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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Conquer the Opposition to Your Sacred Grove

I believe it's a fair assumption that many of those (like the aforementioned AP students) who yearn for the "greater things" (John 1:50; Helaman 14:28; Nephi 26:9-10; Ether 4:4,8,13; Mormon 8:12) share a common desire:

They want to have a personal audience with the Savior.

Before embarking on such a journey, it is important to know that such a worthy desire is not without opposition.  As Nephi stated in 2 Nephi 2:11 and 15, "it must needs be, that there is an opposition in all things."  Joseph Smith learned this lesson in the Sacred Grove.  And Brother Brigham elaborated on it as well, saying:
"Neither you nor I would ever be prepared to be crowned in the celestial kingdom of our Father and our God, without devils in this world. Do you know that the Saints never could be prepared to receive the glory that is in reserve for them, without devils to help them to get it? ... Some of you may think that this is a curious principle, but it is true. Refer to the Book of Mormon, and you will find that Nephi and others taught that we actually need evil, in order to make this a state of probation. We must know the evil in order to know the good. There must needs be an opposition in all things. . . . This is a true principle" (Journal of Discourses, 4:373; see Journal of Discourses, 11:234–35).
The reason for this opposition is simple:
"When Satan is bound in a single home -- when Satan is bound in a single life -- the Millennium has already begun in that home, in that life" (Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 172).
Also,
"We know the tempter will be completely bound in the Millennium.  But we can surely constrain him much sooner, so far as our lives are concerned: 'Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men.' (Alma 48:17-18)" (Neal A. Maxwell, "Even As I Am," p. 76-77). 
Another fairly safe assumption: The very last thing that Satan wants to occur in your life is for you to have an audience with the Savior, which will catalyze a far greater relationship between you and God and increase the chances that he is constrained in your life.  Yet even facing the daunting prospect of heightened opposition, we can count on Jesus Christ to go "above and beyond" in ensuring our unqualified success.

How Satan Plans to Prevent Your Audience With the Savior

Oftentimes, as soon as we make the decision to step out in faith and progress to the greatest degree of testimony -- sure knowledge -- "the tempter's triad of tools, identified by Jesus as temptation, persecution, and tribulation, will be relentlessly used (see Matt. 13:21; Luke 8:13)" (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, "Be of Good Cheer", Oct. 1982 General Conference).

He may entice you to think thoughts like:

  • "What if I fail?"
  • "I just sinned.  Well, so much for having your audience with the Savior.  I just blew it."
  • "I don't have what it takes."
  • "It's not worth it."
He may inspire you to become so involved in busy work and various activities that you have no time to study the scriptures or contemplate sacred things (see Alma 32:38-39).  He may influence others -- your spouse, children, loved ones, co-workers, church members or leaders -- to discourage you or get you into a negative mood.  In short, he will use every means at his disposal to convince you to shrink back and stay where you are. 

I've heard it said that fear is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real.  Fear is a lie.  It plays on our emotions and holds us back.  But the good news is that we have power over fear!  Perfect love casts out all fear.  When we receive God's perfect love -- as we do in Celestial prayer -- we will have the confidence we need to pursue this supernal blessing. 

So, it is to be anticipated that:
"Satan wants to stop you.  He will try to distract, deceive and weaken your righteous desires, your trust in the Lord, your resolve.  Do not be afraid.  We have already overcome Satan at another time and place... We had a valiant testimony in our pre-existent state and we can awaken it again" (Elder Robert K. Dellenbach, Supernal Event Became Hour of Conversion, LDS Church News, 1990, 10/20/90).

The Battle is not Between You and Satan, But Instead, God and Satan

Luckily, you don't have to fight Satan.  Any meaningful effort to overcome Satan must be fought on the Lord's terms, not our's.  The Lord has stated (emphasis mine):
  • "The Lord your God which goeth before you, he shall fight for you, according to all that he did for you in Egypt before your eyes" (Deut 1:30).
  • "for the Lord fought for Israel" (Joshua 10:14).
  • "for the Lord your God, he it is that fighteth for you" (Joshua 23:10)
  • "And I, the Lord, would fight their battles, and their children's battles, and their children's children's..." (D&C 98:37)
  • "For behold, I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfil -- I will fight your battles." (D&C 105:14)
Lastly, he said:
"Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou goest." (Joshua 1:9)
Upon closer examination, being strong and of good courage, not being afraid and not being dismayed sounds a lot like having faith in God. 
Coming up: we'll examine perhaps the most effective spiritual strategy you can employ to defeat Satan...

and, in fact...


enter the divine presence.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Well-Informed, Unquestioned Desire (aka The Parable of the Advanced Placement Student)


There once was a girl who loved to learn.  While other kids would be outside playing, she could be found sitting on her porch, eagerly and excitedly reading books on advanced topics.

