Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Secret Ingredient for Successful Prayer

During the 7 years that I've been blogging here at Mormanity, I've heard many complaints about the failure of prayer in seeking guidance from God. People tried it and it didn't work for them: they didn't get an answer, no personal revelation, no magic "burning in the bosom" or spiritual experience or majestic epiphany. Just nothing. I think many of those who have abandoned prayer left out the secret ingredient, or ingredients, that can make it most likely to bring revelation. I wish to recommend a better way to pray for those who are frustrated with it. For best results, add scripture study, especially right after prayer, and throw in some time to ponder and reflect upon what you read.

I often like random scripture study--just throw open the Bible or Book of Mormon and read a while, then jump somewhere else if you wish. Sometimes methodical study of a topic helps using the LDS Topical Guide or other resources, and sometimes reading straight through on a reading plan will do. But I really think those who wish to gain revelation from God to guide them in their thinking and decisions need to consult what God has given us as tools for wisdom and growth. As we apply those tools to our unique situation, prayerfully seeking God's help, they scriptures can become alive and we can have true spiritual experiences.

36 comments:

SilverRain said...

Search, Ponder and Pray.

We so often forget the parts that take more effort.

Paul said...

Sometimes the secret ingredient is being less demanding about the desired result.

Openminded said...

Well there's that missing step ;)

I had a spiritual experience while listening to a song the other day.

It was Obadiah Parker's acoustic remix of Hey Ya (remember that old song by Outkast?).


I've missed that feeling. Was hoping I could still reach it in a secular world.

I'm amazed at how feeling connected to a higher purpose can do that to me.

Mateo said...

So if a person does study the scriptures and prays fervently and leaves themselves open to guidance and does not receive it, then what? At what point can a person say, "well I'm not going to get an answer this way"?

Its just such a frustrating topic because for a person that "knows" it's true, the people that don't get an answer are either doing it wrong or demanding the impossible. Why is it an unfair demand to expect that if God exists, and he really has a plan for men that he would reveal it to them in a way in which they can accept it as really being an answer?

Anonymous said...

Just curious--do you ever throw open the Pearl of Great Price, or is it only the Bible and BoM?

mkprr said...

Matteo,
I understand your frustration and I don’t know if I have a solid answer to your question but a passage from the Book of Mormon might give some assistance. Remember that Moroni is speaking, as you may recall, his life was less than peachy.

Moroni 10:3 “Behold, I would exhort you… that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. “

As you know, Moroni has every reason to be bitter about his lot in life. How often did he personally see the mercy of the Lord? He was completely faithful. Where was his deliverance from his enemies? Where is his beautiful wife and kids? Why was he not prospered by the Lord as the righteous always seem to be scriptures? Instead he gets a life surrounded by death and hate and carnage, and then loneliness.
I wonder if Moroni ever felt the Lord wasn’t as merciful to him as he deserved. It sounds like you feel the Lord isn’t answering your prayers as clearly as you deserve. If you read back through your mission journals, or contemplate on your life history in your dealings with God, can you find any moments of revelation? It’s easy to see what we don’t have, but what about what we have been given? The scriptures say that we get depends in part on what we do with what we have been given. I'm not accusing you of rejecting light, just wondering if there is more that you have that you have forgotten about or that has faded over time.

mkprr said...

One last point I’d make, (and I do so in hopes that you’ll take this the right way, I’m not accusing you of sin or laziness, but there is one more element to gaining testimony that I feel is important) Brigham Young said it best: “More testimonies are gained on the feet, than on the knees”

We learn in theory Gods will through scripture study/prayer, but the only way I think we really come to know it is by practicing it with all our heart in everyday life.

Tobin said...

True prayer is a conversation with God where you are exploring and pondering an answer. It is a search for the truth and insight. Rarely do we get what we want or an answer right away and may take a long time (even a lifetime to discover the answer). The times in my life when I knew someone unseen was in the room has been burned into my memory, but those times have been few. However, I can tell you that this type of prayer (or mediation) is both centering and helpful and it need not be formal. It may be taking a few minutes or many minutes each day just sitting or kneeling in silence and reflecting upon the topics of concern, but it is very worth it.

Mateo said...

