I am often on my knees asking for those things that I feel I need and want. I am often praying for guidance. I am often looking for peace, or inspiration. Aren’t we all? I am often on my knees because that’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m more frequently on my knees (these days) because I know nowhere else to go to get the power, comfort, peace and reassurance I need. Indeed, there is nowhere else to go…in my experience.

Efficiency is something I like. I’m great at cleaning and organizing quickly because I’m efficient. I know how to see all that needs to be done and find ways to organize and clean in an order that saves time while also accomplishing a great deal at a high quality. I can be detail oriented when I need to be, but I never get lost in details.

Prayer is something I have worked long and hard to be efficient at. Not efficient as in praying as fast as I can, in as few words, with the most impact, like I’m running a business, or organizing files. No, efficient as in getting the power and guidance out of prayer that I need. Getting out of my own way, so to speak. Praying in a way that works. Not simply spouting words or expecting God to read my mind (which I know He can do). And, by focusing on how to make my prayers matter TO ME, I find that I offer them better and with more effect, granting me expediency…or the ability to get those things I so desperately seek.

I hope I’m saying this right. There are many ways to accomplish things in life. But, there are better ways, and best ways. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to, metaphorically speaking, eliminate the fluff, and get to a point where my prayers hopefully have maximum efficiency in helping me to increase my relationship with God and my ability to call down the powers of heaven to gain peace, guidance, inspiration, and assurance on my path through this life.

One of the ways I have found that I’ve been able to improve upon this (because I’m in no way perfect at prayer) is to understand and utilize the power of expediency.

Expedient

Several times in the Doctrine and Covenants, an entire book of revelation given based on expediency, we see the word expedient used to define what should be asked for in prayer and/or what things will be manifested unto us by the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 18:18; 88:64-65).

Expedient = what is advantageous, practical, beneficial, useful

The scriptures are full of counsel regarding prayer. There are some important elements: addressing God—the Father, expressing gratitude, seeking forgiveness of sins, praying over anything in our lives that we need help with, asking for grace, praying for others, etc., and closing in the name of Jesus Christ—our Mediator.

However, when it comes to getting specific answers from God to our prayers, there are guidelines that are given. However, it hasn’t been until very recently that I have begun to understand, to a better extent, all the guidelines and examples of expedient prayers given in the scriptures and what they mean for me. And, more importantly, how to use them to receive the answers I seek.

What NOT to Ask For

In the scriptures, God has told us in many ways expedientthings we are not supposed to ask for. We are to not ask for things that are not expedient (Doctrine and Covenants 88:5). We are not to ask for signs for proof, or to create faith or testimony (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12). We are commanded not to ask for things to consume upon our lusts (James 4:3). We are not to seek for revenge upon our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We are not to pray for riches, except that we may use what riches we receive to build up the kingdom of God (Jacob 2:19), etc.

So, we can talk to God about everything. But, we must take into consideration some important guidelines when it comes to what blessings we seek at God’s hand. Asking God to do a back flip just to satisfy our curiosity about his mobility is hardly a proper thing to ask of the Almighty. We must be mindful of what we pray for, ask for, and seek for from our Father in Heaven.

So, what are those guidelines for asking?

While there are many scriptures that point to these guidelines, I’m going to boil it down to a few.

James 1:5

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.

What are we commanded to ask for? Wisdom.

Note that God uses the word “wisdom.” He doesn’t say information. He doesn’t say fun facts. He says wisdom. Wisdom is far different than information and fun facts.

Wisdom = experience, knowledge, good judgment, intelligence, common sense; as well as the ability to apply such to our lives. Wisdom also refers to general societal knowledge and principles.

So, when God says, “If you lack wisdom,” He means that you don’t have the wisdom/intelligence you need to act wisely.

James 1:6

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.

Note that God says to, “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” We also often receive the counsel from God to ask, “with real intent,” or in “sincerity of heart” or with “full purpose of heart” (Moroni 7:9; 10:4, 2 Nephi 31:13). I believe these are all similar in meaning, in that God means us to pray with the intent to listen and to follow. If we seek answers or instruction or guidance, He wants us to know He won’t give us wisdom if we have no intent to act upon it (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33; Matthew 7:6). He only gives light and truth to those who will receive it, act on it, and seek for more (Alma 12:9-11).Man praying

How are we commanded to ask for wisdom? With the sincere intent to act upon the wisdom we hope to receive.

Joseph Smith-History 1:18

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.

Alma 22:18

O God Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.

In these two scriptures it’s important to pay attention to what the individuals are praying for. Joseph asks to know which church is true that he may know which to join. The King of the Lamanites wants to God to manifest unto him if He exists, that he may give away all his sins to know Him and live with Him.

Herein lies the answer to expediency. Both want simple answers that they may know how to act so that they may progress spiritually—for themselves.

We know that God’s work and glory is to bring about our immortality (living forever) and eternal life (life like God and with God) (Moses 1:39). If that is God’s most important and eternal work, then, it would seem that those things that are expedient for us are those endowments of knowledge and wisdom that will lead us (if we listen and follow it) to live with and become like God.

What wisdom are we supposed to seek? The wisdom that will lead us forward in God’s plan toward becoming like Him.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-10

Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…

Now, if you have known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.

This scripture was given for Oliver Cowdery who was told he could help translate the Book of Mormon. But, once he was told he could help he expected all the wisdom and guidance from the Spirit he needed would simply come. Poof. He took no thought for the effort required to receive the wisdom and guidance he needed.

A modern equivalent of the mistake Oliver Cowdery made is to get a calling to teach Sunday school at church. And then, simply because you were called and set apart you didn’t think it was necessary to prepare your lessons, pray for guidance before each lesson, and then to follow that guidance in preparing and delivering your lesson. The calling didn’t exempt you from the effort to do the calling the Lord called you to do.

