Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Church of Jesus Christ in Former Times

I taught this lesson in a Sunday school class today and I thought it was such a great lesson that I wanted to share it here.  This is chapter 16 of our church's manual "Gospel Principles".  I think that these scripture links work if you want to read the scriptures that go along with the lesson.  Basically, this lesson identifies 6 characteristics of the church that Jesus Christ established during His life here on Earth.  It mentions:  revelation, authority from God, the church organization,  the first principles and ordinances of the gospel, ordinances performed for the dead, and spiritual gifts.  I have removed notes that were designed for teachers use.  I hope you will enjoy this as much as I did.

Chapter 16: The Church of Jesus Christ in Former Times

Gospel Principles, (2011), 87–93

Some Features That Identify the Church of Jesus Christ

“We believe in the same organization that existed in the Primitive Church, namely, apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists, and so forth” (Articles of Faith 1:6).
Jesus established His Church when He was on the earth. It was called the Church of Jesus Christ (see 3 Nephi 27:8), and the members were called Saints (see Ephesians 2:19–20).


When Jesus established His Church, He personally instructed and directed its leaders. He, in turn, received His instructions from His Father in Heaven. (See Hebrews 1:1–2.) Thus the Church of Jesus Christ was directed by God and not by men. Jesus taught His followers that revelation was the “rock” upon which He would build His Church (see Matthew 16:16–18).
Before Jesus ascended into heaven after His Resurrection, He told His Apostles, “I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). True to His word, He continued to guide them from heaven. He sent the Holy Ghost to be a comforter and a revelator to them (see Luke 12:12; John 14:26). He spoke to Saul in a vision (see Acts 9:3–6). He revealed to Peter that the gospel should be taught not only to the Jews but to the whole world (see Acts 10). He revealed many glorious truths to John, which are written in the book of Revelation. The New Testament records many other ways in which Jesus revealed His will to guide His Church and enlighten His disciples.

Authority from God

The ordinances and principles of the gospel cannot be administered and taught without the priesthood. The Father gave this authority to Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 5:4–6), who in turn ordained His Apostles and gave them the power and authority of the priesthood (see Luke 9:1–2; Mark 3:14). He reminded them, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you” (John 15:16).
That there might be order in His Church, Jesus gave the greatest responsibility and authority to the Twelve Apostles. He appointed Peter chief Apostle and gave him the keys to seal blessings both on earth and in heaven (see Matthew 16:19). Jesus also ordained other officers with specific duties to perform. After He ascended into heaven, the pattern of appointment and ordination was continued. Others were ordained to the priesthood by those who had already received that authority. Jesus made it known through the Holy Ghost that He approved of those ordinations (see Acts 1:24).

The Church Organization

The Church of Jesus Christ was a carefully organized unit. It was compared to a building that was “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).
Jesus appointed other priesthood leaders to assist the Apostles in the work of the ministry. He sent officers called Seventies in pairs to preach the gospel (see Luke 10:1). Other officers in the Church were evangelists (patriarchs), pastors (presiding leaders), high priests, elders, bishops, priests, teachers, and deacons (see chapter 14 in this book). These officers were all necessary to do missionary work, perform ordinances, and instruct and inspire Church members. These officers helped the members come to a “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God” (Ephesians 4:13).
The Bible does not tell us everything about the priesthood or the organization and government of the Church. However, enough of the Bible has been preserved to show the beauty and perfection of the Church organization. The Apostles were commanded to go into all the world and preach (see Matthew 28:19–20). They could not stay in any one city to supervise new converts. Therefore, local priesthood leaders were called and ordained, and the Apostles presided over them. The Apostles and other Church leaders visited and wrote letters to the various branches. Thus, our New Testament contains letters written by Paul, Peter, James, John, and Jude, giving counsel and instruction to the local priesthood leaders.
The New Testament shows that this Church organization was intended to continue. For example, the death of Judas left only eleven Apostles. Soon after Jesus had ascended into heaven, the eleven Apostles met together to choose someone to take the place of Judas. Through revelation from the Holy Ghost, they chose Matthias. (See Acts 1:23–26.) Jesus had set a pattern for twelve Apostles to govern the Church. It seemed clear that the organization was to continue as He had established it.

