Sunday, June 12, 2022

A Need and a Question

The Prophet Joseph Smith began his recorded account of the visitation to him of an angel with the following description of a prayer:

In consequence of these things, I often felt condemned for my weakness and imperfections; when, on the evening of the above-mentioned twenty-first of September, after I had retired to my bed for the night, I betook myself to prayer and supplication to Almighty God for forgiveness of all my sins and follies, and also for a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him; for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one.
--Joseph Smith - History 1:29

Joseph approached God with a need and a question. He knew he needed forgiveness for having given in many times to weakness and temptation. He felt he had not lived up to God's expectations of him following the supernal revelation of the First Vision. He had certainly not lived up to his own expectations. So, his need, acutely felt, was forgiveness. 

I have this same need. I know I do not live up to God's desires for me, and as I strive imperfectly to keep the commandments and my covenants, I am not meeting my own expectations. Whether I recognize and feel godly sorrow for my imperfections is determined by my humility and my attenuation to the Holy Spirit. Because I am serious in my desires for discipleship, my imperfections drive me to prayer.

Joseph's question was about his standing before God. He wanted to know, despite his mistakes, if he was still acceptable to God and if God still wanted to use him. Had he messed up so bad and procrastinated so long that God had turned away from him? Had he lost his chance to build a lasting relationship with God? This was not a passing curiosity. It was not just one of a hundred things Joseph thought about each day. It had become his primary focus, the question that vexed him the most. He needed to know more than anything else if he was lost or still salvageable. 

My quest for faith and spirituality is faltering but sincere. Thus, I am also vexed from time to time with a question similar to Joseph's. For all my efforts and despite all my failures, how am I doing? Am I at least on the right path and leaning in the right direction? Have I made so many mistakes that I am lost? Am I broken beyond repair? Have I made so many wrong turns that I can never reach the goal God set for me in the beginning? Have I wasted my life? That's a tough question for a seventeen-year-old. It is an excruciating question for a sixty-nine-year-old.

One other thing to note about this prayer experience of the young prophet-to-be: unlike his experience in the grove where he was alone and could speak out loud, he was not alone in his attic bedroom with his brothers sleeping peacefully next to him only inches away. He could not pray vocally. He did not say whether he knelt by his bed or simply stretched out under his comfy quilt. Yet his heartfelt, silent prayer penetrated the heavens just as effectively as had his spoken prayer three years earlier.

Joseph showed that the form of prayer is not as important as the content and intention of prayer, supported by faith and confidence in God's ability to hear and answer. Joseph's narration indicated his expectation of an immediate response. He was not being impatient (although what seventeen-year-old has an abundance of patience?), but he felt that an answer would be forthcoming. 

He humbly and sincerely recognized his shortcomings and did not try to hide them. He desired to repent. He understood his need for forgiveness and grace. And he had a legitimate, burning question, the answer to which he was fully committed to obey. He seemingly had no other plan, no alternative strategy, no fallback position. He was willing to be all-in if God still wanted him.

I can pray the same kind of prayer if I put in the same kind of preparation and exercise the same kind of faith. Vocal or silent, alone in a lovely grove or surrounded by a crowd, if my heart is right, if I am humble, if I am willing to confess my faults and truly want to change, if I will accept God's grace and stop trying to save myself, if I bring to God my most burning, fundamental question, and if I cry to Him with the full intention of accepting and obeying whatever His answer for me is—if I am all-in with my faith and hope—God will hear and answer. Immediately. Instantly. Unequivocally. Directly. Unmistakably. And to my total satisfaction. I will know what I need to know. 

It is up to me, then, to act on that knowledge. 

Sunday, June 5, 2022

Vocal Prayer: Singing with the Music

In 1838, Joseph Smith wrote in his own words a description of the events that led to what has become known as his "First Vision". In this vision, Joseph saw and spoke with God the Father and His Beloved Son Jesus Christ. It was the opening of a new dispensation of the Gospel of Christ and eventually led to the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

The Prophet Joseph's miraculous experience began with a question and a prayer. His question was: Which church should I join? After attending several churches and listening to the preachers contradict each other, he decided his only course was to pray and ask God. He wrote:

So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.
--Joseph Smith - History 1:14

The inference in this statement is that Joseph had prayed silently, perhaps many times, for an answer to his question about religion, but this was his first audible, vocal prayer. He does not say why he had not used vocal prayer before, not does he explain why he decided to speak out loud this time. What we know, however, is that the results were different for his vocal prayer than for his previous silent prayers. 

