President Ezra Taft Benson
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 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 persons-- member and nonmember alike--to 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 is more than words; it requires faith, effort, and a proper attitude.
Elder Marion D. Hanks
Under these principles, we limit what God can do for us by our willful ignorance or disobedience or selfishness or lack of faith. Speaking of those who will not qualify for any of the kingdoms of his glory but accept instead a "kingdom not of glory," he has said through a prophet:
". . . they shall return again to their own place, to enjoy that which they are willing to receive, because they were not willing to enjoy that which they might have received.
"For what doth it profit a man if a gift is bestowed upon him, and he receive not the gift? Behold, he rejoices not in that which is given unto him, neither rejoices in him who is the giver of the gift." (D&C 88:32-33.)
This principle applies also to prayer. We will enjoy the blessings we are willing to receive.
The scriptures repeatedly admonish and invite us to pray, but some of us have never accepted the invitation. Others make occasional attempts at prayer but feel unrewarded, the petition seemingly unheeded. For many, prayer may be largely formula or habit. Perhaps the kind of prayer most widely, if infrequently, experienced has been the pleas of anguish, imploring heavenly intervention in present or pending calamity, or in the aborting of the consequences of some foolish act or unwise decision.
But there are also those who have a rich prayer experience, a prayer life, a consistent, rewarding relationship with the Lord in a real and responsive way. How is that blessing brought about? How can we develop that kind of prayer relationship?
We can and should do better. We can open channels of consolation and courage, and consolidate the powers in our own personality. We can set in motion and put into focus forces we have only heard about or dimly dreamed of and never had faith enough to seek for or really believe in or expect to have functioning in our own behalf.
Deep wellsprings of living water are available and accessible to us, a limitless source of spiritual sustenance, of guidance and comfort and divine love.
We are not talking about making prayer more difficult, or necessarily longer, or surrounding it with formalities, or making it seem mysterious. Prayer is the simple act of communicating with God; it is an act of worship and usually involves talking and listening. The unspoken "yearnings of our hearts" or the "groanings of the spirit" also go up to God, it is sure. We should pray when we feel like praying, and we should also pray when we do not much feel like praying, and the formalities are obviously of little concern to him. The important thing is to reach out for him in faith and love. But our prayers can mean much more to us and be more effective in bringing about God's purposes for us if we are prepared for the experience in the way he has directed.
The ancient prophet Samuel, speaking to all the house of Israel, said: ". . . prepare your hearts unto the Lord, and serve him only. . . ." (1 Samuel 7:3.)
God's stalwart servant Job, suffering the agonies of his deprivation and pain, was told, ". . . prepare thine heart, and stretch out thine hands toward him." (Job 11:13.)
We are taught that God, who knows our hearts and our needs before we ever come to him, will help us prepare ourselves and in effect speak through us as we pray to him. "The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord." (Proverbs 16:1.)
If the question should be asked, What sense is there in prayer if God already knows our needs and in effect is speaking through us to himself, then the answer is the same answer that applies to all that he expects of us: He wants us to be involved, to have the experience, to make the effort, knowing that only in this way do we really understand, commit our hearts, and grow.
There are many classic cases of preparation preceding prayer. Consider several of these.
1. Enos. In his youth Enos had been taught in "the nurture and admonition of the Lord," and the teachings of his father had "sunk deep" into his heart. As he was hunting in the forest one day, the thoughts he had often heard his father speak "concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints" came to him with such force that his "soul hungered"; and he "kneeled down before [his] maker and . . . cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for [his] own soul."
Instruction faithfully and patiently given, quiet contemplation, and that great moment of need when his "soul hungered" combined to bring about a condition in which Enos's prayers to God engendered the most meaningful experience of his life. The marvelous consequences are taught in one short, very significant chapter as the book of Enos in the Book of Mormon.
2. Nephi. The record teaches us that Nephi, being very young and "having great desires to know of the mysteries of God, . . . did cry unto the Lord; and behold he did visit me, and did soften my heart that I did believe all the words which had been spoken by my father. . . ." (1 Nephi 2:16.) A boy, patiently and lovingly taught by a good father, early enjoyed the great desire to know for himself, and in the intensity of that desire went to the Lord and received his answer.