First Principles and Ordinances

The Apostles taught two basic principles: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and repentance. After new converts had faith in Jesus Christ as the Son of God and their Redeemer and had repented of their sins, they received two ordinances: baptism by immersion and the laying on of hands for the gift of the Holy Ghost (see Acts 19:1–6). These were the first principles and ordinances of the gospel. Jesus had taught, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).

Ordinances Performed for the Dead

Jesus has provided for everyone to hear the gospel, whether on earth or after death. Between His death and Resurrection, Jesus went among the spirits of those who had died. He organized missionary work among those who were dead. He appointed righteous messengers and gave them power to teach the gospel to all the spirits of people who had died. This gave them an opportunity to accept the gospel. (See 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6; D&C 138.) Living members of His Church then performed ordinances in behalf of the dead (see 1 Corinthians 15:29). Ordinances such as baptism and confirmation must be done on earth.

Spiritual Gifts

All faithful members of the Church were entitled to receive gifts of the Spirit. These were given to them according to their individual needs, capacities, and assignments. Some of these gifts were faith, including the power to heal and to be healed; prophecy; and visions. (The gifts of the Spirit are discussed in more detail in chapter 22.) Spiritual gifts always exist in the true Church of Jesus Christ (see 1 Corinthians 12:4–11; Moroni 10:8–18; D&C 46:8–29). Jesus told His disciples that these signs or spiritual gifts always follow them that believe (see Mark 16:17–18). Many of His disciples performed miracles, prophesied, or beheld visions through the power of the Holy Ghost.
  • Why does the Church of Jesus Christ need these six features?

The Church of Jesus Christ in the Americas

After Jesus was resurrected, He visited the people in the Americas and organized His Church among them, teaching the people for three days and then returning often for some time thereafter (see 3 Nephi 11–28). Then He left them and ascended into heaven. For over 200 years they lived righteously and were among the happiest people whom God had created (see 4 Nephi 1:16).

Apostasy from the True Church

  • What does the term apostasy mean?
Throughout history, evil people have tried to destroy the work of God. This happened while the Apostles were still alive and supervising the young, growing Church. Some members taught ideas from their old pagan or Jewish beliefs instead of the simple truths taught by Jesus. Some rebelled openly. In addition, there was persecution from outside the Church. Church members were tortured and killed for their beliefs. One by one, the Apostles were killed or otherwise taken from the earth. Because of wickedness and apostasy, the apostolic authority and priesthood keys were also taken from the earth. The organization that Jesus Christ had established no longer existed, and confusion resulted. More and more error crept into Church doctrine, and soon the dissolution of the Church was complete. The period of time when the true Church no longer existed on earth is called the Great Apostasy.
Soon pagan beliefs dominated the thinking of those called Christians. The Roman emperor adopted this false Christianity as the state religion. This church was very different from the church Jesus organized. It taught that God was a being without form or substance.
These people lost the understanding of God’s love for us. They did not know that we are His children. They did not understand the purpose of life. Many of the ordinances were changed because the priesthood and revelation were no longer on the earth.
The emperor chose his own leaders and sometimes called them by the same titles used by priesthood leaders in the true Church of Christ. There were no Apostles or other priesthood leaders with power from God, and there were no spiritual gifts. The prophet Isaiah had foreseen this condition, prophesying, “The earth also is defiled under the inhabitants thereof; because they have transgressed the laws, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant” (Isaiah 24:5). It was the Church of Jesus Christ no longer; it was a church of men. Even the name had been changed. In the Americas, apostasy also occurred (see 4 Nephi).

A Restoration Foretold

  • What prophecies in the Old and New Testaments foretold the Restoration?
God had foreseen the Apostasy and prepared for the gospel to be restored. The Apostle Peter spoke of this to the Jews: “He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began” (Acts 3:20–21).
John the Revelator had also foreseen the time when the gospel would be restored. He said, “I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people” (Revelation 14:6).
  • Why was the Restoration necessary?
  • Consider the blessings that have come to you because the Church of Jesus Christ has been restored to the earth.

Additional Scriptures

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Combatting Worldly Philosophies

A friend shared this link with me the other day, and I found this talk by Gerald N. Lund to be fantastic! The basis for this article comes from an account in the Book of Mormon of an anti-Christ that came among the people, preaching against the church.  His name was Korihor, and the account can be found in Alma chapter 30: 6-60.  If you are unfamiliar with the account, you may want to click on the link and read it before reading this talk.  But I highly recommend this talk because it is applicable to our world today, and the trend toward athiesm which is taught by many educators.