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio:

From the narrative, we can assume that the urgency and sincerity of this latest prayer was intensified. Perhaps Joseph had heard ministers and others offer powerful vocal prayers in the various congregational meeting he had attended. Or perhaps the power of the emotions in his heart simply could not be contained but could find full expression only in his audible voice.

I have wanted answers desperately enough to cry aloud to the heavens and raise my voice to break the silence around me. God does not need to hear my voice. He knows my every thought and hears every silent prayer. But sometimes I may need to hear my own voice. While I can hear songs in my head and play the music in my ears, sometimes there is no substitute for singing along. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

In the Name of the Son Forevermore

After Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit and were driven out of the Garden of Eden, God taught them to offer sacrifices as a religious ritual. Determined to be obedient, Adam built an altar of stone and offered sacrificial animals upon it on a regular basis for "many days." 

An angel eventually appeared to Adam and Eve and asked them if they understood the significance of this ritual. "Why dost thou offer sacrifices unto the Lord?" Surely, Adam and Eve must have asked themselves that same question many times. To the angel's question, Adam's answer is a perfect example of submissive obedience. "I know not, save the Lord commanded me" (see Moses 5:6).

Satisfied that Adam and Eve would be obedient no matter the logical reason, the angel explained the significance of the blood sacrifice. It represented the sacrifice that would be made by the Only Begotten Son of God to atone for the sins of the world.

Because of the Atonement of the Son of God, the conduit to the Father was opened, with Christ as the Advocate and Mediator. The angel then delivered this commandment to Adam and Eve: 

Wherefore, thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore.
--Moses 5:8

All I do, including prayer, should be in the name of Christ, meaning I do it as He would do it, under His direction, and to honor Him and glorify Him. I shine a light on Christ's goodness when I do something good. I honor, acknowledge, and glorify Christ's perfect relationship with the Father when I exercise my own relationship with the Father in Christ's name. 

I rely on Jesus's atonement and grace when I approach the Father in Jesus's name. He washes me, clothes me in spotless apparel, and accompanies me to the Father's throne when I pray in His name. He advocates my cause, takes my imperfect prayer, polishes it, and represents it perfectly to the Father. 

God hears every prayer, but when I include Christ as my Advocate, Counselor, Champion, and Tutor, my prayers can become powerful indeed. 

Jesus testified during His earthly ministry that the Father heard Him (see John 12:41-42). When I pray in His name, I tap into His power and claim the same privilege to always be heard. 

It is the height of arrogance to do good and to approach the Father in my own name, for I am never good enough or worthy enough on my own to fully satisfy Him. However, when I do my best and come to the Father totality dependent on Jesus in the depths of humility, Jesus satisfies the Father for me, and I please Him. 

Jesus makes it possible for me to have a relationship with the Father. To cut Him out of the equation is to seriously diminish my opportunity for grace and divine approbation. 

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Turn the Key with Prayer

Before Moses documented his account of the Creation, the Fall of Adam and Eve, and all that followed, he recorded his encounter with God Almighty that gave him the knowledge he wrote about in the book of Gensis. As described in his preface to his first book in the Old Testament, Moses saw God face to face and talked with Him, and God showed Moses the earth and everything about it. 

After this glorious vision, God left Moses to ponder the things he had seen and learned. Seeing an opportunity to catch Moses at a potential moment of weakness, Satan appeared on the scene. The devil commanded Moses to worship him, claiming his own version of divinity. 

Moses instantly saw through Satan's lie and told the deceiver to depart. Undaunted, Satan redoubled his efforts to convince Moses to accept him as the "only begotten." When Moses saw the ferocity of Satan's bogus claim and felt the power of darkness embodied in God's most virulent enemy, the record says:

And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.
--Moses 1:20

Photo by Negative Space:
Like Moses, when I need strength to resist or overcome adversity in my life, I can call upon God, who is Strength and who gives strength. It is in my moments of supreme weakness that God can show His supreme power. 

