Sunday, February 17, 2013

Answers to Prayers

There may be no more frequently repeated scriptural injunction than this one:

"Do ye not remember the things which the Lord hath said? - If ye will not harden your hearts, and ask me in faith, believing that ye shall receive, with diligence in keeping my commandments, surely these things shall be made known unto you." (1 Nephi 15:11).

We all seek answers to life's complex problems. Sometimes we turn to others who are more experienced, like family members, parents, bishops, contemporaries, and others. Sometimes, and often it is only after we have exhausted all other sources, we turn to God for the answers to our prayers.

I will suggest some lessons I have learned in the crucible of faith. The lessons begin with the pattern cited above by Nephi. When we desire knowledge of an eternal nature, and wish to seek out the wisdom of God in a certain matter we are pursuing, the pattern is useful to observe.

First, Nephi suggests we must not harden our hearts. It's interesting to me that this comes first. Too often we reject the testimonies of others who have experience in these things. We may become jaded and cynical in our pursuits of spiritual things. We've seen hundreds of examples of others who have or have not succeeded in their spiritual quest, and having seen their success or failures we shrink in our own attempts to approach God for answers to our own  prayers. NOT hardening our hearts, says Nephi, is the first step. We must be open to the possibility of having answers to our prayers.

Second, he suggests we ask God in faith. When we ask in faith with the expectation we will receive answers to our prayers, Nephi says we will receive the answers we seek.

Third, he reminds us we must believe we will receive the answers and the direction we seek. Believing is knowing beforehand we will and can receive.

And fourth, he says we must be diligent in keeping God's commandments. There is an implied quid pro quo in this formula: If we expect to know we will receive that which we seek with soft, not hard, hearts, and we ask in faith, believing, and we are diligent in keeping God's commandments, then the promise is we will receive the knowledge God has promised to impart unto us. Moroni and Nephi remind us we may in time come to know the truth of ALL things. (Moroni 10:3-5; 1 Nephi 32:3-5).

Joseph Smith
It was Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820, who ventured into a grove of trees near Palmyra, New York, with nothing more than these simple verses reverberating in his soul:

"My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways." (James 1:2-8, emphasis mine).

Let us suppose a case. There is a man who enters into a business venture with the promise by all involved that the outcome will bless financial institutions, insurance providers, donors and charities, as well as being profitable for him in exchange for his hard work and sweat equity to bring about the desired outcome. He does his due diligence to learn all he can about the proposed venture. Every answer to his inquiries yields fruit. All indications are that the transaction is precisely what it purports to be.

He enters into contractual relationships with all involved willingly, and with the expectation it will be a successful outcome. Along the way over five years there is witness after witness of the Spirit that this project will be successful and will contribute to the welfare of all involved in nothing but positive and happy ways. When obstacles present themselves, one by one they are overcome, the way opens again and again, and the efforts of many years approach fruition. Suddenly, for reasons completely beyond the control of all the participants, the world economy goes into a tailspin and five years of concerted efforts by many people of goodwill are dashed. Where, then, was God? Could He have not forewarned of the impending disaster? Why all the affirmations it would end in success? Why instead do the faithful participants end in a blind alley? Why, why, why? Then, nothing but silence.

Another four years of financial reversals ensue. Doubts and fear prevail. Uncertainty about the future dogs every footstep. Slowly but surely little answers appear along the way, the new way, since the old way was long gone, never to return. Don't go there, go here. Stay here for awhile, then take the next step. Along the new path there are signs and assurances it will eventually bear fruit once again. The sun will come out tomorrow. Learn to dance in the rain while you await the next turn of the wheel that will pull your little cart out of the mire. And so it is. Who is to say God was not in ALL of it every step along the way, even though the long-sought answer the man was looking for was elusive and evaporated in the end? Through it all the voice of peace was heard, the whisperings of the day and the dreams of the night spoke nothing but comfort as the threats and the turmoil swirled persistently.

Faith grew, confidence persisted, trust in God became paramount, dependency on the things of the Spirit marked each day's morning and evening prayers. Through it all there was never a definitive outcome that seemed certain. Joy in the journey, however, increased steadily. The destination once sought remained elusive.

President Boyd K. Packer
We may all come to understand and know the voice of the Lord as it whispers to us. President Boyd K. Packer said it well: “These delicate, refined spiritual communications are not seen with our eyes nor heard with our ears. And even though it is described as a voice, it is a voice that one feels more than one hears.” (That All May Be Edified [1982], 335). Even though words fail to fully describe it, in another place he said: “This burning in the bosom is not purely a physical sensation. It is more like a warm light shining within your being.” (in Conference Report, October 1994, 77; or Ensign, November 1994, 60, emphasis mine).