3. Oliver Cowdery. Oliver Cowdery was promised a knowledge of the Book of Mormon records if he would "ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing." The promise was unequivocal. He would know in his mind and heart by the Holy Ghost, through the spirit of revelation. He was invited to ask that he might know the mysteries of God and that he might "translate and receive knowledge from all those ancient records which have been hid up, that are sacred," with the promise that "according to your faith shall it be done unto you." (D&C 8.)
Oliver tried to translate but did not succeed, and he was told that he had "not understood" but had supposed God would give it to him "when you took no thought save it was to ask me.
"But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
"But if it be not right, you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong. . . ." (D&C 9:7-9. Italics added.)
4. Moroni. Moroni exhorted the Lamanites that when they should receive the translated record of the Book of Mormon and should "read these things," they should remember the Lord's mercy unto his children from the creation of Adam to the present, and "ponder it" in their hearts. Thus having received, read, meditated, and been grateful, and pondered these things in their hearts, then they were to "ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true." If they should ask "with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ," God would manifest the truth unto them by the power of the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:3-5.)
In all these accounts there is one consistent message: Preparation for prayer can help communication with the Lord become an experience full of meaning and full of love, and can help to bring about the realization of God's purposes, and of our appropriate purposes, in prayer.
Our hearts must be prepared for prayer, for the instruction is that we are to go to him with "all our hearts," with lowliness of heart, with sincerity of heart, with honest hearts, and with broken and contrite hearts.
If our hearts are really right and committed to the Lord, we will go to him with confidence, with, as the psalmist said, "expectations in the Lord," believing that we shall receive. The fullness of our blessings and the soul- satisfying answers to our prayers will come when we learn to "yield our hearts" unto the Lord.
"Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God." (Helaman 3:35.)
God expects us to come to him with our spirits in tune, ready to yield our hearts unto him. If we will do this, we have his promise, and we will receive the blessings.
Our minds also need to be prepared for prayer. Through search and study we can begin to learn what we need to know. And we must think-- actively, consciously, quietly, reflectively, honestly, deeply think. Then we can in good conscience come to the Lord to seek wisdom, comfort, strength, grace, or courage. When we know our own needs, know what we have to be thankful for, know what our responsibility is to God and others, then, with our souls hungry and our desires strong and honest, we can approach the Lord with earnest questions, appropriate petitions, and grateful minds.
As our minds and hearts are prepared, so must our spirits be subdued and sensitive if we desire to drink deeply from the spring. We are to go to him in confidence, believing that we shall receive. John assures us: "And this is the confidence that we have in him, that, if we ask any thing according to his will, he heareth us: And if we know that he hear us, whatsoever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we desired of him." (1 John 5:14-15.)
There is another form of preparation for prayer that must be considered, and that is the condition of our lives as a testimony of our determination and effort to obey his commandments. One of the most beautiful promises given by the Lord to Joseph Smith was that "if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done." (D&C 50:29.)
Consistently the scriptures teach that the Lord expects us to approach him with clean hands, having prepared ourselves for the visit. We are to repent and forsake sins, turn away from evil, learn to keep his commandments and to abide in him as his word abides in us.
Our relationship with others must be right. Before we take our gift to the altar, we are to correct matters that separate us from our neighbors. The admonition is to forgive others and to confess our faults and pray for one another as we ask for forgiveness for ourselves. King Benjamin taught his people that they were to believe in God and in his almighty power, to recognize their own limitations, to repent of their sins and forsake them, and to humble themselves before God and ask in sincerity of heart for his forgiveness. (Mosiah 4:9-10.)
The records are clear and understandable. We are to be prayerful and thankful in our hearts always, to seek his presence regularly, and to talk over with him all the matters that concern us, large and small. We are to go to him in times of penitence and in times of gratitude; when we need wisdom, when our souls hunger, when we have need to commune with him. Yet he expects us to come with our minds and hearts right and our spirits in tune, ready to yield our hearts unto him.
