Just over the Mt. of Olives, on the far side that does not face Jerusalem, is the little town of Bethany, where to this day lies an empty tomb that once held the body of Lazarus.
We’ve heard the story–and felt the poignancy of it–hundreds of times. How Jesus wept when he saw the mourning sisters Mary and Martha who were his friends, giving us the sense that God may weep with us in our most difficult times.
How the gathered crowd saw a miracle as Lazarus emerged still in his grave clothes, now amazed and awed at the power of Christ to heal even when it appeared impossible.
How from this moment, which you would assume would make all acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, the Sanhedrin plotted to kill him. This was the moment that finally sealed his fate in their eyes.
What most of us haven’t focused on is a line from a prayer Jesus immediately uttered.
“Then they took away the stone from the place where the dead was laid. And Jesus lifted up his eyes, and said, Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.
“And I knew that thou hearest me always” (John 11:41,42).
It doesn’t surprise us, of course, that Jesus was certain that his Father “hearest me always.” This was the perfect Son of the Father and all throughout his ministry we see that he pulls himself aside to spend time in prayer with his Father. He spent 40 days in the wilderness communing with his Father; he prayed all night before he chose his apostles. Of course, in that desperate hour in Gethsemane, he was in prayer to the Father, whom he knew always heard him.
So at one were this Father and Son that when Philip asked Jesus to show them the Father, Christ answered, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me? (John 14:9),
Thus, we may be tempted to dismiss Christ’s assertion that “I knew that thou hearest me always,” as a condition he alone experienced, while the rest of us flounder in prayer wondering if The Lord hears us or if He is off someplace else without an ear inclined our way.
Since, however, we are to take Christ as our exemplar in all things, this may be a moment of enlightenment for us, an insight that might help in our prayer life. We have a Father who hears us, who listens with concern and love to our pleas. It is his nature to hear us. It is not only his capacity to hear us all, an attribute of his–even if we are all speaking at once, it is also an expression of his Fatherly devotion. Not only can he hear us, he chooses to as part of his investment in us. Our growth and exaltation are his stated work.
He feels after us. He promises to be found if we truly seek him. He promises, “Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am (Isaiah 58:9).
If we were absolutely certain that he hears us, would we pray with a different kind of confidence, with more real intent?
Here, of course, is the temptation. The people we talk to on earth and that we can see don’t always hear us. Many ignore us when we are calling out to them with or without words. Many can’t see us even when we are standing plainly before them. How much more challenging to truly believe that God, whom we can’t see, hears us.
If we are looking for a cascade of warmth when we pray, an acknowledgment from the Spirit, we don’t always feel it. If we want to hear immediate answers ringing in our heads, we don’t always hear them. If we want to see The Lord moving to solve our problems for us, we can’t always see that, especially not in our time frame.
It may often feel to us that our prayers bounce off the ceiling or that nobody is listening. It may feel that our prayers are only a meaningless exercise because we cannot see immediate improvement in our situations.
This looking specifically for a particular state of mind to come upon us or answers we can immediately put our finger on may leave us in spiritual flux, a continual testing of our relationship with God. “Are you there? Are you not there?” “Can I count on you? Can I not count on you?” This uncertain footing with the Lord, authored by us, not by Him, lessens our spiritual power and our determination, erodes our faith. It leaves us in a dance of doubt instead of certainty.
It is as if we are continually testing and testing with Him instead of landing in a firm place certain that He hears us. If we seek continual proof of this, we remain in spiritual kindergarten.
In scripture, the overwhelming majority of verses about hearing are not whether the Lord hears us or not. The question is whether we hear Him. There is a kind of pleading on His part toward us to “Hear him.” This is accompanied by the sense that too often our ears are dulled. We cannot hear or we refuse to hear.
Listen to the Lord reminding us to hear him in these verses:
Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day. (Deut. 5:1)
Hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. (Deut. 32:1)
Sometimes to hear is rendered as “hearken.”
Hearken, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together (D&C 1:1).
Hearken, O ye people of my church, and ye elders listen together, and hear my voice while it is called today, and harden not your hearts (D&C 45:6 6).
Is one of God’s attributes that he hears us? Yes. Admittedly, when a people become willfully disobedient as were the people of King Noah in the Book of Mormon, the Lord says, “Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies” (Mosiah 11:24).
This implies not that he didn’t hear them, but that he was slow to respond because of their willful wickedness.
They had freely chosen something besides Him, who was God, and therefore he was “slow to hear.”
There is a sense, too, that you can hear particularly in Psalms, that there is a pleading with the Lord to hear. “Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou my helper” (Psalms 30:10 10).
“Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness,” pleads the Psalmist, but then immediately acknowledges that he has been heard by the Lord. “thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress” (Psalms 4:1).
One of God’s plain attributes is that He hears us when we call him, and acknowledging that renders us so much more powerful and confident in prayer.
At the tomb of Lazarus, when Christ said, “I knew that thou hearest me always,” he was giving us an example of what spiritual power looks like. The Lord is not like the innkeepers who refused Mary and Joseph when they came knocking. He has told us, “Seek and ye shall find; knock and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7). The JST adds this beautiful verse, giving us the image of a son or daughter standing outside the door and knocking to come in:
“What man among you, having a son, and he shall be standing out, and shall say, Father, open thy house that I may come in and sup with thee, will not say, Come in, my son; for mine is thine, and thine is mine?” (JST Matthew 7:17).
