Editor’s Note: Beloved author Ted Gibbons recently passed away after a battle with cancer. We will continue to share his wonderful insights here periodically.
And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such. (Moroni 7:9.)
Prayers and Works
Enos teaches dramatic lessons about prayer with the words he uses to describe his own supplications. The key words and phrases are in italics:
“I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God” (1:1)“I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication” (1:4)“I did pour out my whole soul unto God” (1:9)“While I was thus struggling in the spirit” (1:10)“I prayed unto him with many long strugglings ” (1:11)“After I had prayed and labored with all diligence” (1:12)“I cried unto him continually,” (1:15)
Patricia T. Holland observed:
We are [adults] now, not children, and we are expected to pray with maturity. The words most often used to describe urgent, prayerful labor are wrestle, plead, cry, and hunger. In some sense, prayer may be the hardest work we ever will engage in, and perhaps it should be. (Ensign, Oct. 1987, p. 31.)
Praying with a Purpose
It was family reunion time and we were heading for Utah from a small community in northeastern Arizona. As we passed through Flagstaff, we stopped at a department store to purchase some supplies. Acting on what I considered a whim, I bought a pocket knife. I had never carried one, and had no need to do so then, but the inclination was there, and I made the purchase.
Many miles later on the reservation, and some distance from Cameron, the car began to shudder madly. We stopped at once and I opened the hood. I am not mechanical. When I have car trouble, I look for an on-off switch in the off position. If I cannot find one, I call a professional. In fact, I carry no tools in my car because I would not know what to do with them.
It was a sweltering day, the temperature near one hundred degrees. The car held the family: my wife and me and six kids. I did not know what to do. I tried to drive the car again. It was useless.
I explained the problem to the family. Debbie, eight, was the first to suggest prayer. We all bowed our heads. No one remembers the words or any particular feeling during the prayer. But when it was over, I walked once again to the front of the car and surveyed the engine compartment. An impression came. “Cut that belt.” And I knew which one!
I looked at the belt for a long time. It connected two pulleys fastened to pieces of equipment whose purpose I could not understand. But the impression persisted. I leaned through the open window of the car and told my wife what I was feeling. She shared my concerns. There was simply no way to know in advance the consequences of the act. The car was already nearly undrivable, but I had no desire to make things worse.
However, because of the knife, I had the courage to proceed. Without it, such an impression would have been meaningless. I reflected for a moment on the coincidence of purchasing the knife and my present impression to use it. I opened a blade and cut the belt. When I started the engine; the shaking ceased.
We stopped in Cameron thirty-five minutes later and talked to a mechanic. The belt had something to do with the air conditioner. By cutting it, I had disconnected a worn out bearing, nothing more. We drove on to Utah, sweating and rejoicing.
We Must Be Willing to Pray and Labor
One part of receiving answers is expecting answers. Another part is being committed to the direction answers will take us. We must be willing, in the words of Enos, to “pray and labor” We must be willing to use the knife and cut the belt.
In the scriptures, Moroni calls such an attitude “real intent.” Praying without it, he says, is evil (Moroni 7:9); but when real intent is combined with a sincere heart and faith in Christ, answers come through the Holy Ghost. (Moroni 10:4.)
Prayer and Works Go Together
For those who pray in such a way, the event is neither a ritual nor a vain repetition. This kind of prayer is an honest expression of the feelings of the heart, coupled with a determination to get answers and to apply them. Praying with real intent is always accompanied by action. We seek the Lord having done all we can do, or we leave his presence committed to do all we can do. Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote that “Prayer and works go together. If and when we have done all we can, then in consultation with the Lord, through mighty and effectual prayer, we have power to come up with the right conclusions.” (Ensign January 1976, p.12.)
I’ll Get Up and Go Do It Now
A friend taught me this lesson. We met while we were in the Army in North Carolina and my wife and I invited my friend and his wife into our home to be taught the Gospel. They accepted our invitation.
By the end of the first discussion, the wife was converted. The Spirit had borne witness to her and she was ready to be baptized. But her husband, John, could get no such confirmation. He continued to attend the discussions; he prayed and we prayed with him and for him. We fasted in his behalf and implored the Lord to touch his heart. He liked the Church and was impressed with its organization and leadership, but he could not get an answer to his prayers. His wife made the decision to postpone her baptism until her husband was ready to join her. And so the weeks passed, a continuing cycle of apparently unanswered prayers.
Then one Sunday following sacrament meeting John announced that his prayers had been answered. He asked to be baptized.
“What happened?” we inquired, and he told us. He had been praying constantly about the Church and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, but always with this feeling: “Once I know if it is all true, then I will decide whether or not to repent and accept baptism.” But the knowledge never came. Then, during sacrament meeting that day one of the speakers delivered a message that answered some questions about the Church that John had discussed with his wife the night before. His heart was touched. His spirit responded.
During the closing prayer of the meeting he said his own prayer: “Lord, if thou wantest me to be baptized, tell me and I’ll get up and go do it now.
