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Conference Counsel: The urgent need to improve our prayers

By Ryan Comer - | Apr 20, 2024

Photo supplied, Intellectual Reserve

Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, delivers a talk during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' general conference on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Last week, I wrote about my wife coming to the rescue prior to our honeymoon by helping unlock our car door after the keys had been left inside.

Even today, over five years after her passing, she still comes to the rescue. Her rescue comes in the form of her favorite scripture, which she shared with me early on in our relationship and which often comes into my mind because of her. The passage comes from the Book of Alma in the Book of Mormon. It reads:

“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 37:37)

The verse immediately preceding is also impactful for me.

“Yea, and cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.” (Alma 37:36)

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Ryan Comer

My wife had a testimony of the importance of prayer, and I continue to be grateful that she was willing to share that with me. Such dedication to the Lord was a major factor in my desire to marry her, even though we were just young, naive students at BYU who had no idea what we were getting ourselves into.

These scriptures came to mind recently as I pondered the message shared by Jeffrey R. Holland, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, at the general conference of the church two weeks ago.

It was President Holland’s first address at general conference since October 2022. He has missed the last two general conferences due to health struggles.

Prayer was the central theme of President Holland’s address. He referred to it in the title of his talk as “Motions of a Hidden Fire,” which comes from the Latter-day Saint hymn “Prayer is the Soul’s Sincere Desire.”

After expressing gratitude for the many prayers offered on his behalf, President Holland shared a powerful testimony of the importance of prayer in our lives. In his comments, he referenced his wife Pat, who passed away last July.

“Brothers and sisters, I testify that God hears every prayer we offer and responds to each of them according to the path he has outlined for our perfection,” he said. “I recognize that at roughly the same time so many were praying for the restoration of my health, an equal number — including me — were praying for the restoration of my wife’s health. I testify that both of those prayers were heard and answered by a divinely compassionate Heavenly Father, even if the prayers for Pat were not answered the way I asked. It is for reasons known only to God why prayers are answered differently than we hope — but I promise you they are heard and they are answered according to his unfailing love and cosmic timetable.”

Just within that one paragraph alone, President Holland answered some common questions people may have about prayer.

  • Does God hear our prayers? Yes.
  • Does God hear every prayer, or just some of them? Every one.
  • What are we to learn about the ways in which prayers are answered? They are answered according to what is necessary for our perfection and according to God’s unfailing love and cosmic timetable.

Think about that third point for a second. How often do we pray for something, don’t receive it and then blame God? Do we ever stop to think that maybe not receiving what we asked for is actually what is best for us in order for us to be perfected? Certainly, a perfect, all-knowing God would know what is required for us to be perfected. Do we presume to say we know better than him?

President Holland’s counsel continued, with more frequently asked questions being addressed.

“If we ‘ask not amiss,’ there are no limits to when, where or about what we should pray. According to the revelations, we are to ‘pray always.’ We are to pray, Amulek said, for ‘those who are around you,’ with the belief that the ‘fervent prayer of a righteous (people) availeth much.’ Our prayers ought to be vocal when we have the privacy to so offer them. If that is not practical, they should be carried as silent utterances in our heart. We sing that prayers are ‘motion(s) of a hidden fire,’ always to be offered, according to the savior himself, to God the Eternal Father in the name of His Only Begotten Son.

“My beloved friends, our prayers are our sweetest hour, our most ‘sincere desire,’ our simplest, purest form of worship. We should pray individually, in our families and in congregations of all sizes. We are to employ prayer as a shield against temptation, and if there be any time we feel not to pray, we can be sure that hesitancy does not come from God, who yearns to communicate with his children at any and all times. Indeed, some efforts to keep us from praying come directly from the adversary. When we don’t know how or exactly for what to pray, we should begin, and continue, until the Holy Spirit guides us into the prayer we should be offering. This approach may be the one we have to invoke when praying for our enemies and those who despitefully use us.”

  • Are there limits to what we should pray about? No, other than making sure that we “ask not amiss.” Dictionary.com defines “amiss” as “improper; wrong; faulty.” So, as long as we don’t ask for something that is improper, wrong or faulty, there are no limits to what we can pray about. Furthermore, we can pray whenever and wherever. We should pray always.
  • What are some things we should pray about? We should pray for people around us, with faith that prayers will be helpful. They should be “our most ‘sincere desire.'” We should pray to be able to successfully fight temptation.
  • How should we pray? Our prayers should be vocal when we have the privacy for such. If they can’t be vocal, they should be silently uttered in our hearts. Prayers should be done individually, in our families and in congregations.

Included in the Book of Mormon is the story of a people who were being persecuted, so much so that those being persecuted “began to cry mightily to God.” The people were commanded to stop their cries and had guards put over them to watch them. Anyone found calling upon God was to be put to death.

The response by the people and God’s response to them is highly instructive.

“And Alma and his people did not raise their voices to the Lord their God, but did pour out their hearts to him; and he did know the thoughts of their hearts.

“And it came to pass that the voice of the Lord came to them in their afflictions, saying: Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage.

“And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions.

