"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."


by Bruce R. McConkie

To pray is to speak with God, either vocally or by forming the thoughts involved in the mind. Prayers may properly include expressions of praise, thanksgiving, and adoration; they are the solemn occasions during which the children of God petition their Eternal Father for those things, both temporal and spiritual, which they feel are needed to sustain them in all the varied tests of this mortal probation. Prayers are occasions of confession -- occasions when in humility and contrition, having broken hearts and contrite spirits, the saints confess their sins to Deity and implore him to grant his cleansing forgiveness.

Prayer has been a part of the gospel from the beginning. "Thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son," an angel declared to Adam, "and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore." (Moses 5:8.) This course is essential if men are to be saved; there is no salvation without prayer. How could a man set his heart on righteousness, so as to work out his salvation, without communing by prayer with him who is the author of righteousness?

Prayers of the saints are expected to conform to a prescribed standard of divine excellence; they should fit into the approved pattern of proper prayer. They are to be addressed to the Father; should always be made in the name of Jesus Christ; must be reverential and worshipful in nature, which requirement includes use of the language of prayer (the pronouns thee and thine, for instance, never you and your); and above all they must be offered in sincerity of heart, with real intent and purpose, and must come from the lips of those who have broken hearts and contrite spirits; and finally, they should be closed with the word Amen. As a token of reverence and respect, when occasion permits, they should be made from a kneeling position.

There is nothing in the gospel that is better designed to keep the attention of men centered on God, on righteousness, and on their duties than is prayer. Every thought, word, and act is influenced or governed by the nature and extent of one's communion through prayer with Deity. Over and over again the revelations command: Watch and pray always, lest ye enter into temptation. (Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; 14:38; Luke 21:36; 22:40, 46; D. & C. 10:5.) "Ye must pray always, and not faint," Nephi told his brethren. "Ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul." (2 Ne. 32:9.)

It is common to classify prayers as public and private or secret. Family prayers and those offered as blessings on the food at mealtime would be considered private prayers. Those spoken at formal gatherings, and in which one person acts as mouth for the congregation, are public prayers. An opening prayer in a formal meeting is sometimes called the invocation (because the blessings of the Lord upon that particular meeting are being sought or invoked), and the closing prayer is often referred to as the benediction (because a final short statement of blessing and comfort is being made).

Certain proprieties attend the offering of all prayers. Public prayers, in particular, should be short and ordinarily should contain no expressions except those which pertain to the needs and circumstances surrounding the particular meeting then involved. They are not sermons or occasions to disclose the oratorical or linguistic abilities of the one acting as mouth.

Unfortunately the all too common practice in the Church in conference sessions, sacrament meetings, and the like, is for those saying the prayers to take entirely too much time and pray about too many matters not directly involved in the particular meeting. One's own secret prayers can be as long as the individual cares to make them; Enos, for instance, took occasion to pray all day and on into the night. (Enos 4.)

President Francis M. Lyman, speaking of the proprieties attending the offering of prayers by the saints, gave this wise counsel: "Latter-day Saints, I presume, have learned to feel and appreciate the importance of prayer, equally to any other people. But like the saints in the days of the Savior, we sometimes need some suggestions to aid us in our family prayers, in our prayers for opening and closing meetings of various kinds, our prayers in the blessing of the sacrament, and our prayers in ordaining and confirming. There are a great variety of prayers that the elders of Israel are expected to offer up day after day. In a revelation given to Brother Joseph, the Lord announced that those who did not attend to their prayers in due season, should be had in remembrance before the common judge. (D. & C. 68:33.)

"Family prayers should be attended to in every household, and in these prayers, as in all others, we should remember the injunction of the Savior, that we should not do as the heathen do, indulge in vain repetition, or feel that we are to be heard because of our much speaking.

"Prayers should be offered under the direction and inspiration of the Almighty. Every elder in Israel, should learn to subject himself to the Spirit of the Lord, in all his prayers, and in all the ordinances of the gospel.

"The morning prayer should be suited to the circumstances and conditions of the family, whatever they are. The circumstances of the family differ from morning to morning and from evening to evening, almost as much as our meetings vary. And it is quite suitable that when we meet together, for the transaction of business in the interests of the saints of God, and the interests of the kingdom, we should offer up a prayer to the Lord, and ask his blessings upon us in our labor, and in our counsel. It would not be suitable, of course, for us to offer up a business prayer in the opening of a conference, or in the opening of a ward or a priesthood meeting. A prayer should be suited to the occasion, just as we suit an ordination to the circumstances.

"In the opening of meetings, such as conferences, the brother should at one thought and glance take in the situation and ask the Lord to bless us according to what the meeting is.

"In dismissing, we should ask the blessings of the Lord upon the congregation, and what has been said, and commit ourselves to the care of the Lord.

"It is not necessary to offer very long and tedious prayers, either at opening or closing. It is not only not pleasing to the Lord for us to use excess of words, but also it is not pleasing to the Latter-day Saints. Two minutes will open any kind of meeting, and a half minute will close it.

"We ought to take into account the occasion, and let the prayer be suited exactly to it. Sometimes our habits may control us more strongly than the Spirit of the Lord, so we should consider these things. Offer short prayers, and avoid vain repetitions, particularly the repetition of the name of Deity, and the name of the Savior. It is quite common to open a prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, to close it in his name, and possibly use his name a few times through the prayer. If we approach the Father, and offer our petitions to him, and then close in the name of Jesus Christ, it is sufficient. There is no prayer so great and important that it is necessary to use more than once the name of the Son of God and of the Father. "And let this be a never-forgotten lesson to the young men in Israel, and to all others, that whenever an elder stands up to speak to the people, all hearts of those who have faith in the gospel shall offer up a silent prayer, asking God to bless his servant with the Holy Spirit.

