I have been asked a few times by theists and atheists alike what purpose prayer serves. One harsher critic advised that he prayed every day for a month and found that it had no effect on his life compared to months when he did not pray. None of his requests were answered, and he found no measurable change in his emotional or spiritual health. Softer critics ask why is it that they plead with God and seem to get no answer, or why is it that they have to plead at all? Why does God require us to beg him for what he should just provide as a loving Father in Heaven?
Prayer, essentially, is how we communicate with our Heavenly Father. We are commanded to pray in order to learn Gods language, his method of communication. Prayer is a language and as with all languages, it takes practice; the problem is, it is not a spoken language.
Words are a vehicle we mortals use to communicate our thoughts and feelings; although prayers are often spoken, words are not the language of prayer. The language of prayer is spirit communicating directly to spirit. God speaks directly to our heart and mind through impressions and feelings. When we communicate through more traditional languages, we require our eyes and ears to be clear, Gods language require our heart and mind to be clear. The problem with the atheist was that he assumed that his spoken words were all that were required.
Practice Makes Perfect
God wants us to be like Him so He has given us various exercises that train us to live the lifestyle of heaven. We are not begging to an all-powerful egomaniac, rather we use prayer as one technique to learn how to communicate with Him so that we will be able to speak the language of heaven. I quote this verse a lot, but it applies very well to this discussion. In Revelation 3:30 we learn that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, and those who open the door may enter and sup with him.
In other words, He is waiting to give us all we need, we must simply learn how to open the door. Imagine a giant conduit that runs from your bedside all the way up to Gods throne. He is up in heaven pouring out answers and blessings, but they get jammed up downbelow because we either have not opened up the conduit before we prayed, or we have stuffed it full of obstacles that prevent the blessings and answers from reaching us.
LDS apostle Quintin L Cook put it in these terms:
When we watch a great athletic or musical performance, we often say that the person is very gifted, which is usually true. But the performance is based upon years of preparation and practice. One well-known writer, Malcolm Gladwell, has called this the 10,000-hour rule. Researchers have determined that this amount of practice is necessary in athletics, musical performance, academic proficiency, specialized work skills, medical or legal expertise, and so on. One of these research experts asserts “that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert—in anything.”
Most people recognize that to obtain peak physical and mental performance, such preparation and practice are essential.
Unfortunately, in an increasingly secular world, less emphasis is placed on the amount of spiritual growth necessary to become more Christlike and establish the foundations that lead to enduring faith. We tend to emphasize moments of sublime spiritual understanding. These are precious instances when we know the Holy Ghost has witnessed special spiritual insights to our hearts and minds… But for enduring faith and to have the constant companionship of the Spirit, there is no substitute for the individual religious observance that is comparable to physical and mental development. We should build on these experiences, which sometimes resemble initial baby steps.
Just as repetition and consistent effort are required to gain physical or mental capacity, the same is true in spiritual matters.
Foundations of Faith, April 2017 General Conference
Apostle Robert Hales provides further council:
Disciples live so that the characteristics of Christ are woven into the fiber of their beings, as into a spiritual tapestry…Listen to the Apostle Peter’s invitation to become a disciple of the Savior: “Giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; “And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; “And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity.”1
As you can see, weaving the spiritual tapestry of personal discipleship requires more than a single thread…The attributes of the Savior, as we perceive them, are not a script to be followed or list to be checked off. They are interwoven characteristics, added one to another, which develop in us in interactive ways.
Becoming a Disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ April 2017 General Conference
Still Small Voice
Personal revelation is referred to in scripture as the still small voice. This description helps us understand the condition we need to be in to hear it. We need to be still, quite, and gentle. In 1 Kings 19:12, Elijah just completed performing a miracle that, in his eyes, should have convinced all in Israel to abandon their pagan ways and follow the true Jehovah. When pleading to God asking why his message was rejected despite the miraculous circumstances, Elijah was told that God is not in the wind, in the fire or in the earthquakes but in the still small voice. Miracles do not convert, skilled and eloquent oratorios do not convert, but only the reception of communication from the Holy Ghost converts.
I don’t’ want to turn this into a preachy sermon, this is not the point of my blog. I want to focus on the mechanics of how this is achieved.