Elder Richard G. Scott
Elder Richard G. Scott of the Quorum of the Twelve taught:

“When we seek inspiration to help make decisions, the Lord gives gentle promptings. These require us to think, to exercise faith, to work, to struggle at times, and to act. Seldom does the whole answer to a decisively important matter or complex problem come all at once. More often, it comes a piece at a time, without the end in sight.” (in Conference Report, October 1989, 40; or Ensign, November 1989, 32, emphasis mine).

And that describes as perfectly as it can be expressed what my experiences with the Spirit have taught me. I have learned that every prayer offered in accordance with Nephi's pattern cited above is answered. Sometimes, failing immediately to receive the answer we are seeking, we think God has not answered us. Or we may conclude His answer was "No," when we learn much later it may have only been, "Not yet." Through it all the requirement is that we trust Him as a little child trusts its parents for survival every day of its infant life.

Elder Dallin H. Oaks
Elder Dallin H. Oaks taught:

“The Lord will speak to us through the Spirit in his own time and in his own way. Many people do not understand this principle. They believe that when they are ready and when it suits their convenience, they can call upon the Lord and he will immediately respond, even in the precise way they have prescribed. Revelation does not come that way. . .

“The principle stated in [D&C 88:68] applies to every communication from our Heavenly Father: ‘It shall be in his own time, and in his own way, and according to his own will.’ We cannot force spiritual things.” (Ensign, March 1997, 10–11).

President Packer counseled:

“Sometimes you may struggle with a problem and not get an answer. What could be wrong? It may be that you are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember, you cannot force spiritual things. Sometimes we are confused simply because we won’t take no for an answer. . .

“Put difficult questions in the back of your minds and go about your lives. Ponder and pray quietly and persistently about them.

“The answer may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little there, ‘line upon line, precept upon precept’ (D&C 98:12).

“Some answers will come from reading the scriptures, some from hearing speakers. And, occasionally, when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful inspiration. The promptings will be clear and unmistakable.” (in Conference Report, October 1979, 29–30; or Ensign, November 1979, 21, emphasis mine).

And that is my testimony about how we receive answers to prayers. All of this knowledge about how revelation may come to all of us individually in very personal ways rests on a firm foundation described by Joseph Smith:

"Baptism is a sign to God, to angels, and to heaven that we do the will of God, and there is no other way beneath the heavens whereby God hath ordained for man to come to Him to be saved, and enter into the Kingdom of God, except faith in Jesus Christ, repentance, and baptism for the remission of sins, and any other course is in vain; then you have the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost.

"What is the sign of the healing of the sick? The laying on of hands is the sign or way marked out by James, and the custom of the ancient Saints as ordered by the Lord, and we cannot obtain the blessings by pursuing any other course except the way marked out by the Lord. What if we should attempt to get the gift of the Holy Ghost through any other means except the signs or way which God hath appointed — would we obtain it? Certainly not; all other means would fail. The Lord says do so and so, and I will bless you.

"There are certain key words and signs belonging to the Priesthood which must be observed in order to obtain the blessing. The sign of Peter was to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins, with the promise of the gift of the Holy Ghost; and in no other way is the gift of the Holy Ghost obtained.

"There is a difference between the Holy Ghost and the gift of the Holy Ghost. Cornelius received the Holy Ghost before he was baptized, which was the convincing power of God unto him of the truth of the Gospel, but he could not receive the gift of the Holy Ghost until after he was baptized. Had he not taken this sign or ordinance upon him, the Holy Ghost which convinced him of the truth of God, would have left him. Until he obeyed these ordinances and received the gift of the Holy Ghost, by the laying on of hands, according to the order of God, he could not have healed the sick or commanded an evil spirit to come out of a man, and it obey him; for the spirits might say unto him, as they did to the sons of Sceva: 'Paul we know and Jesus we know, but who are ye?' It mattereth not whether we live long or short on the earth after we come to a knowledge of these principles and obey them unto the end. I know that all men will be damned if they do not come in the way which He hath opened, and this is the way marked out by the word of the Lord." (TPJS, 198-99, emphasis mine).

Those who seek answers to prayers will never be abandoned or left alone by God. Like a tender parent, He nurtures, occasionally chastens, and never forsakes one of His children who remains open to revelation from Him, asks in faith, believes he will receive and diligently obeys. Of that much I am certain.

What I don't always understand perfectly is His timetable. . . and often what His answer looks like when it comes. As I grow older, I frequently find myself saying, "Thy timing be done."

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