It’s like getting the validation that God is okay with whom you choose to marry. But, simply because you got married in the temple you expect that everything will be celestial without actually living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in your daily married life–simply because God said, OK. Nothing in this life, or in eternity, is simply handed to us without accompanying effort and responsibility to care for the gift received. All godly guidance requires effort to receive and effort to follow.

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

How are we to seek for the wisdom we lack? We are to do our part to get what wisdom we can before going to the Lord for either validation or further guidance. We are never “done” getting personal revelation until we have become godly.

Now, let’s set forth the specific pattern we’ve identified for getting answers to our prayers.

Pattern #1: You’ve got to work

Brigham young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (BY, 416). I might alter that to say, “where wisdom fails.”

If the information is reasonably available to us through sincere efforts of searching, seeking, discussion with wise friends and family members, and pondering, God isn’t going to give a separate answer. God is loving but I suspect a perfect being is also perfectly efficient and not prone to ridiculous acts simply because we come to Him crying. As well, when we put ourselves into a climate of seeking, pondering, discussing, and searching, there is no limit to the answers God can give us about many things. So, to just dispense one sentence phrases or even short paragraphs anytime we have a question is not only inefficient and contrary to God’s nature, it deprives us of the further light and knowledge God has for us on many topics. A truly loving God will choose the more helpful, expedient, and valuable of the two ways to answering our prayers.

Pattern #2: Expediency*

As God’s 24/7 goal (if you want to put it in mortal time constraints) is to save and exalt us and help us become godly (Moses 1:39). It would stand therefore, that though all questions are good, the best questions are those that are derived from the deepest, simplest desires of our hearts.

*I want to make a brief comment about lines of revelation. God has set up His church to have accepted lines of revelation so that we know when something is from God, or not. God is a god of order, and not confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). Revelation for the entire church comes through the prophet. Revelation for the region comes through the designated Seventy. Revelation for our stake comes through the Stake President. Revelation for our ward comes through the Bishop. Revelation for the Relief Society comes through the Relief Society President, etc.

Revelation for our lives comes to us. As well, in personal lives there are also smaller, but distinct lines of communication. Parents can only get so much guidance for their children. The older children become the less revelation a parent can receive on behalf of a child. A parent may receive inspiration to caution a child about something. But, if child receives a spiritual witness that a parent has not also received it means that the child is capable of getting his/her own revelation and that God doesn’t need to cycle that revelation through the parent. Etc.

So, expediency may also relate to questions we ask that are not for ourselves. Even if the wisdom will comfort us, but it is ultimately wisdom intended for a line of authority which we are not in; then we are not likely to get such wisdom, especially if we cannot act on it for our own, personal salvation.

Pattern #3: Real Intent

Finally, we must have the true intent to act upon the wisdom we receive. If we want facts to satisfy fears and doubts, but we have no intent to do anything based on the counsel or guidance that comes, we are very unlikely to get much, if anything.

Example of the Expedient Pattern:

If we look at Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in Joseph Smith-History; we learn that prior to going to the sacred grove to ask which church to join, Joseph attended all the several meetings of the many churches in his area. All focused on different points of doctrine. All interpreted the Bible differently. We know Joseph got to know many of the pastors well. We know he conversed with them and asked them questions on their varied doctrines. We also know Joseph studied the scriptures looking for guidance as to what church to join. He searched and pondered and studied. He did all the seeking he could. HE WORKED

Then, when the wisdom of society, the scriptures, and his own failed, then he went to ask of God.

JOSEPH ASKED AN EXPEDIENT QUESTION. Which church should I join?

JOSEPH ASKED WITH REAL INTENT. Joseph asked with the intent to join whatever church God told him to join. He simply wanted to know which one was God’s.

Note, he didn’t ask God, “Is the Methodist church better than the Presbyterian?” He didn’t ask, “Why are there so many churches?” He didn’t ask, “The Bible says there’s one faith and one baptism. Why then do all the churches have so many different ways of baptizing?” None of these are bad questions. They simply don’t have the greatest expediency.

Joseph’s question was expedient because the answer would allow Joseph to progress toward godliness and salvation.

Questions that are generally not expedient

Based on these patterns, let’s look at questions that are generally not expedient. These are unlikely to get answered because the answer doesn’t necessary lead to personal action or progression.

  • What color was the Liahona?
  • When will the second coming of Christ be?
  • How come you let the prophet put this new policy in place that seems so unlike you?
  • Why can’t women also officiate in the Priesthood?
  • Why did you let me lose my job?
  • Why did you let that terrible catastrophe happen?
  • Was the earth really created in five earth days or is what science says correct?
  • Did you use evolution to create all life?

Now, let’s look take these un-expedient questions down to their core. Let’s look at the deeper, simpler questions that are behind them that are expedient. The answers to these questions require pre-work and also will lead to personal action and progression.

Questions that are more expedient**

  • I have read the Book of Mormon and find much good in it. Is the Book of Mormon Woman Sitting Down in Prayer Silhouettetrue? Is it your word?
  • I’m trying to live a good life, but I know I’m not ready to see Christ. So, what is the most important thing I can be doing right now to prepare for the second coming of Christ?
  • I am trying to accept and follow the prophet’s counsel in all things. But I’m struggling with this most current policy. Can you please reassure me. Is <current prophet> a true prophet?
  • I’ve been studying the scriptures and have found several passages that indicate your love for all your children. But, I’m still struggling to feel peace about it in relation to how the church is set up. Can you reassure me? Can you help me to know that you love women as much as you do men?
  • I’ve lost my job. I’ve looked at several jobs and have applied to the ones I feel will best help me take care of my family. Is the course my life is taking according to Thy will? Will I be able to find the job you want me to have?
  • Science makes it seem like the earth coming into being was random and took eons (implies study). I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Bible says (implies study). Perhaps there is much missing from both the scientific and the Bible accounts. So, can you please reassure me? Did you create the earth?
  • Am I really your literal spirit son or daughter? Or am I just a product of evolution? I need to know so that I can feel confident in the course of action I’m choosing for my life. If you’re real and I’m your child, then that will change the decision I make.

