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The three things I do to really connect with Christ through prayer

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We can pray anytime, anywhere, and about anything.
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Thinking there is a worthiness test to pray is one of the most dangerous lies. It robs us of hope and taking the first step towards coming to Christ and using His Atonement to change our lives.

In his October 2023 general conference address, Elder Joaquin E. Costa of the Seventy reminds us that, “We come to Jesus to fix our lives. We don’t come because we are perfect. We come because we are flawed and in Him we can be perfected.”

Countless anointed leaders, both ancient and modern, have reminded us that not only can anyone pray, but we can pray anytime, anywhere, and about anything. And those prayers can, and should be, both ones of pleas for help and ones of gratitude. (See Alma 37:37, 3 Nephi 18:19-20, Doctrine and Covenants 19:38.)

In my own life, I have found three ways to more fully embrace the gift of prayer: 1) remembering when my prayers were answered in the past, 2) practicing prayer with perseverance, and 3) engaging in purposeful prayer.

1. Remember Answered Prayers

As a child, I wondered why I did not experience the “signs” of personal revelation, or the presence of God, in my life. Outside of one singular experience in my youth, I did not regularly feel a “burning in the bosom” like I heard described by people around me. But this didn’t bother me a lot. I thought it must be a function of age and when I was older, I would have all the spiritual experiences I sought.

When I was twelve, I prayed with all the intensity and sincerity that I had for a tragedy to be averted in my family. I remember a feeling of intense love, peace, and warmth surrounding me. I had never felt anything like that before and I have not since. When I got up from my knees, I knew things were going to be OK. My prayer was not answered in the way I asked for, and I remember the intense sadness around me, but I was not troubled.

Recently, I was preparing for a ward event that I was responsible for. The event involved nine other wards and invitations had been extended and accepted. Two days before the event I realized there was a potential problem. The solution required construction with structural supports and plastic fencing, and I did not have any experience with these materials or construction skills. I was tired and at my mental and emotional limits with other obligations and the thought of solving this problem seemed too much.

I was driving on a busy eight-lane road during a high traffic part of the day, when in the middle of all that chaos, the most clear and direct thought came to my mind to call the first counselor in my bishopric, Brother Davis, give the problem to him, and then to not think about it anymore. My fleeting thought, as I looked up his number on my Member Tools app, was that he did not look like someone who had any construction skills, but I was tired and desperate, so I called him.

Miraculously, he answered the mid-afternoon call. I didn’t know him that well, but I knew what the Spirit had told me so I explained to him what I needed and asked him if he could handle the problem. He said he would take care of it and I remember thinking that I wasn’t going to worry about it anymore. In fact, I totally forgot about the problem and about requesting help from Brother Davis.

On the day of the church event, I arrived several hours early and when I walked into the stake center cultural hall, I was so astonished I couldn’t say anything—my jaw literally dropped open. Not only had Brother Davis built the things I needed, but they were also better than what I envisioned.

In that instant, I knew, with clarity and certainty, that Heavenly Father knew who I was and what I needed, in real and immediate time. He was literally by my side, supporting and cheering me on. That day, Heavenly Father let me know He heard my prayers and He was there in the form of Brother Davis.

Reflecting on that experience (and others like it) strengthens my faith that He will be there for me in the future.

2. Practice Prayer with Perseverance

A lot of heartache and frustration can be avoided if we remember that often large change requires time, patience, and perseverance. A lot of it. Even when we desperately want to change for the better, most large changes are brought about by many small efforts over a long period of time.

Professionally, I am a music performance instructor. Ninety percent of what I teach requires daily repetition of often tedious exercises that must be done exactly a certain way, over months, sometimes years. If careful attention to detail is not observed, all the time is wasted.

The skills that come from the daily, careful repetition of small exercises, however, allow for entire new worlds of possibilities that can be accessed no other way. The challenge is to get students to trust the instructor, and the process, enough to try, even just once. Once they have experienced the benefits of the work, the value of the results is enough motivation that the student will work, on their own, through the daily grind of small, sometimes tedious, tasks.

