Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said that when President Hinckley “comes up against an insoluble problem, he goes to his knees.” This illustrates an important principle or two about prayer. President Hinckley did everything he could to solve his own problems. He used all the resources available to him, but he knew that when all else failed the Lord was there to listen to his problems and help him find the solutions which had thus far eluded him.
We are told in the scriptures to pray over everything, our businesses, our home, family, etc. But that doesn’t mean that the Lord expects us to let him make all the decisions in our lives. As you study this lesson think about when it is appropriate to ask the Lord for help with something and when you think the Lord might want us to try to solve our own problems first, before taking them to Him.
Does not taking a problem to the Lord necessarily mean we don’t have faith that the Lord is there or that he cannot help us with our problem? Does this mean there is a time and a place for prayer, just as there might be a time and a place for self-reflection and personal effort to solve our problems?
One of the keys to successful prayer can be found in the introduction to this lesson. President Hinckley’s son talks about listening to his father pray during family prayer. “He addressed God with great reverence, as he would perhaps a wise and revered teacher or mentor, and he referred to the Savior with deep feeling. As a child, I knew they were real persons to him—that he loved and revered them.”
Note that his father wasn’t praying to the void, to an emptiness. He was praying to real people whom he loved and deeply respected. This is a vast difference in attitude from someone who hasn’t yet learned that when they pray someone is actually listening.
Section 1—The individuality of prayer
Think of this, God knows everything that happens from the beginning of time to the end of time. That means that he knows what our needs are going to be at any given moment in our lives. He knows what needs to happen or what should happen, and what we will do. So do you think that knowing all this ahead of time, when he makes the following promise he has already planned for a way to make his promises come true? “Ask, and it shall be given you, seek, and ye shall find, knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7)
The Lord’s word is sure. His promises are always kept. It is we who have to learn to have faith in those promises and to seek out his counsel and wisdom so we can find the answers we seek. He never leaves us alone. There is always comfort nearby. There is always direction available to be had. But when we seek these things we need to have faith in the finding.
The distance between us and our God is not measured in feet, miles, or light-years. It is not measured in kilometers or spans, but in degrees of faith. The more faithful we are to living the commandments as we currently understand them, the more readily we will be able to get the responses we seek when we approach Him in prayer.
Earlier I mentioned that we are told in the scriptures that we need to pray over everything. What does that include? President Hinckley gives us a glimpse into what kinds of things the Lord wants us to consider when we go to him in prayer.
Fathers and mothers, pray over your children. Pray that they may be shielded from the evils of the world. Pray that they may grow in faith and knowledge. Pray that they may be directed toward lives that will be profitable and good. Husbands, pray for your wives. Express unto the Lord your gratitude for them and plead with Him in their behalf. Wives, pray for your husbands. Many of them walk a very difficult road with countless problems and great perplexities. Plead with the Almighty that they may be guided, blessed, protected, inspired in their righteous endeavors.
The thing to remember about prayer is that it is completely personal and private. What you say to your Father in Heaven is not hijacked by Facebook or Twitter to be rebroadcast to the world. Your conversations with deity are completely protected. He listens and responds. He answers and guides. He is pleased when we take the time to include his wisdom and love in our decisions.
Section 2—Family prayer
We all ask the Lord to bless the nations of the earth. We ask blessings on the leaders of those nations. But the fact remains that all change starts with ourselves and our family. Just as we are converted one at a time, and make covenants one at a time, so too do we need to learn to be better people one at a time. This is how the nations will change.
President Hinckley says “there needs to be a new emphasis on honesty, character, and integrity.” He then goes on to say that learning these traits begins with the recognition that God is our Father and that we are his children. We need to acknowledge that we need his guidance in our daily affairs.
Children rarely learn deep respect for God while still a child unless it is modeled by their parents. Family prayer is where our children learn that the two people they look up to the most in all the world also look up to someone else. When the people who can do no wrong in their eyes also turn to a higher being for guidance and direction, that really puts the stamp of approval on putting our faith in our Father in Heaven.
One of the keys to successful family prayer is to pray for each other by name. There is strength in knowing that those who love you most have your back. When we pray for each other by name and speak in loving and supportive terms for their success, health, etc., there is a bonding that takes place that is difficult to produce in any other way.
I strongly recommend you read the promises in section 2 President Hinckley makes for curing the ills of many families just by praying together.
Section 3 - Listen
All prayers have two parts. We first have to communicate with our Father in Heaven then we need to listen for his response. Listening in spiritual matters includes feeling for his response. Even prayers of gratitude should have a few moments at the end where we just ponder and allow ourselves to feel our own sense of gratitude. It is usually in those moments that feelings or thoughts start to flow from the other end of the conversation.
Prayer requires faith, and by that, I mean expectation of answers. Why pray if we really don’t want or expect an answer? The whole point of prayer is to reach out and spiritually and emotionally come in contact with our Father in Heaven, understanding that he wants to talk to us probably more than we feel we need to talk to him. But if we aren’t willing to spend a few minutes to listen to the feelings and thoughts that so often come during or after a prayer, then we cheat ourselves out of the real reason for praying.
When going to the Lord in prayer, remember to whom you are praying. We should never go to the Lord with an accusatory heart unless we are going to plead for humility. The Lord’s ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts like our thoughts. We pray that we might learn to think and feel like our Father thinks and feels. This is an exploratory process and one that should be repeated often with lots of listening and heartfelt gratitude afterward.