**Note that the answer to any of these questions requires previous personal action and study and that the answer will lead to continued personal action and eternal progression.

We can be upset or confused about many things in life. But, that which is of most value for us to do is to break down those frustrations we have to their core doctrine, their deepest simplest root, and then take that question to the Lord rather than the more complex and less expedient questions we often have.

It is important to note, however, that the Lord can answer any question we put to Him. There are occasions when He has answered what, according to the formula I have presented, are less expedient questions. When He has done so and why is beyond my ability to confer to you. But, from my own study and experience, I have felt that, in general, we are likely to get answers more quickly and more clearly if we seek to make our questions and requests expedient.

Why doesn’t God tell us everything? Why doesn’t He speak the answer to every issue and question we have in our minds and hearts? I don’t know. But, as I am confident in his “true love” for us, I believe that the problem is not His limitation in answering, but ours in desiring the best knowledge and understanding how to receive those expedient answers.

Our finite understanding, perspective, and capabilities make it impossible for us to converse with the Lord as we would likely wish. There is much the Lord can tell us if our hearts and minds are right and prepared. But, He has chosen to reveal only those things that are expedient for our eternal progression.

So, we can get upset that God doesn’t tell us everything. OR, we can follow the pattern He has set for getting answers to prayers.

BT

Doctrine: Expediency has everything to do with getting consistent answers to our prayers. The scriptures lay out a pattern for asking expedient questions and receiving answers. God is not limited in His ability to talk to us, but we are limited in our ability to hear His voice and understand His ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).

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:

  1. Serious reflection prior to the prayer
  2. An object in praying or a specific desire/feeling generated the prayer
  3. Prayer was offered meaningfully directly focusing on the desire/object
  4. Object/desire was sought with intent to act on knowledge/blessing received
  5. 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.

Conclusion:

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.

BT

If we can remember that the purpose of prayer is to…

Yes, I left you hanging. Because I want you to ponder as you read this blog not actually on the stages of prayer, but the purpose of prayer…which is manifested in each and every stage of learning to pray. Ask yourself this question for the rest of this blog, “What do I feel the purpose of prayer is? What is the actual purpose of prayer? Am I prepared to accept the purpose of prayer?”

Learning to Pray

I grew up in a home where parents taught me to pray. We prayed as a family over food and as a way to sort of end the day. We tried to pray as a family in the mornings, but I can’t remember, honestly, if we did it consistently. I feel certain we were consistent enough in the evenings that it was daily. We prayed extra sometimes when family members needed it. We fasted and prayed on fast Sundays, and at times did so outside of fast Sundays because we were concerned about family members and health needs.

I don’t remember exactly when I started saying my own, personal prayers. I think because we prayed so often as a family, that like many Christians, I developed a sort of “inner prayer” that was offered at will without the usual prayer formalities. No pretense, just immediate pleas to God. “Help me get home safely,” while walking home from school. “Help me get through this…” if I was having a tough, lonely, or persecuted day. “Help me…Save me…” which is often the most common, informal prayer we all offer. But, I do know I’ve been praying at least once daily since I was 13 or 14.

I do remember the first time I got on my knees to pray to know the Book of Mormon was true. I remember it, because I wasn’t sure if I would get a direct answer. I wasn’t sure how the answer would feel or how it would come. I also remember one very important night at the age of 15 where I knew that if I didn’t say my prayers that I would go down a path in my life that was not what God wanted for me. I said my prayers that night and it changed the course of my life—that I know with certainty.

And you see, prayer is like that. Sometimes it is the thing that changes you. Sometimes it’s the thing you do because you’re supposed to. Sometimes you wonder if it’s doing any good. Sometimes you know for certain that it has saved you, blessed another, guided you, and so forth. The key word here is “sometimes.” But, it doesn’t have to always be sometimes…as I have at last learned.

Stages of Prayer

I don’t claim to have any special knowledge about prayer…other than what I have learned from personal experience. And, I’m still learning. So, in two days, two months, two years, or even two decades, I might add more to this. But, for me, I’ve found that I’ve progressed through what I call “stages” of praying.

  • Rote prayer
  • Rote prayer with additions
  • Formulaic prayer
  • Formulaic prayer with additions
  • Heartfelt prayer
  • Honest prayer

Wrote Prayer

As a child of a religious family, I was taught the basic words of prayer. Now, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints don’t actually learn “wrote prayers.” We don’t read from cards or recite directly from the sermon on the mount. But, we learn how to: address God, thank Him for the day, bless us to…, help us to…, close the prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

We are often also encouraged to use respectful and sacred personal and possessive pronouns for God, such as: thee, thou, and thy. But, we believe that all sincere prayer is acceptable to God, though we try to learn to use these to remove the casual nature from prayer and raise it up to a loving and respectful address to the Almighty God, our Father in Heaven. We tend to learn, in our religious culture, names for deity such as I’ve already listed: Dear Heavenly Father, Father in Heaven, Gracious Father, Celestial Father, and so forth, which we offer in an attempt to show God love, respect, humility, and honor for His station, as well as to show our personal feelings toward Him.

This is what I mean by rote prayer. This is what I mean by basic prayer. It’s getting the idea of it down. It is not a lesser form of prayer except in its power to effect changes in us. It has beginning power, but not a fullness of power.

Rote Prayer With Additions

Then, as I got older I learned to add in my own variations. I started taking liberty with what blessings I asked for and what help I asked for. But, much of it was still repetitive and wrote, if basically full of good intent. Thus, my prayer began to become more personal. I stopped asking for the same things I’d been hearing others ask for, time and again, and started thinking about what I really hoped for, needed, and wanted. Sometimes in family prayers my parents would whisper suggestions (since I was praying on behalf of the family) to me to ensure I remembered an ill grandparent or a needy ward member.