As she progressed from grade school to middle school to high school, her desire to learn more grew as well.

Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that school wasn't challenging enough for the young woman.  Although she read all the textbooks she was supposed to read in school and got good grades, she still wasn't academically fulfilled.

One day, she seized the initiative and approached her high school principal about her situation.  After she expressed her feelings and frustrations, he leaned back in his chair, looked outside and felt the warmth of the sun shining through his office's windows.  After pausing for what seemed like an eternity for the young woman, the principal spoke.  His response was both thrilling and disquieting.  He said:

"I've been watching you, and have seen you reading and learning wonderful things that don't interest the other kids.  I have to say, I am so proud of you, and for the love of learning you have.  I have no doubt you are going to go far in life.

Now, we have an accredited program just for kids like you.  It's a curriculum that's custom-made for you.  That means you'll have to keep attending this school and taking the same classes as all the other kids.  But after school, you'll be able to log on and study at your own pace, as fast and as far as you can handle.  This also means that, provided you pass all your personal curriculum tests, you'll get to graduate early, and with college credits as well.

But I need to warn you of two things:

First, I don't think there are any other kids in our city who are taking this online course.   You just may be the first.  So, if you want to interact with other kids just like you, you'll need to seek them out and find them.  You'll probably succeed at this, but you'll find they live in other cities far away from ours.  So, don't be surprised if some days you feel alone. 

Second, about the other kids here -- they are just as special, and just as wonderful as you are.  But they will have a difficult time relating to you, and understanding why you've chosen to study a more customized, accelerated program after school hours.  They will think you're weird, maybe even a freak.  It'll be even worse if you start telling them about other kids, just like you, in far away cities; they'll likely consider you a member of a group of freaks.  You can forget about assuming significant leadership positions like class president or student body president, because not only the kids, but even some of the teachers here in our area will call you names and will question your motives. 

On the flip side:

First, you will learn things about people, places, nature, even the universe that will excite you, maybe even take your breath away.  And although your mom and dad can't take the special curriculum tests you'll have to take, you'll be able to tell them all about what you're learning, and they'll be thrilled to see how their little girl is growing up.  I mean, really thrilled.

Second, about the kids you'll eventually meet -- you know, the ones in the other cities?  They'll totally relate to you, and you to them.  They'll tell you the things they're learning, and you'll tell them the things you're learning, and you'll all be really amazed at all the cool things you can learn about, and even do.  Not today, and maybe not this year, but over time, a few people here in our city may see a little gleam in your eye and a smile on your face.  They'll be genuinely curious about why you're so happy and beaming.  Those are the people who will be ready to hear about your after-hours online school.

I can't tell you what to do -- this is your decision."

As the girl sat in her chair across from the principal, she heard a song softly playing on his radio behind his desk...

<< go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xz32I_GbpeU >>

As the song was ending, the girl looked outside...

felt the warmth of the sun on her face...

and with a little gleam in her eye...

she smiled a huge smile.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Three Degrees of Prayer


One of my favorite movies is August Rush.

It's a fictional story of a boy who was turned over to an orphanage at birth, the son of a rock-singing father and symphonic mother.  A musical prodigy, he grows up hearing music others could not hear.  At a young, tender age, he composes a rhapsody which is breathtaking and eventually leads to the uniting of this little family.  The last line of the movie is a wonderful truth:

"The music is all around us.  All you have to do...is listen."

So it is with God's communication with us.  Every second which goes by in your life, God is communicating to you how much He loves you, how special you are to Him, how desperately He wants you to succeed and how badly He wants you back in His arms.

I believe one of the most valuable lessons we can ever learn is how to listen to God. In the midst of our complex and hectic lives, nothing is more urgent, nothing more necessary, nothing more rewarding than hearing what God has to say. And the scriptures are explicit: God speaks to us just as powerfully today as in the days in which the Bible and Book of Mormon were written.

His voice wants to be heard, and having heard it, we are launched into the greatest, most exciting adventure we could ever imagine.

Perhaps the most common, most effective way we have to communicate with Him, to truly hear his voice, is in formal prayer.

As you read in a previous blog post, there are a lot of threes in our lives.  It is also true that praying three times a day can yield significant blessings.  So it is with the Kingdom of God; for example, there are three kingdoms -- Telestial, Terrestrial and Celestial.  