Countering Korihor’s Philosophy

by Gerald N. Lund July 1992 Ensign

President Ezra Taft Benson has often reminded us that all of the major Book of Mormon writers said they were writing for our day. Consequently, “we should constantly ask ourselves, ‘Why did the Lord inspire Mormon (or Moroni or Alma) to include that in his record? What lesson can I learn from that to help me live in this day and age?’” (Ensign, Jan. 1992, p. 5.)
In Alma 30, Mormon gives a lengthy account of a man he calls “Anti-Christ” (Alma 30:6), including a detailed summary of his false teachings. Using President Benson’s guideline, let us examine the story of Korihor to see why Mormon felt it important to tell us his story.
First, though, it will help to look at some philosophical terms used by contemporary philosophers. Doing so will help us see the deviousness—and the attractiveness to the carnal mind—of Korihor’s teachings (which were Satan’s teachings).
Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of reality. It tries to answer the question “What is real?” The question of whether there is a God and a spiritual world beyond the natural world we know is a metaphysical question. Though today we often use the word supernatural in a more limited sense, originally it referred to a world higher, or above, the one we see and experience with our physical senses.
The second area of philosophy we will consider is axiology. Axiology is the study of ethics and values. It wrestles with such questions as “What is good?” “What is ethical?” “What are right and wrong?”
A third branch of philosophy is epistemology. Epistemology is the study of how we know what is real or true. There are numerous epistemological systems. Some apply directly to what Korihor was teaching the Nephites:
Authoritarianism is the system by which truth is learned from those who are authorities or experts. We trust learned men or women, such as parents, teachers, religious leaders, and consultants, to give us truth in their areas of expertise.
Rationalism refers to gaining truth through logic. In rationalism we ask, “Does it make sense? Is it logical?”
Pragmatism determines whether something works. The business world is often pragmatically oriented, focusing on whether a new product or marketing strategy actually produces the desired results. If it works, it is valid; if it doesn’t, it is rejected.
Empiricism uses observation or personal experience to arrive at truth. This knowledge is gathered primarily through the senses—through what one sees, touches, hears, smells, and tastes.
Which of these systems do Latter-day Saints subscribe to? The answer, of course, is all of them. But we also rely on another way of knowing truth: divine revelation. In this method, truth comes either directly from God or indirectly through his prophets.
Whether he recognizes it or not, every person holds to a metaphysical position, trusts in at least one system of epistemology, and holds a personal axiology or set of values and ethics. Furthermore, these three areas of our own philosophy are interrelated. Our metaphysics (our view of reality) influences our epistemology (the way we gain knowledge), and together the two determine our axiology (our values).
Let’s suppose, for example, that a person like Korihor rejects the idea that there is a spiritual dimension to life. That metaphysical position automatically determines what that person will accept as truth. Revelation is rejected because the reality of God is rejected. Deciding what is good and bad, therefore, will not be dependent on any set of God-given laws or fear of eternal consequences.
This was Korihor’s fundamental lie.

