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Sunday, October 25, 2020

The Best Friend You Never Knew Part 13: Formal and Informal Prayer

Negate the Naysayers

In my previous post, we detailed several humble, unassuming Christians who were blessed to walk and talk with God. This should come as no surprise to us, for we know that there have been several in history who enjoyed this profound blessing, and that "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34), which means that what He offers to one He offers to all.

Yet there are some, even within our own faith, who denounce, condemn and mock these facts. They say that they “worry when someone is speaking to Him [God] in too familiar a way.” They say that “Heavenly Father's words, His ideas, are not exactly ours. And so the idea of having really a conversation where you're chatting with Heavenly Father is probably a little bit of a lofty goal.” They themselves describe their interactions with God as “not in what you'd call a conversational mode.” They say that in prayer, “the way you do that is different than if you just say, ‘I'd like a chat. I want a conversation.’"

These negative concepts do nothing to close and shorten the distance between you and God. They only increase and exacerbate it. 

Could you EVER imagine the Savior saying, “Sorry, Father and I are so far above you in terms of our powers that, well, we’re kind of lofty, so having a conversation with us is pretty tough.” He didn’t say, “Don’t expect a conversation with us.”

Absolutely, positively not! He said, “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you.” (D&C 88:63) There are no limits imposed on this command.

These distancing comments also fly in the face of facts delivered by the one mortal who knows more than anybody else about interacting with God -- Joseph Smith:

"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, and that he was once a man like us;" (Teachings, p. 345–46, "King Follett Sermon", April 7, 1844; History of the Church, 6:305; as quoted in the church's "Doctrines of the Gospel" student manual).

(Speaking about praying to our Father in Heaven), "Be plain and simple and ask for what you want, just like you would go to a neighbor and say, I want to borrow your horse to go to mill." (Joseph Smith, "Recollections of the Prophet Joseph Smith," Juvenile Instructor, Mar. 1, 1892, p. 151-52).

Others have said (in official church publications):

"Individuals should converse with Heavenly Father in the same direct, trusting, and sincere manner that they converse with friends and family members." (Donald W. Parry, "After This Manner … Pray Ye", Ensign, January 1996)

(Re: the formalities of prayer -- Please read that BYU Religious Studies article mentioned above. It's interesting. You'll learn that such formalities (“thee/thine/thou”) were originally INformal language when the KJV of the Bible was written).

Now, in none of these statements are we told to be irreverent or presumptuous in our relationship with Deity. God’s friendship and love for us should never be taken for granted. But neither should we increase our distance from Him.

And how do we grow closer to God?

You seek God’s will, receive it and do it without any delay. Repeat.

"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) 

Because all worthy endeavors begin and end with prayer, I believe there are two things you can do, which combined, thin the veil and your proximity to God:

Personal Formal Prayers

In his letter to the Thessalonians, Paul said, “Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17-18). 

There it is! God’s Will point #1: “Pray without ceasing”! “Give thanks”! I’m very confident that during His mortal ministry, the Lord did the same. There were also times when He broke away from His disciples and engaged in a deeper, more intimate form of prayer. 

Except for the “Lord’s Prayer,” we have no idea what Yeshua said and did in His personal prayers. Yet, we have some scripturally-based precedents:
  • It was likely at least three times a day: In Alma 34:21, Amulek advises us to “Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.” The prophet Joseph Smith added, "You must make yourselves acquainted with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord" (TPJS, p. 161). This may be a reference to Daniel 6:10
"Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, 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." 

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, "Eliza R. Snow, First Lady of the Pioneers." Ensign, September 1973, p. 62-67). 
  • He first knelt... 
    • "And he was withdrawn from them about a stone's cast, and kneeled down, and prayed" (Luke 22:41)
    • "And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.
    • And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him." (3 Nephi 17:14-15)
  • ...and then may have assumed a posture of deep humility: 
  • ...and in so doing, in this state of humility, He came boldly unto the throne of grace. 
    • “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16)
  • ...addressed God...
    • "Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle." (Psalms 28:2)
    • "Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray." (Psalms 5:2)
    • "Hear my prayer, O God; give ear to the words of my mouth." (Psalms 54:2)
    • "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)
    • See my November 26, 2015 post, “Alignment, Part 4 of 6: Dialogue with God” (especially the “Address God” section).
  • ...and then likely discussed how things were going...: 
  • ...and reasoned together:
    • “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 1:18)
    • “And now come, saith the Lord, by the Spirit, unto the elders of his church, and let us reason together, that ye may understand;” (D&C 50:10)
Imagine what these fruits would bring about in your life if you did this three times a day...every day!