The same also holds true with prayer.  In fact, when I was in the MTC, my mission president taught us missionaries that there are three degrees of prayer: Telestial, Terrestrial and Celestial.

Let me elaborate on each of these.

Telestial (mechanical) prayers

Telestial prayers are given by those who pray in vain repetition or don't even think or ponder before and during prayer.  They utter the same types of words with no sincerity day after day.  Because sincerity is a major component of effective prayer, insincere telestial prayer barely penetrates the heavens because it lacks the light of sincerity, love and sacrifice.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said,
"One can pray and yet not really pray. Prayers can be routinized and made very superficial. When this happens, there is very little communication and very little growth. Yet, given the times in which we live, improving our prayers should be one of the deepest desires if we are genuinely serious about growing spiritually" (Neal A. Maxwell, "All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience", p. 91).
Comparatively speaking, telestial prayer is like a dim star next to the full moon or the blazing sun.

Terrestrial (meaningful, one-way, heartfelt) prayer

This kind of prayer is much better and more holy.  It has fervency and is filled with true desire, a wish to do one's duty in the kingdom and to be obedient.  It is sincere and comes from the heart.  Symbolically, it has the brightness of the moon. 

As Elder David A. Bednar stated,
"We are promised that if we pray sincerely for that which is right and good and in accordance with God’s will, we can be blessed, protected, and directed (see 3 Nephi 18:20; D&C 19:38)" (Elder David A. Bednar, "Pray Always", October 2008 General Conference).
However, telestial prayer still lacks an essential ingredient: the Holy Ghost's influence. 

Celestial (genuine, two-way communicative) prayer

Let's face it -- we imperfect mortals do not have a perfect understanding of many things.  In it's commentary on Romans 8:26, Barnes' Notes on the Bible surmises that:
"The reasons why Christians do not know what to pray for may be:

(1) That they do not know what would be really best for them.
(2) They do not know what God might be willing to grant them.
(3) They are to a great extent ignorant of the character of God, the reason of his dealings, the principles of his government, and their own real needs.
(4) They are often in real, deep perplexity. They are encompassed with trials, exposed to temptations, feeble by disease, and subject to calamities. In these circumstances, if left alone, they would neither be able to bear their trials, nor know what to ask at the hand of God" (http://bible.cc/romans/8-26.htm).
The apostle Paul had a remedy for this situation.  In his epistle to the Romans, he said the Spirit "helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered" (Romans 8:26; emphasis mine).

Upon closer examination of this verse, we find the not-so secret ingredient of this kind of prayer is the word "intercession": 
"The word used here ὑπερεντυνγχάνει (huperentungchanei) occurs no where else in the New Testament. The word ἐντυνγχάνω (entungchano), however, is used several times. It means properly to be present with anyone for the purpose of aiding, as an advocate does in a court of justice; hence, to intercede for anyone, or to aid or assist in any manner. In this place it simply means that the Holy Spirit greatly assists or aids us; not by praying for us, but in our prayers and infirmities" (http://bible.cc/romans/8-26.htm).
Elder Bruce R. McConkie had a special term to describe this type of prayer -- "perfect prayer":
"Perfect prayers are those which are inspired, in which the Spirit reveals the words which should be used" (Mormon Doctrine, p. 586).
In a seminary devotional in 1972, President Harold B. Lee counseled:
"The most important thing you can do is to learn to talk to God.  Talk to Him as you would talk to your father, for He is your Father, and He wants you to talk to Him.  He wants you to cultivate ears to listen, when He gives you the impressions of the Spirit to tell you what to do" ("Pres. Lee Gives Solemn Witness," Church News, 3 March 1973, p. 3).
Perfect, celestial prayers also come with sacrifice - the sacrifice of a broken heart and contrite spirit [acknowledging ones weaknesses and repenting of them].  The late Stephen R. Covey once said,
"Some people miss the joys of inquiring of the Lord because they pray in private by emulating what they hear in public prayers.  In public prayers, we do not ask specific personal questions that need revealed answers.  We do not confess our personal sins, share the inner desires of our hearts, or seek the will of God in all things in our lives.  In contrast, personal prayers should be more in the spirit of two-way conversations with the Lord" (Stephen R. and Sandra Covey, "Teaching Our Children to Pray," Ensign, Jan. 1976).
Because of these characteristics -- they are sincere, inspired and offered with sacrifice -- celestial prayers engage us in true, two-way communication with God. 