This is a big step for all of us in the process of getting to an honest prayer. We must begin to consider what is truly in our own hearts. I started thinking about what would effect change in my life. Unfortunately, I was not yet to the stage where I was thinking about what changes God wanted. But, I was thinking about what I wanted and no longer just going about generalities. So, it was a step toward increasing the power of prayer to effect change in me, because I had graduated to thinking deeper.

Formulaic Prayer

At some point in praying, we all begin to realize that we don’t have to do things exactly how others do them. We begin to personalize our lives and our relationship with God. So, in time, while I realized I always began my prayers with, “Dear Heavenly Father,” I noticed that some people said things like, “Dearest Father,” or “Gracious Father in Heaven,” and so forth. It was at that time that I realized that it was important that I begin prayer by addressing God, but that I didn’t have to address Him the same all the time or in the same way others did. I began to ponder “how I saw God,” and wondered just how did I really want to address Him?

I did this with all aspects of prayer. I began to address God how I felt comfortable addressing Him. I tried to thank Him for the things I was grateful for and in the way I wanted instead of using all the same ideas and terms others used, or that were easy to default to. I began pondering exactly what things I needed to ask forgiveness for. The ending of prayer is doctrinal, “In the name of Jesus Christ,” because He is the mediator through whose grace and mercy we access God our Father. So, I didn’t change that. But, I did decide to keep it simple—for myself—as others tended to elongate the name of Christ in dramatic ways. “In the name of Thy Beloved Son, even Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer… amen,” and other lengthy details. Few times did I feel the elongations were necessary. And sometimes I even felt people said them fairly sincerely, but also in a subconscious show of dramatism. This is not to say people can’t do that, I just felt that for me I was satisfied with saying Christ’s name simply. For me that was less dramatic and more true to me, and keeping Christ’s name sacred.

Thus, I had graduated from wrote prayer with additions to a formulaic prayer, where I began to ponder God and my relationship with Him. I began to think about Christ. I began to think about how my prayer reflected what I felt and knew. This was a huge step in increasing the power of prayer in my life; increasing its ability to strengthen my relationship with God and its power to effect change in me—godly change.

Yet, I was still stuck within a formula. Not a bad thing. But, my prayers followed the formula and were limited to that formula: address, thank, seek forgiveness, ask, and end. I found that while praying I often worried about ticking off every box within the formula (to be faithful, of course, and get my blessings) and nearly always used up time trying to thank God sufficiently, ask for forgiveness sufficiently, and remember everyone on my internal list that I needed to pray for, that I was really limited in my prayers. I wasn’t improving at great lengths anymore. I began to feel like I was coasting in my relationship with God and I didn’t know how to reignite my own spiritual progression in this area.

It was time to become doubtful and agnostic about prayer or to graduate to the next stage.

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

Formulaic Prayer with Additions

From the beginning of my Christian life as a young Mormon, I had learned to follow a formula. And, the problem with a formula is not the formula itself, but how it is understood and applied. As I had become stuck in the doldrums of prayer, it was because I had not yet learned to abandon the formula and to apply what I had learned from following it.

As a writer, you learn that there are rules of style and grammar, etc. But, you also get to a point when you learn enough that you know when to break the rules, when to deviate from the rules of grammar, when to break the rules in the right way because you understand why the rules were given. We must also do this with prayer.

I remember the night I got on my knees in 2007 and was too tired, exhausted, fatigued, depressed, crushed, and barely surviving (emotionally and spiritually) to do the formula. I began with the address and tried to thank God for a few things, and then I simply quit. I didn’t have the energy to follow some ridiculous formula…not that night. I’d had true heartfelt prayers before, or at least pieces of them. But I had always kept to the formula, always reprimanding myself internally, “I can’t just ask, I’ve got to thank first.” “Oops, I forgot to ask forgiveness for…something…I guess I’d better get back on my knees and start again…” and other such thoughts.

That night in 2007 I said nothing, or very little. I began, in my mind, with “Dear Heavenly Father,” and then simply cried straight, sobbing for at least a solid ten minutes. During those minutes of crying desires, needs, hopes, disappointments, and more washed across my mind in waves. I couldn’t verbalize them. I could only think them.

It was during that ten minutes of sobbing, of deviating from the formula, that I had the first, truly deep spiritual guidance from God on what to say in my prayer. I felt His love, but I felt strongly that though I was living a righteous life that I had always lived it in my way and in the order I felt was right. I felt lovingly that I had not ever taken the time to listen to the steps God wanted me to take.

I suppose I could have felt chastised, but I didn’t feel it in the way we tend to feel chastisement from earthly people. It was during the silence following my sobbing that I was inspired to say to God, “Whatever path you want my life to take, that’s the one I’ll take. I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Just show me. Lead me. I’m ready to follow.”

It’s a long story. But God has spent every second since that prayer tearing apart the life I had planned so carefully (and it was a righteous life!) and reconstructing the life He wants for me. His deconstruction process was painful, I admit. But, feeling that I’m in the reconstruction stages, I can testify His dream plan for me is far beyond what I could have ever created for myself.

Now, I’m sure I had said those words in various ways before in many prayers, but I had never meant them the way I did that night. I had never been inspired by the Spirit to say them so purposefully in my prayer. They are the only words I prayed that night. I’m not even sure if I ended, “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” Yet, I know God heard and guided that prayer.

I wish I could say, thereafter, that I deviated from the prayer formula and was guided by the Spirit every time I got on my knees. It didn’t happen that way. And, it was because of me. Though that was the closest I’d ever come to God in prayer, I somehow considered it an exception. “Still gotta do that formula, ‘cause that’s how it’s done,” my mind kept telling me.

So, I did do the formula. But, slowly, I began to shorten my wrote lists and try to listen and feel more in my prayers. Nothing really happened when I did. I’d wait for minutes, trying to keep my mind clear and open. Nothing. No grand experiences. But, I kept trying.

