Thursday, December 27, 2007

The True Order of Prayer

"Ask, and ye shall receive," the scriptures teach us, yet we have all prayed for things that have not come to pass. Many a sermon has been given on why our prayers are not always answered. But James puts it as succinctly as this: "Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss." (James 4:3) I believe, as it is possible to pray "amiss," it is also possible to pray correctly, in the true order of prayer, in a way that these prayers are always fulfilled.

The best example we have of this type of prayer is Nephi, the son of Nephi, who later became one of the disciples of Christ when he appeared to the remnant of Israel on the American continent. Nephi was a prophet and missionary who preached the word with unwearyingness. He sought God's will and to keep his commandments, and thus received the promise that "all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word," or in other words, all his prayers would come to pass. The Lord told him why this should be so--"for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will." Nephi had reached the point where his prayers had become united with the mind of God and when he prayed, he did it with great power.

The true order of prayer is communication with our Father in Heaven which is dictated by the Spirit. This principle is taught throughout the scriptures. Paul explains in Romans 8:26-27 that the Spirit can help us to pray in the true order in spite of our human frailties. For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but if we listen to the Spirit it can make intercession for us. The prayer dictated by the Spirit to the saints in this way will be according to the will of God. D&C 46:30 tells us "he that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God, wherefore it is done even as he asketh."

Nephi's associates and fellow disciples learned from the Savior himself how to pray this way. When Jesus was among the Nephites he prayed an intercessory prayer to the Father in behalf of his followers. He asked that they might learn to be as united with him as he was with the Father--that they might be as one. Then he approached the disciples and saw that they had indeed learned the principle: "they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire." (3 Nephi 19:23-24)

Praying without ceasing is thus seen to be a uniting of the human will to that of Christ and the Father. It is not necessarily many words which are said. In fact, prayers are often expressed in "groanings which cannot be uttered." Often vocal prayers which are expressed in the language of the spoken word are limited in conveying the true intent of the heart. However, the soul can be continually open to what is given by the Spirit. 2 Nephi 32 is a discourse upon the true order of prayer. It describes how the Holy Ghost teaches people to speak with the tongue of angels, or in other words, to speak the words of Christ. This chapter exhorts us to "hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray." Finally in verse 9 we are that we must pray always and not faint, not performing anything unto the Lord until we are united with him in his will.

When we have learned to pray this way, our prayers will have great power. However, having our prayers come to pass is only a small benefit of learning this skill. The purpose of the true order of prayer is to teach us one of the most important things we can learn in our mortal existence. As we learn to pray in the true order of prayer, we are taught personal revelation. We are taught to converse with the Lord through the veil of mortality, as a preparation to one day enter his presence.


SilverRain said...

Thank you, BiV. This was a most beautiful post.

I've been thinking about a parallel topic. I think it is necessary to first humble oneself before one can possibly pray in the way you describe.

Kalola said...

I am often fearful of praying because I reflect on the saying, "Watch what you pray for, you just might get it."

This is a prayer I relate to:

"God, I offer myself to Thee - to build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will. Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy Love, and Thy Way of life. May I do Thy will always!"

Third Step Prayer, Alcoholics Anonymous.

Dr. B. said...

I have given the concept of the true order of prayer some thought. Your post has a great deal of merit about the attitude of prayer. The matter of the topics we should pray about are something I have examined over the years when I have seen various people pray in church meetings and temple meetings. The general topics include youth, missionaries, members serving in the military, rulers of nations, personal needs of people on temple prayer rolls, the temple presidency and workers, the general authorities particularly the Prophet and his counselors or stake and local leaders, and finally the personal needs of people in the congregation. I tend to think the spirit moves us in the true order to pray for that which is revealed in our own personal lives for us and our families. I don't see why we don't have more specificity in our prayers. I think some of the things covered might occasionally come out in our daily prayers conducted in the true order by but I think there is more diversity than what I hear in the group prayers. Since who knows why someone puts something on roll there might be a great deal more diversity of topics but only God and the person who put it there might know what they even are.

J G-W said...

I like this post very very much. Somehow, though, the word "dictate" doesn't do it for me. It sounds a little bit too much like making puppets of us, when my understanding of the principle of agency suggests that God specifically does not want us to be puppets. But the idea of prayer being a process by which we align ourselves with God I totally agree with. Jesus taught us this principle in the Lord's prayer... "Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven..."

Bored in Vernal said...

J G-W, the word "dictate" is a little fuzzy. I wasn't really thinking about the connotation of a mandate, but more like guidance or promptings.

marlajayne said...

Enjoyed reading your post. Seems like the older I get, the more I think about prayer and how powerful it can be. I don't have the book in front of me right now (and am disinclined to go look for it), but I remember Sheri Dew saying something like we claim to have faith and yet all over the world LDS chapels are filled with people who don't ask for what they want. They might ask yet not be specific enough and without enough faith that what they want will really occur. She told a story of a woman who really, really, really wanted this house, and Sheri Dew prayed (in front of the woman) that her friend would have this house or something better. As well as I remember, the woman was a bit incredulous over the whole thing and asked if Sheri Dew really thought it might happen. "Yes," was her answer. We all can get "yes" IF it's His will and If we ask in faith. Yet we don't ask, and I'm wondering why.

Rich said...

My dad had a sign on his desk in his office when I was growing up that has remained with me over the years:
"Beware of your desires, for ye shall surely attain them" (I think it's a quote from Wordsworth, but I'm not sure).

J G-W said...

If you meant to say that we should listen for the Spirit to prompt us what to pray for, I agree absolutely.

Prayer has become a learning process for me since I understood this principle. It has become the primary source of transformation in my life.

Thanks for this wonderful, thoughtful post.

Anonymous said...

God answers prayer according to his timing in application to his perfect will for our lives and all that establishes and furthers his kingdom. We are willing to accept his permissive will when we seek to just get an answer to prayer. We pray for others and wish the best for them but may be getting in God's way. Scripture (to pray amiss). We should approach God first and seek his face before we try to pray for others. Some are discouraged when prayers are not answered when they want and how they want. God is sometimes doing a work in someones life or the lives of those around them.

Bored in Vernal said...

Yes, that's certainly true. (see my first paragraph.)