The ancient Nephites were aware of this kind of prayer.  We read in 3 Nephi 19:24:
"And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, 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."
Now look at the Savior's reaction to their engagement in perfect prayer:
"And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof" (3 Nephi 19:25).
One reason why Jesus may have smiled is because he knew that "He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh" (D&C 46:30).  He undoubtedly knew, as did Elder Neal A. Maxwell, that those who engage in perfect, celestial prayer exhibit "a significant milestone in discipleship" (A Time To Choose, p. 29–30).

Not only that, but:
"Proper sincere prayer to a living Father in heaven, through a living Savior and Mediator, is essential for protection from the power and evil influence of the devil" (Elder Bernard P. Brockbank, Conference Report, Apr. 1974, 166; Ensign, May 1974, p. 115).
The interesting thing is,
"We can pray as did the Nephites in the presence of the Savior: 'They did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire' (3 Nephi 19:24).  The Spirit leads us in what to say, and our desires turn from the mundane to the glory of God as our souls reach toward our Father" (Gaylen Hinton, "I Have a Question," Ensign, Oct. 1993, 61; emphasis mine).
It is my testimony to you that by living worthy to receive -- and heeding -- the still, small voice of the Holy Ghost, we can become familiar with the Spirit's intercessions in our prayers.  I'll admit that it takes some getting used to shedding "the natural man" in prayer and totally surrendering your will during it.  However, you, too, will learn that the gift of celestial prayer puts you in harmony with God, and upon hearing His harmonic celestial symphonies, you learn more than you expected: you ask different questions, you ask for different blessings and you hear promises and blessings that you ordinarily wouldn't have considered. 

You'll be elevated to a higher degree of understanding, communion and love for our Father.

His voice, His words to you are all around you.

All you have to do...is listen.

In my next blog post, we'll discuss the first step that's necessary in engaging in celestial prayer.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Three Knocks a Day on the Door of Heaven

The Rule of Threes

"Repetition is used both in life and in scripture to do such things as teach, emphasize, and confirm. It can help wake up and reach people at a deep level. When we knock at a door, we usually do it three times. A blacksmith strikes his hammer in rhythms of three. A typical cheer is repeated three times, with the last cheer being the most emphatic.

We try something three times, with the third try often producing the desired result.

History also highlights some interesting breakthroughs when something was done for the third time:
  • Moroni came three times on the night of September 21, 1823 to deliver the same message (JS-H 1:45-46).
  • Peter's dream of the clean and unclean animals (which precipitated extending of the blessings of the gospel to the Gentiles) was also repeated three times (Acts 10:16). 
  • The youthful Samuel did not understand the voice of the Lord until he heard it the third time (1 Samuel 3:8).
  • This was also the case with the Nephites when the voice of the Father spoke from the heavens to introduce his Son (3 Nephi 11:5-7).
  • Similarly, during the imprisonment of Helaman's sons, Nephi and Lehi, a heavenly voice was heard three times commanding men to repent (Helaman 5:30-33).
  • The Lord tells us that we should proclaim peace three times (to those who have declared war on us) before beseeching the Lord for justification of battle (D&C 98:34-38).
  • "In October 1975, in a meeting with regional and mission representatives, Pres. Spencer W. Kimball repeated three times, 'Now is the time of the Jew.' In November 1975, a special committee prepared missionary discussions and pamphlets for the Jews (which were revised four years later). In January 1977, the first 'cultural representatives' of the Church entered Israel. By 1980, a few hundred missionaries were teaching Jews in the United States and some other countries with limited success" (Victor L. Ludlow, "Isaiah: Prophet, Seer, and Poet", p.416)
Also,
"Laban was not killed for any short-term practical need of the moment. As Nephi stood marveling over the drunken Laban, he must have been quite astonished. He was drawn immediately to Laban's sword, which he removed from its sheath. The splendor of the workmanship and the sharpness of the steel blade left an indelible impression on the young man's mind. As Nephi stood marveling at this weapon, the Spirit constrained Nephi that he should kill Laban (1 Ne. 4:10). Nephi balked. The Spirit then said to him again, 'Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands' (1 Ne. 4:11).  Three times Nephi tried to rationalize the commanded deed, but the Spirit said again, 'Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands' (1 Ne. 4:12)" (John W. Welch, "Legal Perspectives on the Slaying of Laban", FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, vol. 1:1, Fall 1992, p.132)
This event is congruent with what Leland Ryken, in How to Read the Bible as Literature, calls "the storytelling principle of threefold repetition: a given event happens three times, with a crucial change introduced the third time." (Richard Dilworth Rust, "Recurrence in Book of Mormon Narratives", FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, 3:1, Spring 1994, p.44).

