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.

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