Saturday, March 23, 2013

Priesthood Blessings - Asking and Giving

Many years ago our son Rich was serving as a missionary in Canada. The question arose about when it was appropriate to give a priesthood blessing. Should we extend blessings only when the recipient asked for it as a demonstration of their faith? What about those who feel it would be inappropriate to impose upon other priesthood bearers because their request might be viewed as a sign of weakness that they weren't able to muster enough faith to be healed on their own?

For those who are unfamiliar with this practice in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is the privilege of those who hold the Melchizedek Priesthood to lay their hands on the sick after anointing them with consecrated oil and to pronounce a blessing as directed by the Holy Spirit. In the act of blessing there are often words of comfort expressed, as well as specific promises of healing when prompted to offer them.

These and other questions are addressed in my answer to his letter and then my subsequent commentary afterward.

January 18, 2001
Elder Richard Goates
4-957 7th St. E.
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan S6V 6T3

Dear Rich:

That rarest of rare occurrences:  A personal letter to you!  [During those years we often had two missionaries out at the same time and they sometimes got the same letter].  Don’t panic, just some extra time to address a couple of thoughts that I’ve had concerning your recent journal pages.
First, it’s a joy to hear of your recent baptisms.  I always knew the harvest would come.  That’s just the way things tend to work out – after the sowing, nurturing and tending to the budding plants, then the harvest!  You have done everything and more that I could have hoped would happen when you planted your feet on the ground in Saskatchewan and went to work.  What a great legacy you have left to other missionaries who will come behind you!  Your labors and your efforts have been rewarded, when others around you have tended to falter!  There is no greater joy, trust me, than to come to the declining days of your mission and realize, looking back, that there isn’t a thing you would have changed (well, maybe only a few).  You are awesome, and the Lord has crowned your labors with success because of your faithfulness.

Having said that, there are still more days ahead for you.  The end is not yet!  Keep pushing, keep leading, keep encouraging and keep blessing. 

There was a reference in your journal pages to an elder who you didn’t know for sure that you should offer a blessing to, since you were waiting for him to ask.  This is a classic Mormon myth – that those seeking a blessing must first ask for it as a pre-requisite demonstration of their faith. 

Well, poppycock!  You offer to lift, to bless, to sanctify and to edify whenever you can.  Never hesitate to offer a blessing from the Lord’s hands if you are impressed to do it.  Sometimes people feel it in their hearts, but have to be invited to receive the blessing.  Sometimes it’s just shyness, or uncertainty, or whatever – a host of reasons – but you be swift to offer if you think it will help. 

One time in the bishop’s office, after meeting a new couple for the first time, the Spirit whispered and prompted me to ask, “So, Sister ____________ how’s your faith?”  I don’t know to this day where that comment came from – I don’t think I had ever asked that question before, especially to a stranger I had only met moments before for the very first time.  Tears welled up in her eyes, and she began to cry.  She said, “Well, I don’t think it’s very good.”  Then she proceeded with that gentle invitation to pour out a story about her medical condition that seemingly had no answer.  She had struggled with it for years, and there seemed to be no explanation why she was suffering so much. 

Long story short, we set a date where we could meet in her home later in the week to give her a blessing.  Her husband and I blessed her at the appointed hour after fasting and prayer for a day before we actually laid hands on her head.  She was healed.  As I blessed her I had words given to me.  She told me later that it was as though the Savior himself were pronouncing the blessing.  And that’s what the priesthood is all about – doing for others what the Savior himself would do if he were here in our shoes.  She said there was a tangible warm feeling that flowed through her that night from the top of her head down to the tips of her toes.  She knew she was healed that night, though the actual cessation of her symptoms did not occur until some weeks later.

