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Sunday, May 31, 2015

15. Spiritual Ascension Step #7: Express Gratitude Part 2 (aka "The Fallacy of 'Pray Until You Feel Like It'")

Note: This is one of a series of posts devoted to the study of D&C 93:1, and the 15th examining the phrase "keepeth my commandments".

This is interesting.

I was thinking this post was going to be a summary of these 7 Steps of Spiritual Ascension and tying them to D&C 93:1. But nope. For several days, I've been feeling prompted to post something else. In fact, thoughts and feelings have come to me so frequently and clearly that...well, here it is.

The Fallacy of "Pray Until You Feel Like It"

In a previous post, we read how Christ has clearly and consistently stated that LOVE, not obedience, is the cornerstone of anything and everything Celestial. This parallels something I heard the Provo MTC President say many years ago: "Fear is a telestial emotion. Duty is a terrestrial emotion. Love is the celestial emotion."

Sincerity is a natural accompanist to our expressions of love. You may render very kind acts of service, giving the outward impression that you truly love another, but if those actions are not sincere, it's all for naught in the eternal scheme of things.

So it is with your relationship with God. Sure, you may go through the actions with Him, like saying your prayers. But if there's no sincerity behind them, then who are you fooling? Him? Haha, guess again; you're only fooling yourself.

Which leads us to a second teaching that we often hear:
"It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 44; Quoted by John A. Widtsoe in Tabernacle, November 1869; Journal of Discourses, 13:155; Quoted by Elder Marvin J. Ashton, “Know He Is There,” Brigham Young University devotional, November 10, 1992 and Ensign, February 1994, p. 53; Cheryl C. Lant (General Primary President), BYU Fireside, September 9, 2007; Lesson 155, Book of Mormon Seminary Teacher Manual, 2012; Elder Joe J. Christensen, "Ten Ideas to Increase Your Spirituality," BYU—Hawaii Devotional, January 23, 1997; "Feast of Prophets", Friend, August, 2001; Neil J. Flinders, "Principles of Parenting, Part 2", Ensign, April, 1975; Dana T. Griffen, "Choices and Changes, Burdens and Blessings", BYU Devotional, May 31, 2005; "The Legacy of President Brigham Young: A Latter-day Moses", Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Student Study Guide, (2005), p. 171; "Chapter 6: The Communication between God and Man", Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young, (1997), p. 41–47).
[I could have posted more sources, but I think I've sufficiently made my point that this is a pretty widely proclaimed teaching].

Brother Brigham continues...
"Some of the brethren come to me and say, “Brother Brigham, is it my duty to pray when I have not one particle of the spirit of prayer in me?” True, at times, men are perplexed and full of care and trouble, their ploughs and other implements are out of order, their animals have strayed and a thousand things perplex them; yet our judgment teaches us that it is our duty to pray, whether we are particularly in the spirit of praying or not. My doctrine is, it is your duty to pray; and when the time for prayer comes, John should say, “This is the place and this is the time to pray; knees bend down upon the floor, and do so at once.” But John said, “I do not want to pray; I do not feel like it.” Knees get down, I say; and down bend the knees, and he begins to think and reflect. Can you say anything? Can you not say, God have mercy on me a sinner? Yes, he can do this, if he can rise up and curse his neighbor for some ill deeds. Now, John, open your mouth and say, Lord, have mercy upon me. “But I do not feel the spirit of prayer.” That does not excuse you, for you know what your duty is" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 45;
Now, juxtapose that with Moroni 7:9 --
"And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such" (Emphasis mine).
Moroni later said,
"And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost" (Moroni 10:4; emphasis mine).
Now, here's Helaman:
"Thus we may see that the Lord is merciful unto all who will, in the sincerity of their hearts, call upon his holy name" (Helaman 3:27; emphasis mine).
"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" (Elder David A. Bednar, "Pray Always", October 2008 General Conference; emphasis mine).

Indeed, as we sing in our hymns, "Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire, Uttered or unexpressed" (Hymns, 1985, no. 145; emphasis mine). Not a lot of room for "fake it 'til you make it" in that verse.

Now, in Brother Brigham's defense, he does have another quote that is congruent with Moroni's:
"Let every man and every woman call upon the name of the Lord, and that, too, from a pure heart, while they are at work as well as in their closet; while they are in public as well as while they are in private, asking the Father in the name of Jesus, to bless them, and to preserve and guide in, and to teach them, the way of life and salvation and to enable them so to live that they will obtain this eternal salvation that we are after" (Discourses of Brigham Young, 43; emphasis mine).
Now, if dropping to your knees, confessing your sins and asking for mercy brings you closer to God (even when you don't feel like praying), then fantastic!  After all, confessing your sins and asking for mercy are usually accompanied by sincerity and honesty.