Personal Informal Prayers

As was also mentioned in the previous post, some people have found it beneficial to not end their formal prayers, but to keep the lines of communication open with a different member of the Godhead -- Yeshua --  throughout the day. In these cases, they engaged in a less-formal, yet very real, ongoing dialogue with Yeshua.

“Look unto me in every thought” (D&C 6:36)

"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 34:27; emphasis mine)

Prayer unto who continually? The Lord!

With 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18, we see that Paul is saying that there's simply never a time, there's never a circumstance, there's never an aspect of your life, that you should not be in conversation with the Lord. It means that there's not an area of your life, there's not a time or a season or a period, where you're not regularly repeatedly turning and bringing your needs to the Lord in prayer.

This is probably why Yeshua counseled the twelve disciples and the multitude to "pray always" (3 Nephi 18:15, 18). The multitude was told that "they should not cease to pray in their hearts" (3 Nephi 20:1).

So it is today, that we see that "Prayer is often a brief communication, but it can also be an open and continuous dialogue all throughout the day and night (see Alma 34:27)." (Elder Kevin W. Pearson, "Improving Your Personal Prayers", Brigham Young University–Hawaii devotional, May 17, 2011; emphasis mine)

Re: this form of "Constant Contact" -- we are instructed, 

"There are certain characters that walked with God, saw him, conversed about heaven &c. 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, Jesus, revelations, Just Men &-Angels &c. &c. not Laying again the doctrine of Christ go on unto perfection. Obtain that holy Spirit of promise-Then you can be sealed to Eternal Life." (Discourse, between circa 26 June and circa 4 August 1839–C, as Reported by Willard Richards;; emphasis mine)

"Only with that faith will we pray with the diligence God requires. When God has commanded us to pray, He has used words like “pray unceasingly” and “pray always” and “mighty prayer.”" (Elder Henry B Eyring, “Prayer”, October 2001 General Conference)

"when we are not actually engaged in the formal act of prayer, we should always have a prayer in our heart, wherever we are or whatever we are doing." (Elder Francis M. Gibbons, “The Dual Aspects of Prayer”, October 1991 General Conference

Now that you know these things...

...congrats! You may be judged with the information you’ve now received.

I invite you to disregard any statements which increase the distance between you and God. Always remember that God wishes to converse with you as one man converses with another. 

I also invite you to do what Yeshua, and his prophets both ancient and modern have advised us to do: Stay in touch with Him continually, throughout the day. True, there may be times when you’re at work, and you can’t focus on a dialogue with God. There may be times that you’re working on homework with kids, and you’re more focused on algebra than the Almighty. That’s perfectly fine; just get back with Him when you can.

As you do these things, as you tighten your relationship with Father and Yeshua, you’ll hear Father’s words to you, and you’ll heed them. You’ll hear Yeshua’s words to you, and you’ll heed those, too. You’ll find them drawing closer to you, because your heart (intentions) and hands (actions) are in sync with them. 

And as a result, you’ll experience the same fruits as the prophets of old did in which they parted the veil, conversed with angels and saw God. 

“If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” (John 14:23)

Those aren’t idle words. They’re real. They’re literal. As you cultivate these conversations, these connections, both Father and Yeshua will literally -- LITERALLY -- take up their abode with you, in your home.

Ready for the next post in this series?

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

The Best Friend You Never Knew Part 12: Dialogue with Yeshua Every Day of Your Life

You know, I've been doing this blog for eight and a half years. I've been doing the podcast for almost four years. And it just dawned on me the other day that this blog could be considered a blog about the last days. I mean, the very last days before He returns.

Unfortunately, there are many in our church who believe that the tribulations are many years, or decades, in the future. 

