What should prayer truly look like?

September 7-13

If you prefer to listen over reading an article, keep an eye on A Balanced Saint of Mind on YouTube. I post video versions of my blog posts on my channel. The video versions are often posted a little later than the written blog posts.

Okay so we have reached the third book of Nephi in The Book of Mormon this week, and what’s happening? Well what we’re looking at immediately in the beginning of these chapters is a difficult situation for the people of God. About five years back, Samuel prophesied that the Lord would be born and a sign would be given regarding His birth. The sign was to be a day, a night, and a day with no darkness. Some argued that the timing for the sign had passed and that the believers were wrong. There were some people who were so corrupt that they decided to kill anyone who had believed in the sign if the sign did not appear by a certain day. 

Nephi was the leader at that period of time, and this is not to be confused with the Nephi we spoke about last time who told the people about the murder of the chief judge as well as revealed the murderer. This is that guy’s son. His name is also Nephi.

So let’s look at how Nephi responded. 3 Nephi 1:11-13.

11 And it came to pass that he went out and bowed himself down upon the earth, and cried mightily to his God in behalf of his people, yea, those who were about to be destroyed because of their faith in the tradition of their fathers.

12 And it came to pass that he cried mightily unto the Lord all that day; and behold, the voice of the Lord came unto him, saying:

13 Lift up your head and be of good cheer; for behold, the time is at hand, and on this night shall the sign be given, and on the morrow come I into the world, to show unto the world that I will fulfil all that which I have caused to be spoken by the mouth of my holy prophets.

So Nephi prayed. His loved ones had been backed into a corner, and more than likely, he did not have the power to deliver them. So he prayed. 

Now here are some of the things that I find interesting about this story. It says that Nephi cried mightily all day and the voice of the Lord came to him, testifying that the sign would come that night. So what’s so interesting about this? The sign would have come regardless of Nephi’s prayers. It had been prophesied, and the date had already been set. The Lord would have been born that night, and yet, the Lord let Nephi pray for the entire day before giving him that answer. Why did Nephi pray all day to receive an answer that the Lord was already going to give, and what does it teach us about prayer?

One of my favorite places to learn about prayer is in the bible dictionary. So here’s some stuff from the bible dictionary:

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.”

When Nephi first knelt in prayer, how do you think he might have sounded? Since we don’t know exactly how Nephi was feeling, perhaps we should picture how our prayers might have sounded. How desperate would we sound if we and our families and our friends had been gathered together to be slaughtered for our beliefs? How would your prayers sound as you thought of your poor children? I don’t know about you, but I think my prayers would have at least started out immensely frantic. 

When an answer didn’t immediately come, maybe I would have prayed all the more frantically, begging God to pour out a miracle and free us from those who would hurt us. I would have asked for that miracle in any combination of words I could recall from my vocabulary.

When still no answer came, perhaps I would have resorted to showing God how grateful I was for past miracles and blessings. Perhaps, if I was grateful enough, He would be willing to grant me some miracle. I would have thanked Him for a righteous father and uncle, and I would have thanked Him for the miracles and signs I had already seen. I might thank Him that Christ was coming into the world at all.

And even though I had started my list of gratitude in hopes that God would approve of me and grant some miracle, the real miracle would have started to occur within me. As I took time to consciously reflect on past miracles and blessings, I would have found humility. I would have remembered that God had delivered people from even scarier circumstances. I would have changed from frantic to reverent. I might have still felt sorrow for what was occurring, but I would have found some level of acceptance as I quietly remembered God’s goodness and care and power.

So as I prayed, I changed. My will started to bend to His. That result is FAR more important than Nephi being delivered physically.

“The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”

There are two ways we can talk about this particular teaching from the bible dictionary. I believe there are times when God does require us to specifically ask Him before He’s willing to grant certain blessings. However, I also believe there are times that blessings come even when we haven’t specifically asked for it. Heavenly Father blesses all of His children regardless of whether they pray, and so I believe there are times when He blesses us even if we haven’t asked for it specifically.

