Did you think to pray?

Did you think to pray?
Did you think to pray?

Sunday, September 27, 2020

For God's Ears

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Christ taught in the Sermon on the Mount about prayer to help His disciples distinguish between legitimate prayer and false prayer.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, 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 6:5-6

Public prayer in which we all participate is acceptable, but prayer for show is not. Our prayers are for God's ears, not for the ears of others. I am nevertheless guilty of this very practice. When asked to offer a prayer in Sacrament meeting, I get nervous. I become overly concerned with how those in the meeting will perceive my prayer. I consider what words would be most beneficial for the congregation to hear from me. How foolish! If my prayer were sincere, I would not pray to the people, I would pray to God on their behalf. I am the spokesman, not the speaker. I ask forgiveness of those who have heard my public prayers and have praised my fine words but were robbed of the presence of the Spirit because of my pride.

Properly framed, our prayers are not to impress others. They lift us to God and invite him to work on our hearts. The reward we seek is not the praise of men but the peace of God. He rewards us openly as a witness of His goodness, not of our piety or worthiness.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Closer

In the greatest sermon ever taught, Jesus included this injunction to His disciples: 

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
--Matthew 5:44

Jesus, the perfect Man, exemplified this commandment when He prayed for forgiveness for His crucifiers. "And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified him, and the malefactors, one on the right hand, and the other on the left. Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:33-34). Jesus gave no commandment to His followers that He Himself was not willing and able to keep.

Praying for others is not mysterious. Whether we pray for loved ones, strangers, or even enemies, such prayers sanctify us. They draw us closer to God and to those for whom we pray. Our prayers for our enemies do not change God's heart or even our enemies' hearts, but they change our hearts. God can show us especially our enemies through His eyes and free us from fear and acrimony. The more we learn to pray for others in faith and love, the closer we become to the Savior.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

In My Distress

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Chapter 18 of the book of Psalms is a magnificent testimony of God's strength. King David, having suffered many trials and afflictions in his younger years, speaks with great power in beautiful language of his love for the Lord:

I will love thee, O Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my deliverer; my God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my buckler, and the horn of my salvation, and my high tower. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised: so shall I be saved from mine enemies.
-Psalm 18:1-3

I love these words: strength, rock, fortress, deliverer, my buckler, the horn of my salvation, my high tower. And then, what does he say? I will call upon the Lord, and so I shall be saved. God has unfathomable power, but we have to call upon Him. He won't save me unless I ask.

Then David writes:

In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears.
-Psalm 18:6

In my distress, I too have called upon the Lord, and He has heard me. When I have been crushed by dark despair, He has lifted me and lightened my way. When I could see no way out of my trials, He walked with me. When I have felt alone, He has come to my side. But only when I asked.

In his Psalm David describes all the ways God has intervened for him with great displays of heavenly power, and then he concludes:

With the merciful thou wilt shew thyself merciful; with an upright man thou wilt shew thyself upright; With the pure thou wilt shew thyself pure. . . For thou wilt save the afflicted people. . . For thou wilt light my candle: the Lord my God will enlighten my darkness.
-Psalm 18:25-28

God will be merciful to me and to all those who call upon Him. We just need to ask. A simple, sincere prayer. All that power is waiting to protect us and save us. Smoke, fire, hot coals like hail, hurricanes, thunder, brilliant light - it is all available, God's full power and glory - when we ask.

David ends his Psalm with these words of praise and gratitude:

Therefore will I give thanks unto thee, O Lord, among the heathen, and sing praises unto thy name. Great deliverance giveth he to his king; and sheweth mercy to his anointed, to David, and to his seed for evermore.
-Psalm 18:49-50

God has shown mercy to me, David, though I am not a king. May He show great mercy to my children and all that come after me.

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Essential

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The kingdom of Judah was in dire trouble in the days of the prophet Joel. Severe drought and a plague of locusts threatened to wipe the people out. As the Lord's mouthpiece in this time of emergency, Joel delivered the message of repentance and assured the people of God's blessing. He summarized his call to repentance with these comforting words:

And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.
-Joel 2:32

Prayer is essential to deliverance from sin for salvation. Prayer reminds us of our constant reliance on God and our Savior. It draws us to the source of our deliverance and refreshes our hope of rescue. On those days when we feel buried by our trials, it reminds us of both our Advocate and our true Judge. And on those days when we think we have the world by the tail, it reminds us from whom our blessings come and the source of our comfort.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Chariots of Fire

The king of Syria was on the warpath to conquer Israel, but the Prophet Elisha thwarted his every strategy by receiving revelation and telling the king of Israel about the Syrian battle plans. At first, the king of Syria thought a spy in his camp was leaking his plans to the Israelites. A servant of the king, however, knew the reputation of Elisha and rightly explained how the Israelite army learned of the king's plans. 

Determined to end Israel's revelatory advantage, the king of Syria sent "a great host" to capture Elisha. The Syrian army surrounded the city of Dothan, where Elisha lived with his young servant. The servant arose in the morning to begin his daily duties and saw the menacing army arrayed on the hills about the city. He fled back into the house, aroused Elisha, and said, paraphrasing, "Holy smokes! What are we going to do now?"

