Sometimes I feel that I’m the only one who seems to struggle to get answers to prayers. Then, of course, I get corrected by the scriptures. We are not alone in our struggle. Five individuals in scripture, people like you and me, have also wrestled for answers. These are their stories.
Enos is probably the easiest scriptural character to remember as one who struggled for answers. He only wrote a single chapter in the Book of Mormon, and most of that chapter is dedicated to the life-changing event he had with God through prayer. He opens his record telling us “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins” (Enos 1:2). I highlight the word before to emphasize the work that is involved in prayer.
I’ve always loved the imagery that Enos employed to describe his experience. He depicts that he is out hunting beasts. But who is the real animal that he is seeking to slay? His own fallen nature through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Just as an arrow would sink deep into the heart of a wild beast to slay it, so too did the words of “eternal life, and the joy of the saints, [sink] deep into [his] heart” (Enos 1:3). Just as he had physically hungered for food, he now hungered for the food of eternal life, the fruit of the Atonement, proclaiming “And my soul hungered” (Enos 1:4).
Enos was intent.
Just as he would have labored all day and night to hunt wild beasts, he instead hunted his own soul “and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (Enos 1:4).
What did Enos want? And why?
Enos thought that he wanted a remission of sins. But in the process of discovering the personalized nature of Christ’s Atonement, he was filled with charity, the pure love of Christ, and began desiring that others would taste of the fruit of the Atonement as he had tasted. He prayed for his brethren the Nephites “[pouring] out [his] whole soul unto God for them. . . . struggling in the spirit” (Enos 1:9-10). Eventually, God promised Enos that He would bless the Nephites insofar as they kept the commandments.
The real test came when Enos felt the pure desire to pray for his enemies, the Lamanites, “I prayed unto [God] with many long strugglings for my brethren, the Lamanites. . . . I . . . prayed and labored with all diligence” (Enos 1:11-12).
For his diligence and faith in wrestling with God for answers, Enos won God’s promise to spread the gospel among the Lamanites that they might also taste of the beauty of Jesus’ sacrifice and love.
What promises might we gain if we wrestle with God?
Lesson: Let your wrestling with God bring salvation to you and others through sincere charity.
One of the often-overlooked yet beautifully meaningful scripture stories is that of Hannah, the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel). She was a Sarah figure—barren, hoping to have children that she could teach to follow in the ways of the Lord.
Her righteous desire went unmet for many long decades. Feeling angry and heartbroken, she went before the Lord at the tabernacle (the precursor to the temple) crying for the Lord to hear her. Eli, the temple priest, seeing her emotional state and murmured prayer, accused her of drunkenness. What a kick in the gut! Right when she had given her whole soul over to God regarding the most tender desire of heart, someone who should have loved and supported her made false accusations.
Truly the Lord let Hannah wrestle for her answer. She had to contend with divine disappointment and the arrows of fellow fallen-nature humans.
After years of tears, pleading, and patient earnestness, the Lord granted the answer that she desired. Hannah bore Samuel. And true to her word, she dedicated Samuel to the Lord. Samuel grew up at the tabernacle, under the tutelage of the high priest Eli and became one of the greatest prophets in all of Israel from the time of Moses to the time of Jesus.
Lesson: Endure in pleading patience for the Lord’s answer and be sincere in your promises to God.
The story of Gideon is unexpected, yet his responses are entirely down-to-earth and human. In Judges 6 we learn that the Midianites are oppressing the Israelites because the Israelites have not been faithful to Jehovah. The angel of the Lord (which may be Jehovah himself) comes to Gideon and tells him “The Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valour” (Judges 6:12). But Gideon does not immediately respond in a manner we would think is faithful and trusting:
“Oh my Lord, if the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us? and where be all his miracles which our fathers told us of, saying, Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt? but now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites” (Judges 6:13).
Gideon is human. He’s feeling oppressed by the Midianites, wondering where the hand of God is in his life and in the life of his nation, and he justly asks God for clarification.
God takes no offense at the inquisitive, challenging questions Gideon puts to Him, “And the Lord looked upon him, and said, Go in this thy might, and thou shalt save Israel from the hand of the Midianites: have not I sent thee?” (Judges 6:14).
Still wanting to verbally wrestle with God for more confirmation that God will fulfill His promises, Gideon wonders out loud, “Oh my Lord, wherewith shall I save Israel? behold, my family is poor in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father's house” (Judges 6:15).
