We can learn to pray effectively and then to recognize when and how our prayers are answered.
Joseph Smith, the first prophet and president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (often inadvertently called the Mormon Church), read a verse in the Bible at a time when he had questions he needed answered. He read in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” In his history he writes about that moment:
Never did any passage of scripture come with more power to the heart of man than this did at this time to mine. It seemed to enter with great force into every feeling of my heart. I reflected on it again and again, knowing that if any person needed wisdom from God, I did. . . . I at length came to the determination to “ask of God,” concluding that if he gave wisdom to them that lacked wisdom, and would give liberally, and not upbraid, I might venture.
Like Joseph Smith, we can be sure of the same blessings when we pray to God, our Heavenly Father. He gives “liberally” to all His children, and He will listen to our questions and our problems. He will answer our prayers.
How Do We Prepare to Have Our Prayers Answered?
Prayers are more readily answered when we prepare to receive the answers. One of the first steps is pondering. This step is somewhat instinctive because when we have a problem, we think about it and the possible courses of action.
God told Oliver Cowdery, an early leader in The Church of Jesus Christ, “You must study it out in your mind” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). After we have thought about our problem, we “must ask” God for His help and for His answers (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8).
Another way to prepare to receive answers is to think about and express gratitude for all the ways God has answered your prayers before. Thanking God in our prayers, before we start asking our questions or asking for answers, will prepare us to hear and feel His answers more easily.
How Are Prayers Answered?
Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ, said that “answers to prayers come in a quiet way. The scriptures describe that voice of inspiration as a still, small voice.”1He also noted:
That sweet, quiet voice of inspiration comes more as a feeling than it does as a sound. Pure intelligence can be spoken into the mind. The Holy Ghost communicates with our spirits through the mind more than through the physical senses. This guidance comes as thoughts, as feelings through promptings and impressions. We may feel the words of spiritual communication more than hear them and see them with spiritual rather than with mortal eyes.2
How Do We Recognize a “Yes” Answer?
God also told Oliver Cowdery that if the answer is yes, “your bosom shall burn within you” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:8). Others have described this feeling as peaceful, enlightening, warm, comfortable, happy, confirming. These feelings come from Heavenly Father through the Holy Ghost.
How Do We Recognize a “No” Answer?
If the answer is no, God said, “you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong” (Doctrine and Covenants 9:9). This feeling is also described as unsettled, agitated, worried. These feelings are also conveyed through the Holy Ghost.
How Do We Recognize a “Wait” Answer?
Our prayers are answered at a time and in a way that our Heavenly Father knows will help us the most. Sometimes answers to prayer don’t come immediately. Sometimes we need to ponder longer, or continue to ask God over a longer period of time. Waiting for an answer tests our faith and require our patience. But God will answer.
Answers Often Require Our Action
Sometimes we feel inspired to follow a course of action. He often gives us the power to do what we need to do to answer our own prayers.
Answers Often Come through Other People
Sometimes we feel that God has heard us, but our prayers are answered through other people. We may feel prompted to confide in someone, or to ask someone for help. Our friends, family, and neighbors can be inspired by God to perform acts that will be the answers to our prayers.
President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ, told about help one of his daughters received through her visiting teaching companion. (Women in The Church of Jesus Christ watch over each other through a program called visiting teaching, where two sisters [female members of the Church] visit the homes of a few sisters each month to teach them and care for them.)
Our daughter Elizabeth, who lives in another state and time zone from us, was at home with her three-year-old daughter. Her other child was in her first week of kindergarten. Elizabeth was six months pregnant and looking forward to the birth of her third child. . . . Her husband, Joshua, was away at his work.
When she saw that she was passing blood and that the flow was increasing, she called her husband on the phone. He told her to call for an ambulance and that he would meet her at the hospital, which as 20 minutes from her home. Before she could place the call, she heard a knock at the front door.
At the door she was surprised to see her Relief Society visiting teaching companion. . . . Her companion had simply felt she ought to come by to see Elizabeth.
She helped her into the car. They arrived at the hospital minutes before Joshua arrived from his work. The doctors decided in less than 20 minutes to take the baby by surgery to save Elizabeth and her baby. So a tiny girl came into the world, crying loudly, 15 weeks ahead of schedule. . . . She was alive, and so was Elizabeth.3
God answers our prayers even when all we can utter is “Heavenly Father, please help me!”
A Word of Caution
When we feel the answer to our prayers, we need to be confident and do what we have felt inspired to do. The adversary, Satan, wants to shatter our confidence by placing doubts in our minds. He wants us to fear. He wants us to forget.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, one of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ, said that “opposition . . . so often comes after enlightened decisions have been made, after moments of revelation and conviction have given us a peace and an assurance we thought we would never lose.”4
When we feel Satan attempting to oppose the answers we have received, we can learn from what God told Oliver Cowdery: “Cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart . . . . Did I not speak peace to your mind? What greater witness can you have than from God?” (Doctrine and Covenants 6: 22, 23). Remembering God’s answers to our prayers can help us disregard Satan’s attempts to cause us to doubt and falter.
Submitting to God’s Will
When answers come, sometimes they are not what we hoped or prayed for. The challenge, then, is bending our will to Heavenly Father’s. This is possibly the greatest test of our faith and trust in God. The purpose of personal prayer is not to give God a list of everything we want in life. The purpose is to communicate our needs and the desires of our hearts, listen for His answers, then adapt and submit our will to His as necessary.
God is our loving Father in Heaven who wants the best for us. He will nurture and help us in ways that are the best for our growth and happiness.
Paula Hicken was an editor with the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship from 2000 to 2013. She earned her BA degree in English from Brigham Young University. She edited Insights, the Maxwell Institute newsletter, and was the production editor for Faith, Philosophy, Scripture, Hebrew Law in Biblical Times (2nd ed.), Third Nephi: An Incomparable Scripture, and was one of the copy editors for Analysis of the Textual Variants of the Book of Mormon. She also helped manage the Maxwell Institute intellectual property and oversaw rights and permissions. She has published in the Ensign, the Liahona, the LDS Church News, and the FARMS Review.