Would you like to consistently receive answers to your prayers? I hope the following remarks will strengthen your ability to perceive the whisperings of the Spirit; to discern the presence of the Holy Ghost as your constant companion; and to commune with God the Eternal Father and with His Son, even the Holy One of Israel.
There is great strength, direction, joy and peace that can come into our lives as we learn to pray in such a manner that we know—while we are calling upon God—that our prayer is being heard. I value my testimony that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, that the Gospel has been restored, and that we have a loving Father who hears and answers our prayers, above all else I have ever had, or could have, upon this earth.
Knowing that God has heard my prayer is more important than whether or not He will grant a specific petition. I can then say that God answers all of my prayers because I trust that He has my best interests in mind and will grant my petitions, if they are right, in due season (Leviticus 26:4). In addition to this comfort, God delights in giving us specific guidance. Prayer, then, is a sure source of comfort and guidance as we face difficult trials.
It is my hope that I can adequately transmit my understanding of the perfect pattern of prayer, even Moroni 10:3–5, so that this scripture will apply to you:
“Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:9a).
Breaking the barriers
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin invited:
“Do you want to know the truth of the holy scriptures? Do you wish to break the barriers that separate mortals from the knowledge of eternal verities? Do you wish to know—really know—the truth? Then follow Moroni’s counsel and you will surely find what you seek” (“Pure Testimony,” Ensign, Nov. 2000).
In a historical worldwide devotional on 3 June 2018, President Russell M. Nelson pleaded with the youth to feel the joy and peace that comes from praying and learning to discern the whisperings of the Spirit.
President Nelson assured:
“I promise you that if you will sincerely and persistently do the spiritual work needed to develop the crucial, spiritual skill of learning how to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, you will have all the direction you will ever need in your life… When you know your life is being directed by God … you will feel joy and peace.”
Regarding Moroni’s promise, Elder Bernard P. Brockbank (1968 October General Conference) suggested that those who have not put Moroni’s promise to the test may benefit from some additional help from those who have.
After baptizing and confirming my oldest son, David, I sent him to his room and said, “Son, do not come out until you have felt the Spirit of God.” Sadly, I offered no further explanations. David was in his room for a long time. He kept touching his chest to see if it was radiating heat.
Elder Bernard P. Brockbank suggested:
“Be sure they [friends and investigators] follow the steps given in the promise. This promise needs the testimony and the help of one who has received the witness and the answer promised by the prophet.”
While the Spirit is the ultimate teacher, I hope to remind you of things you already know and provide some helpful thoughts. We will begin by first applying Moroni’s promise and instructions to the simplest prayer, before moving on and asking about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, or about the truth of all things.
- Find a private place to meditate and pray without distractions. Immerse yourself in the Scriptures, especially in the Book of Mormon. Find passages that you particularly love to read and ponder so that you may feel of the Spirit. Another excellent way to invite the Spirit is to sing hymns of praise or watch some of the wonderful movies that the Church has made available to us. Two such examples are Only a Stonecutter (2008) or Windows of Heaven (1963, 1979). Or watch a favorite General Conference talk. The idea is to invite faith and reject fear. Elder Neil L. Andersen taught that “Fear and faith cannot coexist in our hearts at the same time” (You Know Enough). You may also wish to read Elder Quentin L. Cook’s General Conference talk, “Live by Faith and Not by Fear” (October 2007).
- Meditate upon, and make a mental list of, those things for which you are intensely grateful.
- If you do not have physical impediments, kneel down (see Romans 14:11).
- Address the Father. It was the Son who taught that we should pray to the Father:
“At that day ye shall ask in my name: and I say not unto you, that I will pray the Father for you: For the Father himself loveth you, because ye have loved me, and have believed that I came out from God.”
- When you address the Father, remember that He is nearby. When we pray in the name of His Beloved Son, the Father parts the veil that separates us from His presence. It is a sacred moment. The Prophet Joseph Smith taught:
“It is a great thing to inquire at the hands of God, or to come into His presence” [Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, Joseph Fielding Smith (1976)].
- Pray with faith and confidence. The Father loves you and will listen to you. He will listen with more solicitude than the most tender and loving human father. Do not permit feelings of doubt and fear (James 1:5–6).
- Pray with the humility to accept the answer that is given.
