I like lists. Grocery lists, packing lists, to-do lists. I like it when things are laid out, nice and neat, and I can go through the list, putting checkmarks beside the things I’ve done. When there’s something I need to do, I like to see a step-by-step, fool-proof method to get what I want, like a recipe. In many instances, I get exactly that: step-by-step instructions for mowing the lawn, creating a spreadsheet, or assembling equipment. However, in religion there are seldom step-by-step instructions for anything.
I’ve often wished for step-by-step instructions telling me exactly how to pray and get answers. I’ve wanted a list to go through, with the promise that when I got to the end of the list, I would have my answer. No such luck.
Prayer Isn’t Like Aspirin
When I have a headache, I take a break. I rest, lie down, relax. If that doesn’t work, I might try a dark room or a cold cloth. And if that doesn’t work, as a last resort, I’ll take some medicine. This tried and true method of headache relief works for almost everyone; if not, they have different method. But prayer isn’t like aspirin. It’s not a last resort. It’s not something we do only when we’re in pain. It’s also not an instant cure-all.
Prayer is the exact opposite of aspirin. Instead of a last resort, prayer should be something we turn to every single day. Instead of waiting until a problem is beyond our control, or we’re in serious trouble to pray, we should pray always, even when we’re feeling great. Instead of an instant solution to our problems, sometimes we have to continue to pray for the same things for a long time before we receive answers or help.
Guidelines and Counsel
Although there isn’t really a step-by-step instruction manual on prayer, there are guidelines and counsel concerning prayer. In Jeremiah 29, the Lord instructs: “Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you. And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:12-13). How exactly can we call upon God, seek Him, and receive the answers we so desire?
- Be heartfelt and sincere. Our prayers are more powerful when we truly pour out our hearts to the Lord. Prayer is more than blandly repeating the same worn-out phrases over and over; it’s about what’s really in our hearts. Prayer becomes so much more powerful for us when we really talk to God, and tell Him how we really feel.
- Use appropriate language. It’s important to remember that we’re speaking to God, the most powerful Being in the universe. Using proper and respectful language is easier when we remember with whom we are speaking.
- Have spirit of gratitude. God, our Heavenly Father, has given us everything. I know sometimes it seems like we’re left with nothing, but stop for a minute. We have a body. We have a life on this earth. We have the hope of our Savior Jesus Christ. There is always something to be thankful for.
- Pray like everything depends on God and then work like everything depends on you. It’s wonderful and important to pray fervently and sincerely. But we can’t expect God to do everything for us. We must work our hardest to make what we’ve prayed for happen, because it shows Heavenly Father that we are serious.
- Remember to pray for others. No matter how bad things get, there are always people who need our prayers. Our family members, friends, neighbors—many people need prayers. Additionally, praying for others increases our love for them. Trouble with a roommate or friend? Pray for that person, sincerely, and it will be easier to love him or her.
Have You Tried Prayer?
President Thomas S. Monson, president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, shares the following anecdote:
One human resource officer assigned to handle petty grievances concluded an unusually hectic day by placing facetiously a little sign on his desk for those with unsolved problems. It read, ‘Have you tried prayer?’ What he may not have realized was that this simple counsel would solve more problems, alleviate more suffering, prevent more transgression, and bring about greater peace and contentment in the human soul than could be obtained in any other way (“Come Unto Him in Prayer and Faith,” Liahona March 2009).
Prayer seems like such a simple solution, and to many people seems like a waste of time. After all, we can’t see God, and He has billions of people praying to Him every day. But all it takes is a little bit of faith. Faith that Heavenly Father loves each of us, because He does. Faith that He listens to each of our prayers, because He can. Faith that He answers prayers, because He will.
To the critics who believe that prayer is outdated, a practice for a simpler time, President Monson replies:
Don’t we today, as always, love our children and want them to live righteously? Don’t we today, as always, need God’s divine, protecting care? Don’t we today, as always, continue to be at His mercy and in His debt for the very life He has given us? Times have not really changed. Prayer continues to provide power—spiritual power. Prayer continues to provide peace—spiritual peace (“Come Unto Him in Prayer and Faith,” Liahona March 2009).
We can turn to the Lord always, whenever and wherever we are. He loves us—we are His children. He wants us to pray to Him, and will answer us. Prayer isn’t like aspirin. It’s better.
Megan is a graduate of BYU-Idaho and recently married member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. She is a writer and avid reader, and loves music, hiking, and her family.