” He reported to us that before he could say “Amen,” he received his answer. Finally, he had prayed with real intent. He was not just saying, “I really want to know.” He was saying, “I will go and do.”
With a Sincere Heart
Moroni’s injunction that we pray about the Book of Mormon with real intent is his warning to us that no witness will come unless we are determined, in advance, to obey the teachings of the book if it is true. This is an important principle in all of our communication with God. Unless we are resolved to obey, we may seek answers in vain.
Without this willingness to do whatever is necessary, we will never pray with much success. With the resolution to work, we will find our communication with God infused with great power. It is because of this intrinsic bond between works and prayers that Amulek concluded his message on prayer by saying:
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and the afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need–I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” (Alma 34:28.)
Prayers and Potatoes
On November 30, 1856 this principle came to life for some church members in Utah. The day was Sunday and the Salt Lake Saints were assembled that morning in the Tabernacle. Brigham Young had just been informed that members of the overdue handcart companies who had suffered so much in the snows of Wyoming were about to arrive. He said,
The afternoon meeting will be omitted, for I wish the sisters to go home and prepare to give those who have just arrived a mouthful of something to eat, and to wash them and nurse them up. You know that I would give more for a dish of pudding and milk, or a baked potato and salt, were I in the position of those persons who have just come in, than I would for all your prayers, though you were to stay here all the afternoon and pray. Prayer is good, but when baked potatoes and pudding and milk are needed, prayer will not supply their place . . . (Reported in the Salt Lake Deseret News, December 10, 1856, p. 320.)
Sand Bags and Sacrament Meeting
Friends watched the same kind of thing happen in the small town of Taylor, Arizona. The community was threatened with flooding. The rains had continued for days, the river was rising, and homes and property were in jeopardy. By Sunday they knew the water was coming. They did not meet in sacrament meeting to pray for relief and protection. The ox was already in the pit. (Luke 14:5.) They prayed. They prayed a lot. But they also dressed in their work clothes and filled sandbags.
Inherent in the process of praying with real intent is the willingness to work. We must be willing to do whatever is required to receive the answer we seek, and whatever is necessary to comply with it.
What Will Ye That I Should Do?
In response to divine direction, the brother of Jared had supervised the construction of eight barges in which his colony would cross the ocean to America. But there were three problems with these ships: there was no way to steer them; because they were airtight, those who journeyed in them would not be able to breathe; and since there was no light within, they would not be able to see.
Mahonri took these problems and “cried unto the Lord.”
With regard to the first problem, the Lord promised to do the steering:
For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth. And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. (Ether 2:24,25.)
Christ solved the problem of lack of air by giving Jared’s brother the design for a ventilation system. He told his servant to knock a hole in the top and the bottom of each boat and to put a cork in each hole. “When you need air, take out the cork. If water comes in, close it quick.” (see Ether 2:18-20.)
This mighty man went to work and ventilated the boats according to the instructions he had received. Then he cried to the Lord again about the darkness within the vessels.
The Lord’s response was unexpected: it was as though he said, What do you want me to do? “What will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light?” (Ether 2:23.)
There is a logical answer to this question: “I want you to solve the light problem like you solved the other problems.” But for the brother of Jared, who had prayed with real intent, the Lord’s question was a call to work. This time the work preceded the answer he wanted. And he worked with what seems to be perfect confidence in the answer he expected to receive. This account is a stirring witness of the faith for which this man is renowned.
How much thought and effort must have gone into his plan! Shining stones must have seemed an excellent solution to the Jaredite prophet. That God who is the light of the sun, the moon, and the stars could certainly be a source of light for a few small stones. The brother of Jared did not do the easiest thing, however. He did not scurry around on the seashore looking for sixteen rocks, and then ask the Lord to touch them. He must have known that the power of God would be sufficient to light any rock. But he was not interested in asking God to touch just any rock.
He seems to have known what he was looking for. He went to Mount Shelem, so called because of its exceeding height (Ether 3:1), and found a rock of special composition. How much effort was required to get to the mountain? How high did he climb and how long did he look to find the rock he needed? When he found it, “he did molten . . . sixteen small stones,” white, clear, and transparent like glass. (Ether 3:1.) How much toil was there in this work? But with the stones prepared, he still was not finished, for “he did carry them in his hands upon the top of the mount.” (The exceedingly high mountain!) Then, and only then, having done all that he could possibly do and having done it with as much care and skill as he could, he “cried again unto the Lord .
. .” (Ether 3:1) and told the Lord what he wanted him to do.
The answer to that prayer is one of the most moving answers to prayer ever given in the history of this world.
We must, if we desire to converse with the Father, make a similar effort. We must fortify our prayers with works and thereby demonstrate our faith in God’s ability and willingness to answer. When we know what we want God to do, we must proceed with great faith as we prepare for him to do it.
