Growing up, I was taught to recite a little prayer. At the end, I could tack on requests, but I never really gave any thought to getting results from my prayers until I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. From the Mormons (the nickname sometimes used for members of the Church), I learned that most prayers should be two-way conversations, not recited routines given without thought. It was a new way to look at prayer for me.
Once I understood that I could talk to God in the same way I talk to others, I also understood it was not a monologue. I was supposed to give God a chance to answer, as well. This was confusing. How would that happen?
Sometimes it was obvious. If I needed to find ten more dollars for textbooks and got offered a babysitting job that paid what I needed, I knew I’d gotten my answer. However, what if I only needed advice? How did I get advice in the form of a prayer answer?
How to Pray
The first step was to learn how to pray. Although Mormons don’t recite most of their prayers, they do follow a pattern most of the time. They start out by addressing God by name (Dear Heavenly Father or something similar) and then thanking Him for their blessings. They try to be specific about those blessings and not to recite the exact same list every time. The goal is to recognize the good in our lives at even the worst of times and to remember who gives us the good.
Now that we’ve done that and chatted with God about whatever else is on our mind—sharing with Him what we’ve learned or what we’re thinking about or even just the things that happened—we can ask for what we need.
God loves us and wants us to have our heart’s desires—if what we desire is best for us and if we’re willing to do our share. A good parent never gives his children everything they want because so often children want things that seem wonderful but really aren’t. They also want to be given those things they ought to work for. God understands that if we get things too easily we don’t appreciate them enough and we never learn how to set goals and work. We lose the wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes of having worked hard for something we really wanted.
Doing Our Part in Prayer
It is important for us to contribute something to what we want, leaving for God the parts we can’t do ourselves. In other words, we shouldn’t pray that our house will magically
get cleaned up if there is no reason we can’t clean it ourselves other than desire. If we are very ill, however, we can pray for someone to come by to help with the critical aspects of work if we don’t have anyone to help.
If we pray to become a better piano player, to be a published writer, or to do well in school, we need to practice our piano, write and submit our work, and study our schoolwork. God does not help us shirk life’s responsibilities. His goal is to help us become all we can be, and that requires us to make a serious effort.
Praying for information requires some effort on our part, as well. Mormons learn that they need to first approach the topic through research, using the intelligence God gave us. We can study the problem out by using appropriate sources. For instance, if we want to know if the Book of Mormon is true, we will start by reading it and by reading what Mormon leaders have said about it—this helping us to understand points we might have missed. Then we should make an informed decision as to what we think is correct. Now we take that decision to God and pray to know if we are correct. If we are, we will have a warm and comforting feeling in our hearts, which some describe as a swelling. The more often we pray, the easier it will become to recognize the answers because we will be able to compare what we felt to the later results.
The final step, of course, is to act on the answer. It is inappropriate to ask God what is right and then to decide that He didn’t give us the answer we wanted so we will simply ignore it. If we go to God for truth, we must be willing to accept the answer and live by it.
God doesn’t always answer prayers instantly. Sometimes he lets us travel on faith or makes us wait a while. Often it requires multiple prayers to get an answer, giving us a chance to prove our trust in Him. Sometimes the answer isn’t what we hoped it would be—but it will always be the right answer at the right time.
Learning how to pray and get results is one of the most important skills we can learn. It gives us the ability to get through life safely, following God’s plans, rather than the limited wisdom of men.
Terrie Lynn Bittner
Terrie Lynn Bittner is the author of two homeschooling books and numerous articles, including several that have appeared in LDS magazines. She is married to Lincoln Bittner and is the mother of three grown children and grandmother to two girls. Terrie became a Mormon at the age of seventeen and has been sharing her faith online since 1992. She can also be found blogging about being an LDS woman at LatterdaySaintWoman.com.