@mkpr and others,
thanks for the comments, and I appreciate what you're saying. During my mission I really did work hard and was honestly a little over serious with it at times. I was reading and praying every day, working hard and really focusing on loving the people I was surrounded with. Even with that I can't say I ever received any answers and was a little guilt ridden (sometimes a lot guilt ridden) professing a belief in something that I mainly believed in for very very shallow reasons. I remember having one of our converts ask that I baptise her and feeling absolutely horrible about it. I asked her to have the bishop do it. She was insistent that it be me, I asked my companion if he would talk her out of it and I remember him being really confused as to why I didn't want to baptise her. My only explanation was basically, "If this is God's church then he apparently does not talk to me or use me as an active vessel because I don't get the same experience that you and others seem to do." I was reassured by him and my mission president that I was simply overthinking it and that if I just went through with it that I'd feel what a positive experience it was.

I went through with it and that night was bawling my eyes out. The baptism was such a void experience for me yet everyone else there claimed to have been experiencing a wonderfully rich and spiritual event. I just remember being so frustrated because it was like, "okay, what the heck gives? I did the same stuff everyone else does, I'm worthy, I'm working my butt off out here and I get nothing out of this stuff." That continued for the rest of my mission and I made it a point to not be the one doing the baptisms after that. At this point in my life I assumed the church must be true because it had lots of happy people in it, and having been raised in it it felt normal. I just figured that there must be something missing from me that didn't allow me to get out of the experience what everyone else was. That went on for another 8 years with more and more frustration until finally it got to the point where it was like, "okay, this works for other people but it's making me miserable. I can't keep lying to myself and people I'm teaching in Sunday school about this stuff being something that I know." and so I left.

Granted there's never going to be some magic knowledge bullet that tells me for sure, "yep. the church is not true, you made the right choice" but at the same time I see all these tremendous flaws and issues with the LDS doctrine and gospel and I don't get any sort of a manifestation that I can accept saying, "this stuff is true and those other things are false."

TL;DR version... Eventually a person has to be able to say, "look, I don't think this is true. I can't see what other people say they're seeing" And it's frustrating being told that such ideas are due to a personal weakness (sin, or not being patient enough, or expecting god to talk to me in terms that I'll be able to understand clearly.)

Mateo said...

To clarify, I don't feel anyone here was trying to insinuate that my lack of a testimony is due to personal sins or "doing it wrong." Everyone here has been really respectful and sincere. That last paragraph was more in terms of answers I've received from priesthood leaders over the years.

Mateo said...

@tobin,
"True prayer is a conversation with God where you are exploring and pondering an answer. It is a search for the truth and insight. Rarely do we get what we want or an answer right away and may take a long time (even a lifetime to discover the answer)."

Please don't take this as any sort of personal attack. This doesn't sound like much of a conversation to me though. It definitley does not seem like a satisfying way of coming to know eternal truths.

I've heard a lot of different justifications on why god's answers seen to be so unverifiable (faith mainly) but I just don't get it.

I understand the argument that god's ways are not man's ways but creating a system which makes it impossible for people to verify a truth claim like, "God exists and he loves you" with any sort of independently verifiable method for seeking it out seems to imply that god has very little empathy for his creations. I don't see how this is needed even when using the argument of "god wants us to develop faith so that we can grow."

This is akin to a person assigning his students a test and refusing to let them know what the questions are. Instead having them right their own questions and ask him if they're the right ones and then giving vague ambiguous answers.

I'm glad that you have received experiences that you feel show you that the church is true though.

Jeff Lindsay: said...

Anon, I throw open lots of things. I've had some interesting experiences with the Doctrine and Covenants, too. The tiny Pearl of Great Price is harder to find, though.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jeff. I was just asking because so often in LDS discourse "the scriptures" seem to mean, in practice, only the Bible and the BoM, and because to me (not LDS--I'm Jewish) the PoGP and D&C seem far more inspired and theologically original and audacious than the BoM. Where the latter gives us a history, the former give us an entire cosmology. The latter brings Christianity to the New World; the former goes much further and gives us a vision beyond the two hemispheres of this little planet. There's an expansiveness there that we're used to seeing in Hindu thought but that had never really been part of Judaism and Christianity. (FWIW, it seems really odd to me that so many of the Church's critics focus on the historicity of the BoM, when it is the PoGP and D&C that really distinguish the LDS Church from mainstream Christianity.)

Anyway, Joseph Smith strikes me as a truly original Christian thinker who opened up the theological possibilities of Christian thought in ways no one had done since the Reformation--but one doesn't really see that in the BoM the way one sees it in the other scriptures.

Faith said...

It reminds me of the story about how Joseph F. Smith got his testimony. I copied it here.

“When I as a boy first started out in the ministry, I would frequently go out and ask the Lord to show me some marvelous thing, in order that I might receive a testimony. But the Lord withheld marvels from me, and showed me the truth, line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little, until he made me to know the truth from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, and until doubt and fear had been absolutely purged from me. He did not have to send an angel from the heavens to do this, nor did he have to speak with the trump of an archangel. By the whisperings of the still small voice of the Spirit of the living God, he gave to me the testimony I possess. And by this principle and power he will give to all the children of men a knowledge of the truth” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 7).