- Now the time has come to thank God from the depth of your heart for those things you are most grateful for (see Step 2). This prayer is about expressing your gratitude. As you pray, do not feel apprehension for long pauses, but rather speak slowly. After expressing gratitude for those things you are thankful for, tell the Father you love Him.
- Now we will ask for something. Inquire, “Father, hast thou heard my prayer?” Wait for the answer with patience. Listen with every portion of your body; with your body, with your heart, with your mind, with all.
- Something very beautiful will happen next—if it has not already happened during the process of praying. You will feel tranquility, a deep joy, or a peace that is difficult to explain—such as the swelling of the breast (3 Nephi 4:33). We pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ. It is Christ who answers through the instrumentality of the Holy Ghost. It is through the fruits of the Spirit that we recognize the answer to the question we posed in Step 9: “… the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22b–23a).
- Take a “spiritual snapshot,” so to speak, in terms of what you are experiencing. I feel the fruits of the Spirit in the traditional way described in D&C 8:2, “Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.” If after asking this question you feel the fruits of the Spirit, then the answer is yes, “Yes, my daughter,” or “Yes, my son, I have heard your prayer.” The veil has parted; you have received personal revelation—more valuable than anything.
- If you feel fear, that is not a “no” answer. Those feelings come from that being who detests to see us on our knees praying (see JS-History 1:15).
- A “no” answer is either a stupor of thought (D&C 9:9) or feeling nothing at all. Stupor, for me, is manifested by a loss of concentration—and at times even forgetting what it is that I was praying for. Do not despair. If you do not receive a “yes” answer at first, it just means that Heavenly Father wishes for you to importune Him and go through this process again (more about this is said below).
- Upon reception of a positive answer, do not hurry to conclude the prayer, but rather bask in the love of the Spirit. When you are finally ready to conclude this prayer (remember we are to pray always, and “let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually,” Alma 34:27), do so by giving thanks for the sacred moment you have experienced, and do so in the revered name of Jesus Christ.
- If you did not receive a “yes” answer, you may wish to plead with the Father in the name of Jesus Christ, reminding the Father that you come in the name of His Son. On this last point, imagine that in your ward or branch there is a missionary serving from a very far away land or remote nation. And imagine that you lived years ago, when Internet communication was not available, and it took weeks for missionaries to get our letters and then weeks for us to receive their answers (this was the case with our son David when he served in Uruguay). Now, imagine that coincidence dictates that you will have the opportunity to travel to that very remote place where your ward missionary comes from. Would not that missionary wish for you to stop by and visit her or his parents? And when you stopped and knocked at the door of that missionary’s home, would you not be quickly and joyfully bidden to come in by anxious parents who wish to hear every detail about their child’s mission? Although the process of praying is different than the scenario I have just painted, when we knock on heaven’s door in the name of the Beloved Son, the Father opens the door, He parts the veil, to listen to us with untold joy.
We cannot force an answer lest we end up receiving one from the wrong source. Yet, the Prophet Joseph Smith taught that we must importune the Father and not give up so easily: “It is the privilege of the Children of God to come to God and get Revelation… God is not a respecter of persons. We all have the same privilege.” The Prophet also taught us, “Weary [the Lord] until he blesses you.” In the Book of Mormon we further read: “And now, he imparteth his word by angels unto men, yea, not only men but women also. Now this is not all; little children do have words given unto them many times, which confound the wise and the learned” (Alma 32:23).
Our Father knows if we are praying with a sincere heart and with real intent (Moroni 10:4), as did Enos: “And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens” (Enos 1:4) Note some of the key terms found in Enos, such as the declaration that Enos hungered. Even so, his prayer was not answered immediately.
If at first you do not obtain a response, refuse to be discouraged. Be ready to repeat the process as many times as it takes. I reassure you that your prayers will be answered. Consider reading the suggestions in the steps outlined above once again, especially those about immersing yourself in the Scriptures.
In speaking to priesthood leaders President Ezra Taft Benson admonished:
“One of the most important things you can do as priesthood leaders is to immerse yourselves in the scriptures. Search them diligently. Feast upon the words of Christ… There are few other ways to gain greater inspiration as you serve. But that alone, as valuable as it is, is not enough. You must also bend your efforts and your activities to stimulating meaningful scripture study among the members of the Church” (The Power of the Word, April 1986 General Conference).
