Saturday, March 19, 2011

Did You Think To Pray?

When I was a little boy, prayers or apricots? was the defining question of my childhood. Apparently, if the truth be told, at one time in my life I believed the value of prayer was higher than whatever mundane task (bottling apricots) was before us.

As I have grown older and more self-reliant, perhaps hardened in my thinking, I believe I have become too proud to ask, too self-assured to need to bother Heavenly Father with trivial things -- even when "sore trials have come upon me," and even when I've been too weary to believe prayer would deliver the needed rest.

The words of a familiar hymn are instructive. I'd suggest you hit the play button and listen while you read:

You've all heard the stories about praying for lost keys and finding them, yet you wonder, don't you, if such simple things are worth taking to God in your prayers? I do. I tend to think He's got plenty on His plate helping His children in Sendai, Japan, for instance. In a city devastated by earthquake and tsunami, literally wiped off the map in a matter of minutes on March 11, 2011, surely Heavenly Father has his hands full with millions of petitions for help more urgent than mine. That's the way I sometimes rationalize about it.

To pray as a little child is a gift from heaven. I am reminded of this story this morning:

One night, one of the small children, saying her prayers while the Battle of Britain raged over London, asked the Lord to bless the members of her family who were absent, including her father who was serving in the Royal Air Force. And as she was about to close her prayer, she said: "And dear God, please take care of yourself — because if anything happens to you, we're all sunk!"

Too often our prayers are perfunctory and said begrudgingly, especially at night when we're the most tired and feel more like tumbling into bed without stopping to give thanks. But mostly, I find myself offering my gratitude. That's what most of my prayers are about these days. I have a growing long list of things to be thankful for. We are also praying for a lot of really big things too -- family members who are fighting cancer, parents suffering the ill effects of aging, daughters who are bravely suffering with health issues through their pregnancies, big decisions about employment and moving to another state, college students valiantly preparing themselves for a bright future, missionaries and near and dear friends who have much bigger problems than us.

Sometimes our prayers are heartfelt and meaningful. What they are is not dependent upon what God has willingly done or capriciously not done for us lately, like some unknown wispy ethereal spiritual essence who is always out of touch and beyond our reach. We too frequently imagine up to ourselves an unknowable wizard behind the black curtain who is always pulling strings (or letting them dangle) at will without our ability to affect His arbitrary decisions much at all.

There is a useful word to describe the reality of the existence of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ, however. It is "anthropomorphic." We believe the most endearing attributes of these two separate and distinct beings (see D&C 130:22-23) is that they are exalted and perfect beings possessed of body parts and passions not unlike our own. It is the essence of our faith to believe they actually know us by name and are like us. Our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ came to earth and anthropomorphically descended below all things so He may understand our condition in mortality more perfectly than in any other way possible. He is not a distant aloof Master. Neither He nor the Father is some mysterious being who pulls strings behind the black curtain, but our prayers are specifically dependent upon the degree to which faith in them operates in our lives.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell
We pray directly to our Father in Heaven in the name of His Son Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Ghost. Our prayers don't go through beads, the Holy Mother Mary, or even Jesus Christ. Like Paul, we may approach the throne of God the Father directly, boldly, and take our petitions, even as trivial as they may seem to us, to Him. (See Hebrews 4:16). He already knows before we ask what we are in need of, evidenced by knowing the falling of every hair from our head and every sparrow. His knowing is not the issue. We're the ones being tested here, not Him. We need to learn about ourselves, not questioning whether He knows and cares about us. Said Elder Neal A. Maxwell: "God has surely told us in enough different scriptures about how aware he is of us and of our needs. We have been told that he is so alive and aware that a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without our Father's noticing, and that the very hairs of our head are 'all numbered.'" (Matthew 10:29-30).

There is a human tendency well illustrated by this chapter of scripture that more often than not describes me precisely:

And thus we can behold how false, and also the unsteadiness of the hearts of the children of men; yea, we can see that the Lord in his great infinite goodness doth bless and prosper those who put their trust in him.
Yea, and we may see at the very time when he doth prosper his people, yea, in the increase of their fields, their flocks and their herds, and in gold, and in silver, and in all manner of precious things of every kind and art; sparing their lives, and delivering them out of the hands of their enemies; softening the hearts of their enemies that they should not declare wars against them; yea, and in fine, doing all things for the welfare and happiness of his people; yea, then is the time that they do harden their hearts, and do forget the Lord their God, and do trample under their feet the Holy One — yea, and this because of their ease, and their exceedingly great prosperity.
And thus we see that except the Lord doth chasten his people with many afflictions, yea, except he doth visit them with death and with terror, and with famine and with all manner of pestilence, they will not remember him.
O how foolish, and how vain, and how evil, and devilish, and how quick to do iniquity, and how slow to do good, are the children of men; yea, how quick to hearken unto the words of the evil one, and to set their hearts upon the vain things of the world!
Yea, how quick to be lifted up in pride; yea, how quick to boast, and do all manner of that which is iniquity; and how slow are they to remember the Lord their God, and to give ear unto his counsels, yea, how slow to walk in wisdom's paths!
Behold, they do not desire that the Lord their God, who hath created them, should rule and reign over them; notwithstanding his great goodness and his mercy towards them, they do set at naught his counsels, and they will not that he should be their guide.
O how great is the nothingness of the children of men; yea, even they are less than the dust of the earth.
For behold, the dust of the earth moveth hither and thither, to the dividing asunder, at the command of our great and everlasting God.
Yea, behold at his voice do the hills and the mountains tremble and quake.
And by the power of his voice they are broken up, and become smooth, yea, even like unto a valley.
Yea, by the power of his voice doth the whole earth shake;
Yea, by the power of his voice, do the foundations rock, even to the very center.
Yea, and if he say unto the earth — Move — it is moved.
Yea, if he say unto the earth — Thou shalt go back, that it lengthen out the day for many hours — it is done;
And thus, according to his word the earth goeth back, and it appeareth unto man that the sun standeth still; yea, and behold, this is so; for surely it is the earth that moveth and not the sun.
And behold, also, if he say unto the waters of the great deep — Be thou dried up — it is done.
Behold, if he say unto this mountain — Be thou raised up, and come over and fall upon that city, that it be buried up — behold it is done.
And behold, if a man hide up a treasure in the earth, and the Lord shall say — Let it be accursed, because of the iniquity of him who hath hid it up — behold, it shall be accursed.
And if the Lord shall say — Be thou accursed, that no man shall find thee from this time henceforth and forever — behold, no man getteth it henceforth and forever.
And behold, if the Lord shall say unto a man — Because of thine iniquities, thou shalt be accursed forever — it shall be done.
And if the Lord shall say — Because of thine iniquities thou shalt be cut off from my presence — he will cause that it shall be so.
And wo unto him to whom he shall say this, for it shall be unto him that will do iniquity, and he cannot be saved; therefore, for this cause, that men might be saved, hath repentance been declared.
Therefore, blessed are they who will repent and hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; for these are they that shall be saved.
And may God grant, in his great fulness, that men might be brought unto repentance and good works, that they might be restored unto grace for grace, according to their works.
And I would that all men might be saved. But we read that in the great and last day there are some who shall be cast out, yea, who shall be cast off from the presence of the Lord;
Yea, who shall be consigned to a state of endless misery, fulfilling the words which say: They that have done good shall have everlasting life; and they that have done evil shall have everlasting damnation. And thus it is. Amen. (Helaman 12).

The earth moved violently last week in Japan, and the waves of the sea heaved and were tossed beyond their bounds in Sendai. (See D&C 88:89-90). The aftermath of destruction has been complicated by escaping radiation from nuclear reactors. In their extremity the people of Japan will be compelled to call upon God for deliverance. In like manner each of us in turn is sometimes compelled to be humble to more fully develop our faith. In our extremity, as it was with Joseph Smith, we are reminded, "Thou art not yet as Job."

I have noticed something about the quality and the quantity of our prayers. As I grow older my dependency upon my Father in Heaven and His Son, Jesus Christ, tends to increase. Recently, our one and only car needed repairs. I say "recently," but what I really mean is "for at least six months." I hit a pothole at freeway speed that rattled our teeth several months ago. Immediately, I began noticing a distinctive rattling sound emanating from the passenger side front wheel. I'd hear a clicking sound associated with the rotation of the wheel and when I applied the brakes. It was getting worse as the months went on. Fearing the worst, a large repair bill, I deferred addressing the issue until this week when the safety inspection was due again.

The point of the story is to say that the car has been the specific object of prayer in our companion prayers every day since. I should be blunt and more specific. It has been the object of Patsy's prayers, not mine. I'm just too darn proud to ask about such trivial things. This is a woman, who years ago all alone at the Ranch with a car full of kids in our VW bus prayed it off a rock upon which she had become high-centered! There were eye witnesses to that minor miracle -- all my children. They know of her faith. They have all been blessed by it.

Thanking our Father in Heaven daily for basic transportation in an old car sharpens and defines one's faith, and petitioning for a small repair bill may sound sophomoric to some perhaps, but I have learned a valuable lesson listening to her pray. Heavenly Father really doesn't care much about my car. It's an inanimate object subject to entropy like few other things I know.

But He does care about my wife and me. And this time the answer was $277.00.


  1. Hey, not bad, especially for letting it go on so long. Experience has taught me that it's better to take it in right away than to let it languish and get worse. It's always a minor miracle to get a bill for less than $350, but it's especially true for this case.

    Thank you for this honest and insightful musing on prayer. I really appreciate you being so forthcoming. Like you, I have a wife whose faith is greater than mine by orders of magnitude.

    I am grateful for prayer and His miraculous responses. He is merciful. Would that we could overcome our immaturity, forgetfulness, and ingratitude that Mormon laments of in Helaman 12.

    I am thankful that He listens to our seemingly small complaints and requests and responds with comfort and guidance. Years ago, I was REALLY distressed about a ward change. I was on my knees for 45 minutes when I was overcome with the Comforter assuring me that it would be OK. The difference between my fear prior to prayer and the peace I felt afterward was drastic. And it was OK. We made some close friendships, especially my wife, and she got a turn at leading the Primary which taught her much and prepared her for 'leadership' callings that she has had since then.

    Yes, I'll take prayer over apricots.

  2. Thanks for checking in from time to time -- nice to know there are kindred spirits out there. I hope to meet you someday. . .