"Remember that whatever you do or wherever you are, you are never alone," was my father's familiar counsel. "Our Heavenly Father is always near. You can reach out and receive his aid through prayer." I have found this counsel to be true. Thank God we can reach out and tap that unseen power, without which no man can do his best.
The holy scriptures are replete with convincing admonitions regarding the importance of prayer, impressive examples of prayer, and counsel on how to pray effectively.
During his earthly ministry Jesus said, ". . . men ought always to pray, and not to faint." (Luke 18:1.) "Watch and pray," he said, "that ye enter not into temptation." (Matthew 26:41.) In this dispensation he said, ". . . pray always lest that wicked one have power in you, and remove you out of your place." (D&C 93:49.)
Through Joseph Smith the warning came, "And in nothing doth man offend God, or against none is his wrath kindled, save those who confess not his hand in all things, and obey not his commandments." (D&C 59:21.)
Then we have this instruction from our risen Lord as he ministered among the Nephite people on this Western Hemisphere:
". . . ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye are led away captive by him.
". . . ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
"Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
"And 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 18:15, 18-21.)
May I now suggest some ways to improve our communication with our Heavenly Father.
1. We should pray frequently. We should be alone with our Heavenly Father at least two or three times each day: ". . . morning, mid-day, and evening," as the scripture indicates. (Alma 34:21.) In addition, we are told to pray always. (2 Nephi 32:9; D&C 88:126.) This means that our hearts should be full, drawn out in prayer unto our Heavenly Father continually. (Alma 34:27.)
2. We should find an appropriate place where we can meditate and pray. We are admonished that this should be "in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness." (Alma 34:26.) That is, it should be free from distraction, in secret. (3 Nephi 13:5-6.)
3. We should prepare ourselves for prayer. If we don't feel like praying, then we should pray until we do feel like praying. We should be humble. (D&C 112:10.) We should pray for forgiveness and mercy. (Alma 34:17- 18.) We must forgive anyone against whom we have bad feelings. (Mark 11:25.) Yet, the scriptures warn, our prayers will be vain if we "turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of [our] substance. . . ." (Alma 34:28.)
4. Our prayers should be meaningful and pertinent. We should not use the same phrases at each prayer. Each of us would become disturbed if a friend said the same few words to us each day, treated the conversation as a chore, and could hardly wait to finish in order to turn on the TV and forget us.
In all of our prayers it is well to use the sacred pronouns of the scripturesthee, thou, thy, and thine when addressing Deity in prayer, instead of the more common pronouns you, your, and yours. In this arrangement we show greater respect to Deity.
For what should we pray? We should pray about our work, against the power of our enemies and the devil, for our welfare and the welfare of those around us. (Alma 34:20; 22:25, 27.) We should counsel with the Lord pertaining to all our decisions and activities. (Alma 37:36-37.) We should be grateful enough to give thanks for all we have. (D&C 59:21.) We should confess his hand in all things. Ingratitude is one of our great sins.
The Lord has declared in modern revelation: "And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more." (D&C 78:19.)
We should ask for what we need, taking care that we not ask for things that would be to our detriment. (James 4:3.) We should ask for strength to overcome our problems. (Alma 31:31-33.) We should pray for the inspiration and well- being of the President of the Church, the General Authorities, our stake president, our bishop, our quorum president, our home teachers, our family members, and our civic leaders. Many other suggestions could be made, but with the help of the Holy Ghost, we will know about what we should pray. (Romans 8:26.)
5. After making a request through prayer, we have a responsibility to assist in its being granted. We should listen. Perhaps while we are on our knees, the Lord wants to counsel us. "Sincere praying implies that when we ask for any virtue or blessing, we should work for the blessing and cultivate the virtue." (David O. McKay.)
When I was a young missionary in northern England in 1922, opposition to the Church became very intense. The opposition became so strong that the mission president asked that we discontinue all street meetings, and in some places tracting was also discontinued.