I cannot fight the devil alone without God's power. Because I fight Satan everyday, I need God's strength every day. I receive power when I pray. So, to skip prayer is like forgetting to turn the key in the ignition and then wondering why the car won't go. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Gratitude Creates Rich Prayers

Having been driven by violent mobs from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, and their prophet murdered, the Saints were fleeing to the Rocky Mountains where they could once again start over. Brigham Young, president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, had been sustained as the leader of the people. In preparing the people to begin an orderly exodus west to their intended new homeland, President Young received a revelation about how to organize the thousands of faithful Latter-day Saints who followed him. Within that revelation is the following admonition:

If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving.
--Doctrine and Covenants 136:28

Prayer takes many forms and is inspired in many ways. While some prayers (perhaps most) are petitions for blessings or requests for knowledge, others can be genuine expressions of gratitude for the blessings and knowledge we already have. 

God's blessings flow to us continually. He showers us daily, hourly, even moment by moment with gifts and grace, most of which we take for granted or assume as our entitlement if we notice then at all: Life, breath, agency, animation, the immutable laws of nature and physics, sunshine, water, raw materials and finished goods, the opportunities to work and serve, people to love and who love us, and spiritual gifts of faith, repentance, forgiveness, hope, testimony, assurance, knowledge, power, and the crowning gift of redemption through Christ and His atonement leading us to eternal life. 

When we awaken from time to time from our stupor of entitlement and recognize the abundance of God's continuous and bounteous gifts, He likes to hear from us. No one likes to be taken for granted. We all enjoy moments of recognition and appreciation. We want to rejoice together. 

Our Father likewise wants to rejoice with us. He gives us everything for our happiness and progression. We are His joy and His glory. When we recognize and share in His joy, He reflects it ten-fold in our lives. 

Our relationship with Him is enriched and deepened through gratitude. We see Him for the loving, generous Parent He is, and we become better children. 

Gratitude is an essential element of our prayer life and our relationship with God. We must cultivate it, nurture it, and express it often. The more gratitude we feel, the more blessings we will recognize and the richer our prayers will be.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

The Dynamic Duo

Section 88 of the Doctrine and Covenants is a wide ranging revelation through the Prophet Joseph Smith meant to bring insights and messages of peace to the fledgling Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Among the instructions contained in this revelation is the following:

Also, I give unto you a commandment that ye shall continue in prayer and fasting from this time forth.
--Doctrine and Covenants 88:76

Prayer and fasting are a dynamic duo in my arsenal of spiritual tools. They go hand in hand, working together to increase my ability to draw closer to the Lord. While I can pray without fasting, to fast without praying is simply going hungry. Fasting is the symbol of my sacrifice, reminiscent of the ancient Israelites' sacrifices. God no longer wants animal sacrifices on stone altars, however. Christ taught that after He fulfilled the Law of Moses, my sacrifice is to be a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Fasting lays my inner animal on the altar of my heart.

Fasting is a turbo charger for prayer. When I fast, I subjugate symbolically the appetites of the natural man to the desires of my spirit. In my humbled state, I can more easily receive the impressions and whisperings of the Holy Ghost. My prayers can be more inspired and in tune with God's will for me, which is the whole purpose of prayer.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The Season of Prayer

Photo by Mikhail Nilov:
In the fall of 1831, four men asked Joseph Smith to inquire of the Lord for them concerning what God would have them do. Joseph received a revelation in response. The Lord took the opportunity to instruct not only the four men who originally asked but the entire Church. Among the instructions directed at the Church at large is this statement:

And a commandment I give unto them—that he that observeth not his prayers before the Lord in the season thereof, let him be had in remembrance before the judge of my people.
--Doctrine and Covenants 68:33

Regular prayer is a commandment, and to refrain from prayer is a sin. The season to pray is when the Holy Ghost prompts me to pray. If I ignore that prompting from the Spirit, I am disobedient and rebellious. The Holy Spirit will withdraw from me as I further withdraw myself from God. 

Now, I can certainly pray even when the Spirit is not urging me to do so, but to resist the Spirit is a sin of which I must speedily repent when I catch myself. It is in those very times when I feel least inclined to pray that God reaches for me with the most compassion.