I kept trying because I had been given a taste of how powerful prayer could be in changing me, in giving me pure heavenly direction, in literally altering my eternal spirit in a matter of minutes. Now, that’s power. I’d felt it and I was trying to find a way to recreate it.

Heartfelt Prayer

As my life has progressed, it has been spiritual exhaustion and mental and emotional exhaustion that has led me more and more often, to my knees, with no energy for prayer formulas. I can still say a good formulaic prayer even when I’m physically tired; but sap my spiritual, mental, and emotional strength, and the formula flies out the window. I have to abandon it because my own spirit is so depleted that I simply cannot offer generalities and lists with much sincere intent.

It was during another series of crying, wordless prayers, that it finally occurred to me how ridiculous it was that I thought God wanted my lists instead of my heart. I realized how absurd it was that I thought that God wanted my formula instead of me.

“How would I feel,” I thought, “if all of my family and friends spoke to me in a formula every time they visited and they couldn’t be persuaded to another topic until they’d canvassed a certain one?” “How would my family and friends feel,” I thought, “if all of my own conversation was limited to a certain order; if I had to thank them for at least five things before I could move on to asking their forgiveness on at least five things.” The ridiculous nature of my prayers continued to impact me.

Now, my prayers were not ridiculous, but the way I was offering them was silly. Does God want my thanks? Yes. But, if it comes at the end instead of the beginning and if I focus on one thing I’m truly feeling deeply grateful for that day instead of twenty others that I think I should thank Him for, so much the better. Does God want my repentance? Sure. But He doesn’t want me to grovel and repent of things by beating myself up for issues He already knows I’m working on. He doesn’t want me to tear my day apart and berate myself for every weakness and misstep. I think He’s far more pleased when I ponder in silence for a moment and ask Him, “What could I have truly done better today? What lack I yet in becoming like Thee?” and then letting the loving impressions that come to me be my focus rather than a pre-written, inked piece of sackcloth still dusty with ashes that I howl and mourn with before His throne.

Brace yourself, it was at this time that I began to rearrange the prayer formula. I began with the part that was first in my heart when I hit my knees. I even sometimes didn’t tick off every box. I would end my prayer—sometimes still a little worried—but I would end it when I felt I had said all I had to say and tried not to guilt myself for the pieces I’d skipped.

This was an experiment, see. I was daring to “be me” more and more and stop pretending. And, I began to feel better and better about my prayers. I began to see myself in glimpses and have life-changing thoughts and feelings again. I was beginning to be honest with myself and God and the power of my prayers to effect change in me and bring me closer to God began to grow again. It was more slowly and consistent and for myself, the purpose of prayer finally began to sink deep into my heart. I began to understand.

Honest Prayer

So often we make life, the gospel, scripture study, service (good works), etc. and especially prayer so complex. But, the purpose of all these things is the same purpose for which we are here on this earth.

We didn’t leave heaven to have a vacation. We didn’t come to this earth because God kicked us out. We didn’t come to this earth to figure out if we’re basically good. We didn’t even come here, solely, to get a body (though that was a big part of becoming like God as He has a glorified, resurrected, and perfected body). We certainly didn’t come to live it up.

We came to learn to be godly.

We came to earth to see if we truly wanted to become like God. We came to develop Christlike attributes to a greater extent than we had before, because we had them. We came to overcome personality issues, weaknesses, imperfections, and incorrect lines of thinking that we could not conquer in the heavens. This life, if we choose to allow it, will make us godly (as much as we are capable of in a mortal state). The purpose of prayer is to help us become like God.

  • We don’t pray to change God’s will. We pray to seek God’s will. We pray understand God’s will. We pray for strength to accept God’s will. We pray for help to apply God’s will.
  • We don’t pray to get what we think we want. We pray to learn what it is that will make us most happy. We pray to understand how to find the best that God has to offer us. We pray to align our wants with God’s. We pray to want godly things.
  • We don’t pray to tell God about our day. We pray to review our day with God so that He may inspire, guide, chastise, forgive, and comfort us regarding our day. We pray to better understand our day. We pray for eternal perspective on our day. We pray to learn from our day and understand what God would have us embrace on the morrow to continue the mortal process of learning to become like Him.
  • We don’t pray simply because it’s a commandment (although that’s a good start). We pray to receive grace to change us into godly creatures as we practice being godly by keeping the commandments. We pray for the power of grace to help us keep the commandments and to understand how they help us gain godly attributes. We pray for grace to remove the guilt for our mistakes that we may press forward keeping the commandments with hope and faith. We pray for grace to plan and practice overcoming sins and weaknesses until grace removes the temptations and desires for those sins from us. We pray for power to become godly.

There are so many reasons we pray. But, most of them are not powerful enough to help us to have the kind of experiences we wish to have. Most of them lack the power to bring us closer to God. It is not so much what we pray for but how and why we pray for it.

We are commanded to pray about everything (Alma 34:18-28). We are commanded to pray unceasingly and always (Doctrine and Covenants 10:5 |Doctrine and Covenants 19:38). God wants us talking to Him always. But, not because we can tell Him anything new or that He doesn’t already understand and know. He wants us to pray always that we may come closer to Him through the personal revelation He gives us as we ponder all that we pray about.

The purpose of prayer is to be honest with ourselves. To see ourselves as God sees us. To see our lives as God sees them. To see our future and potential and missions as God sees them. The purpose of prayer is to effect godly change in our lives on a daily basis. When we pray with this as our purpose, then our prayers at last become completely honest.

Formulas and Lists are Training Wheels to be Abandoned for Honesty

Let’s revisit my lists and prayer formulas. As long as I was checking items off a list, I didn’t think about what I was really grateful for. Without thinking, I wasn’t evil, I simply wasn’t open for personal revelation. As long as I was checking items off I thought I was praying with real intent. I wasn’t insincere, but my intent was low on the scale of its power to help me to be honest with myself and God.

