The visitation of Moroni to the young Joseph Smith was preceeded by a fervent prayer regarding his status before the Lord. There are interesting similarities in Joseph's account of his vision of Moroni and his First Vision almost four years before.
In 1820, Joseph became concerned for the welfare of his immortal soul. His mind become distressed for he became convicted of his sins. Likewise, in 1823, the repentant Joseph was seeking reconciliation with the Lord concerning his sins and follies. Our JS manual tells us that he "desired a manifestation to me, that I might know of my state and standing before him..." (p. 57)
Latter-day Saints tend to emphasize the results of these two prayers relating to the future organization of the Church. The First Vision is seen as important because the Lord told Joseph that no Church currently on the earth held the fulness of the gospel. Moroni's visit is significant because of the information the angel imparted about the Golden Plates that Joseph would later translate. But I believe that to Joseph personally, the greater significance in these manifestations was in uncovering his status before the Lord and the forgiveness of his sins.
In the third Lecture on Faith, it is taught: "Let us here observe, that three things are necessary, in order that any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God, unto life and salvation: First, the idea that he actually exists. Second, a correct idea of his character, perfections and attributes. Third, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing, is according to his [God's] will."
Joseph's prayer was a desire for all three items in the aforementioned list. I'm beginning to see the importance of the third, and to realize that it is something I tend to neglect. I believe that God exists. I'm well aware of Church teachings regarding His character and attributes. But how often do I go before the Lord to know if my course is in accordance with the Divine Will? I recognize the value of seeking God's approbation regarding the big decisions--choosing a career, or whom to marry. But I'm perhaps a bit afraid of inquiring as to how I'm doing so far. As I pray for forgiveness of our sins, am I brave enough to ask for a view of how far I yet have to go?
Latter-day Saint teachings on prayer often emphasize its spontaneous nature and warn against repetitious and rote invocations. Thus we offer as a format for prayer something like the following:
Dear Heavenly Father,
We thank thee....
We ask thee....
In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.
We also deemphasize the Lord's Prayer as found in the scriptures, because many other churches have turned this prayer into a ritual instead of an example. This is unfortunate, really, because there are many aspects of the Lord's Prayer which are doctrinally important and not specifically mentioned in our latter-day prayer template. One of these things is the plea for forgiveness of sins which Joseph modeled in his exemplary prayers of 1820 and 1823. Joseph wanted to know of his standing before the Lord in relation to his personal righteousness. He had no idea what further revelation was in store for him. It takes a bit of courage to come to this point. But what glorious scenes may result!