The wise prophet calmed the young man's natural fears with the famous words, "Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them."

And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
--2 Kings 6:17

Elisha then prayed and asked the Lord to smite the Syrians with blindness, which the Lord promptly did. Elisha offered to lead the sightless and frightened Syrians to safety. They followed him, and he brought them into the capital city of Northern Israel. The Lord returned their sight, and when they saw their predicament, they promptly surrendered.

Of this account in the Old Testament Priscilla Shirer wrote: 

"Prayer made [the servant] aware of all the resources and strength and protection that God had already placed on their side. Without this renewed perspective he was already defeated before the battle had even begun . . . before the day had even started. That’s what the enemy wants. He wants you living in a state of defeat. Your defenses down. Your resolve weak and flimsy. Surrendering to an army of insecurities and misdiagnosis instead of courageously thriving in the sophisticated security of your identity in Christ."

The devil is ever on the offensive, plotting daily his strategies to attack our weaknesses and defeat our desires for righteousness. But God does not leave us defenseless. Though we may be surrounded, He has not left us alone. How important our prayers are in the morning to show us not only the enemy but also the strength of the Lord surrounding us! They that be with us are always more than they that be with them. We just need to pray to see the truth of our situation. Our mountains are always full of horses and chariots of fire. God will never abandon us. But we must pray to have eyes to see what God is doing for us every day.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

God Waits

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I want to be hopeful and helpful in what I write, but I need to be honest, too. I often feel far from the Lord. The heavens are like brass more often than I care to admit. I wonder what's wrong, and this scripture comes to mind:

 The Lord is far from the wicked: but he heareth the prayer of the righteous.
-- Proverbs 15:29

I believe God does not love His disobedient children less, but He is far from them because they have removed themselves from Him. He is always in the same place. Our nearness to Him is our choice and our decision, not His. He is ever available and willing to listen. 

So what is wrong? He does not hear the prayers of the wicked because they do not pray. I am guilty and wicked when I say prayers but do not pray. I speak, but I do not listen for an answer. I am in a hurry when the Lord wants to take His time. 

I also believe, however, in the very moment that a disobedient, wayward, prodigal child turns to the Father in sincerity and genuine humility, he is righteous in that moment, and God hears his prayer. God is merciful and forgives over and over again. Perhaps because He is so full of patience and long-suffering, He wants me to learn a little patience, too. So, He waits for me to come to myself, like the prodigal son that I am, and then come to Him. Oh, how grateful I am that He never wearies and never gives up. I'm grateful God waits.


Sunday, August 9, 2020

Access to God

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The prophet Jeremiah wrote these words from the Lord to an apostate and conquered Israel to give them hope that their days of slavery in Babylon would come to an end: 

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart.
--Jeremiah 29:13

Seventy years later, when the people of Israel had repented and truly sought the Lord, their prayers were heard, and they were released from captivity to return to Jerusalem.

Prayer gives us access to God.It is how we seek and search for Him. And His promise is that when we seek Him, we will find Him. He will not hide Himself from us. 

Our seeking, however, cannot be casual or occasional or whimsical. A half-hearted search will yield nothing. We rarely just stumble upon God while we are going about our daily business. He reveals Himself only when we have set our hearts upon Him. He is not a part-time God, and He is not looking for part-time disciples. He wants more than our words, our money, or even our time. He wants our hearts, our affections, our whole-souled attention. Because He knows only a sincere and determined seeker will gain the full benefit of His grace. He wants to save and exalt us, and that requires the whole person, body, mind, and heart. When we are baptized, we don't just baptize the foot, the hand, or the head: we are baptized completely, every part, fully immersed. Not a strand of hair or the tip of a big toe can remain above the water. We must be all in. 

And so it is with seeking the Lord, and so it must be with prayer. We must be all in with God, fully invested in our search, totally absorbed in our seeking. Only when our heart and soul are fully involved will we realize the sure and glorious promise that God can be found. 

As Elder Russell M. Nelson taught the brethren of the priesthood in General Conference a few years ago:
"Now, if all of this sounds excessive, please consider how different our relationships with our wife, children, and associates at work would be if we were as concerned about gaining priesthood power as we are in progressing at work or increasing the balance in our bank account. If we will humbly present ourselves before the Lord and ask Him to teach us, He will show us how to increase our access to His power" (see "The Price of Priesthood Power", General Conference, April 2016).

It is a challenge of mortality to be totally focused all the time. Our bodies, the people around us, and the temporal demands of daily living require our attention, too. Jesus did not sequester Himself in a monastery to pray every minute of every day. He went about among the people doing good, and God expects no less of us. Nevertheless, Christ's heart was always focused on the Father and His will, even in the mundane tasks of daily living. 

God wants us to do the same. He doesn't want us to stop living, but He wants us to live for Him. Prayer is the key, the secret sauce, to living a God-directed life. When we seek Him first and foremost, we find Him, and once we find Him and let Him in, He can direct is and guide us for good, indeed for the most good.