Bless This Day

Specific prayers bring specific blessings, I’ve heard, and this seems to be most especially true of asking for small spiritual blessings today.

Many of us probably pray for peace and insight, patience and charity, but I’ve been astounded by the power of pleading with God to favor me with a noticeable measure of these things in the same day I’m praying.  I don’t mean this in the sense of, “Give me this thing I want right now,” but in a more appropriately humble attitude of, “I really feel like I need this blessing, and I want to use it to serve, and I trust you enough to know it can happen today.”

I also try to be immediately grateful in more prayer for any evidence of progress from such prayers.  Again, what I try to ask for are gifts of noticing beauty in the world, or the ability to be more Christlike in specific situations I expect that day, or simply to be grateful for and accepting of whatever will happen soon.  I’ve found such an attitude to be immensely faith developing.

I think our Father in Heaven wants to give us blessings when we ask for them, and not always at some unknown point in the future, either.  When I ponder praying for things to be realized, at least to a degree, in the same day I want to plead for it, I usually feel a spiritual assurance that such requests are welcomed.

It reminds me of the injunction in the Lord’s Prayer to ask for things this way: “Give us this day our daily bread.”  I think the core of this prayer method is that it teaches us to be continually reliant on God.  We can’t pray, “Please give me whatever bread I’ll need every day from now on.”  That would go against the requirement for frequent, even constant, prayer itself.  One of the purposes of prayer, or daily scripture study, is to keep us in remembrance of our need to depend on God at all times.  One time prayers, or permanent blessings, just couldn’t do that.

And when we’re tempted to think of prayer and scripture study–or any other gospel routine–as chores, I think this understanding is liberating.  Yes, we will need to pour out our hearts today, and we will need to do it as much as we can; and no matter how much we exert ourselves now, we will need to do it again tomorrow, anyway.  That’s the way it’s supposed to be, and it opens the way for great blessings.  Thank God for it.

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Bear Testimony In Prayer

Seeking answers and offering gratitude are great things to do in prayer.  However, as often as people of faith focus on bearing testimony, witnessing, or sharing their faith with others, we may not think to offer gratitude for this to God. 

For a singular spiritual experience, try this: bear your testimony in prayer.  Tell God what things you know to be true by the power of the Spirit, and thank Him for those things and for the gift of knowing those things.  I expect that our loving Father, the source of all these blessings, appreciates hearing us say these things directly. 

 

 

“Bless This Meal”

I think we as Latter-day Saints should consider reforming how we pray over meals.  The primary purpose of these prayers, I’d say, is to offer gratitude that we get to have such wonderful food for us and our families, yet again. 

But listen to our prayers, and they almost always ask for Heavenly Father to “bless” the food for us now.  (My colleague even once wrote a satire of this tendency to request food be blessed to “nourish and strengthen” us.)  Is this, perhaps, un-grateful?  It seems to say, “Yes, thank you for the food.  But I’m not satisfied.  Could you now do more to make it good for us?”  As if the gift of ongoing sustenance itself isn’t enough.  As if our routine, rote recitation will automatically make whatever we’re eating healthy (I’ve heard such prayers over desserts many times, as I’m sure we all have). 

In fact, our predictable habit of asking for our meals to “nourish and strengthen” us strikes me as similar to the kind of set prayer we typically try to avoid. 

Also, when people are called on to offer such prayers, it’s usually with this wording: “Would you please bless the meal?”  As in some requests for priesthood blessings, this might be polite, but it’s inaccurate: we don’t bless anything.  We ask God to bless things for us. 

Maybe the most appropriate thing to do in these prayers is to simply offer real and humble gratitude that we are so constantly blessed with an abundance of delicious food.  Even without extraneous supplications for nutritoinal improvement, it’s already a profoundly amazing blessing.

A Passion For Prayer

I was assigned to speak to another ward today on behalf of our stake Sunday School presidency.  The topic was “the power of prayer.”  I think it went well, but this was actually the first time I’ve addressed another ward’s sacrament meeting, and I think I may have gone a little too quickly–my talk only took ten minutes.  Still, I’m pleased with it.