In our personal lives, then, and in our homes and families, how shall we prepare for prayer? In all the ways mentioned, with these specific suggestions:
Read the scriptures. When Nephi wrote the story of his father's experience with the Lord, he talked of Lehi's vision in which a person descended out of the midst of heaven and gave Lehi a book and "bade him that he would read. And . . . as he read he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord." (1 Nephi 1:11-12.)
So may we, as we read the scriptures, receive the Spirit of the Lord. The stories from scripture mentioned above, and countless others, will help us get the spirit of prayer. The sacred records speak knowledge and understanding to us, lead to testimony, and offer ways of application to us individually; they will help us to want to pray and lead us to experience prayer.
Fast. This is a wonderful way to prepare ourselves for prayer. Fasting and prayer go together. The subduing of the spirit by the discipline of the appetites is a divinely directed avenue to accomplishing the purposes of prayer.
Meditate. We need to actively, consciously think about the Lord and our relationship with him, about his goodness to us and our forebears, about the gratitude we should feel for all he has given and does now give us. To quietly consider and reflect upon our blessings is an exercise of high value and great benefit.
Discuss these matters with our families before family prayer. We should be calling to the attention of our children and their children the special kindnesses and graciousness of the Lord to us in his gifts, especially the gift of his Holy Son and all that he means to us.
It will bless all of us to think about and speak of our covenants made solemnly in sacred places and renewed regularly through partaking the sacrament. We can share feelings and impressions and experiences with those nearest and dearest to us. This done before prayer will bring tender and humbling sentiments and spiritual emotions to our hearts.
A quiet moment of conversation about our experiences with ourselves, with our families, with others, and with the Lord can be fruitful. What were the good things we did today? What were the actions and language and relationships that were not good? What was the genealogy of our behavior, good or bad, today? What were its roots and how can they be traced to earlier thoughts or behavior? to attitudes we perhaps need to examine? How can we improve?
There are other ways of preparation for prayer. Contemplation of beauty of God's wonderful world, communing with nature in lovely places, experiencing the uplift of great music or great literature, these and other ways bring us enhanced capacity and encourage us, strengthen us, and help us in an attitude of thankfulness and prayerfulness.
In the three essential relationships of life--with ourselves, with others, and with God--there must be unity and wholeness if we are to be happy. Whenever we, through inspiration and determination, through penitence and reconciliation, bring about greater integrity in any of these relationships, we can appropriately approach the Lord seeking his sanctifying Spirit to give divine stamp of approval to our honest efforts. We may come to him in prayer with the certainty that we are heard and that he will help. In our burdens and anxiety and times of moral weakness we have of ourselves no strength sufficient for the need. Why not try God? He is our ready source of power. He wants to help us, and he will help us, according to his great wisdom and his great love and his knowledge of our needs. Of this I personally know, as I know that preparation for praying makes prayer a sweeter and lovelier and more meaningful experience.
May each of us be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and know that which is "good, and acceptable, and perfect" in the Lord.
Prayer in the home teaches children faith in God.
President Spencer W. Kimball
The Lord organized the whole program in the beginning, with a father who procreates, provides, and loves and directs, and a mother who conceives and bears and nurtures and feeds and trains. The Lord could have organized it otherwise, but he chose to have a unit with responsibility and purposeful associations where children train and discipline each other and come to love, honor, and appreciate each other. The family is the great plan of life as conceived and organized by our Father in heaven.
The Father knew all this when he gave this command to his children in November 1831. He was not arguing that there should be families. He seemed to take that for granted, and commanded: "Inasmuch as parents have children in Zion, . . . they shall also teach their children to pray and to walk uprightly before the Lord." (D&C 68:25, 28.)
Once when I talked to leaders in a foreign country where different ideologies touch their children, I asked how the parents were able to hold their children and keep them from evil. Their reply was so natural and so proper:
"We train our children in our homes so completely in the way of right and truth that the destructive, godless philosophies and heresies of their other teachers run off without penetrating, like water on a duck's back, and our children remain true to the faith."
Ah, that is the answer. Family life, home life, home evenings, dedicated, selfless parents. That is the way the Lord ordained our lives to be.