I wish to close this section by reminding you to speak much slower in prayer, leaving lots of pauses. When we are speaking to the Father we ought to be sensitive to the impressions of the Spirit. We listen carefully to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost before, during and after we speak, for we wish to engage the Spirit in our prayer. Just as when we converse with a loved one, we wish to encourage interruptions.
A sincere heart and real intent
To ask with a sincere heart and real intent (Moroni 10:4) is vital to obtaining a manifestation of the Spirit. It means that we are prepared to act upon the answer (faith is a principle of action). In doing so we show we are willing to become disciples of Jesus Christ—despite our shortcomings.
God does not want us to act like the people who approached Jeremiah the Prophet with false pretenses. On the surface, the community seemed quite sincere but in their hearts they just sought to have their opinions ratified.
“Then they said to Jeremiah, The LORD be a true and faithful witness between us, if we do not even according to all things for the which the LORD thy God shall send thee to us. Whether it be good, or whether it be evil (see my article, “The Word Evil in the Bible [רַע]”), we will obey the voice of the LORD our God, to whom we send thee; that it may be well with us, when we obey the voice of the LORD our God” (Jeremiah 42:5–6).
The Prophet Jeremiah inquired of the Lord on behalf of the people. But the answer enraged them to the point that they insulted Jeremiah and accused him of speaking falsely (Jeremiah 43:2).
What a contrast we see in the attitude of Lamoni’s father, whose desire to become a disciple of Christ led him to exclaim:
“O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day” (Alma 22:18a).
The experiment we have outlined follows precisely the pattern set by Moroni: “Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. [This includes the steps related to gratitude.] And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ [we direct our prayer to the Father in the name of his Beloved Son, our Savior], if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent [we approach the Father with a willingness to make every required change], having faith in Christ [we cannot approach the Father but through the Son], he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things” (Moroni 10:3–5).
Satan would have us believe that when we pray we are bothering God, who is engaged in more serious affairs. Our Father, instead, wishes for us to speak to Him and tell Him of our joys and sadness. He will always have the time to listen and console us or to rejoice with us. No matter what time of the day, our location, or anything else.
Because we can only have an effective two-way communication with one person at a time—and even that we do imperfectly—we sometimes put limitations on what God can do. One of God’s characteristics is that He can listen, and respond, to each one of us at any given time—regardless of who else is speaking.
The second of Satan’s lies, is that we must be worthy enough to pray. Yet we will never be worthy enough on our own. Christ lends us of His worthiness. This is another reason why we approach the Father in the name of His Son.
President Nelson, in his address to the youth, made this magnificent declaration:
“I promise you—not the person sitting next to you, but you—that, wherever you are in the world, wherever you are on the covenant path—even if, at this moment, you are not centered on the path—I promise you that if you will sincerely and persistently do the spiritual work needed to develop the crucial, spiritual skill of learning how to hear the whisperings of the Holy Ghost, you will have all the direction you will ever need in your life. You will be given answers to your questions in the Lord’s own way and in His own time. And don’t forget the counsel of your parents and Church leaders. They are also seeking revelation in your behalf.”
No doubt we need to be engaged in “sincerely and persistently [doing] that spiritual work” and in trying to improve our lives. But the Father will never disdain a sincere prayer offered with real intent.
Before moving on to the second experiment, I wish to make a special invitation. I do not know if you will receive the whisperings of the Spirit immediately or if it will require a long time before you do so. I think in my case both of these things were true.
Even before I asked, the Spirit communicated sacred truths about the Gospel which one day would be part of my life (see “I was Gathered by the Book of Mormon”). But I will also admit that once I joined the Church specific questions went unanswered for a long time. It would take years for me to learn how to pray in the way I have described here.
Some decades ago auto-stereograms were all the craze. They consisted of two-dimensional printed pages that would appear three-dimensional if one looked at them for long enough. Breaking that visual barrier took much work, but after the first time it got increasingly easier.
Likewise, once we have obtained the whisperings of the Spirit once—reassuring us that God has heard us—I believe it will become easier to do so in the future. Remembering what the Prophet Joseph Smith articulated about coming into the presence of God through our prayers, may I suggest that this is not a one-time experiment. In other words, we do not carry out this experiment so that we can check a box and say that we have indeed heard the whisperings of the Spirit. Rather, we carry out the experiment and then continue to pray this way for the rest of our lives. Once we have heard the whisperings of the Spirit, all the more reason to slow down our prayers and provide the space for God to be an integral part of our prayers.
