Friday, July 20, 2007

Sermon | On Prayer

In the first post of my series on Mormon piety (I, II, III), I discussed how as members of the Church we are called-upon from time to time to give a short sermon (in the Church we call this, simply, a "talk"). Well, last Sunday was my turn — the last time I spoke was New Years Day 2006. I thought it would be nice to post it here.

Introduction

I read this week of a man in Romania, who had sued God for "fraud" and "betrayal of trust" for failing to answer his prayers. He recently had his case dismissed in court. Apparently, the court declared that they had no jurisdiction over God.

As humorous as I find the story, I can't help but feel a certain sympathy for this man's plight. Don't we each sue for God's love? For His attention and guidance? But, in the end, I have to say that the man appears to be missing the point of prayer. Horribly, horribly missing the point.

[Pause]

A couple weeks ago, Bro *** came to me and asked me to speak. He said that the overall theme of the meeting today was on the Holy Ghost, and that he'd asked Sister *** to speak on receiving comfort from the Holy Ghost, and would I mind speaking on receiving knowledge from the Holy Ghost. I teased him, and said that I was still figuring it out for myself — but that I'd be happy to talk, all the same.

In the weeks since being asked to speak, my mind has churned on the subject... And I've changed my focus a number of times, as I've tried to craft a talk that reflected the will of the Lord. It's my earnest prayer that each of us might be instructed by the Spirit today... and that we'll all — each and every one of us — walk away from this meeting, resolved to seek out the Lord and His guidance more frequently and earnestly.

[Pause]

In dividing the subject between Sister *** and I, Brother *** made an interesting distinction between the comfort we receive from the Holy Ghost and the light and truth we might receive. It's a awkward distinction, of course... but necessary to make such a large topic manageable. I hope you'll consider my talk as a simple extension of Sister ***'s inspired words.

I especially appreciated...

[Reference Sister ***'s talk in detail]

Prayer

An essential part of receiving guidance from our Heavenly Father — and something that my mind returned to, time and again, as I prepared this talk — is prayer. So I'd like to spend some time discussing this in-depth.

Why Do We Pray?

First and foremost, we pray because it is instinctual. We are children of our Heavenly Father, and we want His love and attention. We want His advice. We want to spend time with Him. We sense that He is near and eager to listen to us, and deep inside we know that He wants to bless us. We pray to know His will, and to thank Him for His hand in our lives.

How Do We Pray?

In the 2003 Spring General Conference, Elder Russell M. Nelson gave a talk entitled "Sweet Hour of Prayer". In it, gives advice on how we should pray:
Jesus taught us how. We pray to our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the true order of prayer...

Jesus revealed that we pray to a wise Father who knows what things we have need of, before we ask Him.

Mormon taught his son, Moroni, that we should pray with all the energy of [our] heart[s]. Nephi exclaimed, I pray continually for [my people] by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.

The sweet power of prayer can be intensified by fasting, on occasion, when appropriate to a particular need.

Prayers can be offered even in silence. One can think a prayer, especially when words would interfere. We often kneel to pray; we may stand or be seated. Physical position is less important than is spiritual submission to God.

We close our prayer[s] in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. When we hear another's prayer, we audibly add our amen, meaning, That is my prayer, too.
I appreciate that second point: that Jesus revealed that we pray to a wise Heavenly Father who knows what things we stand in need of — before we even ask Him. That's really important, here, as we discuss receiving guidance through prayer. Too often, we think our prayers are a way of convincing our Heavenly Father of the worthiness of our cause... when, in reality, it is a way for us to align our will with our Father's. That through prayer, and through the quiet promptings of the Spirit, we learn how God works.

The Bible Dictionary says this under "Prayer":
Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. 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. 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.
A natural extension of this teaching, is that we can receive answers to our prayers by better aligning our lives and our minds with the will of our Heavenly Father. Imagine that asking for guidance from our Heavenly Father is like a child asking an adult about where to find a constellation in the night sky. We've all been there ...camping maybe, or sitting on a back porch somewhere. The first requirement is that the constellation that the child is asking after is even visible that night...and then, if the answer is even available, a wise adult will crouch behind the child and with their head near the child's, point-out the constellation in question.

Our Heavenly Father isn't too different: we ask a question that we can know the answer to, and He meets us half way. If we're in a place where we can be taught, He bridges the distance, and from our limited vantage, points-up the way.

This reminds me of a scripture in D&C 88:63-64:
Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you.
This alignment happens as we set our lives in order, of course — living the gospel, keeping the commandments — but it also happens as we seek after knowledge. You see, as we understand the world around us better, we become more like our Heavenly Father in very important ways, and we are then better-prepared to receive the answers we seek.

In the same General Conference talk, Elder Nelson relates this story:

Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of [heart] surgery. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.

Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.

Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.

His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, What are you going to do for that?

I said, I do not know.

We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.

But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of over-sized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placedîto make a pleat here and a tuck thereîto accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental imageîcomplete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, Its a miracle.

I responded, Its an answer to prayer.

The patients recovery was rapid and his relief gratifying. Not only was he helped in a marvelous way, but surgical help for other people with similar problems had become a possibility. I take no credit. Praise goes to this faithful patriarch and to God, who answered our prayers.
A lifetime of preparation made it possible for Elder Nelson to be an instrument in the hands of God in answering another man's prayer.

What are we doing today to expand our minds and hearts to be better-suited to receive the revelation we so desperately desire? Or do we make the mistake that Oliver Cowdrey made — in taking no thought save but to ask the Lord?

[Pause]

So we want to pray... we know how to pray — and pray in power... we've aligned our lives in such a way as to be worthy to receive revelation... and we've prepared our minds and hearts to be better suited to understand the revelation we receive. What next?

In his October, 1989 Conference talk entitled "Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer", Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave some guidance:
When answers to urgent prayer don't seem to come, it can be that we don't understand some truths about prayer, or because we don't recognize answers when they come. Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege. It is based upon unchanging principles. When we receive help from our Father in Heaven, it is in response to faith, obedience, and the proper use of agency.
He continues:
When He answers yes, it is to give us confidence.
When He answers no, it is to prevent error.
When He withholds an answer, it is to have us grow through faith in Him.
Elder Scott finishes his talk with this promise:
If you seek His help, be sure your life is clean, your motives are worthy, and you're willing to do what He asks... for He will answer your prayers. He is your loving Father; you are His beloved child. He loves you perfectly and wants to help you.
[Close with a testimony of the power of prayer.]

8 comments:

Chris said...

Very, very good! I wish I was there in person!

Silus Grok said...

Thanks, Chris… I wish you had been there, too.

:)

Sean said...

hey Silus,

enjoyed the talk. thanks for posting it.

Silus Grok said...

Hey Sean!

Thank you… and good to see you're good on your promise to hang around blogland even though you've quit your blog.

: )

the alfandre family said...

Great talk Silus! You should be a missionary again...

Silus Grok said...

Thank you, guys! You're too kind… though I don't think I could do the mission again. Maybe Gospel Doctrine teacher?

: )

So are you still expecting me for a visit in October?

Th. said...

.

Very nice.

Silus Grok said...

Thank you.