That preparation comes from infancy and childhood training, when faith is born and character established. If children are tuned in on the right wave length, if they are taught early the responsibilities of time and eternities, they will usually react properly when engulfed in emergencies. If they have consciously and faithfully done all that is expected of them, nothing can be too far wrong. The Nephite prophet insisted: ". . . ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places; and in your wilderness." (Alma 34:26.)
And what a great legacy to our children Isaiah promised: "And all thy children shall be taught of the Lord; and great shall be the peace of thy children." (Isaiah 54:13.)
Surely every good parent would like this peace for his offspring. It comes from the simple life of the true Latter-day Saint as he makes his home and family supreme.
"Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your wives and your children may be blessed." (3 Nephi 18:21.
Is that too much to ask?
I was once in Idaho Falls, Idaho, as a guest in the home of a typical Latter-day Saint family. There was a dedicated set of parents and many children. The oldest was in military service in the South Pacific, and the hearts of the family followed him from place to place. They handed me his latest letter from the war zone. This is what I read:
"There have been times when we were so scared, we would tremble, but the fear was out of our minds with prayer and the knowledge that we were being guided by the Lord. Dad, I love my religion and I am proud that I had someone like you and Mother to teach me to pray. Then I also know that you are praying for me each morning and night."
Spirituality is born in the home and is nurtured in home evenings, in twice-a-day and oftener daily prayers, in weekly meetings when the family goes to church together. That spirituality as the foundation of one's life comes to his rescue when emergency strikes.
Security is not born of inexhaustible wealth, but of unquenchable faith. And generally that kind of faith is born and nurtured in the home and in childhood.
From World War II comes a story of a young Utah boy who was called to serve his country in the faraway places across several time zones. On his wrist he wore the conventional wristband watch to tell him the time in the area in which he was living. But strangely enough he carried a larger, heavier old-time watch in his pocket, which gave another time of day. His buddies noted that frequently he would look at his wrist watch, then turn to the old-fashioned one in his pocket, and this led them, in their curiosity, to ask him why the additional watch. Unembarrassed, he promptly said:
"The wrist watch tells me the time here where we are, but the big watch which Pa gave me tells me what time it is in Utah. You see," he continued, "mine is a large family--a very close family. When the big watch says 5 A.M. I know Dad is rolling out to milk the cows. And any night when it says 7:30, I know the whole family is around a well-spread table on their knees thanking the Lord for what's on the table and asking Him to watch over me and keep me clean and honorable. It's those things that make me want to fight when the goin' gets tough. . . . I can find out what time it is here easy enough. What I want to know is what time it is in Utah. (Adapted from Vaughn R. Kimball, "The Right Time at Home," Reader's Digest, May 1944, p. 43.)
I knew this family well. I knew this sailor slightly. I knew this father. His cows had to feed a large family, but his greater interest was the growing children who needed more than milk and bread. I have knelt in mighty prayer with this wonderful family. The home training has carried through to the eternal blessing of this large family.
O my beloved brothers and sisters, what a world it would be if the members of every family in this church were to be on their knees like this every night and morning! And what a world it would be if hundreds of millions of families in this great land and other lands were praying for their sons and daughters twice daily. And what a world this would be if a billion families throughout the world were in home evenings and church activity and were on their physical knees pouring out their souls for their children, their families, their leaders, their governments!
This kind of family could bring us back toward the translation experience of righteous Enoch. The millennium would be ushered in. Enoch was asked questions about himself. He answered, among other things, ". . . my father taught me in all the ways of God." (Moses 6:41.) And Enoch walked with God and he was not, for God took him.
Enoch and his people dwelt in righteousness in the city of Holiness, even Zion. And Zion was taken up into heaven.
Yes, here is the answer: righteous, teaching parents; obedient, loving children; faithfulness to family duties. These qualities in a home make for security and character in the lives of children.
Prayer brings many great blessings.
Elder Bruce R. McConkie
Of all the prayers ever uttered, in time or in eternity--by gods, angels, or mortal men--this one stands supreme, above and apart, preeminent over all others.
In this garden called Gethsemane, outside Jerusalem's wall, the greatest member of Adam's race, the One whose every thought and word were perfect, pled with his Father to come off triumphant in the most torturous ordeal ever imposed on man or God.