In time, we may commune with God in prayer in such a way that we can say, with Joseph Smith, “… for I had full confidence in obtaining a divine manifestation, as I previously had one” (JS-History 1:29b).
Our confidence in receiving a divine manifestation will increase. And as it does, it can become part of our lives as we incorporate this approach not only in every prayer, but even while we are giving a talk, a lesson, or a Priesthood blessing.
This, then, is the invitation I wish to make to you. Will you not invite these whisperings of the Holy Ghost into your life? Will you not incorporate this pattern into all your prayers? You will then experience the presence of the Spirit throughout each prayer. It will become the way you pray. The Spirit will often provide the words that you will speak (Isaiah 58:13b).
The Second Experiment
The second experiment will be almost identical to the first, but we will inquire specifically about the veracity of the Book of Mormon (we will do so as an example of other questions we might bring before the Father).
We will begin with precisely the same steps, all the way to the point where we obtain a confirmation from the Spirit that our prayer has been heard by the Father. At this point we will formulate two additional queries. The first, “Father, may I ask thee a question?” Our Father in heaven, who already knows what we are about to ask, will respond with a “yes” or a “no.”
If you feel that our Father has opened the door for raising an additional request, you may wish to ask something like: “Father, is the Book of Mormon an inspired book?”
I also like an adaptation to Alma 22:18: “O God, the missionaries (or my friends) have told me that the Book of Mormon is true; and that it will help guide me back to thee; I am beginning to believe these things and, if they are right, wilt thou make them known unto me? I will make whatever changes are necessary in my life to follow thee, that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.”
When asking specific questions that require a yes or a no answer, we must be careful to avoid ambiguous phrasing. For instance, “Is the Book of Mormon true or not?” is an ambiguous question. If we get a “yes” answer, is it a “yes, it is true,” or a “yes, it is not”? When you are ready to finalize your prayer, once again, do so full of gratitude for this sacred moment and by invoking the name of Jesus Christ.
I would encourage you to write your testimony in you journal. Leaving a written record of your testimony is one form of showing gratitude to our Father for this great gift—even the treasure of a testimony. When we keep a spiritual journal, we will more clearly see the hand of the lord in our lives and it will also stand as a witness for others.
The Prophet Gideon
The Scriptures clearly warn us against wicked sign seeking (e.g., see D&C 46:9b, “for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts”). But other scriptures encourage us to put the Lord to the test in the most positive sense of the word (e.g., Malachi 3:10b, “prove me now herewith”).
We must be careful to “judge righteous judgment” (John 7:24) in such matters. Isaiah asked King Ahaz to put the Lord to the test: “Moreover the LORD spake again unto Ahaz, saying, Ask thee a sign of the LORD thy God; ask it either in the depth, or in the height above” (Isaiah 7:10–11). Ahaz, through unrighteous and hypocritical indignation took offense at the Prophet’s request: “But Ahaz said, I will not ask, neither will I tempt the LORD” (Isaiah 7:12).
During the times of the judges, another prophet (and also a military leader) was called to lead over Israel. His name was Gideon. He was a man of great integrity. Gideon wanted to make sure that he was doing that which was right before the Lord.
Gideon is particularly significant to our study on prayer, because his experiment is very similar to ours. He asked the same question in two different ways in order to make sure that he was getting the correct answer.
“And Gideon said unto God, If thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said, Behold, I will put a fleece of wool in the floor; and if the dew be on the fleece only, and it be dry upon all the earth beside, then shall I know that thou wilt save Israel by mine hand, as thou hast said. And it was so: for he rose up early on the morrow, and thrust the fleece together, and wringed the dew out of the fleece, a bowl full of water. And Gideon said unto God, Let not thine anger be hot against me, and I will speak but this once: let me prove, I pray thee, but this once with the fleece; let it now be dry only upon the fleece, and upon all the ground let there be dew. And God did so that night: for it was dry upon the fleece only, and there was dew on all the ground” (Judges 6:36–40).
Gideon’s petition was quite logical. Someone might point out that it would be usual for the fleece to turn out to be dry normally … or wet. So Gideon tested the idea in both ways so he could be sure. Through Gideon’s experiment on prayer, we can learn much about our own prayers—and confirming the answers so that they are clear.