It is no wonder that "by the words of three, God hath said, I will establish my word" (2 Ne. 11:3)."

Praying Three Times a Day

Amulek taught we should cry unto God three times a day: "in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening." (Alma 34:21)

Daniel was esteemed. The scriptures tell us that "an excellent spirit was in him." (Daniel 6:3)  Not surprisingly, he went "into his house; and his windows being open in his chamber toward Jerusalem, he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime." (Daniel 6:10).

The prophet Joseph Smith endorsed Daniel's actions, saying: “You must make yourselves acquainted with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord." (Joseph Smith, Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., 6:, p.240).  Indeed, "There is evidence that Joseph Smith and his family practiced this teaching. Eliza R. Snow recorded that 'three times a day he had family worship; and these precious seasons of sacred household service truly seemed a foretaste of celestial happiness' (Jayann Morgan Payne, J “Eliza R. Snow, First Lady of the Pioneers.” Ensign, Sept 1973, p. 65). 

Hyrum Smith, the Prophet's brother, also learned the principle regarding daily prayers.  According to Eliza Ann Carter, 'When I was living at Hyrum Smith's I thought that he was the best man I ever saw, he was so kind to his family and he prayed in his family three times a day'" (Monte S. Nyman and Charles D. Tate, Jr., eds., Third Nephi 9-30: This Is My Gospel, p.141-142)

Why did they pray three times a day?

In one way, praying three times a day is not unlike having a "spiritual" meal, which keeps the lines of communication open with our Heavenly Father:
"Everything has to be fed. You feed your body three times a day. The Lord says to keep your testimony, to keep your spirit alive, you have to feed it every day. That is why he says morning, noon, and night. That is why he says pray every night and morning. That is why he says pray continually so that you keep that line open. (66-12)" (Spencer W. Kimball, The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, edited by Edward L. Kimball, p.142).
It also helps us retain the light of the Holy Ghost:
"There is not a day passes over my head that I do not bow before the Lord once, twice, or thrice; that is the way I have got to live, in order to be a good man, and retain the light of the Holy Spirit to guide me into all truth; and the same faithfulness is required of you, because you are members of the same body and of the same Priesthood" (Pres. Heber C. Kimball, at Centerville, Sunday, February 19, 1865; Journal of Discourses, 26 vols., #11, p.81).
Knocking Three Times a Day

However, simply "praying" three times a day may not constitute "knocking" three times a day:
"Learn to talk to God. Sometimes I have been a little startled when I have gone out to the stakes and some of you have been called up, and because of your fright in knowing you were going to pray, some of you have actually read from written prayers. And when I have listened to you pray maybe two or three times, it is a matter of your saying prayers. Now there is a lot of difference between saying a prayer and talking with God. There are a few whom I have heard pray who did talk with God, one of whom was the late President Charles A. Callis. I never heard him pray at the holy altars in the temple, I never heard him when we knelt together in prayer when we were out on difficult missions but what he seemed, as he talked, to be reaching right into the portals of our Father's holy dwelling place, and he talked with divine beings. Do not say prayers, do not read prayers, but learn to talk with God" (Harold B. Lee, The Teachings of Harold B. Lee, edited by Clyde J. Williams, p. 125).
Jesus gave three ascending injunctions to the Nephite people gathered at the temple in Bountiful:

1.  "Ask, and it shall be given unto you"

2.  "Seek, and ye shall find"

3.  "Knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (3 Ne. 14:7). 

See the progression in our actions, and the Lord's?  We act, then he reacts:

1.  On the first level, you are given what to ask for.

2.  On the second, you do the finding, the investigating, the "study it out in your mind" phase, so to speak.

3.  On the third and most effectual, you both receive (the door is opened to you) and act (implicitly, you then go through the doorway). (Richard Dilworth Rust, "Feasting on the Word: The Literary Testimony of the Book of Mormon", p.21-22)

Knocking in Ceremony

The importance of knocking three times on a symbolic door of heaven isn't overlooked in Roman Catholicism.

Knocking (three times) with a hammer on the portal of a door is acted out in the ritual of the Porta Santa at St. Peter in Rome, representing entry of the children of God into the presence of the Lord:
"This rite is executed only every twenty-five years and represents the entry of the children of God into the presence of the Lord. Medieval medals struck for the occasion often show Christ on one side of the portal and the pope or the people on the other.  The pope knocks three times with a golden hammer, upon which the door is opened by the masons and he may enter through it and proceed to the sanctuary. The remainder of the clergy and the people then follow after him. A prayer said by Pope Clement VIII during the rite in 1600 demonstrates clearly that the ceremony does indeed portray entry into the temple of God: 'Open unto me the gates of Justice, when I am entered I will praise my Lord. I will enter, O Lord, into Thy House. I will adore Three in Thy fear in Thy temple.' (Marcus Von Wellnitz, "The Catholic Liturgy and the Mormon Temple", BYU Studies, vol. 21, 1981).