A seminary teacher shared this experience. He awoke at 4:15 a.m. one morning with a project to complete in the classroom before his first class. As he walked past his dresser on the way to the shower, he discovered that his keys were not there. He searched in the logical places, and then in the less likely ones, but without success. There would be no point in going to the building at 5:00 if he could not get in, and he felt that it was too early to awaken another teacher to borrow keys.
He knew of only one thing to do. He knelt and explained his need to his Father in Heaven. A question came into his mind: “How can I let the Lord know that I believe he will help me find my keys?”
The brother of Jared showed his confidence in the Lord by preparing in advance for the answer he hoped to receive. But how could this teacher show the Lord that he believed he could get divine help in finding the keys? He showered, shaved, dressed in his suit, and filled his briefcase, ready to go to work, and knelt again. He had prepared himself in every way for the answer he anticipated. “Father,” he began, and a memory came. He saw himself the night before, running across the back yard in the darkness. “Thanks, Father,” he said. He went to the back yard, picked up the keys from where they had fallen from his pocket, and went to work.
My wife and I shared a similar experience. We were married while we were in college. We had agreed during our courtship that we would not postpone having children. I had a full-time, night-shift job. We would work hard, save where possible, and trust the Lord that we could make it financially.
We talked often about how narrow a margin we would have for the unexpected. “Sweetheart, what will we do if the time comes when we simply do not have enough to get by?” I asked one Sunday as we sat in the swings of an elementary school. The wedding was only a few weeks away.
“We’ll trust the Lord,” she said.
“How?” I wanted to know. “How will we demonstrate that kind of trust?”
“What does your mother do when she is in financial difficulty?” she asked me. “Does she pay less tithing?”
“No,” I answered. “She pays more.”
“We can do something like that,” she continued. “If the time ever comes when can’t meet our needs, we will take whatever we have, donate it to the Lord, tell him our needs, and trust him.”
Two years went by. We had a baby and another one was coming. Medical bills and car repairs had left us with fourteen dollars in the bank. We needed fifty. The next paycheck was a week and a half away.
We talked at the kitchen table one Saturday afternoon. “Do you remember what we decided?” my bride asked me.
I remembered. But that was talk. We were down to our last fourteen dollars with no prospect for more for at least ten days.
“Sweetheart,” my wife said, “we made a covenant. The Lord has never let us down. He won’t now.”
We wrote a check for fourteen dollars the next morning, made out to the ward building fund, and then told the Lord that we needed fifty dollars and that we trusted him.
Even so, I spent my time in Sunday School and Priesthood meeting trying to decide how to get by without any money for a week and a half.
As we entered our apartment after church, the phone was ringing. It was my mother. We visited for a moment, and then she asked, “Son, do you remember in elementary school when you used to take a quarter or two each week and buy stamps to fill up U.S. Savings Bonds?” she asked.
I had a vague recollection. It had been a long time.
“I was in the basement this morning,” she continued, “and I opened an old box. I saw an envelope in the top of it. In the envelope were the two bonds you bought in 1954 and 1955. Let’s see. That would be second and third grade.”
“What denomination are they?” I asked.
“They are 25-dollar bonds,” she said. “They are past maturity, of course, and must be worth a little more than fifty dollars.”
Jesus said, “For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.” (Matthew 6:8.) Did he know when I was in the second grade that one day my wife and I would need fifty dollars and pray for it with real intent? Of course he did. The Lord made this promise: “And it shall come to pass, that before they call, I will answer. . .” (Isaiah 65:24.)
Moroni, when he spoke of real intent, also enjoined “a sincere heart” and “faith in Christ.” (Moroni 10:4.) We must have sincerity and faith as we pray. It seems improbable that the fifty dollars would have been found in that box if my wife and I had held on to the fourteen dollars until my mother called. The keys would probably have remained in the yard for some time if the teacher had prayed in his pajamas, thinking, “If I don’t find those keys, I’ll go back to bed and sleep a couple of hours.” Likewise, if the brother of Jared had prayed and said, “Lord, what about shining stones? Would that work? If I went and found some pretty rocks, couldst thou touch them and cause them to shine for lights in the boats?” As a result of that kind of attitude, the trip across the ocean might well have been conducted in darkness.
I had just moved into a new home and family possessions were scattered in heaps and boxes throughout the rooms nearest the door, where helpful ward members had placed them from a procession pick-up trucks. We had toilet plungers, but when a commode backed up on the day of our arrival, we were unable to locate one. I went next door to visit our new neighbors, explained our problem, and asked if I could borrow the equipment we needed.
Clyde produced a plunger and I took it home and avoided a crisis. But I had to use the plunger.
Determination and Real Intent
I was committed to action before I ever asked for help. Knowing that my neighbor had what I needed was not enough.Knowing that the help could solve my problem was not enough.
I asked for assistance determined to act, if assistance was forthcoming, to do all that I could do to solve my problem.
[This article is adapted from the chapter 5 of the book Put off Thy Shoes by Ted Gibbons]