When I was a branch president our Spanish-speaking patriarch lived in our unit. One day I received a frantic call from his youngest daughter, pleading that I go to the hospital and administer to him. The patriarch had suffered a massive stroke. I felt much love for this man. I knew I had to seek the will of the Father in this matter and felt the need to pray before going to the hospital.
The patriarch was not young and so my first inquiry, as I kneeled before the Father, was something like: “Father, thou wilt be taking thy servant into thy presence, right?” The answer, using the model we have described, was a “no.” I was astonished at the response and proceeded with the next question, “Father, then it is thy will that he live?” The response was a “yes.” I went to the hospital and the Lord blessed the patriarch (I only acted as voice). His recovery was complete.
Some of our prayers will involve mutually exclusive answers. If the will of the Father is Option A, then it is not Option B. This was the case with our patriarch. I had wanted to know if it was the will of the Father to heal the patriarch or if he was “appointed unto death” (D&C 42:48b).
There are yet other types of questions, such as making a choice between several job offers, or deciding what university to attend. If we receive a “yes” answer (or a “no” answer) to each of the options we present in prayer, it may just be that the Lord is saying that the decision is purely ours to make. We can verify this by asking if the decision is up to us, because He has no preference for us.
It may also be that the Father wishes for us to study the alternatives more carefully before He answers. The Lord reproved Oliver Cowdery: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right …” (D&C 9:7–8a).
The Father will not be boxed in
Years ago, I asked our Heavenly Father if a niece, who was afflicted with cancer, would be healed. I had asked for my own comfort. I was not giving her a priesthood blessing. I felt the consoling warmth of the Spirit. I misinterpreted this manifestation of the Spirit to mean she was going to be healed. Instead, the Lord was telling me that it was in His hands, that I should not worry, and that all this was for His glory. My niece was appointed unto death, however, and a loving Heavenly Father was calling her home into His presence.
I have since noticed this pattern, in almost every single prayer, when I am looking for assurance that something will happen or will not happen—according to my understanding of what is good or bad. The Lord simply fills me with comfort and love. Thus, I now know that whatever happens is in His hands and that it will be for good. It does not mean that what I had proposed will come to pass.
Answers to prayers about (1) choices we are supposed to make, then, are very different than (2) our petitions concerning what the future will bring. The first class of questions is more likely to receive specific answers; the second, comfort. That is, reassurance that God knows of our petition and—if it be right—that it will be granted in the Lord’s time.
The Lord does not wish to be put in a box. He prefers to console us and let us know that we are not alone. He is protecting us and is aware of our worries—but the trials we are facing may not presently be removed.
Specific Offers to Help
We can increase personal revelation in our lives when we enlist ourselves to be part of the solution to challenges others are facing. The opposite of that is putting all the responsibility on God, “Father, wilt thou bless all of the poor and afflicted throughout the world, thy missionaries wherever they might be, and all those who are seeking for truth …”
Perhaps we should instead pray as follows: “Father, what can I do today to come to the rescue of one of thy children?” Or, “Father, would thou please help me discern when someone needs to be listened to with empathy, or needs a word of encouragement?” Or, “Father, wilt though help me discern what I could say or do to help others who are seeking the Gospel, but know not where to find it?” Or, “Father, wilt thou help me find ways of following President Russell M. Nelson’s invitation to help gather Israel on both sides of the veil?”
President Russell M. Nelson taught, “Not all of our prayers will be answered as we might wish. Occasionally the answer will be no. We should not be surprised. Loving mortal parents do not say yes to every request of their children. (Even the Son of God endured such an experience, ‘saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done’ (Luke 22:42). The Father and the Son both knew what had to be done.)”
I suggest that we will receive an answer to each and every one of our prayers if we do not insist on our solutions, but instead will be content to an answer to the question, “Father, hast thou heard my prayer?” We then place our trust in the Father and in His timetable. We also increase our chances of receiving an answer when we align our requests with the will of the Father. In the next article, we will examine prayers that go beyond “yes” and “no” answers.
Prayers that part the veil will greatly help us to be guided by the Holy Ghost. Through this pattern, we may begin the process of knowing the truth of all things (Moroni 10:5, emphasis added). Furthermore, when the Father assures us that we will come to know the truth of all things, we are being promised that if we endure to the end in righteousness, that we shall obtain exaltation and eternal life.