However, in my opinion, adopting the "fake it 'til you make it" strategy of communicating with God, while neglecting "real intent of heart" is sad and clearly a sub-optimal method of communicating with God. Because it's hypocritical, "God receiveth none such."

The Next Time You Don't Feel Like Praying, Try This Instead

Feeling that you don't want to pray is a symptom, not a cause, of a spiritual dysfunction. The real reason you have that feeling is because you have heeded Satan, not the Spirit; you have given evil a toehold into your soul:

"...for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray" (2 Nephi 32:8)

When you feel like this, the treatment isn't MORE evil (per Moroni 7:9) and praying without real intent of heart! You need something genuine and sincere, which realigns you back to God!

So if you don't feel like praying -- or even dropping to your knees -- with "pure intent," consider trying something different:

Just take a minute out. Just stop whatever you're doing, and consider all the blessings and gifts you have in your life.

In fact, consider starting your day doing this!
"Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day" (Alma 37:37; emphasis mine). 
"Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms." (Psalms 95:2; emphasis mine)
Then "live in thanksgiving daily":
"That ye contend no more against the Holy Ghost, but that ye receive it, and take upon you the name of Christ; that ye humble yourselves even to the dust, and worship God, in whatsoever place ye may be in, in spirit and in truth; and that ye live in thanksgiving daily, for the many mercies and blessings which he doth bestow upon you" (Alma 34:38; emphasis mine).

[ ]
"You think this is just another day in your life? It's not just another day. It's the one day that is given to you today. It's given to you. It's a gift. It's the only gift that you have right now, and the only appropriate response... gratefulness. 
If you do nothing else but to cultivate that response to the great gift that this unique day is, if you learn to respond as if it were the first day in your life and the very last day, then you will have spent this day very well. 
Begin by opening your eyes and be surprised that you have eyes you can open, that incredible array of colors that is constantly offered to us for pure enjoyment. 
Look at the sky. We so rarely look at the sky. We so rarely note how different it is from moment to moment, with clouds coming and going. We just think of the weather, and even with the weather, we don't think of all the many nuances of weather. We just think of good weather and bad weather. This day, right now, has unique weather, maybe a kind that will never exactly in that form come again. That formation of clouds in the sky will never be the same as it is right now. Open your eyes. Look at that. 
Look at the faces of people whom you meet. Each one has an incredible story behind their face, a story that you could never fully fathom, not only their own story, but the story of their ancestors. We all go back so far, and in this present moment, on this day, all the people you meet, all that life from generations and from so many places all over the world flows together and meets you here like a life-giving water, if you only open your heart and drink. 
Open your heart to the incredible gifts that civilization gives to us. You flip a switch and there is electric light. You turn a faucet and there is warm water and cold water, and drinkable water. It's a gift that millions and millions in the world will never experience." (

So these are just a small sampling of all the enormous, eternal gifts which you can contemplate and open your heart to. When you do so, let these blessings flow through you. Let their existence in your life become part of you. Then share those feelings, that expression on your face, with everyone whom you will meet on this day. They will be blessed by you -- your eyes, your smile, your touch, even just your presence.

When you feel this gratitude and gratefulness, it will easily overflow into blessings to those all around you. Indeed, it may be that God judges your gratitude more by your hands than your thoughts.

It is then that you are ready.

In fact, you are more than ready to approach He who has blessed your life with so many incredible gifts.

Joseph Smith once said that "it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another" (History of the Church 6:305). Novelist Thornton Wilder said that "We can only be said to be truly alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures"

When your heart is aligned with the blessings God has richly and abundantly blessed you with, you're far more emotionally and spiritually prepared to converse with Him. Not in a sincere, fakey way, but in a sincere, genuine, spiritually alive state...

...just the very wavelength where He can be found.


  1. Thank you very much! Excellent point!

  2. Finally, someone with common sense! I never felt quite comfortable with this fake it til you make it strategy but I didn't quite know why. Thank you, my friend, for pointing out that it is unscriptural, and just another "obedience" trick.

  3. Beautifully written and well stated! This is certainly a message I needed today. Thank you!

  4. Good point. Some of my prayers bounce off the ceiling and are pretty pathetic. Most of my nightly prayers fit in this category because I am so tired.
    I find, however, if I listen to inspirational music while reviewing the life of Christ in my mind, in no time the heavens open and I am ready to pray. Gratitude has worked many times for me too, just as you said.
    I also find that if I put all of my cares away for another time and focus on praising the Lord and his goodness, the spirit of prayer comes.