*****

In salesmanship, there’s a classic example of how to show people how amazing something very simple is.  You advertise to someone that you’re selling a product that can perfectly record every event in life and thought they ever have; it’ll also keep track of every single piece of information you ever need to remember.  It’s extremely low maintenance, and even has a built-in correction accessory, in case you use it wrong.  It’s lightweight, portable, durable, lasts for years, uses no electricity or fuel, and on top of all that, costs less than a dollar.  What could this incredible new invention be?  It’s a pencil.  Keep that in mind for now. 

My subject today is prayer, specifically the power of prayer.  Now, I’m sure I don’t need to sell anyone here on the importance of prayer, but even though we all believe in prayer, and try to pray often, I know that sometimes we find that we don’t always love it, sometimes we don’t look forward to it, sometimes we don’t make it a priority or even find joy in it.  So, I’d like to take a few minutes and share with you what I found as I sought, in preparation for this talk, how we can develop a greater passion for prayer. 

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The Book of Mormon and Agnostic Prayer

I haven’t always known much about God, much less believed in Him.  I remember one time especially as a young man when I collapsed in prayer, very late one lonely night, and begged God to let me know that He was there, if He was at all.  I didn’t receive any sings or feelings, and felt terribly depressed for a while after that.  I didn’t receive an answer for a long time.

I’m hardly the first or the last to offer what’s known as an “agnostic’s prayer,” a plea to a God whom the prayer isn’t sure is there or not.  The most popular such published prayer seems to be this one, from the 1969 science fiction novel Creatures of Light and Darkness, by Roger Zelazny:

Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to ensure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen.

I also found this much shorter agnostic prayer online, apparently an anonymous work:

Dear God,

If there is a God,

Save my soul,

If I have a soul.

These are honest, searching thoughts–general enough to be universal, yet deeply personal–and I love seeing them.  By far the best agnostic prayer, however, comes from 1830 in the Book of Mormon.  In Alma 22, a missionary named Aaron teaches the gospel to the father of a king in an unfriendly land, a man who had actively hated the believers.  The truth that he hears touches him, though, and he feels compelled to act on it, even if he isn’t sure how.  Aaron tells him to try prayer but, being a stranger to spiritual things, the king’s father can only pour out his feelings in a raw, desperate first prayer:

O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day.  (Alma 22:18)

Notice how simple this request is, with evidence of both overwhelming confusion but an undeniable experience of…something…that has to be investigated further and acted on.  How lucky are any of us who have been there, to start learning about God’s love, and begin that journey of discipleship!  This powerful man’s childlike prayer was then answered with a stunning spiritual manifestation that changed his life forever.

And, ultimately, so was mine.  A few months after offering my own agnostic prayer, I discovered the Book of Mormon.

A Prayer

Dear Heavenly Father,

 

I thank Thee for Thy mercy and patience with me,

for thy perfect grace, which I don’t deserve or fully understand.

 

Father, please forgive me for my selfish indulgences,

for my rebellions and ingratitude.

Please help me to repent and turn more fully to Thee.

Please help my heart to change.

 

I would be Thy man and live Thy way.

But I can’t do it on my own.

I’ve tried and failed.

I need Thee, Father.

I need Thee that I may see the glory of Thy plan and creation,

to do Thy work and serve Thee.

I need Thee just to be happy.

 

Father, I feel so full of regret,

of weakness and cold, hard hearted pride.

Please help me to be open to Thy Spirit,

and to see others as Thou sees them,

as my brothers and sisters,

to love them and be there for them,

and I need Thee to open my eyes to the joy

of purity and virtue.

Please help me to see potential and hope.

Please help me to seek after these things.

 

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How To Raise Up A Family To The Lord

515Q9YXJX5L__SL500_AA240_I just saw that Gene R. Cook’s Raising Up a Family To the Lord must be out of print: Amazon.com only has marketplace copies, Barnes and Noble doesn’t list it at all, and even Deseret Book’s Web site only offers an audio tape and a couple of translations. 