It really seems that he got his testimony by reading, here a little, there a little, it's more like a collection.

It's true that the LDS church has quite some obvious flaws, I saw them when I was investigating the church, and I read quite a lot of anti-mormon stuff, I thought the mormon doctrines were totally man-made crap.

I prayed about it, but no answer came to me to say "this is the true church" or anything like that.

But, also no answer came to me to say " this is not the true church."

I then started reading the Journal of Discourses online. I was reading like crazy, and I found most of the quotations the anti-mormons used, and there, I found the truth. It's not like all the content in the discourses were perfect, but I can see the talks were quite inspiring. I can see the leader's faith, I can see God's hand in this work.

I've got my testimony that both Joseph Smith and Brigham Young were God's prophets. But it's not like God is telling me that, or whispering in my ears, it's just simply a truth I discovered line upon line. Of course, with God's guidance, but He did not make me feel something burning in me or anything like that, nothing like that at all.

And the last thing I want to say is that all the Mormon Doctrines are divine. There is no flaw in the doctrine. In the church history, maybe yes. But, the doctrine is perfect, it's Christ's doctrine.

Anonymous said...

There is no flaw in the doctrine. In the church history, maybe yes.

"Maybe" yes? Why qualify such a statement? Of COURSE there are flaws in the Church's history, just as there are in any church's history. The Church, like any other church, is composed of human beings, so how could it be otherwise than flawed?

Churches need to be more forthright about this kind of thing across the board. I would like the Pope, for example, to just come out and admit that the Catholic Church pussyfooted with Hitler, and for the Protestants to just come out and admit the terrible anti-semitism of Luther, for Muslim authorities to forthrightly own up to the atrocities committed in Allah's name, and, yes, for the LDS authorities to just come out and admit that Brigham Young committed treason or dragged his feet on Mountain Meadows or whatever else the anti-Mormons want to harp on.

Not only is this the right thing to do (it's called "repentance"), but it's the most pragmatic thing to do, because when a church forthrightly acknowledges the skeletons in its closet it takes the wind out of the critic's sails.

Faith said...

yes,Anonymous,you are right, I should have said of course yes, instead of maybe yes.

But I can not agree with you about admitting "Brigham Young committed treason or dragged his feet on Mountain Meadows or whatever else the anti-Mormons want to harp on."

I have read about the Mountain Meadows, the church leaders always admitted that it was a big tragedy caused by mormons, they tried to explain the reason, but they never tried to deny it.

Not everything that the anti mormons want to harp on is the truth need to be admitted and repented, actually, most of them are not true.

I agree with you that the church history has flaws like all the other churches. But I am sorry that I can not agree with you about admitting everything the anti mormons want to harp on, because one can not admit and repent about something he is falsely accused.

(this is a beautiful post, I should not have brought this anti mormon thing up, I am sorry. I will drop off this topic. I am really sorry,Jeff.)

NathanS said...

Matteo, I understand the frustration, too. You may not relate to the age I'll mention but when I was a pre-teen I heard doctrinal errors that greatly concerned me and although I prayed, I didn't recognize answers. For lack of certainty/recognition of answers, the errors I heard "harmed" me for several decades since and even now but I have gained some empathy for others through my struggle, an appreciation for pure doctrine that I may not otherwise have gained to such depth, and probably another benefit or two that spring from these former two, such as potentially greater capacity for helping others. Such seems to be the case as I have been empowered to helped people overcome strong suicidal ideation with the help of renewed clarity and credibility from my former struggles.

Learning to get to conversation with God can be a lot like breaking up an old, concrete driveways. I did that with someone years ago. A few hits on the concrete with a sledge hammer by one person produces a crack, an encouraging response. The conversation begins. I, on the otherhand, hit the concrete many times before, for the Nth time, I decide to go back at it whether or not a crack will appear. Finally it does. It may not seem much like a conversation but it is saying "Yeah, you might have a shot at me." Not very encouraging but enough to call it a conversation. Why God sometimes chooses to respond so slowly, so slightly, un-encouragingly at times, we don't fully know but my guess is that if I kept at breaking concrete long enough, my weight and muscles would increase my talent at getting concrete to respond.

I believe the material creation bears witness of God in more ways than one. Breaking concrete is parable for revelation that bears witness of God. We may not know all the factors that go into getting (or recognizing and having confidence in) the revelations that we want but failure at experiencing a break through need not be permanent if our efforts are.

