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Teachings of Howard W. Hunter Lesson 4: "Help from on High"

This lesson is about the Lord’s promise to give us help while we are in mortality. That help can come in times of peace and in times of need. It can come through prayer, not just the noun, the thing called prayer, but the verb, the thing we do on our knees and in our heart. Help is also found in the scriptures and through meditation or pondering.

Guidance in Times of Need

All of us have times when life gets confusing and we need guidance and help. Sometimes we turn to our friends and ask for advice, but it seems that often the more people we ask the more opinions we receive that don’t match up with anyone else’s opinion.

If you can’t think of a time when you have been confused by too many voices expressing too many opinions, try posting a question asking for advice on Facebook and notice the range of counsel you receive. It usually spans from the ludicrous to the highly responsible. Opinions on a course of action vary so wildly that even if we restrict the number of people we ask we are still likely to get a wide range of opinions, and all from people we trust! This is why we need to know that we have the Lord to turn to when other voices just aren’t giving us sound or at least consistent advice.

Fortunately, the Lord has promised that he will help us.

In the scriptural preface to this latter-day dispensation, the Lord promised that if we would be humble in such times of need and turn to him for aid, we would “be made strong, and [be] blessed from on high, and receive knowledge from time to time.” (D&C 1:28.)

We should take great comfort in this knowledge. There is no reason to go through life without divine guidance. We don’t have to do this mortality gig blindly. The Lord has promised us help along the way and has provided multiple ways for us to receive His help.


Turn to the Scriptures

One of the most powerful circumstances to drive us to the scriptures or to our knees is when we experience a moment in our life where the world simply has no answer. You know that everything depends on your next decision, but there is no apparent source to turn to for a reliable answer. This is when God enters many people’s minds. Hopefully we think of the Lord more frequently than just during our most frustrating trials, but I’m sure the Lord is happy to hear from one of his children even if it isn’t under the best of circumstances.

There is power built into the scriptures. They are the words of the prophets and the revelations from God. There is a spirit that accompanies them. Reading them with faith in their truthfulness can create miracles in a person’s life. It was when Joseph Smith needed to know where to turn to learn which church was the true church of God that he read the passage from James 1:5. Joseph Smith describes his experience this way:

“While I was laboring under the extreme difficulties caused by the contests of these parties of religionists, I was one day reading the Epistle of James, first chapter and fifth verse, which reads: If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.
“Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did; for how to act I did not know, and unless I could get more wisdom than I then had, I would never know” [Joseph Smith—History 1:8–12].

One of the many blessings of reading the scriptures is that you can read a passage a hundred times and go on without a second thought, but that one time when you are in need of some help and guidance, and you read that same passage the Lord opens your eyes to the possibilities and for the first time you have a new understanding of that passage.

Often what is missing in our approach to reading our scriptures or praying is the intensity of our desire to communicate with the Lord. The more intensely we feel the need for communication, the more open we make ourselves to revelation. Notice that with Joseph Smith his revelations had nothing to do with his amount of education or his degree of social sophistication. But it did have everything to do with his purity and his desire to communicate with God. He didn’t even really have any idea who he was praying to. All he knew was that the scriptures he had been taught were true told him that if he asked and expected an answer that God would give him the knowledge he sought, and wouldn’t get mad at him for asking. Can we say the same about our attempts to communicate with our Heavenly Father?

How remarkable … that this lad would turn profoundly to the scriptures and then to private prayer, perhaps the two greatest sources of spiritual insight and spiritual impression that are available universally to mankind. Certainly he was torn by differing opinions, but he was determined to do the right thing and determined to find the right way. He believed, as you and I must believe, that he could be taught and blessed from on high, as he was.


Using Prayer

The things we learn through praying are not things that can be understood by any means other than through the Spirit. The world cannot comprehend things of the Spirit because they are not of this world. Spiritual information is transmitted spirit to spirit. We cannot see, touch, or feel with our fingers anything of a spiritual nature. This is why those of the world who do not pray don’t believe in its power. What they cannot see, hear, feel, or taste, they refuse to believe.

But as long as you believe in the power of prayer, why waste it by only using it during times of great trial? Here is a quote from the lesson that should embarrass those of us who wait until the extremity of our trial before thinking of the Lord.

If prayer is only a spasmodic cry at the time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies. We should remember the Most High day and night—always—not only at times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help. If there is any element in human life on which we have a record of miraculous success and inestimable worth to the human soul, it is prayerful, reverential, devout communication with our Heavenly Father.

Here is what President Hunter has to say about those who have lost all reverence for anything that is divine in nature. These people are fully “in the world.”

There are wide areas of our society from which the spirit of prayer and reverence and worship has vanished. Men and women in many circles are clever, interesting, or brilliant, but they lack one crucial element in a complete life. They do not look up. They do not offer up vows in righteousness [see D&C 59:11]. Their conversation sparkles, but it is not sacred. Their talk is witty, but it is not wise.

The problem with those who have abandoned God in their lives (they don’t “look up”) is that they cannot find anything worth being reverent about in their lives. They may have wonderful social or conversational skills, but there is no spiritual depth to their souls or character. Great reverence comes only from communion with the Spirit of God. Prayer (and the pondering that goes with it) is the only way to develop reverence for the infinite in our lives. Those who spend time communing with the infinite develop reverence for life, for God, and respect for others and their needs.


Final Thoughts

The Lord may have given us several ways to communicate with him while we are in mortality, but at no time were any of them declared to be foolproof or super easy, even though anyone of any level of normal intelligence can do them. Prayer is the most accessible method of communication, because it can be done literally anywhere in one form or another. We need never be without access to God if we remember we can pray.

Scriptures should be a constant source of solace and comfort to us. When we are in need of help the Spirit can recall to our minds the words of the Lord we have studied in the scriptures. But we need to study them first.

Pondering or meditating is another universal source of access to the infinite. But this form really begs quiet. The quieter the better.

Finally, we need to remember that there is personal effort involved in any form of communication. We have to learn to put our thoughts and feelings into words. We have to learn how to be respectful in our communication with our God. We have to learn how to listen for answers and to recognize answers when they come. Sometimes answers materialize before us over a period of time, perhaps days, weeks, or even years. But if we are looking for the answers we have been seeking then the Lord will help us recognize that we have received His response. It takes patience.

We can all learn to communicate more effectively with the Lord. Good communication happens with practice over a long period of time. Be patient with yourself.

Developing spirituality and attuning ourselves to the highest influences of godliness is not an easy matter. It takes time and frequently involves a struggle. It will not happen by chance, but is accomplished only through deliberate effort and by calling upon God and keeping his commandments. …

Read Howard W. Hunter's teachings at lds.org.


Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.

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