So in the case of Nephi. God was going to send Christ that night regardless of whether Nephi had prayed for it. I suppose God knew Nephi would pray for it so He somehow influenced the wicked people to choose that particular time to put the people of God to death, but…perhaps this was also just not one of those circumstances where a prayer was required to receive the blessing. So why did Nephi pray so hard? Or a better question, why did the Lord require Nephi to pray so hard before answering him?

Well imagine how the sign of Christ’s birth might have hit differently because Nephi had been praying all day. 

Just a chapter ago, we read of how a majority of the people rejected the signs and miracles they had already seen, and if you keep reading in chapter 1, we read…

22 And it came to pass that from this time forth there began to be lyings sent forth among the people, by Satan, to harden their hearts, to the intent that they might not believe in those signs and wonders which they had seen; but notwithstanding these lyings and deceivings the more part of the people did believe, and were converted unto the Lord.

Most people believed, but there were some who didn’t even though they saw the sign! I’m sure Nephi would have believed the sign even if he hadn’t spent his entire day praying, but that prayer did change him. How do I know it? Because I’ve seen it occur in my own life. I get so much more out of general conference than sacrament meeting, and it’s not just because the speakers are different. It’s because I’m different. I’m listening intently and trying to soak it up. I’ve prepared for it. We could receive that kind of revelation all the time if we would just prepare ourselves to do so. Nephi had spent the entire day in prayer and so he was more in tune with the spirit when that miracle came. 

Once again, Heavenly Father may have delivered His people but one of the biggest miracles that day was the change that occurred in Nephi.

“Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”

Now I can’t imagine how hard it was to pray for the entire day. Do we know that Nephi was kneeling all day? Not really. Perhaps he only knelt in the beginning but spent the rest of his day doing different things but constantly praying in his heart. Regardless, it takes a lot of mental and spiritual effort to pray for an entire day. 

Now there is another implication from this teaching that I want to talk about. Blessing require effort on our part, and prayer can be one of those efforts. Did Heavenly Father make Nephi pray all day because Nephi was wicked or not doing enough or failing somehow? No. Nephi was a good and righteous man.

And yet, do we ever ask that of ourselves? Do we pray and pray and pray for answers or guidance or specific blessings and feel that they never come? Do we believe it’s because of some unworthiness on our part? While it could be because of unworthiness (I don’t know your situation), remember that even a righteous leader of God had to put in immense amounts of effort for his answer. Do you think he was only praying about this for one day? I sincerely doubt it. He probably knew that trouble was brewing for a long time before the non-believers came out with their death decree, and I believe that Nephi had been praying about it for a long time before.

Big answers and blessings require big effort. Perhaps you’re still putting in your time. Or perhaps there’s another reason…

“We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ — when His words abide in us. We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they in no way represent his mind, but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart.”

Praying in the name of our Savior goes far beyond the formality of closing in His name. The entire prayer needs to be in His name, and the only way to accomplish that is if we are praying for the things He wants us to pray for. 

Sounds interesting, right? We are often taught to pray for things we need, and so we do. However, God knows our legitimate needs far better than we do which is why prayers should be just as much (if not more) about listening than it is about talking. The purpose of prayer is to align ourselves with God, with the mind of Christ, not to simply ask for what we think we need. Prayer is not about thanking Him and receiving blessings. Prayer is about us changing. 

We are speaking with our Father, and our time is much better spent listening to Him than it is to tell Him how things should be in our lives. 

Perhaps Nephi for the first half of the day was simply pleading over and over, “Deliver us. Please deliver us. Help me know how to deliver us. Help me know how to fight back or how to escape. Deliver us.” Perhaps it took him a while to change and realize that God had a much better plan in mind. 

Perhaps our prayers often sound like, “I really need this. Please give this to me. I could really use this blessing. This is so hard; please take it away.” But God often has a different answer and just like He did in The Book of Mormon, it often comes in the form of sending His Son in one way or another. 

Prayer is a tool for change. How should our prayers look different knowing these things?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s