Even though I may have a long ways to go before frequent 2-way communication is my norm, I am very much benefitted by my persistence at communicating with God. If you are persistent, I believe you will be very benefitted, too.

I like what Faith had to say. It seems that she got her answers stealthily. God can do that, too. I'm sure He has a good reason for the methods He chooses with each of us. After we know those reasons, I am confident that we will be grateful. Until then, maybe not.

Geoffrey said...

Mateo - thank you for this!... In my research I came across this mormanity blog: As I was reading your response, I kept thinking, is this guy reading my mind?? I have literally (nearly) identical questions and concerns, and the more I attempt to talk to and re-engage Mormons the blank stares I get. Most "true believers," in my small and recent experience, just don't get it. Why is it bad to expect some sort of "experience" confirming, even in some small way (voice?) that the Church is true. If it simply takes a lifestime, for some, of pondering, praying, and living appropriately - then how is that different from ANY other religion? Most mainstream Christian religions preach the same idea - just keep at it, just keep at it...

Pops said...

"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God..."

"But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering."

What does it mean to "ask in faith"? I think it means to ask having resolved to obey whatever direction or principle is revealed. Questions asked out of curiosity aren't likely to receive an answer because our disobedience would subsequently condemn us. It's only when our hearts are really in it, and we're ready to submit our will to God's and do whatever he requires of us, that we receive what we seek.

Mateo said...

@pops,
So... if I really believe that god will tell me the church is true then he'll tell me the church is true, but only if I really want it to be true. Got it.

Why is it unreasonable for people to expect a regular answer to such an important question? What I'm hearing from your response is basically, "you didn't want it enough." You don't think I was willing to follow the lord on my mission? I was already following everything that was being asked of me as far as I was aware and was merely asking for the sort of certainty that would help me be a better missionary and really understand it. Yet no answer.

I know the idea that people could honestly be searching and not getting an answer isn't one that's fun to consider but it seems to be the truth. Maybe I'm just lying or deluded though. Feel free to tell yourself so if it makes you feel better.

Mateo said...

@geoffrey, I really hope that my views don't cause people to give up on something that makes their life better, but yeah. I hear ya. I don't understand what's unreasonable about confirming basic tenants and ideas. I also don't get why (as you stated) how the claim "well you may not get an answer in this life that is totally satisfying." can't be used for any other religious outlook or lack thereof. It's a non answer and seems like an attempt to downplay a pretty serious issue for most people.

Pops said...

So... if I really believe that god will tell me the church is true then he'll tell me the church is true, but only if I really want it to be true.

Wrong - that's not what I said.

God will not reveal to us what we are not willing to obey. If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, God will not reveal that to a person who is not prepared to join the LDS church. If Joseph Smith was a false prophet, God will not reveal that to a person who is not prepared to leave the LDS church. Now there is only one answer to the question, but the answer will not be revealed to one who is predisposed to do whatever they feel like in spite of what God might reveal to them. It cuts both ways.

Mateo said...

you're still basically saying that people that don't receive an answer don't deserve one. There ARE people that are willing to or already are giving up their lives for the lord and his church yet are not receiving basic simple answers like, "does god exist" or "is this his church." I realize it's not a fun thing truth to contemplate but it is the case.

If you're simply saying that the lord won't reveal himself to those that don't want to follow him then that's fine. It's not what I'm seeing people referring to in this thread though. What I am seeing them refer to is a desire to know if the thing they're already following is true. Is it against the rules to ask with the possibility that the church is false in their mind at all? If so then god kind of sounds a little neurotic.

Mateo said...

D'oh! That should read "a fun truth to contemplate" instead of "a fun thing truth to contemplate"

Mateo said...

"If Joseph Smith was a true prophet, God will not reveal that to a person who is not prepared to join the LDS church."

Isn't this a pretty big piece that would contribute to a person's desire to join the church? If that's the way god operates then that's fine. I guess he would be free to operate how he wishes to operate but does this really seem like a good or sensible standpoint to take? Isn't it remotely possible that by helping his children understand the truth that they would be more likely to take it seriously?

If a person says him, "lord I need to know if this church is true. If it's true I'll join it but if it's not I'll look elsewhere." It'd be like me setting up a disaster relief fund and refusing to let anyone know before donating if I was actually sending the money to the disaster site. Even moreso many LDS members struggle with this and ARE living the gospel so on top of their frustration with that they have other members dutifully informing them that their lack of answers is probably because they aren't asking right. :/

Pops said...