"Avoid praying to be seen or heard of men, but let your prayers be unto the Lord. If you pray to open a meeting, one propriety is to speak loud enough for all to hear. And the same when the sacrament is administered.

"Understand the proprieties in prayer, and shun the improprieties." (Improvement Era, vol. SO, pp. 214, 245.)

"Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name," our Lord said, "that your wives and your children may be blessed." (3 Ne. 18:21.) It is the counsel of the Church that family prayer should take place twice daily, ordinarily before the morning and evening meals. It is a common practice among the saints, particularly in families having children who need training in praying, to offer one prayer as a family prayer and another one as a blessing on the food. The family prayer is offered while kneeling around the table, the blessing on the food while sitting at the table. There is, of course, no impropriety, particularly where one or two adults only are involved, in including the blessing on the food in the formal family prayer.

Individuals or groups of Latter-day Saints when eating in public places, if conditions are sufficiently quiet and reverential, may with propriety offer a blessing on the food. If circumstances are such that it does not seem appropriate so to do, however, the food is eaten with a thankful heart, and it is considered that the private prayers of the individuals concerned have already asked for all of the blessings needed for that particular day. Each individual should, of course, have his own secret prayers, ordinarily night and morning. The scriptures speak of prayers "morning, mid-day, and evening." (Alma 34:21; Ps. 55:17; Dan. 6:10.) The command, Pray always, means a prayer should always be in the hearts of the faithful and that frequent secret prayers should be spoken.

Our Lord's instruction to the Nephites was: "Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him. And as I have prayed among you even so shall ye pray in my church, among my people who do repent and are baptized in my name. Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you .... Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name; And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you." (3 Ne. 18:15-20.)

To be binding and efficacious prayer must be offered in faith and with real intent. "For behold, God hath said a man being evil cannot do that which is good; for if he offereth a gift, or prayeth unto God, except he shall do it with real intent it profiteth him nothing. For behold, it is not counted unto him for righteousness .... 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." (Moro. 7:6-9.) Rather men are commanded to "pray unto the Father with all the energy" of their hearts, with all the strength that their whole souls possess. (Moro. 7:48.)

"And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him.

"After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen." (3 Ne. 13:5-13; Matt. 6:5-13.)

"Do not pray as the Zoramites do, for ye have seen that they pray to be heard of men, and to be praised for their wisdom. Do not say: O God, I thank thee that we are better than our brethren; but rather say: O Lord, forgive my unworthiness, and remember my brethren in mercy -- yea, acknowledge your unworthiness before God at all times." (Alma 38:13-14.) Further: "Pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you." (3 Ne. 12:44; Matt. 5:44.)

Those formal, written prayers which are commonly read by ministers, and those recited by lay church members in doing penance or seeking grace, are devoid of the true spirit of prayer and should be shunned. Frequently they are spoken without real intent; and their use keeps men from searching their own hearts in an attempt to pray in faith according to an approved pattern so that actual blessings may be gained from Deity. Not infrequently these prepared prayers are read, recited, or chanted in ritualistic ceremonies in which the speakers do not concentrate all the faculties of their whole souls upon the prayers being offered. As a consequence the words often take on the nature of useless jargon and do not open the door to the receipt of the Lord's blessings.

What blessings should be sought by prayer? Amulek has given this inspired answer: "Call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you; Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save. Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you." Then, in effect, he counsels that men must live as they pray and work the works of righteousness in order to gain the blessings for which they pray. (Alma 34:17-29.)

Perfect prayers are those which are inspired, in which the Spirit reveals the words which should be used. (3 Ne. 19:24.) "And if ye are purified and cleansed from all sin, ye shall ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask." (D. & C. 50:29-30.)

Jesus spoke the greatest prayers ever uttered, prayers so much beyond the interpretative power of mere words that they were not recorded. "He himself also knelt upon the earth," the record says, "and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him. And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father; And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father." (3 Ne. 17:15-17.)

Among recorded prayers those uttered by our Lord are the greatest. The Lord's Prayer stands as a model of perfect expression. (3 Ne. 13:9-13; Matt. 6:9-13.) The high priestly or intercessory prayer as it has variously been called, though the record we have is obviously fragmentary, ranks as a superlative example of divine prayer. (John 17.) Similar intercessory pleadings were made on behalf of the Nephites. (3 Ne. 19.)

There are a few approved formal written prayers in the Church. These include dedicatory prayers offered when temples are presented to the Lord -- the prayer of dedication for the Kirtland Temple being given by direct revelation (D. & C. 109) -- and the sacramental prayers which are always spoken exactly as found in the revelation. (D. & C. 20:77-79.) Other than formal revealed prayers, it is the practice of the saints to pray extemporaneously, the one acting as mouth striving for the best inspiration he can get in each instance.

Every good gift comes to those who through faith and prayer are enabled to abide the law upon which its receipt is predicated. All things both temporal and spiritual are available in this way. The First Vision and many of the great revelations of this dispensation came as a direct result of fervent prayer. "The Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith." (D. & C. 42:14.) Salvation itself is a fruit of prayer. "Pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much." (Jas. 5:16.) "He that observeth not his prayers before the Lord in the season thereof, let him be had in remembrance before the judge of my people." (D. & C. 68:33.)


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