God tells Gideon again that He will be with Gideon to overthrow the Midianites.
Gideon persists in challenging God, asking “shew me a sign that thou talkest with me” (Judges 6:17). (Remember that God is appearing to Gideon in the form of an angel and Gideon is not certain who is he is talking to.)
To test God, Gideon presents a sacrificial offering. God (acting as an angel) touches it with His staff causing it to burst into consuming flames. Gideon now believes that he has spoken with God himself and he acts on the counsel given him of God.
Lest we think that Gideon has now achieved some super-human spiritual status, however, he soon tests God several more times in, seeking confirming reassurances that God is truly with him (see Judges 6).
Gideon wrestled with God in a straightforward, honest manner. When Gideon learned, through multiple tests of questions to God that God would be faithful to His word, Gideon humbled himself and obeyed the specific directions God had given him. God honored Gideon’s faithful doubting, tests, and questions.
Lesson: Challenge and question God when you don’t understand or need confirmation of His presence; He is faithful and will respond to faithful inquiries.
Job’s story is both beautiful and perplexing. We may feel inspired to faithfulness, like Job, who had lost all was still willing to praise the Lord. We may rejoice that all that he had lost was restored to him and magnified. We may feel hopeful, too, that in our own suffering, after the trial of our faith, God will restore to us all that we have lost.
For the beauty of how the story of Job ends, we may find ourselves perplexed that God never answered Job’s most desperate question, “Why me?” This question, persistently asked by Job throughout his story is never fully answered, at least not in a way that many of us feel satisfied by. We often want neat, tidy answers that leave no questions, that leave no loose ends, that make everything “happily ever after.”
Sometimes there isn’t an immediate “happily ever after” in this life. Sometimes God chooses not to answer our prayers, our cries, our wrestling. Sometimes His response to us when we ache with the question “why me?” is what he told Job,
“Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding….Hast thou an arm [of strength] like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?....Canst thou draw out leviathan with an hook? or his tongue with a cord which thou lettest down?....Then Job answered the Lord, and said, I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee. Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not” (Job 38:4; 40:9; 41:1; 42:1-3).
Translation: Job! I am God. I have my reasons for why everything happens. But I do not owe you an explanation. Can you do the acts of God? Can you fully comprehend all of God’s works? No.
Job understood his position and his relation to God and that he may never fully fathom in this life all the reasons for God letting life happen the way it does. Job concluded, “I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”
Lesson: Sometimes the answer is that there is no answer or that we would not understand it. Sometimes we must move forward in faith.
Nephi shares several stories of his father, Lehi, receiving answers to prayer. But the spiritual life for Lehi was not a life of ease. He labored and struggled to have revelation, to be led to the light. Consider Lehi’s dream.
“And it came to pass that I saw a man, and he was dressed in a white robe; and he came and stood before me. And it came to pass that he spake unto me, and bade me follow him. And it came to pass that as I followed him I beheld myself that I was in a dark and dreary waste” (1 Nephi 8:5-7).
We may be so familiar with the saving grace found in the story of Lehi’s dream that we miss this stunning reality: Lehi followed a personage in white robe who led Lehi into a dark and dreary waste and then left him utterly alone.
Wait! I thought that if we followed God’s servants that we’d find ongoing peace, happiness, and prosperity. How can it be that following God would lead me into suffering, trial, difficulty, despondency, and despair?
We can learn from Lehi, who pressed forward in faith despite the encroaching and discouraging darkness, “And after I had traveled for the space of many hours in darkness, I began to pray unto the Lord that he would have mercy on me, according to the multitude of his tender mercies” (1 Nephi 8:8).
Though Lehi labored for hours alone, perhaps forgetting about the power of prayer momentarily, when he did remember to pray, Lehi didn’t blame God for his trials, didn’t shake his fist to heaven and shout “You did this to me!” Instead, Lehi remembered the multitude of the Lord’s tender mercies. He let those truths wash over him. God answered his prayer and eventually led him to the tree whose beauty is beyond description and whose fruit, which represents the Atonement of Jesus Christ, is the sweetest thing we can ever experience.
Prayer comes in many forms. Our lives encounter so many varied scenarios. The scriptures provide templates for how to seek after the Lord, how to persist, and how to have faith when we receive, or do not receive, the expected answers to our wrestlings. But the reward for patiently wrestling with things we do not understand leads to an increased understanding of God’s love and a stronger relationship with Him.