There are some who believe that Christians will be raptured away or LDS church members will be called out prior to these tribulations so they can somehow side-step or circumvent what's coming until the very last minute. Thus, they put their trust in the arm of flesh to save them.
“President Joseph Smith read the 14th chapter of Ezekiel–said the Lord had declared by the Prophet, that the people should each one stand for himself, and depend on no man or men in that state of corruption of the Jewish church–that righteous persons could only deliver their own souls–applied it to the present state of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–said if the people departed from the Lord, they must fall–that they were depending on the Prophet, hence were darkened in their minds, in consequence of neglecting the duties devolving upon themselves.” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 237-38). 
Still others believe that they can just go about their lives as usual, and essentially ignore what the prophets have said about this time, right now. 
"They were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble." (D&C 101:7)
I've blogged about this before, and still believe these mindsets are dangerous because they invite complacency, smugness, laxity, laziness and worse. 
"I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16)
I believe that as the world continues -- and in fact, greatly accelerates -- its descent into total physical and spiritual darkness, we will be left with some choices to make:
  • Choice #1: Just give up and give in. As the worst of the tribulations descend upon us, essentially expedite your return home. In my opinion, many will choose this option. 
  • Choice #2: Stay and fear man. When it comes to picking sides, those who choose this option will defer to and fear man, government, mobs -- whoever wields the most power and can offer a little food, water and safety. Sure, you might live a little longer, but your temporal and eternal lives will be filled with torment and pain. In my opinion, many will choose this option, too. 
  • Choice #3: Stay and fear God, not man. IMO, fewer will choose this option. Despite this choice, they will still be asked to lay down their lives as martyrs. 
"And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Revelation 17:6; emphasis mine)

The Need to Hear God

Yet I believe there is a fourth option. It's composed of those who not only fear God (not man), but also hear God. Thus, when God invites a person to bless their home so it will be invisible to the mob walking past it, they hear that directive, and it is done. When God invites them to walk to a hill four miles away, they hear it, and obey. When God invites them to take four steps forward, then two steps to the left, then to wait there while crouching down for three minutes, they hearken, are safe, and praise God. 

Such circumstances require and demand that we hear God directly. Only God can give you these directives. Only God can give you immediate, person-to-person guidance, no matter where you are and without any means of communication with leaders. Only God, the Holy One of Israel, is mighty to save you.

This is why Yeshua said (emphasis mine)
  • "And whoso receiveth not my voice is not acquainted with my voice, and is not of me." (D&C 84:52)
  • "And upon them that hearken not to the voice of the Lord shall be fulfilled that which was written by the prophet Moses, that they should be cut off from among the people." (D&C 133:63)
  • "And again I say, hearken unto my voice, lest death shall overtake you; in an hour when ye think not the summer shall be past, and the harvest ended, and your souls not saved." (D&C 45:2)
Conversely, those who do hear His voice will be spared:
"And even so will I gather mine elect from the four quarters of the earth, even as many as will believe in me, and hearken unto my voice." (D&C 33:6)
God will invite those who hear Him to survive the coming tribulations and be ambassadors of hope amidst a world gone criminally insane. Because they personally know God and His voice, and they're in the habit of instantly hearkening to it, it will be apparent that they are true men and women of God. And it will be astounding to many that -- just as the Lord's apostles were composed of ordinary men and women -- many of these people will have been church members but had no title in front of their names. Today, they sit on the back rows of sacrament meetings, always smiling, always volunteering to help others, always testifying of the goodness and greatness of God. There's something about them that's, well, just different than everybody else. There's an inner light within them that just can't be explained. And that's OK. Their time has not yet come.

They will (metaphorically) be human candles of the Lord. And as they grow in numbers and capabilities, their light will grow brighter and brighter until The Perfect Day (D&C 50:24). As mankind is battered, bruised and beaten by the tribulations, they will be there to encourage us, strengthen us, empower us to also become candles of the Lord. Zion will be built down below, one person at a time, without hands.
"For thou wilt light my candle: the LORD my God will enlighten my darkness." (Psalm 18:28)
Such people have existed in our past, and exist even today.

Walking Candles of the Lord from our Past

There's a belief that God only talks to those who have been baptized and confirmed church members. So if you haven't been baptized, then sorry, you're out of luck. This is ludicrous, because newspaper headlines galore prove that many who have been baptized have ignored the promptings to not commit heinous crimes, yet they did. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that in all the decades I've been a member, I've never known a church member who was as devoted to God as the non-member Brother Lawrence.

In Part 10 of this series ("Why You Need to Dialogue with Yeshua Daily"), I introduced you to Brother Lawrence. A common man, he lived around 350 years ago. He had no degrees, no riches nor a prestigious family. He worked in a monastery around monks and priests who were sought after by the people. Yet unlike many (even most, and perhaps all) of the people, he fell in love with God, with the Word and with others.

