Sunday, November 23, 2008


I’ve been thinking a lot about prayer this week. In Left to Tell, Ilibaganza learned to use a very specific and targeted method of prayer to get what she felt she needed. For example, at one point she felt she was meant to work for the U.N. So she printed an employee directory, added her name to the bottom, envisioned herself working there, prayed every day that she would land a job there, and made attempt after attempt. Eventually she got her job.

I realized that I hesitate to pray for what I want. Part of it is that I question why I should be the one to receive a certain blessing over someone else. But most of it is that I don’t want to dictate my blessings to the Lord. The real prayer of my heart is simply, “Let thy will for me come to pass.” For example, I would really like my business to be a success. I feel this is a righteous desire that will help me bless my family. But still, I hesitate to ask, “Please help me to get more orders.” What if God has another plan for me? What if there’s another, even better, direction I should go?

And yet, I think it’s not right to give only blanket, “Please help me in the way you want” prayers. I’ve always been intrigued by the Bible Dictionary’s description of prayer as a form of work:

The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

This reminds me of when Haley is wandering around saying things like, “I like having friends come over” or “I don’t know what’s for dinner,” and I say, “Then ask me!” I’m ready and waiting to give her good things, but I want her to learn to ask for what she needs.

This seems consistent with the counsel Oliver Cowdery received when he was chided because he “took no thought save it was to ask me.” To receive answer to prayer he should first “study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right” (D&C 9:7, 8). Apparently the Lord wants us to ponder and develop specific prayer requests and not just abdicate to him what blessings we need. Of course righteous prayers always include “thy will be done,” but maybe it’s a cop-out to limit our prayers to that.

But if we’re really in tune with the Spirit, our specific requests will not be inconsistent with the Lord’s will, as I fear. The Bible Dictionary says, “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” Nephi (the one in Helaman) was told, “all things shall be done unto thee according to thy word, for thou shalt not ask that which is contrary to my will” (Helaman 10:5). His will and God’s had become one. He could pray for a specific outcome—like replacing war with famine—knowing that it was consistent with God’s will.

I can think of times when I received prompting to know part of God’s plan for me. For example, at certain times we’ve felt quite sure that God wanted us to become foster parents. That knowledge would give me plenty of specific ammunition for prayer: Help us to be prepared for the challenges of foster children. Protect our children from any negative consequences. Guide us to receive the child that we can bless and who will bless us. Help us to meet the child’s needs.

I think what’s bothering me now is that I’m feeling so unsure of God’s will for me. We’ve reached the end of a long, consuming journey to get Mark’s dissertation done, and I’m not sure what our next chapter will be. I feel that God does have some things in mind, lurking around the corner, but I don’t know what they are, so I’m not sure what I should be praying for. Mostly I’m praying to know what I should be doing to prepare to fulfill whatever God asks me to do next.

So what do you pray for? What’s your take on how to pray and how specific your prayers should be?


  1. You said: "Mostly I’m praying to know what I should be doing to prepare to fulfill whatever God asks me to do next."

    Exactly. That's where I am too. I think sometimes I become complacent. But other times I pray for weird things ("let me find a parking space in this parking lot! I'm sick of driving around!") and I don't think that's how Heavenly Father works either.

  2. I totally agree that they need to be specific and in accordance with His will. I think He will tell us while we pray what He wants to bless us with if we are listening.

    What I need to pray for is this: the strength to let my baby boy cry it out for a few nights so he (AND I) can both sleep through the night.