And that’s just one example.  When Grandpa Brent was approaching his knee replacement surgery date a few weeks back, my sister Jane had filled me with all kinds of doubts and fears about it.  Early one morning – the clock said 5:22 a.m. – I was awakened with specific words in my mind about him.  I was told in certain detail about the surgery, its outcome, and his miraculous recovery from it despite the improbability of it given all Jane’s concerns.  The next time I saw Grandpa, I told him, “When the surgery gets closer, I have a blessing for you.”  Then I told him how it had come.  When we laid our hands on his head that night before the operation, I merely spoke the words as they had been given to me early that morning.  It was fulfilled even beyond my expectations, Dad’s, and even the doctor said, “This might just be the greatest surgical result I have ever seen with this operation.” 

I can’t explain it in rational terms.  Suppose he had died on the operating table?  It doesn’t make sense, except that those who are not appointed unto death are healed (see D&C 42:48).  That’s the Lord’s promise to the saints. 

Elders who, in administering to the sick, manifest such faith that it ignites faith in the individual who is ill “or otherwise afflicted,” have greater success than others who administer without sufficient faith.  Too often, we just go through the motions in administering blessings.  But the actual healing power of God enters the sick only when faith in Christ is present.  The recipient must exercise faith and also the giver.  We say of those who have great success in administration of the sick that they have the "gift of healing."  All the gifts of the Spirit, as enumerated in the scriptures (see D&C 46; Moroni 10; 1 Corinthians 12), rest on faith in Christ, and faith always precedes the miracle, not the other way around.  God rarely heals people so that others may believe – the faith always comes first.

After making clear in Section 42 of the Doctrine and Covenants that many who are administered to will not have faith enough to be healed, and urging the saints to use other healing methods on them as well as to administer to them, the Savior refers to a second group, those who have sufficient faith to be healed.  These will be healed "unless appointed unto death."

We must not misinterpret this passage, but it must be read in the light of the accompanying verses.  All who die are not appointed unto death.  Sometimes their death is due to lack of faith or our ignorance of how healing happens.  Sometimes their lives are cut short because of their own carelessness or the misused agency of others.  What is the significance of the passage "appointed unto death," then?  If all men were appointed unto death at a fixed time, our free agency would be lost. 

Such a doctrine is fatalism.  If fatalism were true, nothing we could do would either shorten or prolong our lives.  Births and deaths would become simply events that were predetermined before we were born.  Martin Luther and Calvin taught such doctrines and declared that the end of men was predestined from the beginning.  Joseph Smith denounced that idea, and always sought to increase the health of his people and to lengthen human life.

Having said that, we know from our own experiences in our family that sometimes life is shortened (as in the case of Adrienne, whose death was inexplicable by our finite reasoning), and in those cases it is appropriate to say that she was “appointed unto death,” simply because there is no other explanation available.  The Lord is so generous, and he is so anxious to bless, to comfort and to heal. 

Never hesitate, Rich, when you feel the impression to bless others – God would do it if he were in your shoes.  Once I even asked a husband who was a non-member to lay his hands on top of mine as I administered to his wife over some infertility concerns that they had.  He had the faith to do it.  But he didn’t even know the question.  That was all that was necessary.  The last time I talked to her she had four children!  He already knows that for the most part our faith as his children is weak.  If they respond, “Yes,” to your invitation for a blessing, that’s all the faith that’s needed – for heaven’s sake, it doesn’t matter who initiates the request.  It’s just a bogus Mormon myth without merit.

So, that’s it, that’s all I had on my heart for you today.  Based on your journal entries it sounds like you might be headed to Winnipeg?  Whatever path your remaining days may take, rest assured of my love for you.  I thrill with every letter, every new adventure.

I love you,

* * *
As to the second question about not wanting to "bother" others with our need to request a priesthood blessing, this often occurs in righteous, humble men who may be leaders in the Church, but are filled with an insidious and subtle form of pride. They won't ask for help from others until they reach the utmost boundaries of their extremity because they think asking for the Lord's help would be showing a sign of weakness to those whom they lead. I've seen this phenomenon not once but many times in fine men and women whose lives demonstrate nothing but the highest degree of integrity and altruistic desires to bless and serve others.

