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Thursday, November 26, 2015

Alignment, Part 4 of 6: Dialogue with God

Let's review what we've covered in this miniseries thus far:

  • Part 1: Face To Dirt - Aligning oneself to God by laying hold of the word of God. The doctrine of approaching God in profound humility. 
  • Part 2: Hands to Heaven - The doctrine of praying with upraised hands, displaying clean hands and a pure heart.
  • Part 3: Penetrate the Veil - How do we best approach God? The scriptures indicate that we kneel, meditate, descend (physically, emotionally and psychologically) and display upraised hands. This may have been the sequence of steps - as detailed in the scriptures and historical accounts - which ordinary people, just like you, took to approach God.

These three parts all lead to Part 4: Dialoguing with God.

5. Prepare to Dialogue 


You have affixed your soul to God's word, bowed your head below your heart as a symbol of the true humility of your life, emptied yourself of the cares and worries of the world, and like a baby taking their first steps while reaching their hands to a loving parent, you have reached your heart and hands to God.

Make no mistake: If your heart is in the right place, then you have unquestionably, undeniably caught heaven's attention.

Now what?

A few subpoints:
A. Approach God in Silence 
I've always been a big believer in praying in silence. Why? We have ample evidence that Satan and his forces monitor every move we make and record every word we utter. 
The less they know, the better. 
Note that in Part 2 of this series, about midway down the page, you'll read a bulleted quote where the School of the Prophets knelt with their hands uplifted and "each one praying in silence." The result:  
"a personage walked through the room from East to West, and Joseph asked if we saw him. I saw him and suppose the others did, and Joseph answered that is Jesus, the Son of God, our elder brother. Afterward Joseph told us to resume our former position in prayer, which we did. Another person came through; He was surrounded as with a flame of fire. He (Brother Coltrin) experienced a sensation that it might destroy the tabernacle as it was of consuming fire of great brightness. The Prophet Joseph said this was the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. I saw him." (Minutes of the Salt Lake School of the Prophets; Oct. 11, 1883, p. 58-60) 
B. Be Prepared To Do a Lot of Listening 
The Lord gave us a good way to get the conversational ice broken: 
"Therefore Eli said unto Samuel, Go, lie down: and it shall be, if he call thee, that thou shalt say, Speak, Lord; for thy servant heareth. So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came, and stood, and called as at other times, Samuel, Samuel. Then Samuel answered, Speak; for thy servant heareth." (1 Samuel 3:9-10) 
The Lord wants all of us to hear His voice: 
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:27). 
"for mine elect hear my voice and harden not their hearts" (D&C 29:7). 
C. Expect an Answer
"During His journey to Tyre and Sidon, a Canaanite woman approached Jesus, begging Him to heal her daughter, "but he answered her not a word" (Matt. 15:22-23).  Not willing to be dissuaded, she continued her entreaties, "and his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away, for she crieth after us" (v. 23).  But she would not be sent away.  "Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.  But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs" (v. 25-26).  Quick-witted, and undeterred by his insulting dismissal, she replied, "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."  I imagine that a hush fell over the disciples at this point, their eyes darting back and forth between the two.  Then Jesus, his voice breaking, spoke: "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt" (v. 27-28).  That very hour, her daughter was healed.  A woman--and a Canaanite woman at that--had persisted in faith until the Lord granted her desire." (http://toeveryonethatbelieveth.blogspot.com/2014/03/i-will-not-let-thee-go-except-thou.html; emphasis mine) 
The example of the Savior's interaction with the Canaanite woman demonstrates the mercy and compassion the Lord has for those whose faith is not only active, but persistent. They aim higher, reach further and attain greater manifestations of divine grace because they expect miracles - an activity the Lord delights in: 
"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God." (Isaiah 58:2) 
Brother Joseph understood this principle as well: 
"[Joseph's] heart was drawn out in fervent prayer, and his whole soul was so lost to every thing of a temporal nature, that earth, to him, had lost it charms, and all he desired was to be prepared in heart to commune with some kind messenger who could communicate to him the desired information of his acceptance with God. [And as Joseph recorded]: …for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one." (JS History 1:29; emphasis mine) 
"At length the family retired, and he, as usual, bent his way, though in silence, where others might have rested their weary frames 'locked fast in sleep's embrace;' but repose had fled, and accustomed slumber had spread her refreshing hand over others beside him-he continued still to pray-his heart, though once hard and obdurate, was softened, and that mind which had often flitted, like the 'wild bird of passage,' had settled upon a determined basis not to be decoyed or driven from its purpose." (The Papers of Joseph Smith, Volume 1, Autobiographical and Historical Writings. Edited by Dean C. Jessee. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company, 1989, pp. 50-51; emphasis mine)