You can hear the same confidence in prayer that God is listening in the words of Nephi:
“I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.”
He said this in confidence when he was dealing with a most distressing situation, dogged with worry about the wickedness of his people, when easy answers were not available. Still he was certain he was heard. He adds, “And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people” (2 Nephi 33:3,4).
King Benjamin was assured, “For the Lord hath heard thy prayers” (Mosiah 3:4).
I know that thou hears me. I know that thou hast always heard me. These are the words of the spiritually radiant, the spiritually confident. But maybe, we don’t always feel so confident and assured. Maybe we think, after all, that is Nephi and King Benjamin talking. Or in the case of Christ at the tomb of Lazarus, that is the Son of God, Himself, talking. In contrast, I am just me, mumbling my hopeful words and unsure.
We can take these spiritually great ones as exemplars. If we have the tendency to waiver, wondering somehow if prayer is meaningless because God may not be listening anyway, it is time to end that small thinking. If we are constantly testing God to see if he’s there, it’s time to emerge from the shadows of ill-defined understanding.
Instead of submitting to the welter of false voices that sometimes crowd our heads about the nature of God, we can say as we begin our prayers, “I know thou hears me. I know thou hast always heard me.”
This is truth, and when we speak the truth, light, power and assurance follows. This is a good beginning to prayer. “I know thou hears me. I know thou hast always heard me”, is an expression of gratitude, an expression of reality. When we say this, we are acknowledging this to God, but also to ourselves. We are making an affirmation that our whole soul can respond to, instead of expressing doubt that leaves us weak.
“Dear Lord,” we can begin in prayer, “I know that thou hears me.” Acknowledging who is there, we are ready to pray with the real intent that God asks of us. It is the real intent that feels us with assurance and charges our prayer life with new power.
2 Nephi 33
3 But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people. For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.
4 And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people. And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them; for it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.
4 For the Lord hath heard thy prayers, and hath judged of thy righteousness, and hath sent me to declare unto thee that thou mayest rejoice; and that thou mayest declare unto thy people, that they may also be filled with joy.
23 And it shall come to pass that except this people repent and turn unto the Lord their God, they shall be brought into bondage; and none shall deliver them, except it be the Lord the Almighty God.
24 Yea, and it shall come to pass that when they shall cry unto me I will be slow to hear their cries; yea, and I will suffer them that they be smitten by their enemies.
25 And except they repent in sackcloth and ashes, and cry mightily to the Lord their God, I will not hear their prayers, neither will I deliver them out of their afflictions; and thus saith the Lord, and thus hath he commanded me.
26 And not many days hence the Son of God shall come in his glory; and his glory shall be the glory of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace, equity, and truth, full of patience, mercy, and long-suffering, quick to hear the cries of his people and to answer their prayers.
27 And behold, he cometh to redeem those who will be baptized unto repentance, through faith on his name.
Hear – many of the scripture references are God’s pleading with his children to hear, not the opposite.
–Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day. (Deut. 5:1)
-Observe and hear all these words which I command thee, that it may go well with thee.
–Hear, O earth, the words of my mouth. (Deut. 32:1)
Psalms 4:1 Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness: thou hast enlarged me when I was in distress; have mercy upon me, and hear my prayer.
Psalms 30:10 10 Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be thou my helper.
D&C 1:1,2 HEARKEN, O ye people of my church, saith the voice of him who dwells on high, and whose eyes are upon all men; yea, verily I say: Hearken ye people from afar; and ye that are upon the islands of the sea, listen together.
2 For verily the voice of the Lord is unto all men, and there is none to escape; and there is no eye that shall not see, neither ear that shall not hear, neither heart that shall not be penetrated.
D&C 41:1 HEARKEN and hear, O ye my people, saith the Lord and your God, ye whom I delight to bless with the greatest of all blessings, ye that hear me; and ye that hear me not will I curse, that have professed my name, with the heaviest of all cursings.
Hearken, O ye people of my church, and ye elders listen together, and hear my voice while it is called today, and harden not your hearts; D&C 45:6 6
D&C 109:78 78 O hear, O hear, O hear us, O Lord! And answer these petitions, and accept the dedication of this house unto thee, the work of our hands, which we have built unto thy name;
2 Nephi 33:3 But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people. For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.
3 And he said unto me: Awake, and hear the words which I shall tell thee; for behold, I am come to declare unto you the glad tidings of great joy.
Mosiah 21:15 And now the Lord was slow to hear their cry because of their iniquities; nevertheless the Lord did hear their cries, and began to soften the hearts of the Lamanites that they began to ease their burdens; yet the Lord did not see fit to deliver them out of bondage.
Mosiah 27:14 14 And again, the angel said: Behold, the Lord hath heard the prayers of his people, and also the prayers of his servant, Alma, who is thy father; for he has prayed with much faith concerning thee that thou mightest be brought to the knowledge of the truth; therefore, for this purpose have I come to convince thee of the power and authority of God, that the prayers of his servants might be answered according to their faith.
Isaiah 41:17 17 When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongue faileth for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
Isaiah 59: 1,2 Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear:
2 But your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear.
Jeremiah 5:21 21 Hear now this, O foolish people, and without understanding; which have eyes, and see not; which have ears, and hear not:
Isaiah 65:12 12 Therefore will I number you to the sword, and ye shall all bow down to the slaughter: because when I called, ye did not answer; when I spake, ye did not hear; but did evil before mine eyes, and did choose that wherein I delighted not.
Isaiah 58:9 9 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;