasting that focuses or amplifies the power of prayer? By depriving our physical bodies of nourishment, we subjugate the flesh to the spirit. And when we have gained mastery of our physical body by the good desires of our spirit and our heart, the “veil” that separates our mortal world from the eternal and heavenly sphere becomes thinner, making communication with heaven more powerful.
Lorenzo Snow, a young missionary in Italy, was faced with a dire situation. A young boy was sick on his death bed, surrounded by grieving family members. Snow knew that he had the priesthood power as the apostles of old did to heal this boy, but he first had to know the will of the Lord. Sometimes it is appointed to us to leave this mortal world. But if not, then petitions are granted. The next day, Lorenzo fasted and went alone to pray outside the town, alone in the mountains. He was determined not to move until he had received an answer, whether it was yes or no. He struggled six long hours in fervent prayer until finally his answer came. He returned to the home of the boy with the approval from God, and with his priesthood authority, laid his hands on the boy and healed him.
Seeking first the Lord’s will is another key that separates those who receive answers from those who don’t. Furthermore, we must accept that the answer is not one we will always want to hear. Sometimes, the answer will be no. When Jesus Christ bled from every pore in Gethsemane, He prayed that His bitter cup be removed. He had had enough and wanted to stop. Yet He knew what His Father’s will was and because of His love for his Father in heaven, he continued, “not my will but thy will be done.” And so He finished what He started and became the Savior of mankind.
If we truly received the answers to all the prayers we ever uttered, I think our world would be in much greater chaos than it is today for it is because of free will that God allows us to manage ourselves for the most part. But for the few who truly receive answers, it is because of hope and their exercise of faith AND because they have come to understand God’s will, especially in the matters of their own personal lives, AND aligning their own will with that of God’s that they receive answers.
Sometimes prayers are answered immediately if expedient in the Lord at the time. Such was the case as I shared in a recent entry, A humming bird and a prayer. It has not always been the case. I have literally prayed for hours before finally receiving a definitive answer. And sometimes, most of the time, the answer is no. We also have to accept the fact that God sees beyond the horizon. His wisdom and foresight is infinitely greater than our own. I have come to accept this in my life as I continually refine my own desires and I align them with His will and His work.
His ultimate desire for each of us is to bring us back into His presence. And so He has given each of us a set of trials, weaknesses and obstacles to overcome so that we become mindful of Him and continually turn to Him for guidance. For many, however, especially those who do not understand how the Lord operates, it becomes a bitter experience, which leaves them cynical and doubting.
But for the humble followers, the meek believers who endure patiently, with longsuffering and love for others, who follow Christ’s example and way of life, who by these virtues become more Christlike, answers come more readily, typically because they are offered, not on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of and for intercession of others, for they have become true servants of their fellow man, concerned not for their own personal gain, but for the welfare of others.
Moriancumr received all that he desired:
Ether 1:43 And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.
Nephi also had received answers to great questions:
1 Nephi 16 And it came to pass that I, Nephi, being exceedingly young, nevertheless being large in stature, and also having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, wherefore, I did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father; wherefore, I did not rebel against him like unto my brothers…
19 And it came to pass that the Lord spake unto me, saying: Blessed art thou, Nephi, because of thy faith, for thou hast sought me diligently, with lowliness of heart.
Enos also received an answer to a prayer:
2 And I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.
3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens.
5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.
6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.
7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?
8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole.
Enos had faith. He hoped that he would receive an answer. He knew that God could answer. But it was his exercise of faith, knowing that God would answer, to stay on his knees until he received an answer, which he finally did just as Lorenzo Snow, Nephi, Moriancumr and many others throughout history who proved themselves worthy of divine attention.
Throughout written scripture we read over and over where we should “pray and not faint.” What this simply means is to be ever drawn to our Father in heaven in prayer, that our thoughts always be directed to Him. To faint means to falter, to give up, to lose hope, to lose courage. Nephi sums it up this way:
2 Nephi 32:8 And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray.
9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
According to Vines Dictionary of NT Words, page 400, enkakeo (Greek word for faint), means to “lack courage, lose heart, be fainthearted.”
It is all to easy for us to become distracted by the shiny things of the world, to become idle, idolatrous, lazy, indifferent, etc. But if we remain focused, especially when we pray with righteous desires, and if we never doubt, as James in the New Testament warns, we will always receive an answer. But we must prove ourselves ready and willing to act upon that answer. Where much is given, much is required.
So how should we pray then? For me, I find that I need a quiet time of the day, usually in the very early hours of the morning (usually between 1 to 5 AM or so) on weekends where I can be alone in silence, and can focus and ponder my life, my struggles, my desires, etc. and where I can peacefully search the scriptures. It is during this time that I can prepare myself mentally and spiritually to approach the Lord in prayer. Sometimes I will go to a quiet corner of my home, where I like to read by the window or I will go outside on a swing chair. The greater the matter that I take up with heaven, the more time I give myself to be alone. Sometimes an entire weekend alone isn’t enough. But with enough solitude, the proper state of mind and heart, preparation and fasting, I know that I will get an answer. One of my greatest desires, if not the greatest, has yet to be granted. But I know that my feet are on the path to being granted this desire. It is partly the reason that I have created this blog. I only hope that along the way, I will have shed a broad enough light that many others may benefit from it.