As life becomes more and more complicated, many people are looking for answers to their questions. They search the internet, the bookstores, the television gurus, always hoping to find the best wisdom. Of course, the answers they find are from mortal men and are often based on worldly ideas, not eternal ones, and so they are prone to failure. There is only one source of absolute truth, and that source is God. Even though we can’t see God, we can communicate with Him through prayer, and just as importantly, when we pray, we open the doors for Him to communicate with us. We can learn how to pray in such a way that God will always answer our prayers.
Learning how to pray is one of the first skills a Mormon learns, either in childhood or as a potential convert. This is because until a person knows how to pray, he will be unable to know whether or not Mormonism is true. Once he has his answer, he can also use this same ability to receive answers to other kinds of prayer.
Prayer is communication with God, so it is easier to have effective prayers if we have a good relationship with God. Reading the scriptures and spending time in prayer are two ways to get to know who God is. Attending church, of course, is another way. As you build your knowledge of God and get comfortable talking to Him, your prayers will become more effective.
Mormon beliefs about prayer include a simple pattern to formal prayers. Of course, there are also time throughout the day when they communicate informally with Him, but during formal prayers, both public and private, they try to follow a basic pattern.
First, Mormons address God respectfully by name. Mormons often start prayers by saying, “Dear Heavenly Father” or something similar to that. They consider God to be the literal father of their spirits and treat him as they would a parent, with love and respect.
Next, Mormons thank God for the blessings they have received from God. This helps them to review their day and their lives in general to notice what is good. It is easy to get so focused on negative events that we lose sight of our blessings and fail to notice how God is working to help us through our trials. This step of our prayer encourages us to slow down and notice that God is present in our lives.
The third step is to ask God for what we need. This is an optional step, since there are times we will only be praying to thank God for what He has already done. This step comes with some responsibilities. As a wise parent, God knows it is never good to just give us anything we ask for without expecting us to do as much as we can on our own. Every parent knows the parent’s job is to make up the difference between what is needed and what the petitioner can do for himself. If we ask God to help us find a job, we need to actually search for and apply for jobs, not just sit back and wait for God to drop one in our laps. Instead, His job will be to lead us to the best job, to help us know what to say in the cover letter, and to do well in the interview. We always need to be prepared to tell God what we will be doing to make our desires happen and then to ask for only those things we can’t do ourselves.
It’s important to remember that God isn’t Santa Claus. He has to balance our wishes with the eternal plans He has for us and for others. What we want isn’t always what is best for us or for someone else who will be impacted. For instance, in the above-mentioned example of praying to get a job, if someone asks to get a specific job, they are also asking that the other applicants, who might also have prayed about the job, not get it. God must balance out all those requests and decide who most needs or will most benefit from that job.
What then is the purpose of praying, if God will do what is best? Prayer puts the situation into God’s hands, allowing Him to make the decision. It makes it easier for us to accept the decision, since we have agreed that He is best suited to know what is best.
If a decision has to be made, we’re to study it out, make a decision, and then take that decision to God for confirmation. If we learn we’ve made the wrong choice, we start over again. In this way, God allows us to improve our ability to make decisions and measure them against what God knows is best.
The next step in a prayer is to tell God anything else we’d like to tell Him. We can share details of our day or talk about what is on our minds. Then we close by saying, “In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.”
When we pray, we pray to God through Jesus Christ. This is a sacred responsibility. When we pray in His name, we need to be certain we are treating His name with respect. We should not be using prayer to be sarcastic or mean-spirited, to pray things that would offend Jesus, or to be frivolous. That doesn’t mean we can’t be cheerful or talk about mundane things. It does mean we need to be respectful because anything said in Jesus’ name must be a respectful use of that name.
Many people consider “amen” to be the end of their prayer. They jump up off their knees and head out for their day or go to sleep. When they learn how to pray, they only learn how to do their part of the prayer. Mormons, however, are taught that there is still another step.
Once we’ve asked God for help or advice or even just talked to Him, we need to remain on our knees and quiet. Prayer is not a monologue. It is a conversation. When we talk to other human beings, we don’t normally say our part and run off. We stay and listen to the other person’s response. We need to do the same thing in prayer. When we finish talking, we need to sit quietly and let God have a turn. As we sit or kneel without distractions, keeping our minds free of our own random thoughts, God can place His thoughts into our minds and hearts. In this way, we can receive answers to our questions or guidance in our decisions. We can also do this step within the prayer—ask a question and wait for the answer. The answers come in several ways. Most often, we feel a peaceful, comforting feeling in our hearts that tells us the decision we made was correct. Satan cannot bring peace and comfort. That is God’s gift to us. Sometimes thoughts will come into our minds, again accompanied by a feeling of peaceful rightness. If we are trying to find a job, this thought might come to us: “Ask Fred if there are openings in his company.” In this way, God shows us where the job we are looking for can be found. Very rarely do we hear an actual voice. On occasion, this will happen, but usually in situations of imminent danger, when there is no time to verify the thought came from God.
There are some who teach people not to pray for answers because they won’t know whom the answer is from. This is a direct contradiction of Biblical teachings, since the Bible, and Jesus Christ, specifically instruct us to pray for wisdom. (See James 1:5 in the New Testament.) In this verse, James says God promises to answer our prayers for wisdom. Mormons trust God to keep His promises, and they believe that if God promises to do something He will find a way to do it. This means He will make sure we can learn to recognize the ways He is communicating with us. For Mormons, it is important to trust God to keep His promises. Learning how to pray includes learning to trust God.
Finally, once we’re off our knees, we need to act as though we trust God to do what we’ve asked. If we’re asking for help finding a job, we need to head to the computer to search the job ads, demonstrating a willingness to do our part and also faith that God is going to lead us to that job. If we’re writing a book and want help, we need to sit down and start typing. If we ask for courage in a given situation, we need to go into it with a determination to trust God to help us through it.
Learning how to pray can change our lives forever. No longer do we have to guess at life’s questions. We can get our answers from the only being that has a perfect knowledge of us, our needs, and our eternity.
The Mormon prophet, Thomas S. Monson, taught this about the power of learning how to pray:
As we offer unto the Lord our family prayers and our personal prayers, let us do so with faith and trust in Him. Let us remember the injunction of Paul to the Hebrews: “For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” If any of us has been slow to hearken to the counsel to pray always, there is no finer hour to begin than now. William Cowper declared, “Satan trembles, when he sees the weakest Saint upon his knees.” Those who feel that prayer might denote a physical or intellectual weakness should remember that a man never stands taller than when he is upon his knees.
We cannot know what faith is if we have never had it, and we cannot obtain it as long as we deny it. Faith and doubt cannot exist in the same mind at the same time, for one will dispel the other.
Read Thomas S. Monson’s complete talk on prayer:
Thomas S. Monson, “Come unto Him in Prayer and Faith,” Ensign, Mar 2009, 4–9