I liked this quote. “Our job is not to talk God into seeing things our way. Prayer is, instead, a spiritual exercise to tune our souls to His will and ask for blessings He is willing to grant that are conditional on the asking.” (See Bible Dictionary, 753.)
Some blessings God is willing to grant us, but because we have free agency, he can not intervene unless we ask. That is why we pray. His answer is only no when there is a reason, and that is when we need to trust him.
GeoffT's question is extremely pertinent. I appreciate the other comments and article suggestions, and they are helpful, but a key issue remains: why pray, if God's will is going to happen anyway? Or to put it another way, if the stake president asks us to fast and pray for rain, does that actually change when the Lord allows the rain to come? And if it does not, why do we do it? The Lord answered the prayers of Mosiah in relation to his wayward sons and sent an angel... does that mean that Mosiah had more faith than other parents of wayward sons who pray for their salvation? I don't have the answers to these questions, but here are some principles and thoughts that might have some relevance: First, from many statements and comments, prayer appears to have a great deal to do with our personal growth, but (maybe) relatively little to do with external events or outcomes. This might go along with the statements about prayer being the "process of bringing our will in line with the Father's." So maybe praying "for something" (I mean, we are commanded to pray over our flocks and fields and families and such) is simply God's invitation to draw closer and closer to him, thereby receiving the blessings of strength to resist temptation, increased capacity to do good, daily grace, spiritual promptings and other promised blessings of righteousness and covenant keeping, including the faith and ability to grow from the natural consequences of mortality. Second, we know the principle of Agency cannot be removed in order for the Plan of Salvation to work. That being the case, I have wondered: sometimes the way we talk about God's will and plan starts to sound a lot like predestination. Things are going to happen the way they are going to happen and it is all "according to God's plan." In the biggest sense I think that is true, if we are talking about the Plan of Salvation, which requires agency, choice, the fall of Adam and us, the natural man, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ to overcome all those things. But I am not certain about the smaller sense. Is there only one right best way for events to play out? And how does that speak to the idea of agency? If I exercise true and saving faith in Christ when I ask God to heal my sick or injured family member, and do so accepting of the outcome, might God be able to provide that outcome because it works for the good of all concerned? Conversely, if I do NOT exercise faith, if I despair or only put my trust in the arm of flesh, might God allow my family member to die or not be healed because He can make that work for the good of all concerned as well, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and the importance of agency? In other words, maybe God can take a more active hand guiding the big prophesied elements of the plan which are necessary for it to work (the calling of prophets, the restoration(s) of the gospel, the rise of nations, the advent of the Savior and so forth) and allow the individuals inside those elements to go one direction or another, because the Atonement of Jesus Christ can make up for all consequences that are not the result of our own actions. I do not know the answers to these questions, but I hope to gain a greater understanding as I deepen my own personal prayers and seek to become like my Savior. Shalom!
It can be faith-shattering to pray earnestly for something that we WANT and not get it. But it is often faith-affirming when later down the road we can see that our Heavenly Father gave us what we NEED, and of course he knows that much better than we do. One of my favorite country and western songs is "Sometimes I Thank God for Unanswered Prayers". It not only takes faith to ask for what we think are our needs, but also to accept God's answer even when it is a "greater yes".
Even our Savior Jesus Christ, the greatest of us all, got a "No" answer in Gethsemane when he asked our Father to "let this cup pass from me". The "greater yes" was not just for him but for all humankind. We should all strive for the faith to say, as he did, "not my will but thine be done." This is a great article, one that I will save and refer to often.
GeoffT, this article might help to start answering your question: https://www.ldsliving.com/Can-Our-Prayers-Change-God-s-Will/s/86463
GeoffT: After reading your tender question of the heart, "Why pray then?", I am touched to give you this response. I believe one of the big answers to your question is, I believe God wants us to be a participating member of the problem at hand. He desires we join in the experience, whatever the outcome. There is a cascade of things that occur as a result of prayer, regardless of the answer being "yes or no". Sometimes the outcome of those things are not seen until later. Elder Uchtdorf said our prayers cannot trump the will of God nor the agency of another person. I believe our prayers are turned for our good, and our desires are re-molded for the right things when we are in communication and counsel with Him. It is even okay for us to pray when we're not sure what we should be praying for. Talking to Heavenly Father and the Lord as though they are sitting in front of me in person, pouring out my heart to them through the means of a prayer even in simple language, is comforting to me. When I have done the best I can to help the situation, all I can do is leave my problems at Their feet knowing They have the skills to help me solve whatever it is.
A number of years ago, just a few short months before I was to be baptized, my family drove to my Grandfather's home as he was going in for surgery in two days. While there, he was given a blessing with oil by 2 of his sons, and his third son led the family in a family prayer. However, my grandfather died while in the recovery room from a relatively simple surgery. This impacted me for many years - how could my grandfather die when we had prayers and faith that all would be well.
From this experience (and others) I have learned the following 2 lessons:
1) Death is not a "bad" thing. I am constantly amazed at how many church members view "not dying" as a blessing. Death is a graduation from this life to the next, and as those who understand the Plan of Salvation, we should rejoice in that knowledge.
2) The Lord has a plan and his plan will prevail. If we ask for something that is not his will and expect are prayers to be answered, we we will be sorely disappointed. I can honestly state that all of my prayers are answered. Why, because although I may ask for specific blessings, I also ask that I may accept the outcome as our Heavenly Father's will. This way, if I have asked for something outside His will, I can be comforted in knowing that His will prevails and someday I will understand.
A good and thoughtful article but at the end I find myself asking "Why pray, then?". God is going to implement his will regardless of our prayers and, being God, will not change his mind as that is tantamount to saying the first direction of his will was the wrong direction - clearly an impossibility.
This is the quagmire into which I get when I am asked to pray for something and would dearly love somebody's thoughts.
Faith means really and truly trusting in our Savior and our Heavenly Father. Faith is not in a desired outcome--faith is in Christ and knowing that he can consecrate everything that happens in our lives for our good. While it is appropriate for us to pray for healings, and many other good things, if our faith is based on the outcome WE want, our testimonies may be on very shaky ground. Someone once said: "Faith is not just believing God CAN do something--it is knowing that he WILL." This is a dangerous doctrine on many levels. It suggests that if we just have enough faith, we can force God to do what we want. In the Lord's prayer, the Savior prayed to his Father, "Thy will be done." With our limited mortal view, it is often difficult for us to have a perfect knowledge of the Lord's will in every situation, especially when there are deep emotions involved. The Lord often does give us what we want, but he also gives us what we need. Since he can see the end from the beginning, he knows exactly what will ultimately bring us our greatest blessings.
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