In Matthew 6:5-13 Christ gives a formula for prayer. It was never meant to be typed on a card and repeated vainly, and memorized as the perfect prayer. It was never meant to be a fixed element that if we deviated from we were not praying as God intended. It was meant as an example of things we should pray for. It was meant to give us guidance as we pondered our own lives and sought honesty with ourselves.

If we break down “The Lord’s Prayer” into topics of honesty in prayer, it could look something like this:

  • How do you feel about God? Is His name hallowed to you? When you address Him, do you think about your true feelings for Him?
  • Do you want God’s will to run your life, or your own? Do you feel your will is “close enough” to God’s that He should simply let you keep on, keeping on? Do you believe God’s will has the potential to grant you the greatest amount of happiness? Or, do you want to grab all the happiness you feel you deserve in your way and time frame before you give yourself over to God’s will…just in case His will falls short of giving you the happiness you feel you are entitled to?
  • Which of your sins do you feel most prompted to change? Which of your sins do you ignore the most, setting it aside because it’s the one you feel entitled to, or that at the minimum you want to be the last one to let go? Which sins are your favorite, which you believe give you happiness, and you are afraid to trade for God’s plan for you?
  • Who do you struggle to forgive? Why do you struggle to forgive them? Do you really feel that you are entitled to not forgive them while you seek forgiveness of your own sins? What will happen if you honestly let go of worrying about them coming to justice? What will happen to them if you let go of worrying about them coming to justice and giving it over to God?
  • What is your daily bread? What do you do for a living? Is it the job you want? It is the job you think you need to be successful? Is it the job God wants for you? Have you asked God what He wants you to do with your time? Have you sought God’s will on the best way for you to earn your income and still serve Him? Are you willing to make changes in your work to do God’s will and trust Him to “clothe you as He does the lilies of the field?”
  • Do you pretend to not be tempted by something? Do you own up to your faults, weaknesses, and mistakes? Are you able to admit when you’re wrong? Are you able to apologize sincerely to others? What are you tempted by the most? Why does it tempt you? Are you honest with yourself about your possible psychological struggles, issues, and needs? Have you sought ways to meet your needs in a godly way? Do you seek God’s will to help remove and overcome the temptations you have?
  • What talents do you have? What experiences have given you strength? What gifts and blessings have you received over the years? How have you used these talents, experiences, strengths, gifts, and blessings to build up God’s kingdom? Do you feel that your life is a part of His kingdom? Or do you see your life as a separate thing from God’s plan and His kingdom? Where does your life fit in God’s plan, according to you?

If you pondered all of these questions and prayer topics before ever getting on your knees (or while on your knees)

how would your prayer look differently?

would you choose to review with God one or two of these areas rather than all?

would you avoid reviewing a topic for a specific reason?

would it be difficult to honestly talk to God about some of these feelings?

would you be afraid to get on your knees knowing the result would require you to change, and you’re afraid of change?

Conclusion

The stages of prayer are all about us personally discovering the purpose of prayer.

The purpose of prayer is to be honest with ourselves. To see ourselves as God sees us. To see our life as God sees it. To see our future and potential and mission as God sees it. The purpose of prayer is to effect godly change in our lives on a daily basis—honest change. When we pray with this as our purpose, then our prayers at last become completely honest. To me, thus far in my life, honest prayer is the best prayer.

BT

Check out blog: “Meaningful Prayer: The Next Step”

I am often on my knees asking for those things that I feel I need and want. I am often praying for guidance. I am often looking for peace, or inspiration. Aren’t we all? I am often on my knees because that’s where I’m supposed to be. I’m more frequently on my knees (these days) because I know nowhere else to go to get the power, comfort, peace and reassurance I need. Indeed, there is nowhere else to go…in my experience.

Efficiency is something I like. I’m great at cleaning and organizing quickly because I’m efficient. I know how to see all that needs to be done and find ways to organize and clean in an order that saves time while also accomplishing a great deal at a high quality. I can be detail oriented when I need to be, but I never get lost in details.

Prayer is something I have worked long and hard to be efficient at. Not efficient as in praying as fast as I can, in as few words, with the most impact, like I’m running a business, or organizing files. No, efficient as in getting the power and guidance out of prayer that I need. Getting out of my own way, so to speak. Praying in a way that works. Not simply spouting words or expecting God to read my mind (which I know He can do). And, by focusing on how to make my prayers matter TO ME, I find that I offer them better and with more effect, granting me expediency…or the ability to get those things I so desperately seek.

I hope I’m saying this right. There are many ways to accomplish things in life. But, there are better ways, and best ways. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to, metaphorically speaking, eliminate the fluff, and get to a point where my prayers hopefully have maximum efficiency in helping me to increase my relationship with God and my ability to call down the powers of heaven to gain peace, guidance, inspiration, and assurance on my path through this life.

One of the ways I have found that I’ve been able to improve upon this (because I’m in no way perfect at prayer) is to understand and utilize the power of expediency.

Expedient

Several times in the Doctrine and Covenants, an entire book of revelation given based on expediency, we see the word expedient used to define what should be asked for in prayer and/or what things will be manifested unto us by the Holy Ghost (Doctrine and Covenants 18:18; 88:64-65).

Expedient = what is advantageous, practical, beneficial, useful

The scriptures are full of counsel regarding prayer. There are some important elements: addressing God—the Father, expressing gratitude, seeking forgiveness of sins, praying over anything in our lives that we need help with, asking for grace, praying for others, etc., and closing in the name of Jesus Christ—our Mediator.

However, when it comes to getting specific answers from God to our prayers, there are guidelines that are given. However, it hasn’t been until very recently that I have begun to understand, to a better extent, all the guidelines and examples of expedient prayers given in the scriptures and what they mean for me. And, more importantly, how to use them to receive the answers I seek.

