(View my book, Rescuing Wayward Children – Follow this link to learn more)
Have you ever marveled how, when in times of need, someone just shows up in your life? Or have you wondered how you happened to show up in another person’s life in his/her moment of need?
I recently gave a talk in a ward, and toward the end, I felt to bear my testimony of the certainty I feel that the Lord hears and answers the prayers of parents of wayward children. Without doubt, I said, He will, at some point, reach out to those children in total clarity and offer them every blessing associated with the new and everlasting covenant. That guarantee is inherent in the child’s sealing to his or her parents. Until that day comes, no eternal judgment can be made.
Seated in the congregation was a sister who had traveled from another part of the United States to visit her family. She had carried with her a burden. Her teenage daughter, who had always been active and stalwart in the Church, had recently faltered in her testimony and had begun wondering why being a good person was not good enough to inherit the full blessings of eternity. She was being influenced by friends, who espoused a doctrine that being good is good enough, and that organized religion is unnecessary.
Later, she approached me and told me how my testimony had renewed her hope and given her answers to her prayers. Now she felt, armed with information and perspective about how to help her daughter.
I marveled that the Lord had managed to send this sister across the country to land on the exact day that I was giving a talk about the very subject she needed to hear. How does that happen with such frequency?
Elder Neal A. Maxwell shared this insight:
Fortunately, God is preoccupied with His children. We (and what we may become) are His work and glory. (Moses 1:39.) All that He does is for our benefit. (2 Ne. 26:24.) As George MacDonald said of God, ‘He lays no plans irrespective of His children.’ “Worlds and suns and planets,” wrote MacDonald, are but “a portion of His workshops and tools for the bringing out of righteous men and women to fill His house of love.”[i]
Elder Maxwell further taught that we live here and now by divine appointment.[ii] The Lord treats us as He similarly treats planets and stars, placing us in precise orbits that converge at set times with the orbits of others according to His perfect foreknowledge.
The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.[iii]
Further, Elder Maxwell said,
The Prophet Joseph Smith declared that God, ‘before [the earth] rolled into existence…contemplated the whole of the events connected with the earth…. [God] knew…the depth of iniquity that would be connected with the human family, their weakness and strength . . . the situation of all nations and…their destiny…and [He] has made ample provision [for mankind’s] redemption’” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith…220). We imperfect parents are part of God’s “ample provision.” We do our best to shine and serve in our assigned orbits, knowing, as Elder Maxwell concluded, “that we are encircled ‘in the arms of [His] love’ (D&C 6:20).”[iv]
What could be said of parents’ orbits could be said of the orbits of friends, acquaintances and sometimes strangers. Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin said, “On one occasion President Thomas S. Monson made this statement to me: ‘There is a guiding hand above all things. Often when things happen, it’s not by accident. One day, when we look back at the seeming coincidences of our lives, we will realize that perhaps they weren’t so coincidental after all.’”[v]
Human orbits, ample provision, no coincidences – Are we not amazed by the foreknowledge of God? Are we not humbled that He is preoccupied with each of His children and that He trusts us enough to fill someone’s need with advanced training (sometimes years in advance) then set us in an orbit that will converge with that person’s orbit at the exact moment of crisis?
I began to wonder if blessings from God are also set in orbits according to the foreknowledge of God.
A few days ago, I asked a friend for some computer files. They were too large to email, so he copied them onto a thumb drive and delivered the device to me. There was a valuable photo folder on the drive, he told me. It was his only copy, so he asked me to return the drive as soon as possible. I agreed, took the thumb drive home and set it on the kitchen counter.
The next day, the drive was gone. My wife and I spent an evening trying to find it, but we were unsuccessful. As she was leaving the house the next morning, she turned to me and said, “I prayed about it and had a warm feeling that we will find it.” Now alone, I resumed my search, knowing how valuable was the photo folder to my friend, but my search yielded nothing. Defeated, I knelt to pray and said, “Heavenly Father, I’ve looked everywhere to locate the thumb drive, but I can’t find it. This is not trivial to me. I gave my word, and I can’t keep it without your help. I know that you know exactly where it is. Please point me in the right direction.”
Ten minutes later, I was putting on my shoes when a visual image popped into my mind. I could see the thumb drive inserted into the back of my computer where I had stuck it the day before. Now I remembered that I was about to transfer the files when I had received a phone call that resulted in a series of time-consuming tasks. When I had completed the tasks, I had forgotten about the thumb drive in the back of the computer…but God hadn’t.
I needed that experience to remind me that God knows everything. In fact, He foreknows! He also cares. If He is aware of a thumb drive and is willing to take the time to show me where it is, how much more is He aware of the more critical issues in my life? Is He not equally willing to hear my plea and help me with those things?
