A few weeks back I wrote I blog called: The Stages of Prayer. This blog is about The Next Step.
Meaningful prayer, I have found, seems to be far more difficult for orthodox religions. This is because prayers of worship and the words of ordinances must be exact to be correct, and thus the idea of wrote prayer and checking off lists and removing personality and feeling often comes as an unintended result of tradition. And generations of such tradition often blur meaning and we forget to explain and teach critical doctrine. We turn God into a God of meaningless perfection and checklists instead of a personal God, who is our Heavenly Father (not a casual God, however…personal and casual are not the same thing).
The dilemma today is to return God to His personal (not casual) nature in our minds so that we might actually communicate and receive comfort, peace, guidance, and direction from Him. In a way, we’ve sort of turned our prayers into graven images (our versions of God’s command to pray) that are creating a barrier to us actually communing with Him in a meaningful way.
Why We Pray
Conveying information. That’s one of the reasons we talk. But, in reality, there is very little we can tell those who know us well and who love us that they can’t already see written on our faces or in our actions. They know when we’re angry, sad, mad, upset, stressed, happy, elated, excited, and peaceful. So, conversation with them serves what purpose? For what reason do we talk with close friends and family members if not to convey information?
We talk to those we trust to strengthen our bond with them. To gain validation for our feelings. To feel understood. We talk to them to puzzle out and define our feelings. We talk through problems with them out of a need to “let it out.” Sometimes, it’s talking things out that makes meaning and reason more clear to us. Sometimes, it’s while talking and reasoning with a close friend or family member that we have “ah-ha” moments and we, by talking and thinking, figure out our feelings and solutions to our problems.
God wants us to pray to Him. Not because He needs information. But because there is no one we can trust more. Because there is no one who can help us reason through our struggles better. Because there is no one who can validate us better. Because there is no one who can give us as much peace and understanding. God loves us. Thus, He wants us to pray to Him—to talk with Him. He knows everything we are thinking and feeling and want and hate. But, He wants us to work through those feelings with Him. He is the perfect confidant and the best source of guidance and advice.
Prayer is About What We Feel
When do you send a thank you card? When do you call up your friend, parent, sibling, or trusted associate to convey gratitude? When you feel it.
When do you express sorrow and regret for someone’s loss? When do you say sorry for things you’ve done in error? When do you get on your knees and beg for forgiveness? When you feel it.
When do you ask for help from others? When do you humble yourself and seek advice external to your own brain and personal resources? When do you plead for help with work, school, relationships, and trials? When you feel it.
How would it be if every time we talked to our best friend we had a compulsory list we said, by wrote, before we could talk to them about what we really wanted to talk to them about.
Hi Jane! Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for helping me last week. Thanks for getting me through that tough time two months ago. Wait, we can talk in a minute, just let me finish…
Do we do that with God? I know I have for many years and He’s been patient with me. But the more I ponder prayer, the more I realize that such a thing is talking at God and not with Him. It’s not bad, it’s good. It’s some days even a very good list of things I have been grateful for in the past (sincerely)…however, they aren’t actually the things I feel as deeply grateful for that day. So, do I have to include them? If I don’t, will God somehow curse me in those areas? I think not.
Christ gave us a formula for prayer. But, I don’t believe He ever meant us to follow that formula as rigidly as we do, and with as little feeling as we do. I believe Christ wanted us to address God reverently and then express gratitude for what we feel most grateful for. Not to rattle off the same list every day. Not to say thank you for something just so that we can be assured He won’t allow something bad to happen in that category. God wants sincere gratitude. Not a compulsive list.
I believe Christ wanted us to ask forgiveness for those things that we genuinely we feel badly for. But, I don’t believe He wants us to go on and on and on, berating ourselves, self-deprecating, and groveling. I believe He wants us to repent when we feel we have something to repent of, not to rehash sins we are already deeply working on that we were successful on that day. Feelings…
I believe God would rather hear about what is really on our mind than a very good, even better, or best list we have of things in cue for Him to take care of. Things we’ve prayed for sincerely in the past weeks and months that we throw in “for good measure.” God wants to know what is closest to our heart today, this morning, right now. We aren’t conveying information, we are counseling with our Dearest Father, Truest Friend, Most Trustworthy Confidant. We are counseling with Him to come to better understand ourselves.
Using Meaningful Wording
There are some words, phrases, emoticons, and even abbreviations that we use every day that lose meaning in the overuse of them. We use the word “love” for everything from a color, an outfit, to food, and then turn around and use it in our deepest, most heartfelt expressions of devotion to our loved ones and God. Do we use it so much that when we use it, it no longer means what it should?
Bless the missionaries. Help us take this lesson into our hearts. Help us get home safely. Bless the food. Help me to have the Spirit…
When we talk with others, do we have phrases that we know what it means with those people, but outside of that context it loses meaning?
Meaningful: significant, valid, worthwhile, sincere, serious, and telling (i.e. revealing).
Do we throw phrases into our prayers without thinking because they are common, used by others, and have a general meaning? Look at those words: common, used by others, general meaning. Is that how we address God, our Father in Heaven?