My companion and I had been invited to travel over to South Shields and speak in sacrament meeting. In the invitation we were told, "We feel sure we can fill the little chapel. Many of the people over here do not believe the falsehoods printed about us. If you'll come, we're sure that we'll have a great meeting." We accepted.
We fasted and prayed sincerely and went to the sacrament meeting. My companion had planned to talk on the first principles of the gospel. I had studied hard in preparation for a talk on the apostasy. There was a wonderful spirit in the meeting. My companion spoke first and gave an inspirational message. I responded and talked with a freedom I had never experienced before in my life. When I sat down, I realized that I had not mentioned the apostasy. I had talked on the Prophet Joseph Smith and borne my witness of his divine mission and to the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. After the meeting ended, many people came forward, including several nonmembers, and said, "Tonight we received a witness that Mormonism is true. We are now ready for baptism."
This was an answer to our fasting and prayers, for we prayed to say only those things which would touch the hearts of the investigators.
In 1946 I was assigned by President George Albert Smith to go to wartorn Europe to reestablish our missions from Norway to South Africa, and to set up a program for the distribution of welfare suppliesfood, clothing, bedding, etc.
We established headquarters in London. We then made preliminary arrangements with the military on the continent. One of the first men I wished to see was the commander of the American forces in Europe. He was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany.
When we arrived in Frankfurt, my companion and I went in to seek an appointment with the general. The appointment officer said, "Gentlemen, there will be no opportunity for you to see the general for at least three days. He's very busy and is filled up with appointments." I said, "It is very important that we see him and we can't wait that long. We're due in Berlin tomorrow." He said, "I'm sorry."
We left the building, went out to our car, removed our hats, and united in prayer. We then went back into the building and found a different officer at the appointment post. In less than fifteen minutes we were in the presence of the general. We had prayed that we would be able to see him and to touch his heart, knowing that all relief supplies contributed from any source were required to be placed into the hands of the military for distribution.
Our objective, as we explained it to the general, was to distribute our own supplies to our own people, through our own channels, and also make gifts for general child feeding. We explained the welfare program and how it operated. Finally, he said, "Well, gentlemen, you go ahead and collect your supplies, and by the time you get them collected, the policy may be changed." We said, "General, our supplies are already collected, they're always collected. Within twenty-four hours from the time I wire the First Presidency of the Church in Salt Lake City, carloads of supplies will be rolling toward Germany. We have many storehouses filled with basic commodities." He then said, "I've never heard of a people with such vision." His heart was touched as we had prayed it would be. Before we left his office we had a written authorization to make our own distribution to our own people through our own channels.
It is soul-satisfying to know that God is mindful of us and ready to respond when we place our trust in him and do that which is right. There is no place for fear among men and women who place their trust in the Almighty, who do not hesitate to humble themselves in seeking divine guidance through prayer. Though persecutions arise, though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is life's greatest blessing.
As a boy in the Aaronic Priesthood, I learned this little poem about prayer. It has remained with me.
I know not by what methods rare,
But this I know: God answers prayer.
I know that He has given His word,
Which tells me prayer is always heard,
And will be answered soon or late,
And so I pray and calmly wait.
I know not if the message sought
Will come just in the way I thought;
But leave my prayers with Him alone
Whose ways are wiser than my own,
Assured that He will grant my quest,
Or send some answer far more blessed.
I bear witness that God lives. He is not dead. I bear testimony that God, our Father, with his Beloved Son, our Savior, did in very deed appear to Joseph Smith. I know this as I know that I live.
I testify that there is a God in heaven who hears and answers prayer. I know this to be true, for he has answered mine. I would humbly urge all personsmember and nonmember aliketo keep in close touch with our Father in heaven through prayer. Never before in this gospel dispensation has there been a greater need for prayer. That we will constantly depend upon our Heavenly Father and conscientiously strive to improve our communication with him is my earnest plea.
(Prayer [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1977], 110.)