Korihor’s Corollaries

Like any philosophical system, Korihor’s doctrine had metaphysical, epistemological, and axiological aspects. Together, they enabled him to convince many to reject the traditional values taught by the Church.
For example, Korihor’s argument that “ye cannot know of things which ye do not see” (Alma 30:15) reveals his epistemology—his system of determining truth—to be primarily empirical, or based on observation and use of the senses. (See chart 1.) However, the Apostle Paul says, “Faith is … the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1; italics added.) Korihor’s stance, however, is, “If you can’t see it, you can’t know it.” He therefore rejects prophecy because prophecy deals with the future, and you cannot “see,” or experience, the future with the physical senses. Consequently, all talk of a future Savior and redemption is to be rejected on principle.
There are a number of corollaries, or inferences, that flow out of Korihor’s fundamental philosophy. The first of these is revealed when Korihor is arrested and taken before Giddonah, the high priest. Giddonah demands to know why, if Korihor is correct in what he said, the people find so much joy in their religious experience. (See Alma 30:22.)
Korihor’s answer goes something like this (see Alma 30:23–28): There are two explanations for why people believe in religion. First, they have been indoctrinated by their parents (the “foolish traditions” of the fathers), and second, they have been deceived by religious leaders whose motives are personal gain—money and/or power. Further, Korihor’s philosophy—expressed in his teaching to the people—is that this indoctrination of the people brings psychological abnormalities—“derangement” or a “frenzied mind.” (Alma 30:16.) Since there is no God and since religion is a farce, Korihor concludes, we can live as we please without fear of eternal consequences.
Giddonah decides that Korihor’s case warrants the full attention of Alma, so Korihor is taken to Alma in Zarahemla. It doesn’t take Alma long to determine the ultimate source of Korihor’s teachings. “The devil has power over you,” he says to Korihor, “and he doth carry you about, working devices that he may destroy the children of God.” (Alma 30:42.) Later, after Korihor is struck dumb, he confirms Alma’s words. “The devil hath deceived me,” he admits, “for he appeared unto me in the form of an angel, … and he taught me that which I should say.” (Alma 30:53.)
Why would Satan care about such things as our view of metaphysics and epistemology? Because if he can shape our views on those issues, then those views provide a basis, as Alma declares, to “destroy the children of God.” (Alma 30:42.) The philosophy Satan taught Korihor is a rational system. It is not true, but it is rational! If we accept the assumption that there is no super-natural reality, then it logically follows that there is no God. If that is the case, then man is the supreme being. It also follows that if there are no eternal realities, then there are no eternal consequences for man’s actions. Korihor’s reasoning is that man himself determines what is right and wrong, not some set of rules laid down by a group of phony religious leaders claiming to speak for a God who doesn’t exist.
This is the heart of Korihor’s doctrine. By preaching his false philosophies, Korihor accomplishes Satan’s designs in grand fashion. Note Mormon’s description of the end result of his teachings: “And thus he did preach unto them, leading away the hearts of many, causing them to lift up their heads in their wickedness, yea, leading away many women, and also men, to commit whoredoms.” (Alma 30:18.)
What a victory for Satan! This is not just wickedness. The people are proud in their wickedness! And why shouldn’t they be? Korihor has convinced them that there is no God and no ultimate right and wrong. All the “psychological hangups” they feel—guilt, shame—are simply the result of the foolish teachings of ignorant parents or self-serving religious leaders.

Korihor Today

President Ezra Taft Benson has taught that “the Book of Mormon exposes the enemies of Christ. It confounds false doctrines and lays down contention. (See 2 Ne. 3:12.) It fortifies the humble followers of Christ against the evil designs, strategies, and doctrines of the devil in our day. The type of apostates in the Book of Mormon are similar to the type we have today. God, with his infinite foreknowledge, so molded the Book of Mormon that we might see the error and know how to combat false educational, political, religious, and philosophical concepts of our time.” (Ensign, Jan. 1988, p. 3.)
Today, the world is permeated with philosophies similar to those taught by Korihor. We read them in books, see them championed in the movies and on television, and hear them taught in classrooms and sometimes in the churches of our time. Note just a few examples drawn from modern writings:
“We believe that traditional dogmatic or authoritarian religions that place revelation, God, ritual, or creed above human needs and experience do a disservice to the human species. … Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities. … Too often traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence.” (“Humanist Manifesto II,” The Humanist, Sept./Oct. 1973, pp. 5–6; compare Alma 30:14, 16, 27–28.)
“We can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. … No deity will save us; we must save ourselves. Promises of immortal salvation or fear of eternal damnation are both illusory and harmful. They distract humans from present concerns, from self-actualization, and from rectifying social injustices.” (Ibid; compare Alma 30:18, 23–24, 27–28.)
“Science affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces. As far as we know, the total personality is a function of the biological organism transacting in a social and cultural context.” (Ibid; compare Alma 30:17.)
“Whether we ought to follow a moral principle or not would always depend upon the situation. … In some situations unmarried love could be infinitely more moral than married unlove. Lying could be more Christian than telling the truth. … Stealing could be better than respecting private property. … No action is good or right of itself. It depends on whether it hurts or helps. … There are no normative moral principles whatsoever which are intrinsically valid or universally obliging. We may not absolutize the norms of human conduct.” (Situation Ethics: True or False? A Dialogue between Joseph Fletcher and John Warwick Montgomery, Minneapolis, Minn.: Dimension Books, 1972, back cover. Compare Alma 30:17.)
Here we see clear evidence of Mormon’s inspiration to give us a full account of Korihor and his teachings. Korihor’s teachings are old doctrine, and yet they are ideas as modern as today’s high-speed printing presses and satellite dishes.