“And now it came to pass that the burdens which were laid upon Alma and his brethren were made light; yea, the Lord did strengthen them that they could bear up their burdens with ease, and they did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord.” (Mosiah 24:12-15)

The Lord subsequently delivered Alma and his people from bondage.

  • Who should we pray to? We pray to “God the Eternal Father in the name of His Only Begotten Son.”
  • What if we don’t feel like praying? Hesitancy to pray does not come from God because he always wants to communicate with us, his children. As a matter of fact, “some efforts to keep us from praying come directly from the adversary.”

Regarding the latter thought, I love the following quote from Brigham Young, second president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints:

“If the Devil says you cannot pray when you are angry, tell him it is none of his business, and pray until that species of insanity is dispelled and serenity is restored to the mind.”

Perhaps you read all that and say, “Yeah, I understand what prayer is and why it’s important, but it’s hard to really be motivated. I’m so busy, and I just don’t have time for it.”

President Holland provided a response for that concern by invoking Jesus.

“Ultimately, we can look to the example of the savior, who prayed so very, very often. But it has always been intriguing to me that Jesus felt the need to pray at all. Wasn’t he perfect? About what did he need to pray? Well, I have come to realize that he too, with us, wanted to ‘seek (the Father’s) face, believe his word, and trust his grace.’ Time after time, he retreated from society to be alone before piercing heaven with his prayers. At other times, he prayed in the company of a few companions. Then he would seek heaven on behalf of multitudes who would cover a hillside. Sometimes prayer glorified his clothing. Sometimes it glorified his countenance. Sometimes he stood to pray, sometimes he knelt, and at least once he fell on his face in prayer.

“Luke describes Jesus’s descent into his expiation as requiring him to pray ‘more earnestly.’ How does one who was perfect pray more earnestly? We assume that all of his prayers were earnest, yet in fulfilling his atoning sacrifice and through the pain that attended its universal reach, he felt to pray ever more pleadingly, with the weight of his offering finally bringing blood from every pore.”

If Jesus being perfect felt the need and motivation to pray, how can we possibly not feel an even greater need and motivation to pray? Jesus’ example should humble and inspire all of us.

In a related thought, President Holland referenced Christ’s eventual return. His words should provide even more motivation.

“Against that backdrop of Christ’s victory over death and his recent gift to me of a few more weeks or months in mortality, I bear solemn witness of the reality of eternal life and the need for us to be serious in our planning for it.

“I bear witness that when Christ comes, he needs to recognize us — not as nominal members listed on a faded baptismal record but as thoroughly committed, faithfully believing, covenant-keeping disciples. This is an urgent matter for all of us, lest we ever hear with devastating regret: ‘I never knew you,’ or, as Joseph Smith translated that phrase, ‘(You) never knew me.'”

How will Christ recognize me when he returns? How do I want him to recognize me? What will it mean if Christ comes and sees me in my current state? Am I comfortable with how Christ would recognize me? These are questions that pierced my soul when I heard President Holland speak and continue to stay in my mind.

Perhaps you find yourself thinking, “Well, I’ll improve my relationship with Jesus eventually. I don’t have time for it now, but I know that it is important and I will get around to working on it later.” This is not wise. Not when President Holland talks of how Christ will recognize us as “an urgent matter for all of us” and says that we must “be serious in our planning” for eternal life.

I wonder if some of President Holland’s word choices throughout his talk were as impactful for others as they were to me.

Speaking of his hospital stay, he said he had “memory of a journey outside the hospital, out to what seemed the edge of eternity.” He said he couldn’t divulge all of that experience, but that he received “an admonition to return to my ministry with more urgency, more consecration, more focus on the savior, more faith in his word.”

My mind goes back to some words President Holland used in a talk not too long ago. In the April 2012 general conference, President Holland delivered a talk titled “The Laborers in the Vineyard.” He concluded that talk with the following words:

“So if you have made covenants, keep them. If you haven’t made them, make them. If you have made them and broken them, repent and repair them. It is never too late so long as the master of the vineyard says there is time. Please listen to the prompting of the Holy Spirit telling you right now, this very moment, that you should accept the atoning gift of the Lord Jesus Christ and enjoy the fellowship of his labor. Don’t delay. It’s getting late.”

President Holland warned us 12 years ago that “it’s getting late.” Now he returns from what he described as “the edge of eternity,” saying Christ gifted him only “a few more weeks or months in mortality,” and that he received an “admonition to return to my ministry with more urgency, more consecration, more focus on the savior, more faith in his word,” and the topic which he felt the need to discuss with us is preparation for eternal life and Jesus’ return through increased dedication to prayer. How can that not motivate all of us? I can definitely say I was motivated. I finished listening to that talk and I knew I had to improve my praying habits and that I needed to improve them immediately. There is simply no room for procrastination or laziness.

With all that’s been said about the need for prayer and how it will bless us, we should have no reason not to do better. Don’t we want those blessings? Don’t we want a better life? Don’t we want a better eternity?

Contact Ryan Comer at rcomer@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @rbcomer8388 and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/rbcomer8388.


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