To sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
How many parents out there would drop over in a dead faint if their grown children called, just to thank them for their love and generosity all these years? Okay, sorry—there are too many hands to count.
I’m joking—and I know some of you, in some rare, microscopic percentage, have actually experienced this. But imagine it. Wouldn’t you be thrilled? And don’t you cherish those childhood moments when your little one squeezes you around the neck and pronounces you the best mommy or daddy ever? Everyone loves to be appreciated.
Now think about Heavenly Father. How many phone calls does he get, just thanking him? We don’t need a formal study; we can guess it’s a very small percentage of the prayers he hears. But wouldn’t it be the grandest, most awesome prayer you’ve prayed in awhile? Just showing our gratitude would be one of those banner days for both of us.
I loved that October 2007 Conference talk by Elder Dallin H. Oaks, wherein he outlined the activities we pursue in life, and urged us to measure our choices by what is “good, better, and best.” But what if we applied that same formula to our prayers?
If you’re like me, you learned the steps of prayer in Primary: The proper way to address God, then thanking him, then asking him for what we need, then closing in the name of Jesus Christ.
Not bad. Certainly that prayer could fall into the “good” category. But for too many of us, we have stayed in that rut (yes, rut) all our lives. And the third step—the one where we beg him to fix it, grant it, prevent it, do it—becomes the biggest part of the prayer. Some of us offer a perfunctory list of things we’re grateful for, like passwords that open the door to Santa’s workshop, and then we present him with our lo-o-ong list of wants. We are praying a beginner’s prayer.
So what’s better? Maybe here we apply the realization that God is not simply running a repair shop. We want real counsel, real revelation, and we’ve done some legwork already, reasoning and thinking things through first. We’re willing to do our part to secure our hopes and dreams, to make wise choices. I think we’re in the “better” zone when we’re striving to make correct decisions and bringing them to a loving Father in Heaven, whom we trust will guide us. But our prayers are still about us.
Is there a best? I think there is. Here are three prayers that will bring us into the “best” category:
First, let’s offer prayers that express genuine thanks, praising God for his mercies and blessings. Let’s not cut that part short, but make it the entire prayer. With heartfelt humility, we should frequently acknowledge that all we have and enjoy, all we are, is due to Him. And then, just leave it there. Just be grateful for his boundless love for us, and his amazing mercy. Like the grown child who calls home to thank us, let’s not diminish the moment by tacking on a “by the way, I’m a little short of cash this month…”
In a 2008 General Conference talk, Elder David A. Bednar said, “The most meaningful and spiritual prayers I have experienced contained many expressions of thanks and few, if any, requests.”
This prayer of appreciation may yield a surprising spiritual uplift. When I first spent time on my knees just thanking God and expressing love for him, I felt such a rush of the Spirit that I cannot adequately describe the joy. It was as if the Holy Ghost were filling me from head to toe, letting me know I had pleased my Heavenly Father and the closeness I felt to my maker was astonishing.
The second prayer is one of repentance. Here we strip our souls bare, admit our failings, and resolve to turn from them. Here we share our anguish with a loving Father who stands ready to forgive, and to fortify us with strength for the battles of life. Sometimes this prayer accompanies the taking of the Sacrament. Sometimes it’s a prayer we offer just after we’ve lost our temper, unfairly judged someone, neglected a duty, or been selfish. None of us are perfect, and a prayer of repentance is one we should pray often.
The last one is my idea of the ultimate prayer. Instead of telling God what he can do for us, we ask what we can do for him. We make his goals our goals. We bring our own wishes into line with his purposes, and we offer ourselves as servants, ready to follow promptings and be useful in building the kingdom.
In the April Ensign of 1984, President Ezra Taft Benson quoted Paul, who said, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” Then President Benson said, “We should ask that daily. The persistent asking of that question will change your life.”
And Elder David E. Sorensen added, in April Conference of 1993, “…prayers bring our desires and the desires of our Father into harmony, thus bringing us both the blessing we are seeking and also the blessing of greater unity with the Father. This practice is key to the collective and individual salvation of women and men.”
Even a small child can learn to set aside the wish list and pray about how to help his classmates, for the chance to be a missionary, for ways to serve neighbors and family members. We can pray for opportunities to attend the temple—and then redouble our efforts to go. We can ask God to inspire us as we Home Teach and Visit Teach. We can pray for roadblocks to be removed in our Family History research. We can ask who needs our help today, and honestly do what Jesus would do. All of these items are things He wants, too.
While it is certainly appropriate to pray for help with genuine crises that arise in life– for comfort when grieving, for survival in emergencies, and so on—a prayer that sets aside our own desires, and pledges real teamwork with our Father in Heaven, is a prayer that can help sanctify us and purify us.
Elder Henry B. Eyring spoke of this kind of prayer in the Priesthood session of April 2010 Conference, when he said, “Ponder deeply and diligently in the scriptures and in the words of living prophets. Persist in prayer for the Holy Ghost to reveal to you the nature of God the Father and His Beloved Son. Plead that the Spirit will show you what the Lord wants you to do. Plan to do it. Promise Him to obey. Act with determination until you have done what He asked. And then pray to give thanks for the opportunity to serve and to know what you might do next.”
Several years ago I wrote a book called “The Power of Prayer” (Covenant Communications), in which I said that the basic purpose of prayer is to bring our hearts into line with God’s. It is finding out what God wants for you, not telling God what you want for yourself. I talked about how many people worry if God hears their prayers, when the real question is: Do we hear him?
By praying this third kind of prayer, we create a genuine partnership, and we can open a channel of communication that supersedes anything we’ve previously imagined. It’s as if we’ve finally grown up and learned how to make ourselves useful to our Father. And, miraculously, we often discover that our own problems shrink in the process, our priorities shift to spiritual values instead of worldly ones, and life takes on greater happiness, meaning, and purpose. Imagine if we prayed for that.