A Prophet’s Answer

So how do we deal with these false philosophies? Fortunately, Mormon not only gave us Korihor’s doctrines, he also gave us an inspired answer to them. This is the real value of the Korihor account.
The first thing to note is that Alma does not get into philosophical debate with Korihor. He doesn’t allow himself to be pulled onto the ground that Korihor tries to define as the area of debate. There is a great lesson in that. We combat false philosophies with revelation and true doctrine, not academic debate.
Second, Alma exposes Korihor for what he is. (See chart 2 for a summary of how Alma dealt with Korihor.) In effect, Alma says to Korihor: “You know that we don’t profit from our service in the Church, but you say we glut ourselves on the labor of the people. Therefore I say you deliberately twist the truth.” It all comes down to one irrefutable conclusion: Korihor is a liar.
But there is more to Alma’s answer than that. Alma takes Korihor’s own philosophy and catches him in a trap of his own making. Korihor teaches that we can know only what we can see. (See Alma 30:15.) But when questioned, Korihor categorically denies that he believes there is a God. Alma then asks, “What evidence have ye that there is no God, or that Christ cometh not? I say unto you that ye have none, save it be your word only.” (Alma 30:40.)
It is an inspired insight on Alma’s part. Korihor is not consistent in his own thinking. If we truly can know only those things for which we have empirical evidence, then we cannot teach there is no God unless we have evidence for that belief. And Korihor has no evidence.
Korihor will consider only evidence that can be gathered through the senses. In such a system, it is much easier to prove there is a God than to prove there is not a God. To prove there is a God, all it takes is for one person to see, hear, or otherwise have an experience with God, and thereafter the existence of God cannot be disproved. But here is what it would take to prove there is no God: Since God is not confined to this earth, we would have to search throughout the universe for him. We assume God is able to move about, so it would not be enough to start at point A in the universe and search through to point Z. What if after we leave point A, God moves there and stays there for the rest of the search?
In other words, for Korihor to say that there is no God, based on the very criteria he himself has established, he would have to perceive every cubic meter of the universe simultaneously. This creates a paradox: In order for Korihor to prove there is no God, he would have to be a god himself! Therefore, in declaring there is no God, he is acting on “faith,” the very thing for which he so sharply derides the religious leaders!
No wonder Mormon chose to detail the story of Korihor. It teaches a great lesson for our day. No matter how clever, how sophisticated the philosophies of an anti-Christ may seem, they are not true. They are riddled with contradictions, errors, and false assumptions. The gospel, on the other hand, is truth—truth that has stood the test of centuries, truth that can withstand rational examination, truth that is pragmatic and practical, truth that can be confirmed through personal experience. A believer need not apologize for his or her beliefs, for these beliefs withstand every scrutiny much more efficiently than do the doctrines of Satan.

A Final, Tragic Lesson

There is another lesson that Mormon draws from the story of Korihor. After Korihor is confounded by Alma, he demands a sign before he will believe. Korihor receives his sign—he is struck dumb, and evidently deaf as well. (See Alma 30:51.) In that pitiable state, Korihor resorts to begging for his livelihood. He finally goes among a people called the Zoramites, and there he is “run upon and trodden down” until he dies. (Alma 30:59.)
Mormon summarizes the lesson he wants us to learn: “And thus we see the end of him who perverteth the ways of the Lord; and thus we see that the devil will not support his children at the last day, but doth speedily drag them down to hell.” (Alma 30:60.) How unlike God and his dealings with his children!
Another lesson to be learned from Korihor is found in the following chapter, after Mormon finishes telling the story of Korihor. In Alma 31, Mormon begins the account of a missionary effort among the Zoramites. Alma, two of his sons, and the sons of Mosiah go to the land of Antionum to try to reclaim the apostate Zoramites.
Remembering that it was the Zoramites who killed Korihor, note the following phrases from Alma 31 that describe their beliefs:
  • They “had fallen into great errors.” (Alma 31:9.)
  • They had rejected traditions that they felt were “handed down … by the childishness of their fathers.” (Alma 31:16.)
  • They did not want to be “led away after the foolish traditions of our brethren,” which they believed did “bind them down to a belief in Christ.” (Alma 31:17.)
  • They refused “to believe in things to come, which they knew nothing about.” (Alma 31:22.)
Familiar echoes? Indeed. The Zoramites represent the end product of Korihor’s own philosophy. How ironic that Korihor should meet his death at the hands of a people who practiced what he preached!
Korihor’s teachings were based on lies. Indeed, Korihor himself confessed this when he wrote, after he had been stricken dumb, that he “always knew there was a God.” (Alma 30:52.) Yet Korihor had tried to teach people that happiness is to be found independent of God and the gospel. The Book of Mormon shows that this is not possible. The philosophy Korihor taught, so pervasive among us today, leads to a dead end. This is undoubtedly why, under the power of inspiration, Mormon gave his detailed account of Korihor and his false teachings—so that we today may more easily distinguish between Christ and anti-Christ, between eternal life and spiritual death.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