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Discerning Answers to Prayer, Part 2 - When You're Doing Everything Right


Sometimes we may be doing everything right, and yet while in sincere prayer, we still can’t discern the Lord’s will for us.

Here are five possible reasons why this may be the case:

Possible Reason #1: More time is needed (aka you need to “Wait upon the Lord”)

"It may be that you are not doing anything wrong. It may be that you have not done the right things long enough. Remember, you cannot force spiritual things" (Elder Boyd K. Packer, “Prayers And Answers” October 1979 General Conference).

The scriptures give us many examples of those who waited upon the Lord, and were rewarded for their waiting (or, as I see it, their faith in him).  As we read in Psalms, “Wait on the Lord: be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine heart: wait, I say, on the Lord” (Psalms 27:14).  Isaiah also said, “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31).

For a good article on waiting upon the Lord, click here: http://www.spwickstrom.com/wait/

Possible Reason #2: We are asking, but not for the right thing

"When we ask amiss, God, being perfect, must reject our petitions: ‘And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.’” (Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “All These Things Shall Give Thee Experience”, p. 94).

Possible Reason #3: We assume there must be only a one right or one wrong answer

"Even in decisions we think very important, we sometimes receive no answer to our prayers. This does not mean that our prayers have not been heard. It only means that we have prayed about a decision which, for one reason or another, we should make without guidance by revelation. Perhaps we have asked for guidance in choosing between alternatives that are equally acceptable or equally unacceptable. I suggest that there is not a right and wrong to every question. To many questions, there are only two wrong answers or two right answers" (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Revelation,” New Era, Sept. 1982, 46).

Possible Reason #4: God wants us to work it out

“We are often left to work out problems, without the dictation or specific direction of the Spirit. That is part of the experience we must have in mortality. Fortunately, we are never out of our Savior's sight, and if our judgment leads us to actions beyond the limits of what is permissible and if we are listening to the still small voice, the Lord will restrain us by the promptings of his Spirit" (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, New Mission Presidents' Seminar, 1994).

Elder John H. Groberg elaborated on this process:

“So, rather than saying, ‘I will not move until I have this burning in my heart,’ let’s turn it around and say, ‘I will move unless I feel it is wrong; and if it is wrong, then I will not do it.’ By eliminating these wrong directions and moving forward in others, very quickly you will find yourself going in the direction that you ought to be going” (Elder John H. Groberg, “What Are You Doing Here?” New Era, Jan. 1987, 37; "What is your mission?" Speeches of the Year 1979, p. 97-98).

Also, Pres. Brigham Young:

“If I do not know the will of my Father, and what He requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask Him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, He is bound to own and honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes” (Pres. Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, 3:205).

Possible Reason #5: The question may be a tad trivial

"Similarly, the Spirit of the Lord is not likely to give us revelations on matters that are trivial. I once heard a young woman in testimony meeting praise the spirituality of her husband, indicating that he submitted every question to the Lord. She told how he accompanied her shopping and would not even choose between different brands of canned vegetables without making his selection a matter of prayer. That strikes me as improper. I believe the Lord expects us to use the intelligence and experience He has given us to make these kinds of choices" (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, “Revelation,” New Era, Sept. 1982, 46).

When a member of the church asked the Prophet Joseph Smith for advice on a particular matter, he stated:

"It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence: and we feel fearful to approach Him on subjects that are of little or no consequence” (History of the Church, 1:339).

What about you? 

Have you encountered other barriers to receiving answers to your prayers? 

If so, how did you overcome that barrier?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Discerning Answers to Prayer, Part 1 - When Silence is the Answer to Your Prayers



Making Sense of the Silence of Prayer

Knowing how to recognize when God is speaking to us is an essential part of spiritual development.  Without that knowledge, we miss the intimations of the still, small voice and blow opportunities to aim higher, reach farther and attain greater.

There are times in our lives when it’s not the heavens that have reached down to us, but instead, we reach to the heavens for answers.  Most often, this is done in silent or vocal prayer.

Unfortunately, even in prayer, we may be trying our best to listen to God, and we hear nothing back.  You receive no response – not in your head, not in your heart. No where.