What NOT to Ask For

In the scriptures, God has told us in many ways expedientthings we are not supposed to ask for. We are to not ask for things that are not expedient (Doctrine and Covenants 88:5). We are not to ask for signs for proof, or to create faith or testimony (Doctrine and Covenants 63:7-12). We are commanded not to ask for things to consume upon our lusts (James 4:3). We are not to seek for revenge upon our enemies (Matthew 5:44). We are not to pray for riches, except that we may use what riches we receive to build up the kingdom of God (Jacob 2:19), etc.

So, we can talk to God about everything. But, we must take into consideration some important guidelines when it comes to what blessings we seek at God’s hand. Asking God to do a back flip just to satisfy our curiosity about his mobility is hardly a proper thing to ask of the Almighty. We must be mindful of what we pray for, ask for, and seek for from our Father in Heaven.

So, what are those guidelines for asking?

While there are many scriptures that point to these guidelines, I’m going to boil it down to a few.

James 1:5

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.

What are we commanded to ask for? Wisdom.

Note that God uses the word “wisdom.” He doesn’t say information. He doesn’t say fun facts. He says wisdom. Wisdom is far different than information and fun facts.

Wisdom = experience, knowledge, good judgment, intelligence, common sense; as well as the ability to apply such to our lives. Wisdom also refers to general societal knowledge and principles.

So, when God says, “If you lack wisdom,” He means that you don’t have the wisdom/intelligence you need to act wisely.

James 1:6

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.

Note that God says to, “ask in faith, nothing wavering.” We also often receive the counsel from God to ask, “with real intent,” or in “sincerity of heart” or with “full purpose of heart” (Moroni 7:9; 10:4, 2 Nephi 31:13). I believe these are all similar in meaning, in that God means us to pray with the intent to listen and to follow. If we seek answers or instruction or guidance, He wants us to know He won’t give us wisdom if we have no intent to act upon it (Doctrine and Covenants 88:33; Matthew 7:6). He only gives light and truth to those who will receive it, act on it, and seek for more (Alma 12:9-11).Man praying

How are we commanded to ask for wisdom? With the sincere intent to act upon the wisdom we hope to receive.

Joseph Smith-History 1:18

My object in going to inquire of the Lord was to know which of all the sects was right, that I might know which to join.

Alma 22:18

O God Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.

In these two scriptures it’s important to pay attention to what the individuals are praying for. Joseph asks to know which church is true that he may know which to join. The King of the Lamanites wants to God to manifest unto him if He exists, that he may give away all his sins to know Him and live with Him.

Herein lies the answer to expediency. Both want simple answers that they may know how to act so that they may progress spiritually—for themselves.

We know that God’s work and glory is to bring about our immortality (living forever) and eternal life (life like God and with God) (Moses 1:39). If that is God’s most important and eternal work, then, it would seem that those things that are expedient for us are those endowments of knowledge and wisdom that will lead us (if we listen and follow it) to live with and become like God.

What wisdom are we supposed to seek? The wisdom that will lead us forward in God’s plan toward becoming like Him.

Doctrine and Covenants 9:6-10

Do not murmur, my son, for it is wisdom in me that I have dealt with you after this manner.

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right…

Now, if you have known this you could have translated; nevertheless, it is not expedient that you should translate now.

This scripture was given for Oliver Cowdery who was told he could help translate the Book of Mormon. But, once he was told he could help he expected all the wisdom and guidance from the Spirit he needed would simply come. Poof. He took no thought for the effort required to receive the wisdom and guidance he needed.

A modern equivalent of the mistake Oliver Cowdery made is to get a calling to teach Sunday school at church. And then, simply because you were called and set apart you didn’t think it was necessary to prepare your lessons, pray for guidance before each lesson, and then to follow that guidance in preparing and delivering your lesson. The calling didn’t exempt you from the effort to do the calling the Lord called you to do.

It’s like getting the validation that God is okay with whom you choose to marry. But, simply because you got married in the temple you expect that everything will be celestial without actually living the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ in your daily married life–simply because God said, OK. Nothing in this life, or in eternity, is simply handed to us without accompanying effort and responsibility to care for the gift received. All godly guidance requires effort to receive and effort to follow.

Woman hands praying with a bible in a dark over wooden table

How are we to seek for the wisdom we lack? We are to do our part to get what wisdom we can before going to the Lord for either validation or further guidance. We are never “done” getting personal revelation until we have become godly.

Now, let’s set forth the specific pattern we’ve identified for getting answers to our prayers.

Pattern #1: You’ve got to work

Brigham young taught, “It is only where experience fails that revelation is needed” (BY, 416). I might alter that to say, “where wisdom fails.”

If the information is reasonably available to us through sincere efforts of searching, seeking, discussion with wise friends and family members, and pondering, God isn’t going to give a separate answer. God is loving but I suspect a perfect being is also perfectly efficient and not prone to ridiculous acts simply because we come to Him crying. As well, when we put ourselves into a climate of seeking, pondering, discussing, and searching, there is no limit to the answers God can give us about many things. So, to just dispense one sentences phrases or even short paragraphs anytime we have a question is not only inefficient and contrary to God’s nature, it deprives us of the further light and knowledge God has for us on many topics. A truly loving God will choose the more helpful, expedient, and valuable of the two ways to answering our prayers.

Pattern #2: Expediency*

As God’s 24/7 goal (if you want to put it in mortal time constraints) is to save and exalt us and help us become godly (Moses 1:39). It would stand therefore, that though all questions are good, the best questions are those that are derived from the deepest, simplest desires of our hearts.

*I want to make a brief comment about lines of revelation. God has set up His church to have accepted lines of revelation so that we know when something is from God, or not. God is a god of order, and not confusion (Doctrine and Covenants 132:8). Revelation for the entire church comes through the prophet. Revelation for the region comes through the designated Seventy. Revelation for our stake comes through the Stake President. Revelation for our ward comes through the Bishop. Revelation for the Relief Society comes through the Relief Society President, etc.