What of Prayer?

I remember hearing a story about someone who was listening to a church leader pray, and felt so strongly that he was really speaking to God that he had to open his eyes to see if God was there.  Isn't that how we all should pray; as though we are really talking to our Heavenly Father, and as if He were standing in front of us?  That kind of prayer takes faith.  We must believe that God is, and that He cares for us, and listens to our prayers.  That is when our prayers really become efficacious.

Often when I pray, I imagine what it would be like if God really did appear during my prayer.  How would my prayer change?  I think my praying would be much more humble, and be filled with much more gratitude.  I think my prayers would take on an even more respectful tone.  I was taught from an early age to use words such as "Thee", "Thine", and "Thou" instead of "You", "Your", and "Your's".  I often hear people who use "you" in praying, and many say that doing so helps them feel more like God is a friend they can talk to.  While that may be the case, I think there is something to be said for imagining how our language might change if God were truly standing in front of us.  In his January 2006 talk "The Special Language of  Prayer", Elder Dallin H. Oaks said, "President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) said, “In all our prayers, it is well to use the pronouns thee, thou, thy, and thine instead of you, your, and yours inasmuch as they have come to indicate respect..... In our day the words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently, but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed." 

I mentioned that if God were before us, we would feel more humble, and more grateful, but one emotion I didn't mention is repentant.  I think of the Prophet Isaiah who, when he saw God in a vision exclaimed, "Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts."  Isaiah 5:6.  I have always felt that just being in the presence of God made him see his own weaknesses magnified.  Surely we all would shrink before the presence of our maker because of the weaknesses and sins that we harbor. 
("Lady Hamilton praying by George Romney)

As I thought about the purpose of prayer, I thought about how much it should be an opportunity to not simply pray for what we need, or give thanks for what we have, but to spend our time repenting before God!  If He were standing before us while we prayed, I'm sure this would be foremost on our mind.  Ought we not to keep this in mind when we offer our daily prayers?

The Book of Mormon gives us an excellent example of how to pray.  Enos had been raised "in the church", but had gone astray.  But the things his parents had taught him sunk deep in to his soul and he craved a testimony of his own.  He went out to the woods to pray alone.  Here is his account:

"3 Behold, I went to hunt beasts in the forests; and the words which I had often heard my father speak concerning eternal life, and the joy of the saints, sunk deep into my heart.
4 And my soul hungered; 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.

5 And there came a voice unto me, saying: Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.

6 And I, Enos, knew that God could not lie; wherefore, my guilt was swept away.

7 And I said: Lord, how is it done?

8 And he said unto me: Because of thy faith in Christ, whom thou hast never before heard nor seen. And many years pass away before he shall manifest himself in the flesh; wherefore, go to, thy faith hath made thee whole."
After Enos repented of his sins, he began to pray for those who did not have the knowledge of the Savior.  I think this is a good example for us all.  I think we should spend much more of our prayer time repenting, and then pray for those around us. 
I hope this won't sound too "flippant", but there was a time in my life when I was under great stress, and wasn't sleeping well, so would spend my "tossing and turning" time praying for everyone I could think of.  To be plainly honest I must admit that most of the time I fell asleep before I said Amen.  But as time wore on, I began to see those prayers answered!  I really felt a connection between the prayers I said, and the blessings that came.  I really do believe that our prayers on the behalf of others work much good.  God does hear our prayers, and He does answer them upon the heads of those for whom we pray.
I hope that I can increase the quality of my prayers.  I want to spend more of my prayer time repenting.  I want to spend more time in gratitude.  And I want to think more about the needs of others when making requests.  I think that if we increase the quality of our prayers, we too can develop that kind of close relationship with God that makes the hearers believe He is really there.