What is Prayer?
When we think of prayer we often think of a small child kneeling by a bed, hands clasped in reverence. We could just as well think of a husband and wife or a college student kneeling beside their bed to pray. But prayer is not just a pose we strike. Prayer is a heartfelt yearning to communicate with God. It can be done while kneeling, but it doesn’t have to be.
Prayer means different things to different people. To one person prayer is communion with the infinite. To another person prayer is getting in touch with their inner self. We are taught that prayer is our way to communicate with our Father in Heaven.
When we enter mortality we have a veil placed over our minds so we forget about our premortal life. This is an important event because it allows us to use our agency to make the choices we need to make to become like God someday. We have been given the gift of prayer to learn to communicate with God through that veil.
Even though we may be alone when we pray, it is not a one way communication. We can learn how to listen and receive answers back from the Lord. This takes practice and patience. The whole prayer process is also affected by the amount of gratitude we have when we pray.
Where Can I Pray?
The scriptures teach us to pray in our closets, our fields, most anywhere. Kneeling prayers are not practical in public places. Fortunately, kneeling is not an indispensable component of prayer. Don’t get me wrong, we do need to kneel once in a while, preferably morning and night. Kneeling humbles us and helps us feel less “full of ourselves.” Feeling a little smaller in the eternal scheme of things is not a bad thing.
At home we should be praying privately both morning and night. We also need to pray as a family both morning and night. The reasons for both kinds of prayer are both separate and overlapping. We need to express our personal feelings to the Lord in our own prayers, but we need to express our family gratitude and needs in our family prayers. Often times those we pray for in our personal prayers will be the same people we pray for in our family prayers.
Someone asked me recently about how I felt about praying in restaurants. Someone in the conversation suggested that praying in our car before entering the restaurant may be more appropriate than praying publicly for all to see. The car offers privacy and allows the family or couple to speak out loud without anyone else hearing the prayer. I thought this was a great suggestion.
Praying can be done even in a crowded room. In fact, the more people the better. It is far easier to go unnoticed in a large crowd than in a room with only a couple of other people. In a smaller, more intimate setting people will notice when you go quiet and maybe close your eyes for a few moments. In a large crowd people are not likely to pay attention to you. Since prayer is a heartfelt communication between you and your Heavenly Father, spoken language is not required.
Often the prayer of the heart is more powerful than the verbal prayer. It is also quicker. When we pray silently to our Father in Heaven we feel our way toward Him. When we pray vocally, we have to figure out how to translate what we are feeling into words that will do our feelings justice. Vocal prayers often take much longer to finish than silent prayers. Both have their place, and both are needed each day.
Prayer Affects the Family
Finding ways to unify our family members and bring peace to our homes is difficult. There is no manual with step-by-step instructions. Prayer is as close a tool to this as we will ever get.
Mention was made in family prayer, for instance, of children with [Church] assignments. … We asked for help when one of the children faced a difficult examination in high school. Special mention was made of members of the family [who were] away. … This special mention of particular concerns in our family prayers gave confidence, assurance, and strength to members of the family facing difficult problems and assignments.
Look back at this quote. In order for his family to pray for a child with a difficult exam coming up or for a child with a Church assignment, the parents had to know that these things were taking place. In order for us to have these kinds of prayers we need to know what is going on in our children’s lives.
The power of these kinds of family prayer is that the children are learning to pray for the welfare of their siblings. These prayers build family solidarity and loyalty. They teach the children to be concerned about one another. They also teach the children that their family cares about them and will seek the Lord’s blessing and guidance in their behalf. What a powerful tool for uniting families.
The Power of Prayer
Prayer gets its power from our attitude going into the prayer, then how we act about what we prayed. When our prayers are humble, filled with expressions of gratitude, and when completed, followed by a period of listening and contemplation, they can be a source of great power. If we pray hastily then get disgusted because our prayer wasn’t answered right away with what we wanted, then we have wasted both our and the Lord’s time.
In the lesson it tells us that President Benson’s prayers were mostly prayers of gratitude, not asking prayers. Taking the time to recognize God’s many blessings and making ourselves verbally express those things we have recognized that have been given to us, helps us be more humble. The follow up is that the more humble we are, the more easily we avoid sounding like a spoiled child who just comes to daddy to make demands all the time. This spiritual maturity is pleasing to the Lord. He delights to bless those who acknowledge his hand in all things. He understands that it is not easy to be, and remain, genuinely grateful.
Getting Answers to Prayer
Answers to prayers don’t normally come by post, written and sealed for us. Answers have to be listened for and sought after. When we finish a prayer do we take a few moments to just quietly ponder about what we have prayed about and listen for the whisperings of the Holy Spirit? Are we searching our scriptures for the answers we seek? Many of our answers will come to us in the Lord’s own time, and often through the ministrations of other people. We will be in a class or listening to a broadcast and something will spark our memory of what we asked the Lord about and this will lead us to an answer. There are an almost infinite number of ways for the Lord to answer our prayers.
Many prayers will not be answered immediately. I was taught that some questions need to be asked then just put on an imaginary shelf. Periodically I take down one of the issues or questions on my “Wait and See” shelf to see if I am any closer to an answer. Sometimes I find that the question has already been answered and I can clear off that part of the shelf. Sometimes I see that it needs to wait a bit longer. We need to remember that we must always leave the answers to our prayers up to the Lord to answer in his own due time and way. We do not have control over this, and it is not wise to push an issue with the Lord. That generally leads to trouble.
Prayer is the universal tool given from God to his children so they can keep in touch with their Father while away from home. It is an art form, not a science, and needs practice to learn to use it properly. The Holy Spirit will help us learn to listen for answers and will, when invited, teach us what to ask for so we do not ask amiss. We are promised that anything we pray for, which is right, will be granted to us. This is why we seek the influence of the Holy Ghost in helping us pray for those things that are right before the Lord.
Kelly likes to keep the gospel simple. For more of his articles and lesson helps go to his website, http://mormonbasics.com.