You begin to think, “What did I do?”, “God, I’m talking to you.  Why aren’t you speaking to me?” and try to make sense out of the silence.

Are the heavens truly silent?

I think that perception depends, in large part, on us.

Take John 14:18 for example.  Here, the Lord says “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.”  When read in the original Greek, “comfortless” is actually (ὀρφανούς), which literally means bereft, orphaned, little esteemed, neglected, obliged to wander about in obscurity and darkness (http://bible.cc/john/14-18.htm)  Furthermore, those who take the Sacrament prayer seriously will note they are promised “that they may always have his Spirit to be with them” (Moroni 4:3; emphasis mine).  To me, “always” means “At all times; For all time; At any time” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/always).

Then again, we’re told in D&C 1:31–33 that the “Spirit shall not always strive with man”.

So, how do we reconcile “always” with “not always”?

Pres. Henry B. Eyring once said:

“You have the right and the obligation to choose for yourselves. You can search the scriptures or not. You can choose to work hard enough, to ponder, and to obey His commandments, so that the Holy Ghost can be your companion. Then you will come to know the Savior better and better and your heart will swell with love for Him, or you can choose to delay. You can choose to drift, deciding past efforts will be enough.

We are promised that if we always remember Him and keep His commandments we will have His Spirit to be with us. That light to our feet will grow dim if we choose to delay or to drift” (“Always”, BYU Fireside, Jan. 3, 1999; http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=357).

Six Barriers That May Interfere with Your Ability to Receive Answers to Prayers

Sometimes, the reason or reasons why we can’t discern the will of the Lord in prayer is our own fault.

There are legitimate barriers that might interfere with our ability to receive personal revelation.  Here’s a brief summary (all based on LaNae Valentine’s BYU Devotional, “Discerning the Will of the Lord for Me”, June 29, 2004; http://speeches.byu.edu/?act=viewitem&id=1336):

1. We haven’t “studied it out in our mind”.

Sometimes, we expect the Lord to do all the work and reveal things to us that we haven’t bothered to study out in our own minds beforehand.  In addition to D&C 9:7-9, here’s another example, given by Elder Merrill C. Oaks:

“Some years ago while I was serving as a bishop of a Brigham Young University ward, a young woman came to me for counsel concerning a marriage proposal. She really liked the young man but was strongly committed to not taking a step as important as marriage without receiving inspiration that it was right. She had been praying about whether to marry him and had received no answer. I assured her that the Lord would surely answer her prayers and that she should keep on praying.

The following Sunday she asked to see me again. She felt she was receiving no answer. I interviewed her and established that she was worthy. I again assured her that the Lord does hear and answer prayers and that she should continue praying.

The young man was really pressing her to make a decision. He loved her but felt she was stalling because she probably did not love him. He was approaching the time he might terminate the relationship. She was very concerned but felt she could not marry him without an answer from the Lord. I was very troubled by this. I knew the Lord answered prayers. I knew this young woman was worthy to receive answers to her prayers. Why was she not receiving an answer?

The key came to me in a moment of clear enlightenment. I told her she was expecting the Lord to completely make the decision for her, but He would not do that. Even a decision as important as marriage requires us to exercise our own agency...

Like Oliver Cowdery, she had taken no thought except to keep asking the Lord. I told her she must exercise her own agency by studying it out in her mind, making a tentative decision, and then asking the Lord for a confirmation of her decision. . . .

[The young lady in this story eventually] received her answer. She explained, . . . “I just began to feel [more and more positive and] good about getting married, and I knew that my prayers were being answered.” (Merrill C. Oaks, “How to Get an Answer,” New Era, August 2001, 47)

2. We haven’t learned how to listen – we are more focused on the static and noise of life, than waiting attentively for the still, small voice of the Spirit to speak to us.

“We each could ask ourselves: What could I turn off, turn down, or tune out in order to hear the voice of the Spirit in my life? Am I doing anything in my life that is offensive to the Spirit and preventing the Holy Ghost from being my constant companion? Is there anything I could eliminate from my busy life so that I would have more time to be still, to study scriptures, ponder, and pray?” (Valentine)

3. We’re too intent on wanting what we want.

Sometimes answers to prayers are not recognized because we are too intent on wanting a confirmation of our own desires. We fail to see that the Lord would have us do something else. In some cases the answers require us to stretch and grow and to leave the comfort of what is familiar to us. At other times we may want to move forward or act when the answer is to wait. Often waiting can be as difficult and require as much faith as acting. When we seek the will of the Lord, we must be willing to be obedient to it.  Ideally, we should go to the Lord with a humble spirit and ask Him to write His will upon our hearts, rather than go to Him determined to carry out our own will. Elder Henry B. Eyring said, ‘I have had prayers answered. Those answers were most clear when what I wanted was silenced by an overpowering need to know what God wanted. It is then that the answer from a loving Heavenly Father can be spoken to the mind by the still, small voice and can be written on the heart’ (Henry B. Eyring, “Write upon My Heart,” Ensign, November 2000, 86).