The debris that blocks spiritual communication is sin. The expression ‘no unclean thing can enter the kingdom of heaven’ is not a threat, but a description of the nature of the place. I suspect that when we all enter heaven, some of us will have no idea what is going on because we did not learn the language; ergo the purpose of the commandments. This is why some are dammed and some are not. They failed to prepare for the opportunity that heaven has in store. We need to harness the natural man and excise impure thoughts. We need to be filled with love for all people, our enemies as much as our friends. Repentance then is a tool God has given us to perfect ourselves so that we can more readily receive revelation. They come hand in hand like a ‘spiritual tapestry of personal discipleship’.
Answers come when we least expect it – perhaps this is Gods way of helping us be disciplined at all times and not just when we are kneeling. Let virtue garnish our thoughts unceasingly is the advice we are given. I am no master at this – I am hopelessly flawed. But I have seen it in action from time to time when I had moments of clarity and did receive guidance from the still, small voice. They have not come in words but in impressions. Most often, they come once I make a decision. I have found that God does not give answers, but as any good parent He lets me investigate the options and make the best decision based on the information at hand and I have either received a feeling of confirmation or one of foreboding.
A huge hindrance to successful prayer is that those who pray often plead with God when their situation is dire, but then go silent when all is faring well. I suspect the heavenly switch board is alit from people pleading to find lost keys, lost wallets and lost children, but rare are the pleads for guidance in helping an enemy become a friend, or requests to help a shut in that include well researched viable options.
So here are my top ten suggestions to have successful prayer, and who knows. If I can muster enough discipline I might just try them myself.
- Be sincere. Genuinely want to speak with God. This seems like a no-brainer, but for some reason sceptics seem to feel that there should be no conditions to receiving answers.
- Focus on your gratefuls. Nobody likes a complainer; Well, God loves everyone because he is amazing, but God also helps those who help themselves. I have found that when I spend a good amount of time going over my many blessings, many of my needs tend to fade away as petty or unnecessary.
- If you have a need, do all you can do to find a solution on your own before you bring it to God.
- Discipline your mind to have pure thoughts. The vast majority of bad behavior begins with bad thoughts. Stop thinking ill of others, curb your immoral fantasies, and stop viewing material that puts those thoughts into your mind. It seems simple but it works. You are what you eat. If you fill your mind with positive imagery, words, and songs, your mind and body will thank you for it.
- People who practice yoga get this. I have started listening to talks while driving that have good messages. It fills my find with correct principles and my mind tends to govern itself. It clouds out the crudeness of the world around me and trains my mind to be positive, polite, patient and productive, and lots of other attributes that may not necessarily begin with p.
- Have a question. If you are a church goer, go to church with a question in mind. Listen intently to the sermons and lessons and ask God to bring his spirit so that you and others can have a revelatory experience. Ponder your question throughout the service. Whenever you go to your place of worship, of whenever you are studying the scriptures or doing what it is that brings you closer to your God, have the question at the front of mind. This is one of the grammatical requirements of the language of prayer
- Make a list of all your needs and list them in order of how much they benefit other people. If you seek not your own (1 Cor 10:24) you are far less likely to get a response. It seems counter intuitive, but if you focus on serving others, your own needs tend to get taken care of. Consider the lilies of the field
- Invite the spirit. For example, sing a hymn, read the scripture, count your many blessings, or write in a journal.
- Be patient. A university degree is not earned in one day, and a few hours of jogging does not qualify you to run a marathon. Add to prayer service, to service kindness, to kindness, love.
- Have a prayer in your heart
Prayer is a method of communication from your spirit to the Holy Ghost and it requires practice. Little children have a knack due to their naturally humble nature but sadly we tend to grow out of it.
As an aside, many people do not succeed in school because they cannot discipline their mind to concentrate long enough. They lack the discipline to read the text books and to review them thoroughly. Certainly there are many among us who have learning disabilities that prevent us from succeeding, but all things being equal, it is the lack of mental discipline that is the common cause of academic failure. Students who study and review, complete their assignments and are thorough in their research tend to excel. Both mental and physical success, however, requires great effort, more effort than most people are willing to put in. One thing is for sure, successful people do what unsuccessful people are not willing to do. Effectively communicating with God is the very same. It requires discipline, perseverance and practice but the end results are remarkable.
The purpose of prayer, then, is to learn the language of heaven, and the language of heaven can only be spoken by the pure in heart.
Those are my thoughts on the language we call prayer.