It's sad to see this in otherwise intelligent and strong-willed men. It's like trying to cure oneself of cancer with homeopathic remedies (nothing wrong with that), but before they seek out skilled physicians for a scientific diagnosis, people who may possess the healing cures they so desperately need. So it is with accessing the atonement in our lives. We often think we must somehow "prove" ourselves worthy before we approach the throne of grace. How backward is that? I've never yet seen a man, woman or child blessed who figuratively laid their own hands on themselves. We serve one another and there is no other way.

The healing powers of the atonement of Jesus Christ extend into every conceivable facet of our lives. If we are sinners (and we all are), we may seek forgiveness because of the atonement's healing balm. If we have been sinned against (and we all have), we may extend forgiveness to others because we ourselves have felt the healing we have received from the atonement's power. If we are sick, no matter who we are and regardless of which position we hold or don't hold in the outward Church, we can submit our iron-clad will, humble ourselves sufficiently and seek to be healed no matter what label our ailment may have.

Perhaps we hold back not from asking only for reasons that we don't want to disturb others by having to ask them to administer to us, but also because secretly we may not believe we have sufficient faith to be healed. Whatever the reasons may be, what is needed is enough humility and meekness to submit our will to His. When we need help it is always and forever instantly available. And sometimes the need for repeated blessings at frequent intervals for the same ailment is just the opposite of what may appear to be weakness of faith. It may, instead, be an expression of deep and abiding faith in whatever outcome the Lord has in store for us.

We had a woman in our ward who bore a simple testimony when her husband returned to the Church after years of inactivity. She simply said, "I put his name on the temple prayer rolls of five temples every week." Some miracles take time.

All of the thoughts - I would say ANY thought - that keep us from accessing healing powers are satanic thoughts by their very nature, and are designed to block us from the power of the atonement through our Lord Jesus Christ's suffering for us. He has already felt our pain no matter what its source or the form it takes. Our pain could be psychological, mental, physical or spiritual. He knows our doubts and fears because He was besieged with those same doubts and fears in much larger doses at the hands of Satan. He bowed under the weight of all of it in Gethsemane, which included the weight of all our sins, all our pain, all our doubts and fears, and all our uncertainty and lack of faith. He is able to save us from all of it. That is the reason the atonement is so frequently referred to as "infinite and eternal" in the scriptures. No one in the human family of God, dead, living or unborn, is excluded from its far-reaching benefits.

All that is required from each of us is the humility and meekness to access its power through our humility and faith. Asking for THAT kind of help was NEVER a sign of weakness. What is subsequently required after receiving the blessings is listening carefully to the voice of the Lord as He answers in His timing of what is best for our eternal welfare.


  1. There is at least one other reason people are reluctant to ask for priesthood blessings: faith in one's own prayers. I have faith that God will answer my prayers. It's hard for me to think of very many circumstances when my own prayerful petitions and study do not or will not suffice. I do not mean for this to be arrogance. I know God answers prayers -- it's as simple as that. I can pay for comfort or an answer to prayer as easily if not more easily than any priesthood bearer I might call in, and I can expect an answer to that prayer the same as I would expect an answer to a priesthood blessing.

    You might also address the fact that many of us have tried to ask for blessings more frequently with poor results. When I ask for a blessing and all I get is God loves and knows you and is aware of your needs and the "all other blessings he has in store for you" cop out, I am left to conclude that I shouldn't have asked : either God has nothing to say to me or I need to wait and puzzle it out for myself.

    I've heard it suggested that we women look for opportunities for men to offer us blessings, but I have found that looking for reasons to receive a blessing only results in unsatisfactory, faith-trying disappointments. I feel, I hope rightly, that I should try to develop my own skills at listening to and understanding the holy ghost rather than turning to another.

  2. Well stated. As I noted in our book about men, women and priesthood, the spiritual gifts are available in rich abundance to both men and women without restriction. Men who offer wimpy blessings aren't of much use are they? Faith is the key in calling down the powers of heaven. I am so grateful for women of great faith in my life.