Brother Lawrence wasn’t able to become a minister; he wasn’t qualified at that time. Most of the time he worked in the kitchen, in the garden and around the place cleaning it up. But all day long, Bro. Lawrence talked with Yeshua and allowed Yeshua to change him.

After a while, a rather strange thing happened. The people who normally came to talk with one of the monks or priests started approaching him. They wanted to know what he thought about this or that. 

By the time Brother Lawrence was an old man, he was described as having "looks rough in appearance, and gentle by manners." Father de Beaufort recalled that "Lawrence was open, eliciting confidence, letting you feel you could tell him anything…Once you got past the rough exterior you discovered unusual wisdom, a freedom beyond the reach of the ordinary lay brother".

Yet the monastery he worked at was better known as the place where one could hear the wisdom of Brother Lawrence and read the writings of Brother Lawrence than it was the place that one went to talk to a learned priest or monk. His character attracted many to him. He had a reputation for experiencing profound peace and visitors came to seek spiritual guidance from him. ("Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, Writings and Conversations on the Practice of the Presence of God", Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1994, p.xx-xxi).

Brother Lawrence passed away on February 12, 1691 in Paris, France. Although he died in relative obscurity, his teachings lived on in the compilation of his words (his phrase "To give the all for the all" was a well-known phrase in 18th century France) as a book, The Practice of the Presence of God. The conversations which formed the basis of this book had been conducted and recorded by a notable cleric, the Abbé Joseph de Beaufort, who compiled this work after Brother Lawrence died.

Here's what I have listed as Brother Lawrence's "parting thoughts":
"Think often on GOD, by day, by night, in your business, and even in your diversions. He is always near you and with you; leave Him not alone. You would think it rude to leave a friend alone, who came to visit you: why then must GOD be neglected? Do not then forget Him, but think on Him often, adore Him continually, live and die with Him; this is the glorious employment of a Christian; in a word, this is our profession, if we do not know it we must learn it."
This is a man who not only said, "resolve to give the all for the All," but also practiced what he preached. Read what he said and did. He devoted every moment of his life to God. EVERY.  MOMENT. And in return, the man walked and talked with God. And everybody knew it.

Walking Candles of the Lord from our Present

There are some who believe that God the Father and His Son Yeshua are so far above us in terms of their powers, that the idea of really having a conversation where you're chatting with deity is a lofty goal. Yet they ignore what Brother Joseph said:
"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." (Joseph Smith, Nauvoo, IL Conference, April 7, 1844; emphasis mine)
There are also others who believe that if God does speak conversationally, it would only be with leaders. Yet such opinions are without merit, for it was Peter who said, "God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). General authority statement after general authority statement reminds us that God reaches out to all of us, and seeks to develop a close, intimate relationship with all of us, regardless of our family genealogy, calling, race, age or gender. Why else does He use bride / bridegroom / wedding imageries throughout the gospels? Because that's how close He wants to be with you in a spiritual sense.

“My greatest lessons have come from my times that I have talked with Christ. At times it is verbal and other times the communication is through images. The first time I heard him was when I was walking home from church when I was 20 and he told me I should consider going on a mission. I will be honest I argued over this one but guess who ended up going and knew why about 9 months in. Then I had one of my greatest spiritual experiences.
My conversations were only now and then for the next several years until I realized I could have them all the time. He wants to walk and talk with me.
I have always wondered why it is such a hot topic in church. I mentioned in gospel doctrine one day what I had learned about a particular topic when I was talking with God and the teacher couldn't stand that I said that. He wouldn't let me finish talking. I have raised my kids to talk with God. When I taught seminary, I taught them to know him like a best friend and to talk to him and be open to him answering them.”
“I’m one of those who was never taught to have a personal relationship with the Lord. It’s really only been the last 2 years that I have become close to Him. We chat all day long. He is my constant companion. Yeshua dictates these poems to me most every day. I can’t imagine now going even a day without “being “ with Him.”
“I talk to Christ every day, all day long. Sometimes in my head, sometimes out loud. He answers: I hear it in my mind. This began happening about two years ago when I read John Pontius books and realized there was so much more out there than I was accessing. My relationship with Christ is my favorite and most beautiful thing about my life. I love it and won't give it up. There isn't a possession that means a thing to me. There isn't a person on earth greater in my esteem than Him. If he asks me to give a guy on the street $10 I do it - and I always, always get the followup affirmation of feeling the Spirit tingling all over my body and my chest warming, and a heartfelt "Thank You" in my ear.”