6. Address God


In many cases in the Old and New Testament, people literally called upon God. Here's a small sample from just from Psalms (emphasis mine):
"Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray." (Psalms 5:2)
"My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O Lord; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up." (Psalms 5:3)
"Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping." (Psalms 6:8)
"Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice: have mercy also upon me, and answer me." (Psalms 27:7)
"Blessed be the Lord, because he hath heard the voice of my supplications." (Psalms 28:6)
"For I said in my haste, I am cut off from before thine eyes: nevertheless thou heardest the voice of my supplications when I cried unto thee." (Psalms 31:22)
"Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth." (Psalms 54:2)
"Give ear to my prayer, O God; and hide not thyself from my supplication." (Psalm 55:1)
"Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice." (Psalms 55:17)
"Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: preserve my life from fear of the enemy." (Psalms 64:1)
"But verily God hath heard me; he hath attended to the voice of my prayer." (Psalms 66:19)
"Give ear, O Lord, unto my prayer; and attend to the voice of my supplications." (Psalms 86:6)
"Hear my voice according unto thy lovingkindness: O Lord, quicken me according to thy judgment." (Psalms 119:149)
"I love the Lord, because he hath heard my voice and my supplications." (Psalms 116:1)
"Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications." (Psalms 130:2)
"I said unto the Lord, Thou art my God: hear the voice of my supplications, O Lord." (Psalms 140:6)
"I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication." (Psalms 142:1)
By my count, that's 17 instances - in just one book of scripture - where people prayed to God with the expectation (or knowledge) that He would hear the words, cries and pleas of their mouths.

Hugh Nibley also noted that a number of apocryphal sources also emphasize this manner of addressing God in prayer, done in succession three times:
"When Abraham, according to and old and highly respected source, 'rebuilt the altar of Adam in order to bring a sacrifice to the Eternal One,' as he had been instructed by an angel, he raised his voice in prayer, saying: 'El ,El, El! Jaoel! [the last meaning Jehovah] . . . receive the words of my prayer! Receive the sacrifice which I have made at the command! Have mercy, show me, teach me, give to the servant the light and knowledge thou hast promised to send him!'" (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf; emphasis mine)   
"According to First Enoch, Noah also prayed in his distress, 'calling upon God three times and saying, Hear me! hear me! hear me!'" (Hugh Nibley, BYU Studies, 19:1, p. 53; emphasis mine) 
"Abraham was following the example of Adam, who prayed to God for three days, repeating three times the prayer: 'May the words of my mouth be heard! God, do not withdraw thyself from my supplication!' . . . Then an angel of the Lord came with a book, and comforted Adam and taught him." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf; emphasis mine) 
Regarding that last quote - I love love love the phrase, "do not withdraw thyself from my supplication!" Wow! That's REAL faith! It pleases God when we "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16; emphasis mine)

And for those who don't believe it is appropriate to say such things in one's personal prayers, here's a quote from the April 1984 General Conference:
"We do not give memorized, ritualistic, or repetitions prayers. We seek the guidance of the Spirit and suit every prayer to the needs of the moment, with no thought of using the same words on successive occasions.  But it would be appropriate for us to use words that convey such thoughts as these in our prayers: Father, we ask thee, in the name of Jesus Christ, to hear the words of our mouth..." (Elder Bruce R. McConkie, "Patterns of Prayer," Ensign, May 1984, p. 32-33; emphasis mine)
Not only is it appropriate to do so in our prayers, but it's entirely within scriptural bounds to do so with our hands upraised (emphasis mine):
"Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle." (Psalms 28:2)
"And Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven: And he said, LORD God of Israel, [there is] no God like thee, in heaven above, or on earth beneath, who keepest covenant and mercy with thy servants that walk before thee with all their heart:" (1 Kings 8:22-23)
"Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee." (Psalms 88:9)
"Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee. Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalm 141:1-2)
"And he stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands: For Solomon had made a brasen scaffold, of five cubits long, and five cubits broad, and three cubits high, and had set it in the midst of the court: and upon it he stood, and kneeled down upon his knees before all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands toward heaven, And said, O LORD God of Israel, [there is] no God like thee in the heaven, nor in the earth; which keepest covenant, and [shewest] mercy unto thy servants, that walk before thee with all their hearts:" (2 Chronicles 6:12, 13, 14)
Nibley also noted (emphasis mine):
"When Adam and Eve found themselves cut off from the glory of the Lord, according to the intriguing Combat of Adam, they stood with upstretched hands calling upon the Lord, as 'Adam began to pray in a language which is unintelligible to us.' The so-called Coptic Gnostic Writing purports to give us Adam's words on the occasion as being composed of the elements io?i?a and i?oy?el, meaning 'God is with us forever and ever,' and 'through the power of revelation.'" (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf
"The prayer asks for light and knowledge as well as other aid, and the answer is a teaching situation. Thus the angels who came down in answer to Adam's three-fold appeal, "May the words of my mouth be heard!" etc. "came with a book, and comforted Adam and taught him." Or, in another version, when Adam and Eve prayed at their altar, three messengers were sent down to instruct them." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, ibid.) 
"Bartholomew says, 'She [Mary, the mother of Jesus] began by calling upon God with upraised hands, speaking three times in an unknown language' (the usual code introducing the prayer). 'Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.' (Psalms 28:2)" (Hugh Nibley, Old Testament and Related Studies, edited by John W. Welch, Gary P. Gillum, and Don E. Norton, p.164-165) 
"Mary, standing before them, raised her hands to heaven" and began to call upon the Father in an unknown language, a number of versions of which are given." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, ibid.)