How submissive am I to the will of the Lord in my life right now? How often do I try to counsel the Lord, rather than take counsel from Him? (see Jacob 4:10)” (Valentine).

4. Our hearts are not prepared to receive His answers – mainly because we fear what the answer might be, or because sin blocks our ability to adequately receive the Lord’s signals.

“As we go through life, we ofttimes build a rock wall between ourselves and heaven. This wall is built by our unrepented sins. For example, in our wall there may be stones of many different sizes and shapes. There could be stones because we have been unkind to someone. Criticism of leaders or teachers may add another stone. A lack of forgiveness may add another. Vulgar thoughts and actions may add some rather large stones in this wall.” (H. Burke Peterson, “Prayer—Try Again,” Ensign, June 1981, 73).

“In spite of the wall we build in front of us, when we cry out, the Lord in His mercy still sends His messages from heaven; but instead of being able to penetrate our heart, they hit the wall that we have built up and bounce off. When His messages don’t penetrate so easily, we say, “He doesn’t hear,” or “He doesn’t answer.” It is our challenge and responsibility to destroy this wall, to repent and cleanse ourselves so that we can be in tune with the Spirit. Revelation is the reward of repentance, obedience, and righteousness.

Is there a sin or habit in my life for which I need to repent? Is there anyone in my life that I need to forgive?” (Valentine)

5. We lack faith or confidence in Heavenly Father – we don’t have a testimony that He loves us, and wants what’s best for us.

“Often this lack of faith is manifested by a lack of confidence in ourselves and in our ability to get answers. We struggle with feelings of unworthiness and do not feel that we are important to the Lord. We might think that others can approach the Lord and receive instruction from Him, but we cannot. The truth is we can build our faith by knowing that God lives, that He knows us, that He loves us, and that He has a plan for us” (Valentine).

President Benson stated, “Nothing is going to startle us more when we pass through the veil to the other side than to realize how well we know our Father and how familiar his face is to us” (Ezra Taft Benson, “Jesus Christ—Gifts and Expectations,” Speeches of the Year [Provo: BYU, 1974], 313). Perhaps when we pray, we can picture Him as a loving, kind, wise, understanding Father who wants us to succeed. The Savior teaches of the pure love our Heavenly Father has for us, “If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is a father, will he give him a stone? or if he ask a fish, will he for a fish give him a serpent? (Luke 11:11).

“When answers . . . don’t seem to come” or they don’t come in the way we expect, we can remember that when we explain a problem and a proposed solution [or come to Him with a decision we have made], sometimes He answers yes, sometimes no. Often He withholds an answer, not for lack of concern, but because He loves us—perfectly. He wants us to apply truths He has given us. For us to grow, we need to trust in our ability to make correct decisions. We need to do what we feel is right. In time, He will answer. He will not fail us” (Elder Richard G. Scott, “Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer,” Ensign, November 1989, 30–31; emphasis in original).

6. We don’t recognize answers when they come.

“Sometimes we’ve already received the answer, and we don’t realize it. In Section 6 of the Doctrine and Covenants, the Lord had to remind Oliver Cowdery that he had already received many answers concerning the veracity of the Church and the course he was to take. To teach Oliver, the Lord said:

‘Behold, thou knowest that thou has inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth. . . .

Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter?’ [D&C 6: 15, 23]

If we feel that our prayers are not being answered, we, like Oliver, may need to review the scriptures about how God speaks to us.

Ask yourself: Is there evidence in my life that Heavenly Father has already answered me concerning a given issue or problem? Do I pay attention to the Lord when He whispers to me on seemingly insignificant things? Do I write down and act on impressions and promptings from the Lord?” (Valentine)

But Even Then...

However, sometimes, we have studied an issue out in our mind.  We have learned how to listen.  We're not too intent on wanting what we want.  Our hearts are prepared to receive His answers.  And we have faith or confidence in Heavenly Father.

And still...nothing. No answers are forthcoming.

Could the silence actually be an answer from the Lord?   

Yes.

Stay tuned…