The process is the same with using prayer and the Atonement of Christ to make the changes we want and need. I find it comforting that Elder Costa understands what this experience can be like in real-time. He said of how the Holy Ghost helps him improve, “It helps me to endure to the end. Or at least to the end of the day!” I am grateful to know that I am not alone working each day to improve. Knowing that the process takes time keeps me going.

Sometimes, in the process of changing who we are, it is difficult to stay the course, even for the day. Moments like these can be pivotal in determining whether or not we persevere and move forward or step off course for what we think is a needed break. At these times we must remember what we’ve already practiced in the past and reach out for heavenly help through prayer. These times are not indicators of our worthiness, or the worthiness of our request for help, or even the worthiness of our efforts. They are sometimes part of the learning experience we are given.

In a video message titled “Daily Bread: Experience,” Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles acknowledged this exact type of pivotal moment. He suggested that these experiences are when we learn how to truly pray. He explains that sometimes there is an answer to prayer “for that day, the help that could only come from Him, from God, for the moment, not the long term, just the immediate need.”

While these answers may offer no reassurance or guidance for the future, they are enough to let us know we are not alone and we are loved. In these moments of communion with God, we can receive the reprieve and assurance, however brief, to persevere and move forward with prayers rooted in faith.

3. Engage in Purposeful Prayer 

Sometimes we may think that nothing bad or unpleasant should ever happen to us because we are praying and keeping our covenants. The primary children’s song, “The Wise Man and the Foolish Man,” reminds us, however, that rain and floods come to everyone, the wise and the foolish, but survival is based on where the house is built.

I find it important to remember that rain and floods look different for everyone. The ways we can experience heartbreak and have our faith tested to the very limits are as innumerable as they are varied. However, heartbreak and anguish do not mean that Heavenly Father has abandoned us, they are part of being alive.

Elder Costa shared a story of a woman who had lost everything in the fires that recently devastated Chile. She said, “When I saw that nearby houses were burning, I had the impression that our house was going to be burned, that we were going to lose everything. Instead of desperation, I experienced a sense of indescribable peace. Somehow, I felt everything was going to be OK.”

When I read this I understood what she was talking about. I had a similar experience when I was twelve years old—that immediate reassurance of inexplicable peace while all evidence said that things were not OK and not going to be OK.

This is the only time in my life where I knew, immediately and with clear, absolute certainty that things would be fine. Other times, the peace I sought was much longer in coming.

I had an experience where I needed to make some decisions that would have large, long-term, consequences. It was very important to me that I did the right thing, so I prayed with all the sincerity I had, and I prayed frequently. I sought divine direction in the temple and in fasting. And even so, things didn't go well.

One day, as I sat in the temple, I remember feeling so angry. I sat there, with tears of rage, talking to God. I was trying to do the right thing and the situation not only got worse, it dragged out for over a year. I was exhausted mentally and physically, and I was furious that a resolution had not been reached.

I didn’t doubt that God existed or that He heard me or even that He loved me. I knew He heard me and I was not happy there was no resolution, especially when I was trying to do as He would have me. I was prepared to do what I did not want to do, if that was what He wanted, but He needed to make it clear.

Eventually, things did resolve, and not in the way I wanted or expected. But Heavenly Father did reassure me that things would be made right—no indication of when, but just that they would. I felt, with calm and peaceful certainty, that I could set this experience aside. I was, and am, grateful for the gift of peace and rest as described by President Russell M. Nelson, that I was given.

Life can and will have hard things. Daily communing with God through prayer will bring the Atoning power of Christ into our lives enabling us to make all our experiences, both joyful and sad, be to our benefit. As we begin a new year, we can choose daily, or by the hour, to live prayerful, Christ-centered lives, extending grace to ourselves and others on our journey to being who we were gloriously meant to be.

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