7. Ask Away


Now that you've just addressed God, and you're ready to listen to Him, it's time to ask. Knock.

Go read the scriptures, especially the accounts of those who approached God with a question. Abraham, Moses, Nephi, Joseph Smith and countless others did so. Many times, God's answer was light years beyond anything they had even considered.

The nature of these questions is appropriately prompted by the Holy Ghost.
"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."
"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 19:24-25).
"…it was given unto them what they should pray" - by whom? All indications are it's the Holy Ghost:
"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). 
Below are some suggestions on what you may want to ask God. Regardless of what the Spirit inspires you to ask for, one thing is sure: Your heart must be totally, completely and sincerely seeking answers from God. The video above (also accessible here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lc6JqpYfmko) does a pretty good job of expressing this emotion.
A. Ask For God's Forgiveness
It's clear that God is loathe to interact with those who deal unjustly or uncharitably with others. In Isaiah 58, He provided us with some questions to ask ourselves: 
"Yet they seek me daily, and delight to know my ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and forsook not the ordinance of their God: they ask of me the ordinances of justice; they take delight in approaching to God.
Wherefore have we fasted, say they, and thou seest not? wherefore have we afflicted our soul, and thou takest no knowledge? Behold, in the day of your fast ye find pleasure, and exact all your labours.
Behold, ye fast for strife and debate, and to smite with the fist of wickedness: ye shall not fast as ye do this day, to make your voice to be heard on high.
Is it such a fast that I have chosen? a day for a man to afflict his soul? is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him? wilt thou call this a fast, and an acceptable day to the Lord?
Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke?
Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh?
Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the Lord shall be thy rearward.
Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity;
And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday:
And the Lord shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not." (Isaiah 58:2-11) 
It is clear that when we not only reconcile ourselves to others, but also turn our hearts and minds (Moses 7:18), God will likewise turn His heart and mind to you. As you show mercy unto others, he will show mercy unto you (Matthew 5:7). 
"Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;
Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.
Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.
Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.
Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.
But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you." (Alma 34:17-27) 
B. Ask for Light and Knowledge
As was mentioned above, in 1 Jeu, Abraham is said to have asked God to "give to the servant the light and knowledge thou hast promised to send him." (Hugh Nibley, The Early Christian Prayer Circle, http://publications.maxwellinstitute.byu.edu/publications/jbms/19/2/S00006-50901ff4d24f85EarlyCh.pdf). 
This is entirely in keeping with D&C 50:24: 
"That which is of God is light; and he that receiveth light, and continueth in God, receiveth more light; and that light groweth brighter and brighter until the perfect day." (D&C 50:24; emphasis mine because I like those last three words) 
I firmly believe that God wants to bless us with increasingly greater amounts of light and knowledge. However, we, ourselves, who muck up the process. 
Why? One possibility is that people often believe there is some kind of a "royal shortcut" in obtaining greater light and knowledge. 
The truth is, there isn't one. We must first pay a price by turning to and receiving the words God has delivered this far. You can go here and here to see why we must seek out and know the general commandments before we can expect to know personal commandments. 
C. Ask to Help Others
As we receive the gift of the Atonement in our lives (by asking for God's forgiveness) and by asking for light and knowledge (to help God's Kingdom), we are naturally positioned to ask God for opportunities to help others. 
Another blog put it this way: 
"The Kingdom of God must be built by human beings having human relationships with each other. The only people who can build Zion are those who know how to see other people as God sees them-as imperfect, wonderful, complicated, broken, amazing, and divine individuals worthy of love and respect for who they are and not for what they do.
Elsewhere in the Bible, the prophet Ezekiel defines the sin of Sodom as having 'pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy' (Ezekiel 16:49). This goes hand in hand with what I am arguing here. From a purely transactional world view, the poor are those who can do nothing for us. They require our attention and our resources, but they cannot satisfy any of our desires." (http://bycommonconsent.com/2015/10/10/was-the-sin-of-sodom-multi-level-marketing/
Or, as Moroni put it, 
"Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen." (Moroni 7:48) 
D. What Lackest I?
Life -- all life -- is about asking questions, not about knowing answers. 
It is wanting to see what's over the next hill that keeps us all going. 
We have to keep asking questions, wanting to understand...even when there's the possibility that we may not find the answers in this life. 
I really liked Elder Larry Lawrence's October 2015 General Conference talk, "What Lack I Yet?" It's an appropriate question, and his analysis is chock full of references not about other men, but God, Christ and the Holy Ghost. Awesome. 
"If spiritual growth is not a priority in our lives, if we are not on a course of steady improvement, we will miss out on the important experiences that God wants to give us. Years ago I read these words of President Spencer W. Kimball, which had a lasting impact on me. He said: "I have learned that where there is a prayerful heart, a hungering after righteousness, a forsaking of sins, and obedience to the commandments of God, the Lord pours out more and more light until there is finally power to pierce the heavenly veil. ... A person of such righteousness has the priceless promise that one day he shall see the Lord's face and know that he is." (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2015/10/what-lack-i-yet?lang=eng