I began to think about concerns that I had been praying to Him about for many years. I was certain that my prayers had become “vain repetitions,” the very things Jesus warned us to avoid,[vi] probably because they are faithless, completely negating our true relationship with Heavenly Father. I had come to feel weary as I went to my knees. I didn’t look forward to praying, because I knew I would once again resort to begging for the same things just like I had done so any times before. I was worn out talking to God before I even opened my mouth! Is that faith? Is that how God wants us to pray to Him? Does He intend us to become beggars?
One night, when I was getting ready to run down the list of concerns again, I felt a prompting. The prompting came just as I was going to my knees and struggling with not looking forward to offering this prayer. I had repeated it so many times that I was sick of it, and I was sure that God was sick of hearing me say it again.
But what could I do? How could I pray with more faith? I had wondered. Do I grit my teeth? Do I remain on my knees for long periods of time, repeating the request over and over? Do I beg, bargain, weep, cajole? How many different ways could I ask before I exhausted God to the point that He would finally give in?
It was then that the prompting came as a series of questions: “How would you ask a friend? Would you ask once, knowing that you had been fairly heard by someone who loved you? Then would you trust your friend to respond? Would you trust his timing? Or would you beg the issue with him morning and night for months and years?”
I knew the answer. I would never treat a friend as I had been treating Heavenly Father. My effort had not been one of faith and trust; my effort had not fully taken into account the relationship I have with him. Faith in God, I began to realize, means that I trust that He has heard my request, and assuming that I am right and my request is right, that He is now in the process of answering it. Having faith in God is trusting that He has effectively launched an answer to my request in an orbit that will converge with my orbit when, according to His perfect judgment, the optimum time is right. Consider the following scriptures regarding the promises concerning prayer and God’s foreknowledge and willingness to respond:
- “The prayer of the faithful shall be heard.”[vii]
- “That which thou hast prayed to me…I have heard.”[viii]
- “The Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask.”[ix]
- “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”[x]
- “God will give me, if I ask not amiss.”[xi]
- “If any of you lack wisdom (or anything else), let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and ubraideth not; and it shall be given him.”[xii]
My recent experiences have caused me to think about orbits. God places us in orbits that will converge with the orbits of other people, opportunities, answers to prayers and blessings—all according to His foreknowledge. Because God is a perfect being, His plan and His timing are perfect. Often, when we try to change God’s mind or timing, we are trying to change someone who is perfect, which, if He gave in to our pesterings, would cause Him to cease to be God.
I like the LDS Bible Dictionary’s definition of prayer: “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt 7:7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others the blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”
Explaining, Elder Maxwell changes his metaphor from orbits to patterns and mosaics.
I share with you now, not hesitantly but with some anxiety because the words can be misunderstood, a revelation that has to do not only with the Lord’s timetable for all of the world but also with our individualized experiences. These too have been divinely foreseen, and they are included in these words of Jesus: “But all things must come to pass in their time” (D&C 64:32). Though tersely expressed, this insight is profoundly and reassuringly important to each of us personally. In the midst of today and the here and now, you and I may not see the marvelous pattern and divine design in our lives. One day as we look back, the pattern and the mosaic will be much more clear. For now, we are to have faith not only in the Lord and His overall macro-timetable but also in His timetable for each of us individually! In order for us to have that kind of faith and not be unnecessarily bruised and battered, we must allow, more than we do now, for the fact that the Lord’s timetable must take into account: (1) our agency and the agency of others, (2) His merciful long-suffering that He extends to us, and (3) the need for Christ to hold all things together.[xiii]
Let us remember that God really does hear and answer all prayers. To keep His promise, to maintain His integrity, He has to hear and answer. But more that, He is motivated by love and is fully invested in the details of our lives. In response to our present and foreseen needs, He launches people and blessings into orbits that will converge with our orbits according to His perfect timing. He need not be begged or wearied into responding. If we correctly understand our relationship with Him, and if we are right and our request is right, we will be heard and answered before we ever utter a syllable. Whether we perceive it or not, the answer is in orbit and on its way.
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[i] Neal A. Maxwell, Meek and Lowly, 12.
[ii] Neal A. Maxwell, “Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” Ensign, November 2002.
[iii] Neal A. Maxwell, That My Family Should Partake, 86.
[iv] Neal A. Maxwell, “Encircled in the Arms of His Love,” Ensign, November 2002.
[v] Joseph B. Wirthlin, Ensign, Dec 2000, 7.
[vi] Matthew 6:7.
[vii] 2 Nephi 26:15.
[viii] 2 Kings 19:20.
[ix] Matthew 6:8.
[x] 3 Nephi 18:21.
[xi] 2 Nephi 4:35.
[xii] James 1:5.
[xiii] Neal A. Maxwell, “Jesus the Perfect Mentor,” Ensign, Feb 2001.