Latter-day Saint Life

6 tips to make your prayers more meaningful (that are simpler than you think)

Once I watched a teacher instruct teenagers in a gospel class to chant the word “pots.” They shouted, “Pots, pots, pots, pots, pots!”

Then the teacher asked, “What do you do at a green light?”

“Stop!” everyone shouted.

The teacher laughed and said, “That’s why there are so many accidents with teenage drivers.” The teacher then pointed out that mindlessly chanting, “pots, pots, pots” (which is “stop” spelled backward) had primed the students to say “stop,” even though it was obviously the wrong answer. If the students had taken time to think, they would have said something different.

He then asked, “Are you just chanting in your prayers, or do you really stop to think about what you are saying?”

This question gave me pause. At times I have found myself slipping into prayer routines where I just say the same things and don’t put effort into meaningful prayer. As I pondered on how I could improve the quality of my prayers, I decided to see how people prayed in the Book of Mormon. I was surprised to find that in addition to teaching about prayer, we can see more than 100 times that prophets pray in the Book of Mormon.

Enos offers some of the most famous prayers in the Book of Mormon. Let’s look at six lessons we can learn from his prayers.

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In the Book of Mormon videos, the prophet Enos is depicted praying in the forest.
YouTube screenshot.

1. Pray in a Special Place

It was while Enos was out hunting “in the forest” that he felt a deep need to pray (see Enos 1:3). I don’t think we necessarily need to go hunting to have powerful prayers, but there is something valuable about going somewhere specific to pray. Jesus told us to pray in our closets. I freely admit that my closet is too small and messy to have a meaningful prayer, but we can identify a specific place where we can really pour out our hearts to God.

2. Pray with Intensity

You can feel Enos’s intensity as he writes, “I cried unto [God] in mighty prayer” (Enos 1:4). Sometimes it’s easy to feel this urgency to pray when we’re faced with an emergency and pour out our hearts to God. But we can also have mighty prayer even if we aren’t facing an emergency. I often do this by spending some time contemplating different areas of my life and people I love who need prayers. With a little thought, my heart softens even more toward those I love who are struggling, or I think of areas in my life where I would really like some help—and those emotions and thoughts can create a mighty prayer.

3. Kneel to Pray

Enos writes, “I kneeled down before my Maker” (Enos 1:4). When I was a kid one of my primary teachers taught me a rhyme that while not true, has stuck with me for the principle it teaches: “A prayer in bed is a prayer not said.” Let’s be clear—it’s good to pray anywhere, anytime. But there is something valuable about kneeling down to prayer. It shows a level of respect and puts me in a frame of mind to focus on prayer.

4. Pray Out Loud

When Enos says that he “did cry unto the Lord,” we should remember that the 1828 dictionary defines the word cry as “to utter a loud voice.” Praying vocally can help us concentrate on our prayers and make it less likely that our minds will wander as we pray.

In President Jeffrey R. Holland’s “How I Hear Him” video, he stated:

“Prayer is an expression of the heart, and we can pray silently. We ought to pray silently. We ought to always have a prayer in our heart. But there is something about saying the words, and, for me, saying them out loud. And so, I'm reminded to not get by on the cheap, if you will, about prayer. We need to carve out time—good time, high-priority time—when we can say the words. Kneel where possible, be vocal, be out loud, and really have that communication.”

5. Pray Continually

Another aspect of Enos’s prayer that might be less obvious is that it was ongoing. Enos spoke to the Lord, took time to listen, and then he heard the voice of the Lord responding to him. Enos then spoke more to the Lord and the Lord responded. While we might not literally hear audible words of the Lord, we can feel His response to our prayers.

President Gordon B. Hinckley said, “The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up.” (Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, 469.) Listening may be the most important part of prayer!

6. Praying for Others

It’s interesting to see that Enos’s prayer changes over time. In verse 4, Enos specifies that he was praying for himself. Then in verse 9 he began to pray for his brothers and sisters, the Nephites. Finally, in verse 11 he starts praying for the Lamanites—the enemies of the Nephites. We can see this evolution in our own prayers. Maybe when we’re less mature in the gospel our prayers center on ourselves, but over time we learn to pray more for those we love, and even those who are our enemies.

An Important Reminder about Prayer

At this point, a person could feel overwhelmed, thinking, “There are so many ways I could improve in my prayer life, but it sounds too hard, so I won’t do anything!” But consider what President Henry B. Eyring taught: “My experience has taught me this about how people and organizations improve: the best place to look is for small changes we could make in things we do often. There is power in steadiness and repetition. And if we can be led by inspiration to choose the right small things to change, consistent obedience will bring great improvement.”

If a person prays three times a day, that’s more than 1,000 prayers each year. If each of those prayers could be just two percent better, that would add up to significant spiritual growth.

The teacher who had his students chant “pots” later had them chant the word “roast.” After the students repeated it several times, the teacher asked, “What do you put in a toaster?”

Some students said, “Toast,” but many paused to think and correctly said, “Bread.” The teacher commended those who had stopped to think about what they were saying.

What small change could we make in our prayers by following Enos’s example in prayer? Remember President Eyring’s promise: “If we can be led by inspiration to choose the right small things to change, consistent obedience will bring great improvement.”

▶ You may also like: This simple phrase from my live TV career helps me prepare for inspiration

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