That’s too bad, because it is far and away the best book about parenting that I’ve ever read.  Cook, a general authority in the LDS Church, wrote the most specific, organized, detailed, inspiring, and practical family guide ever set down on paper.  What most especially impresses me is that he published this book two years before the church’s famous Proclamation on the Family.  Talk about prophetic!  Actually, Elder Cook’s book is the best manual for implementing and living the Proclamation that anyone could ever ask for.  That’s why it’s so tragic that it seems to have fallen by the wayside.  It should be in every home.  Couples should study it regularly.  I’d love to see it become popular, or even come back into print. 

As it is, some of those used copies at Amazon are going for as low as three dollars.  It’s worth a million times that. 

I used my notes below as the text for a lesson once when I was elders quorun president, and got a few laughs because the notes are so long.  Yes, Elder Cook covers all his bases, and does so in exacting detail.  But don’t get the idea that these notes are exhaustive–they don’t convey the wonderful spirit of his dozens of personal stories that carry the testimony of his principles into our hearts.  Not much of what he writes could be considered “commandments,” anyway: mostly ideas for us to adapt and use in our own circumstances. 

Still, any family, of any faith or none at all, would benefit greatly by working these ideas into their home life over time.  I’ll say that the more any family resembles the ideal outlined by Elder Cook, the more happy and healthy they’ll be. 

Please forgive the inconsistent spacing in my notes:

 

Raising Up A Family To The Lord

by Gene R. Cook

 

* See outline of basic priorities on pp. 13-16.

 

I. Most important things: instill habits of personal prayer and scripture study in children by modeling them

as a family; also, convey spiritual values to children through daily living in the home.

          A. Do not rely on church programs to mold children– they merely support the home.

          B. Involve children in home teaching responsibilities; expose them to faithful models (“second

witnesses”) in church.

                    1. “Family duties” to encourage include:

                              a. Weekly family home evening.

                             b. Family and individual prayers twice daily

                             c. Bless food at each meal.

                             d. Make time for family activities.

                             e. Family scripture study

                             f. Have mealtime discussions

                             g. Discuss gospel while working together.

                             h. Use special holidays and occasions to teach the gospel

                              i. Teach tithing and offerings by example.

                              j. Teach the gospel through bedtime stories.

                             k. Hold private interviews.

          C. Teach children these doctrines BEFORE they turn eight:

                    1. Repentance

                    2. Faith in Christ

                    3. Baptism

                    4. Gift of the Holy Ghost

                    5. Pray and “walk uprightly before the Lord”

                    6. Observe the Sabbath Day

                   7. Labor in faithfulness and not be idle or greedy

                   8. Seek for the riches of eternity

 

II. Teach Your Family By The Spirit

          A. Pray with children as soon as there is trouble

          B. How to invite the spirit:

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Worshipping Through Prayer, Singing, and Fasting

One topic to which my eye was drawn during a study of the Book of Mormon was how exactly God wants to be worshipped.  As Latter-day Saints, we often say that lives of steady, regular devotion to righteousness and service constitute the ultimate worship, which is all fine and good–no problem there–but in light of the examples set by prophets in the scriptures, it seems incomplete.  Consider:

1 Nephi 1:14-15: Lehi exclaims to God how great God’s power and plan are

1 Nephi 18:16: Prolonged praise and suppression of desire to murmur (see also Ether 6:9)

2 Nephi 4:30-35: Proclaim trust in God while pleading (with firm faith) for help

2 Nephi 9: 8,9,13,17,19,20: Extol the virtues of God

Mosiah 2:3-4: Mosaic sacrifices and offerings explicitly linked with showing gratitude (see also verse 20)

Mosiah 18:30: Praises to be sung to God

Alma 26:8: Again, singing laudatory praises of gratitude

Alma 45:1: Fasting and prayer mentioned in conjunction with grateful worship

3 Nephi 4:31: Again, singing laudatory praises of gratitude (see also Mormon 7:7)

And those eleven citations are just a sampling of what the Book of Mormon shows in its narrative about the nature of worship.  This may be something that we could benefit to learn from our Evangelical friends: while the kind of demonstrative emotion shown in much of their public worship might strike us as overly ecstatic to the point of being irreverent, our own scriptures surely show that it does have a proper place.  I offer three suggestions–which I’ve practiced myself–to try integrating into our own worhsip, and see if they don’t invite the Spirit:

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