There, amid the olive trees--in the spirit of pure worship and perfect prayer-- Mary's Son struggled under the most crushing burden ever borne by mortal man.
There, in the quiet of the Judean night, while Peter, James, and John slept, God's own Son--with prayer on his lips--took upon himself the sins of all men on conditions of repentance.
Upon his Suffering Servant, the great Elohim, there and then, placed the weight of all the sins of all men of all ages who believe in Christ and seek his face. And the Son, who bore the image of the Father, pled with his divine Progenitor for power to fulfill the chief purpose for which he had come to earth.
This was the hour when all eternity hung in the balance. So great was the sin- created agony--laid on him who knew no sin--that he sweat great drops of blood from every pore, and "would," within himself, that he "might not drink the bitter cup." (D&C 19:18.) From creation's dawn to this supreme hour, and from this atoning night through all the endless ages of eternity, there neither had been nor would be again such a struggle as this.
"The Lord Omnipotent who reigneth, who was, and is from all eternity to all eternity," who had "come down from heaven among the children of men" (Mosiah 3:5); the Creator, Upholder, and Preserver of all things from the beginning, who had made clay his tabernacle; the one person born into the world who had God as his father; the very Son of God himself--in a way beyond mortal comprehension--did then and there work out the infinite and eternal atonement whereby all men are raised in immortality, while those who believe and obey come forth also to an inheritance of eternal life. God the Redeemer ransomed men from the temporal and spiritual death brought upon them by Adam's fall.
And it was at this hour that he, who then bought us with his own blood, offered the most pleading and poignant personal prayer ever to fall from mortal lips. God the Son prayed to God the Father, that the will of the one might be swallowed up in the will of the other, and that he might fulfill the promise made by him when he was chosen to be the Redeemer: "Father, thy will be done, and the glory be thine forever." (Moses 4:2.)
True, as an obedient son whose sole desire was to do the will of the Father who sent him, our Lord prayed always and often during his mortal probation. By natural inheritance, because God was his father, Jesus was endowed with greater powers of intellect and spiritual insight than anyone else has ever possessed. But in spite of his superlative natural powers and endowments--or, shall we not rather say, because of them (for truly the more spiritually perfected and intellectually gifted a person is, the more he recognizes his place in the infinite scheme of things and knows thereby his need for help and guidance from Him who truly is infinite)--and so by virtue of his superlative powers and endowments, Jesus above all men felt the need for constant communion with the Source of all power, all intelligence, and all goodness.
When he, after his resurrection--note it well: after his resurrection, he was still praying to the Father!--when he, glorified and perfected, sought to give the Nephites the most transcendent spiritual experience they were able to bear, he did it, not in a sermon, but in a prayer. "The things which he prayed cannot be written," the record says, but those who heard bore this testimony:
But here in Gethsemane, as a pattern for all suffering, burdened, agonizing men, he poured out his soul to his Father with pleadings never equaled. What petitions he made, what expressions of doctrine he uttered, what words of glory and adoration he then spoke we do not know. Perhaps like his coming prayer among the Nephites the words could not be written, but could be understood only by the power of the Spirit. We do know that on three separate occasions in his prayer he said in substance and thought content: "Oh my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt." (Matthew 26:39.)
Here in Gethsemane, as he said to his Father, "not my will, but thine, be done," the inspired record says, "There appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.
"And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground." (Luke 22:42-44.)
Now here is a marvelous thing. Note it well. The Son of God "prayed more earnestly"! He who did all things well, whose every word was right, whose every emphasis was proper; he to whom the Father gave his Spirit without measure; he who was the only perfect being ever to walk the dusty paths of planet earth--the Son of God "prayed more earnestly," teaching us, his brethren, that all prayers, his included, are not alike, and that a greater need calls forth more earnest and faith-filled pleadings before the throne of him to whom the prayers of the saints are a sweet savor.
In this setting, then, seeking to learn and live the law of prayer so that we, like him, can go where he and his Father are, let us summarize what is truly involved in the glorious privilege of approaching the throne of grace. Let us learn how to do so boldly and efficaciously, not in word only but in spirit and in power, so that we may pull down upon ourselves, even as he did upon himself, the very powers of heaven.