God does not want flowery, pretentious wording in our prayers. But He does want the words we use to have significance, validity, sincerity, and to reveal to us our true feelings about the things we are counseling with Him about.
Whether we’re at home, praying over meals, engaging in family prayer, or praying in Sunday School or other class on a Sunday, it’s important to consider our true objective in praying and use meaningful words and phrases to express our desire to receive and to act.
Our Prayers Directly Reflect our Relationship with God
If our prayers are meaningful, then I find that our relationship with God is real, raw, genuine, and sincere. It has been my personal experience, and my observation, that the more real, genuine, telling, and meaningful our prayers, the more real, genuine, telling and sincere our relationship with God is. If we have tried and tested God through the years, our prayers reveal (tell of) our faith in Him. If we have received comfort, testimony, peace, and validation from God through the years, our prayers reveal (tell of) our confidence in receiving more of such peace. If we have received miracles, our prayers reveal our confidence in God’s ability to grant yet another one. If we have received critical answers and witnesses, our prayers reveal our belief that more will come and can be had at God’s hand.
A casual prayer reveals a casual relationship with the Almighty. And that relationship can change from prayer to prayer, day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year. Relationships (as the wise know) require constant care. We may be casual one day and on our knees, pleading the next. But, it would be much more ideal if day-to-day we strove to have meaningful prayer and to maintain a meaningful relationship with God.
The status and understanding of our relationship to God is often the biggest disconnect we have in prayer. If we see Him incorrectly, or if we do not know Him as we ought, our prayers will reflect that.
Simply Saying Prayers is Different from Engaging in Meaningful Prayer
If we look to scripture for examples of meaningful prayer, we find a pattern for exactly what meaningful prayer entails.
I suggest each of you review the following: Joseph Smith-History 1:8-10; Enos 1:2-5, 19; Alma 22:3, 5-6; 3 Nephi chapters 17-19; Luke 22:41-42
In these passages there is a clear and consistent pattern of what meaningful prayer looks like:
- Serious reflection prior to the prayer
- An object in praying or a specific desire/feeling generated the prayer
- Prayer was offered meaningfully directly focusing on the desire/object
- Object/desire was sought with intent to act on knowledge/blessing received
- Individual acts on knowledge received and testifies of the testimony gained
In in April 2008 General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (bi-annual world conference of church), Elder David. A Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave an address titled “Ask in Faith.” In this address he defined meaningful prayer in several ways:
Ask in Faith = express + do
Ask in Faith = plead + perform
Ask in Faith = communicate + act
Ask in Faith = inquire + do
Meaningful Prayer = holy communication + consecrated work
He counseled: “Pray with the expectation to act and not just to express.” For example, we often ask God to bless the missionaries or to help the sick or to comfort the weary. We express our desire for Him to care for these individuals. Yet, we do not ask for the guidance to be a part of the action. Elder Bednar then counseled:
If we would truly pray and ask in faith…our prayer of faith might include some of the following elements
Asking for courage and boldness to open our mouths and share the gospel with our family and friends.
- Entreating Heavenly Father to help us identify individuals and families who will be receptive to our invitations to be taught by the missionaries in our homes.
- Pledging to do our part this day and this week for help to overcome anxiety, fear, and hesitation.
- Seeking for the gift of discernment—for eyes to see and ears to hear missionary opportunities as they occur.
- Praying fervently for the strength to act as we know we should.
The Purpose of Prayer is to Become Like God
Aside from all that’s been discussed, I return again to the purpose of life. Our entire reason for being on the planet earth is so that God (through the use of our agency) can help us become like Him. Thus, when we go to Him in prayer, that which He desires to lead us to is His plan. Yes, He cares about our worries, our problems, our jobs, our education, and our relationships. But, if we remember that when we go to Him, to counsel with Him, that His end goal is to help us become like Him, that will broaden our scope of understanding and increase our ability to understand His will and guidance in our lives.
We are not on our knees to convey information. We are not on our knees to get that sports car we want. We are not even on our knees to get that job we want. We are on our knees to find out how God can take us from where we are, presently, to becoming like Him. That, in and of itself, means that the job we want may not be the one God wants us to have. It may mean going back to school. It may mean undoing a lot of the things we’ve been working for. It may mean doing more than we thought we had to, to go in a direction we had not previously imagined.
To make prayer meaningful, we have to be there to counsel with Him, and to ultimately seek His will of how we might act to progress in His designs to help us become like Him.
In the Bible Dictionary (scriptures.lds.org) we read:
Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with one another. Humble, earnest, and persistent prayer enables us to recognize and align ourselves with the will of the Father.
Additionally we learn:
The object of our prayers should not be to present a series of requests, but to secure for ourselves and for others the blessings that God is eager to bestow, according to His will and timing.
Honest prayer. Once we arrive at true honesty in our prayers, meaningful prayer (prayer with the intent to act) is the next step. Prayer just might be the most important commandment of all. For with no connection to God, what good is all the rest? I challenge each of you to ponder meaningful prayer and to make the attempt to integrate it into your life.