I've since found that there are plenty of long-time Latter-day Saints throughout the Church who are not so sure that they've had an answer to prayer, in spite of serios efforts to live the basic teachings of the Gospel. There are some who have said they prayed to know if the Church is true or not and didn't get what seemed like an answer. Others have prayed for other legitimate things without evidence of an answer. I admit that recognizing the Spirit and sensing answers to prayer can be difficult, and often requires persistence, fatience, and faith. But I think there are a couple of areas where answers to prayers are much more likely to occur rapidly and sometimes with dramatic testimony-building results.
In my experience, the "big" things that I've prayerd for often don't get the miraculous answer I was hoping for. Nations hostile to the Gospel are not opening their doors in response to my prayers. Corrupt politicians and big money men destroying the freedoms and finances of this nation remain in power. War still rages, often unnecessarily. Cancer victims are usually not miraculously healed because of my prayers. And even my hopes for global warming here in Wisconsin are being dashed even as I write.
There have been a couple of areas, though, where prayers seem to be answered easily and sometimes rather swiftly. Sometimes with amazing results. Nothing is "on demand" or "sure-fire" and patience and faith are always important, but some approaches seem more fruitful than others if you want to experience the results that prayer can bring. Easy-bake prayer recipe #1 is mentioned in the following excerpt from the last General Conference, in the talk "Repent ... That I May Heal You" by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
For most, repentance is more a journey than a one-time event. It is not easy. To change is difficult. It requires running into the wind, swimming upstream. Jesus said, "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."18 Repentance is turning away from some things, such as dishonesty, pride, anger, and impure thoughts, and turning toward other things, such as kindness, unselfishness, patience, and spirituality. It is "re-turning" toward God.As he said, the answers come when we turn to God and ask for guidance on our own personal repentance. "Lord, what am I doing wrong? Where can I do better? How can I improve? What sins do I need to remove from my life ASAP?" When I manage to humble myself enough to ask this question, sometimes with the help of others who help me see past my pride and recognize some glaring faults, a sincere prayer can open floodgates of personal revelation. Real revelation, not just fuzzy warm feelings. The Lord seems to have some very strong opinions about our behavior, and seems more than willing to chime in with guidance if only we'll open our hearts and minds for His answer. "Thank you for asking! Here are some priorities for now . . ." If we act on those promptings, it can begin a series of events where it will become increasingly clear how close the Lord is and how anxious He is to help guide us through the trials of mortality. Repentance always brings us closer to the Lord, and that process is one of the most dramatic ways for people to experience answers to prayer.
How do we decide where our repentance should be focused? When a loved one or friend suggests things we need to change, the natural man in us sometimes pops up his head and responds, "Oh, you think I should change? Well, let me tell you about some of your problems." A better approach is to humbly petition the Lord: "Father, what wouldst Thou have me do?" The answers come. We feel the changes we need to make. The Lord tells us in our mind and in our heart.
We then are allowed to choose: will we repent, or will we pull the shades down over our open window into heaven?
The second "easy-bake" route to receiving answers to prayer is to pray for guidance in how to help someone else. Not praying for their problems to miraculosly vanish (feel free to do that, though), but praying for guidance regarding the things within your scope of inflence. What can you do, make, give, or say to help another person, especially those you have a responsibility to help? Listen, ponder, study the scriptures, and pray sincerely, then act. You may be surprised at what can happen when you seek to be on the Lord's team and serve others. There are numerous small miracles waiting for you as you try to listen to the Lord and look for the right things you can do to help those around you. These can be true testimony-building experiences, even in painful settings.
Today in a talk in church, I shared an experience that happened shortly after we moved to a new city. I was assigned as a home teacher to a less active man who years later would become one of the people I respect most, one who would later do more to help me in the Church than almost anyone else. I had worked hard to get him to commit to a time when my companion, Tim, and I could visit. The appointment was set, and now I was supposed to meet up with Tim and go visit him. I called Tim, and there was no answer. Called a few more times, but no answer. I was worried. I felt that Tim needed a positive home teaching experience also for his benefit, and a key opportunity was about to be missed. The event seemed important enough to me that I felt a need to pray about it. I said a short prayer asking the Lord for help, explaining that I had done everything I could to help these two men with this experience today, and really felt that it needed to happen, but I couldn't reach Tim. I felt that I should simply call one more time. I went to the phone, dialed Tim's number, and soon heard his voice. "Tim? This is Jeff." "Jeff, how did you reach me? My phone is broken - I can call out, but I can't receive calls. Or at least the phone doesn't ring when people call me. I was just picking the phone up to call someone else, and you must have called then." Such a small little thing, a tiny coincidence, a matter of lucky timing - but to me, it was one of a multitude of small miracles we may experience when we turn to the Lord for guidance about what we can do. I'm not talking about changing His will about the timing of when we or someone we love dies, or changing huge currents of life and society. Wars still rage. Good people still suffer tragedy. But we can find the hand of the Lord in seeking to know what we can do in whatever setting we are in, whether it is something as small as helping a fellow member with a visit, or sometimes something much more dramatic. Stay open to the possibility that God can guide us in our daily events, in spite of seeming indifferent to many of our big requests, knowing that He cares and as His purposes. There are no guarantees - I've had numerous disappointments of all kinds when trying to help - but when we seek and watch for the help of the Lord regarding what we personally can do to help, this may be an area ripe for answers. But start with #1, seeking to know what we should be doing to repent. That's just abot the fastest way, in my opinion, to encounter the Divine.