Attention = Affection

When I was in my twenties, a friend of mine taught me a wonderful concept. If I wanted a serious girlfriend, I needed to spend time with her. Quality time. Memorable time. He said, "Attention equals affection." That's so true. 

Even Yeshua said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:21). He also said "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (D&C 88:63). 

You just can't expect to see God if you don't spend time with Him. Quantity time. Quality time. You have to not only know Him, but also have an "intimate experiential relationship with God." 
"The things of God are of deep import; and time, and experience, and careful and ponderous and solemn thoughts can only find them out." (Joseph Smith, Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p.137)


Careful and ponderous thoughts.
"Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for Him to act." (Psalm 37:7)
And act He will. When He does, it will be "exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think" (Ephesians 3:20).

To Know Him is to Love Him. And to Love Him is to Walk and Talk with Him.

It's been said that Yeshua's desire to manifest Himself to His people is greater than their desire to see Him. If that's true, then why is He not manifesting Himself more to His people? Perhaps the problem isn't with Him, but with us. 

To be honest, many people treat deity like a drive-by God. They want everything in a hurry. Or they treat God like a vending machine. In goes our obedience, our temple attendance and our tithing checks, and out comes your Second Comforter, your Calling & Election, or whatever it is YOU are wanting.

The word "know" in Hebrew is yada. Yada means "having an intimate experiential relationship with God." 

That was the experience of the prophet Enoch, who walked with God. That was the experience of the prophet Noah, who walked with God. That was the experience of the prophet Abraham, who was called the friend of God. That was the experience of the prophet Moses, who stood in God's presence. 

Again, God is no respecter of persons. What He blessed with these men, He will bless you with as well. And if you can walk in the same manner as these four patriarchs, then it is absolutely possible for you to walk like Enoch. It is absolutely possible for you to be a friend with God, like Abraham. It is absolutely possible for you to work with God like Noah. It is absolutely possible for you to know God face to face like Moses.

The key is knowing God, getting into an intimate experiential relationship with Him. 

How do you do that? 

I'm not big on checklists. In fact, I despise them. But I have seen four common characteristics among those who know Him best:

1. They seek Him. They want to know the REAL Yeshua HaMashiach. They study the scriptures, read books (like Beautiful Outlaw) and watch media (like The Chosen) that depict not a lofty, aloof savior, but a relatable, best friend who seeks to bless all that He comes into contact with.

2. They dialogue with Him. Like Brother Lawrence, they don't end or close their morning prayers. They keep them going throughout the day. And they know, by experience, that prayer isn't a monologue, but a dialogue. And these regular dialogues with Yeshua are not only the highlights of their days, but are also catalysts for transformation. These people have this glow, this presence, about them...because He is with them.

3. They hunt for opportunities to emulate Him. Being with Him isn't enough. Not by light years. They want to be like Him. They want to teach as He teaches, bless as He blesses, love as He loves. They are, if anything, impatiently passionate to be like Him. This is essentially seeking Him on a level very few are serious about, because they clear their calendars, their online time, their TV watching, and in fact their egos -- anything and everything that points to themselves. They will sacrifice their own self-interests, their own wills and anything that's valuable to them in their lives. Whatever it takes -- the gut-wrenching lows and highs, the agonizing descents and ascents -- to be like Him.

4. Repeat.

As you can imagine, eyeball-to-eyeball, first-hand encounters with the Savior do not last forever. He appears, you dialogue, and at some point, He is gone. Ask the Brother of Jared, Moses and Joseph Smith -- they'll agree. Second Comforter experiences are finite.

But for those who seek Yeshua's common companionship on a daily basis, their interactions with Him are not finite, but infinite. They're frequent, continuous, transformative. And in them, you discover for yourself, independent of any other person, that these words (based on Isaiah 43:1) were written for you:

Seek this dialogue with Him. Crave it. Yearn for it. Desire it more than anything else in your life.

I did. And the results…well, they’ve been far and away beyond anything I could have imagined.

Now it’s YOUR turn…YOUR moment. 

He’s just waiting – RIGHT NOW -- to spend it with you.