Revelation for our lives comes to us. As well, in personal lives there are also smaller, but distinct lines of communication. Parents can only get so much guidance for their children. The older children become the less revelation a parent can receive on behalf of a child. A parent may receive inspiration to caution a child about something. But, if child receives a spiritual witness that a parent has not also received it means that the child is capable of getting his/her own revelation and that God doesn’t need to cycle that revelation through the parent. Etc.

So, expediency may also relate to questions we ask that are not for ourselves. Even if the wisdom will comfort us, but it is ultimately wisdom intended for a line of authority which we are not in; then we are not likely to get such wisdom, especially if we cannot act on it for our own, personal salvation.

Pattern #3: Real Intent

Finally, we must have the true intent to act upon the wisdom we receive. If we want facts to satisfy fears and doubts, but we have no intent to do anything based on the counsel or guidance that comes, we are very unlikely to get much, if anything.

Example of the Expedient Pattern:

If we look at Joseph Smith’s account of the First Vision as recorded in Joseph Smith-History; we learn that prior to going to the sacred grove to ask which church to join, Joseph attended all the several meetings of the many churches in his area. All focused on different points of doctrine. All interpreted the Bible differently. We know Joseph got to know many of the pastors well. We know he conversed with them and asked them questions on their varied doctrines. We also know Joseph studied the scriptures looking for guidance as to what church to join. He searched and pondered and studied. He did all the seeking he could. HE WORKED

Then, when the wisdom of society, the scriptures, and his own failed, then he went to ask of God.

JOSEPH ASKED AN EXPEDIENT QUESTION. Which church should I join?

JOSEPH ASKED WITH REAL INTENT. Joseph asked with the intent to join whatever church God told him to join. He simply wanted to know which one was God’s.

Note, he didn’t ask God, “Is the Methodist church better than the Presbyterian?” He didn’t ask, “Why are there so many churches?” He didn’t ask, “The Bible says there’s one faith and one baptism. Why then do all the churches have so many different ways of baptizing?” None of these are bad questions. They simply don’t have the greatest expediency.

Joseph’s question was expedient because the answer would allow Joseph to progress toward godliness and salvation.

Questions that are generally not expedient

Based on these patterns, let’s look at questions that are generally not expedient. These are unlikely to get answered because the answer doesn’t necessary lead to personal action or progression.

  • What color was the Liahona?
  • When will the second coming of Christ be?
  • How come you let the prophet put this new policy in place that seems so unlike you?
  • Why can’t women also officiate in the Priesthood?
  • Why did you let me lose my job?
  • Why did you let that terrible catastrophe happen?
  • Was the earth really created in five earth days or is what science says correct?
  • Did you use evolution to create all life?

Now, let’s look take these un-expedient questions down to their core. Let’s look at the deeper, simpler questions that are behind them that are expedient. The answers to these questions require pre-work and also will lead to personal action and progression.

Questions that are more expedient**

  • I have read the Book of Mormon and find much good in it. Is the Book of MormonWoman Sitting Down in Prayer Silhouettetrue? Is it your word?
  • I’m trying to live a good life, but I know I’m not ready to see Christ. So, what is the most important thing I can be doing right now to prepare for the second coming of Christ?
  • I am trying to accept and follow the prophet’s counsel in all things. But I’m struggling with this most current policy. Can you please reassure me. Is <current prophet> a true prophet?
  • I’ve been studying the scriptures and have found several passages that indicate your love for all your children. But, I’m still struggling to feel peace about it in relation to how the church is set up. Can you reassure me? Can you help me to know that love women as much as you do men?
  • I’ve lost my job. I’ve looked at several jobs and have applied to the ones I feel will best help me take care of my family. Is the course my life is taking according to Thy will? Will I be able to find the job you want me to have?
  • Science makes it seem like the earth coming into being was random and took eons (implies study). I don’t know how to reconcile that with what the Bible says (implies study). Perhaps there is much missing from both the scientific and the Bible accounts. So, can you please reassure me? Did you create the earth?
  • Am I really your literal spirit son or daughter? Or am I just a product of evolution? I need to know so that I can feel confident in the course of action I’m choosing for my life. If you’re real and I’m your child, then that will change the decision I make.

**Note that the answer to any of these questions requires previous personal action and study and that the answer will lead to continued personal action and eternal progression.

We can be upset or confused about many things in life. But, that which is of most value for us to do is to break down those frustrations we have to their core doctrine, their deepest simplest root, and then take that question to the Lord rather than the more complex and less expedient questions we often have.

It is important to note, however, that the Lord can answer any question we put to Him. There are occasions when He has answered what, according to the formula I have presented, are less expedient questions. When He has done so and why is beyond my ability to confer to you. But, from my own study and experience, I have felt that, in general, we are likely to get answers more quickly and more clearly if we seek to make our questions and requests expedient.

Why doesn’t God tell us everything? Why doesn’t He speak the answer to every issue and question we have in our minds and hearts? I don’t know. But, as I am confident in his “true love” for us, I believe that the problem is not His limitation in answering, but ours in desiring the best knowledge and understanding how to receive those expedient answers.

Our finite understanding, perspective, and capabilities make it impossible for us to converse with the Lord as we would likely wish. There is much the Lord can tell us if our hearts and minds are right and prepared. But, He has chosen to reveal only those things that are expedient for our eternal progression.

So, we can get upset that God doesn’t tell us everything. OR, we can follow the pattern He has set for getting answers to prayers.

BT

Doctrine: Expediency has everything to do with getting consistent answers to our prayers. The scriptures lay out a pattern for asking expedient questions and receiving answers. God is not limited in His ability to talk to us, but we are limited in our ability to hear His voice and understand His ways (Isaiah 55:8-9).