When God's Answer Is "No": Sister Christofferson's Stunning Insights Might Change the Way You Pray

While sitting in a sacrament meeting a few months ago, Sister Kathy Christofferson had an experience many members of the Church can relate to. It was fast and testimony meeting, and while many stood to share remarkable miracles and observations at the pulpit, Sister Christofferson racked her brain for something extraordinary to share—but nothing came to mind.

"The irony is I do have a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and the restoration of His true Church in these latter days," Sister Christofferson said during a keynote address at BYU Women's Conference.  "But, in reflecting on the past, I realized that my testimony didn’t come with one stunning event or miracle. It came by small whisperings of the Spirit. . . . I haven’t been perfect in these endeavors, but I have seen the hand of the Lord in my life and count that a great blessing.  And parenthetically, I’d like to say that this is by itself ample reason to stand up and bear testimony at any time."

Sister Christofferson compared these whisperings of the Spirit to the minuscule raindrops that fall in Panama but that eventually combine and become a reservoir of water large enough to move enormous ships through the Panama Canal. 

She shared, "While it is incredible that small drops of rain can move gigantic ships through the Panama Canal, it is even more incredible that we can receive a constant flow of spiritual impressions, even outpourings, from a Heavenly Father who is ever mindful of us. I have found that it isn’t in great miracles that a testimony is kept vibrant but in the small day-to-day affirmations and directions we receive from Heaven as we strive to come unto our Savior, keep His commandments, and be about our Father’s business."

When Prayers Are Answered with a "No"

Instead of detailing marvelous wonders, Sister Christofferson focused her remarks on the small and simple—those moments when grandiose miracles do not occur or when we do not receive answers to prayers in our lives. "When we pray, can we accept 'no' as an answer?" Sister Christofferson asked. "Usually, we will find out in time that the Lord had helped us grow more with that 'no' than the 'yes' we sought."

Sister Christofferson shared one example of how "changing one’s prayers brings a needed breakthrough." She shared an experience from Elder Robert D. Hales, when he served as mission president in the England London Mission. One French sister missionary came to Elder Hales requesting a blessing to help her learn the English language. She had been doing everything she could think of to grow close to the Lord and learn the language, but her progress had unexpectedly plateaued. Elder Hales "laid his hands on her head to give her a blessing but then stopped," Sister Christofferson said. "He received this revelation. He removed his hands and told her, 'If you will thank the Lord for what you have already received, you will be able to progress further.' She humbly followed this counsel and was able to progress rapidly in her fluency in English and became a wonderful missionary. "

In addition to verbally or mentally thanking our Heavenly Father for our blessings, Sister Christofferson suggested that we write out our gratitude and recognition of His hand in our lives. 

In addition, she added, "Now another thought on prayer: when we pray, do we have the courage to ask the Lord, 'What lack I yet?' We may think the Savior would be rolling His eyes and saying, 'Oh, where do I begin? The list is so long!' But that is not how the Lord responds to our heartfelt questions. Instead, He will open our eyes and lead us to what we most need, even if we don't realize it." 

Much like prayer, scripture study, obedience, attending the temple, and all the other small but significant steps on our eternal path will bring us closer to heaven. Sister Christofferson concluded, "My dear sisters, I know that as we strive to stay consistently faithful even in small things, they will flow together to strengthen us spiritually in remarkable ways.  As we look back, we will indeed see the hand of the Lord reaching down to bless us in a constant and marvelous manner."

Using Small Means the Lord Can Work Great Miracles

Elder D. Todd Christofferson echoed his wife's testimony of the power of the small, simple, but powerful aspects of the gospel, also noting that we are not among the small or simple. "Not one single human being can ever truthfully claim that he or she is beneath God’s notice or beyond His care, ever!" Elder Christofferson testified. "Not only is God willing to help, He has the power to help by His omnipotence and by the grace, mercy, and merits of Christ’s Atonement."

In fact, Elder Christofferson said it is through our lives, much like the life of Mary the mother of Jesus, that the great miracles of the Lord are brought to pass. We are also not alone in performing these works, and Elder Christofferson detailed four helps God has given us:

1. Commandments

"God knows that as we keep the commandments two things happen. First, we will be steering a path in life that will bring peace and joy. We will avoid numerous sorrows and much needless pain, and even when the traumas of mortality come upon us, the sadness will be swallowed up in Christ. . . . Secondly, by choosing to obey His commandments—by this exercise of our agency—we allow God to pour out help and blessings upon us," Elder Christofferson said. "Some have not understood and have used the love of God as an excuse for not changing, for not growing, for not keeping His commandments. 'God loves me just the way I am,' they say, not recognizing that His love demands and deserves their love and loyalty in return."

2. Grace

To illustrate the way God's grace can transform our lives, Elder Christofferson shared an example of a woman who was recently excommunicated and who is striving to receive a restoration of blessings. This woman's husband is not a member of the Church and became angry and critical of the Church for putting his wife through what he deemed an indignity and judgment. This woman lovingly explained to her husband, "I’ve watched you sometimes in your workshop . . . when you are working on an engine. After you have been at it for a while, somewhere in the middle of the project with parts and tools scattered everywhere, you will stop and organize everything, wipe the grease off all your tools and put them away, sweep the floor clean, turn out the light, and close the door. Then you come back in a few days and start fresh. That is what I am doing with my life." This courageous sister testified, "I am putting my life in order, getting clean, and making a fresh start."

3. Truth

As members of the Church, we often take the truth we have been given in our lives for granted. But Elder Christofferson shared this poignant quote from President Russell M. Nelson that demonstrates the life-changing and comforting nature of truth: "In one hospital where I worked, a special room was built with padded walls where family members could receive . . . news [of a loved one’s death]. There, some people manifested their grief by banging their heads against those padded walls. How I longed to teach those individuals that death, though difficult for surviving loved ones, is a necessary part of our immortal existence. Death allows us to progress to the next world."

4. Gifts

From the Holy Ghost to prophecy and the ministering of angels, Elder Christofferson explained the gifts that our Heavenly Father has put into our lives. He also added that many of these gifts require us to accept, receive, search, or develop them in our lives. He explained, "Our Heavenly Father is not a 'helicopter parent.' He does not generally intervene to protect us from the consequences of our choices. If He routinely acted in that way, our cherished moral agency would become meaningless. . . . That is what Satan has always wanted, but our Heavenly Father wants us to learn how to act independently and choose well."

Despite what may come into our lives, Elder Christofferson reminds us:

"Christ, by His grace, can give you strength to endure what you must and faith to change what in His wisdom should be changed. And if you should perhaps carelessly hurt someone else, Christ can answer your pleas to make good and repair what you cannot. Christ not only forgives sin but removes the stain of sin in you. His grace can make you holy. Because of the Savior and His Atonement, you need not remain the victim of anyone or anything. In a coming day, His perfect Judgment will set all things right.

'Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? . . .

'For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

'Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.'"

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