8. Offer yourself as a sacrifice, a gift to God 


There is no doubt whatsoever that if you have truly conversed with God, you will soon discover He longs, He yearns for, you to be closer to Him. He is far more thrilled to be, or the prospect to be, in your presence than you can conceive.

To ensure this upward trajectory in your relationship with Him, He will invite you to shed and discard the telestial ballasts which weighs you down. This invitation often involves sacrifice:
"Behold, I have seen your sacrifices, and will forgive all your sins; I have seen your sacrifices in obedience to that which I have told you." (D&C 132:50) 
"Verily I say unto you, all among them who know their hearts are honest, and are broken, and their spirits contrite, and are willing to observe their covenants by sacrifice-yea, every sacrifice which I, the Lord, shall command-they are accepted of me." (D&C 97:8) 
"And ye shall offer up unto me no more the shedding of blood; yea, your sacrifices and your burnt offerings shall be done away, for I will accept none of your sacrifices and your burnt offerings. And ye shall offer for a sacrifice unto me a broken heart and a contrite spirit. And whoso cometh unto me with a broken heart and a contrite spirit, him will I baptize with fire and with the Holy Ghost…" (3 Nephi 9:19-20) 
"For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to shew himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him." (2 Chronicles 16:9)
I believe that many are all willing to sacrifice all things for the Lord. However, would the Lord want us to cast others down and out, drawing lines of inclusion and exclusion, and set lines around loving others?

If we were to jump head first with just (sacrificing) material things to come unto him, we would unfortunately NOT be sacrificing all earthly possessions. The Lord asks us to also forsake negative spiritual things, like impatience, fear, pride and entitlement (to name a few) and replace them with patience, long-suffering, selflessness, love, and charity.

Sacrificing these negative spiritual possessions is often much more difficult than sacrificing material possessions. In my case, waiting on the Lord is one that I have always struggled with. So we are asked to sacrifice impatience as an earthly possession. By patiently waiting on Him to direct us individually, we are giving up a difficult earthly possession.
"Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." (Psalms 141:2; emphasis mine)

9. Weary God until He blesses you


As you continually approach God, expect His blessings and continually sacrifice to realize those blessings, weary Him until he blesses you:
"God is not a respecter of persons, we all have the same privilege. Come to God weary him until he blesses you &c we are entitled to the same blessings" ([recorded in Willard Richards Pocket Companion, 78-79] cited in The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph, comp. Andrew F. Ehat and Lyndon W. Cook [1980], p. 15; https://archive.org/stream/TheWordsOfJosephSmith/The%20Words%20of%20Joseph%20Smith_djvu.txt). 
"And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me." (Ether 1:43) 
"And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint; Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me." (Luke 18:1-8) 
"Do you get answers to your prayers? If not, perhaps you did not pay the price. Do you offer a few trite words and worn-out phrases, or do you talk intimately to the Lord? Do you pray occasionally when you should be praying regularly, often, constantly? Do you offer pennies to pay heavy debts when you should give dollars to erase that obligation?
When you pray, do you just speak, or do you also listen? Your Savior said, 'Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.' (Rev. 3:20.) 
…Should we ever fail to get an answer to our prayers, we must look into our lives for a reason" (President Spencer W. Kimball, "Prayer," New Era, Mar. 1978, p. 17).
In my next post in this miniseries, I'll give Step #10…and one simple picture that puts all of this into perspective.

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