It'd be like me setting up a disaster relief fund and refusing to let anyone know before donating if I was actually sending the money to the disaster site.

I'm sorry, but that made no sense. A better analogy would be a person setting aside some money to contribute to a disaster fund, but not actually making the contribution until they find out that it's really going to help the victims of the disaster (from the perspective of the petitioner).

From the perspective of God, it's like him setting up a disaster relief fund, and when someone shows up with a contribution, not accepting the contribution until he's shown them precisely where the funds will be used.

God does not reveal truth to those who ask only out of curiosity. He requires obedience. Here's the part you got right:

If a person says to him, "Lord I need to know if this church is true. If it's true I'll join it but if it's not I'll look elsewhere."

The only thing I would add is that God usually requires that we make an effort to find out for ourselves, that we make a preliminary decision, and then take the matter to Him with a determination to follow whatever God reveals to us even if it turns out our preliminary decision was wrong.

Mateo said...

@pops,
I get why you do it in a way but what you're presenting sounds really similar to the "no true scotsman" fallacy. You're seeking to dismiss the experiences of others by saying that they must not be doing it right, or they aren't REALLY asking the RIGHT questions or that their reason for asking isn't the correct one. When you make conditions like that it's an attempt to place your own beliefs in a bubble were they cannot be falsified. True principles should not need such precautions.

Here is a rundown of the fallacy:

The No True Scotsman fallacy involves discounting evidence that would refute a proposition, concluding that it hasn’t been falsified when in fact it has.
If Angus, a Glaswegian, who puts sugar on his porridge, is proposed as a counter-example to the claim “No Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge”, the ‘No true Scotsman’ fallacy would run as follows:
(1) Angus puts sugar on his porridge.
(2) No (true) Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
Therefore:
(3) Angus is not a (true) Scotsman.
Therefore:
(4) Angus is not a counter-example to the claim that no Scotsman puts sugar on his porridge.
This fallacy is a form of circular argument, with an existing belief being assumed to be true in order to dismiss any apparent counter-examples to it. The existing belief thus becomes unfalsifiable.

I really don't see how that could be a remotely satisfying answer to anyone at all. If it requires a predetermined view and desire for the answer to be affirmative how in the heck do you avoid confirmation bias? That's not a way to know truth. In order to get to that point you'd have to have something that was spurring you in that direction of "god must exist"

The analogy of disaster funds might not be the best one so I digress if that's just not really working here. It wasn't that well thought out. The idea was that the person has raised money for disaster relief and is more then willing to give to a charity if it is what it says it is.

Again there ARE people that have already given up a lot to be members of the church and are in the process of doing things the lord's way and are asking and are not receiving answers.

Suppose for a moment that the LDS church was false and a person subscribed to your method. How would their outcome and experience be any different then it is? The method you describe is the same way people of various faiths (that are completely different then yours) came to the conclusion that their various ideas are correct. It's not a way to find truth if you need to kind of convince yourself or lean towards it being true before you can KNOW that it's true.

Pops said...

You're inferring more than I wrote, Mateo. You're hung up on the results people claim to get rather than on what the process is.

Once a young man approached Socrates, telling him he wanted to learn from him. Socrates took him to a nearby river and asked him to look into it. When he did so, Socrates pushed the young man's head into the water and held it there. The young man struggled to lift his head out of the water, but Socrates held on. After a little while, he released him. "When you wish to learn with the same fervor that you wanted to breathe, I will teach you," said Socrates.

I expect that God is somewhat like Socrates in that regard.

Mateo said...

So god, in your opinion, is an egotistical sociopath that hides truth behind vague and highly changable commands?

In the case of Socrates by what measurement is the man finally "wanting it as much as the air itself"? Given the current definition Socrates can always deny him any revelations of truth stating that he still "likes air more." On top of that is it even a remotely reasonable method to take with a person that sincerely wants to know? I know plenty of people that claim god has revealed such truths to them despite their lackadaisical approach to living the gospel. Perhaps they are all lying but it seems odd that for some members that are hard at work in the gospel already they don't receive an answer.

Mateo said...

and again, your answer smacks of the same sort of logic used in the "true Scotsman" fallacy. Only people that truly will follow the revelation of the restored gospel will be allowed to know that it's true, therefor anyone that doesn't know that it is true is obviously not really wanting to follow it.

I get how that aides in lowering the amount of mental frustration one receives in trying to reconcile the claims of others and the supposed actions of what is said to be a truly loving, caring and just god. That said it still is not a reasonable argument.

Pops said...

Only people that truly will follow the revelation of the restored gospel will be allowed to know that it's true, therefor anyone that doesn't know that it is true is obviously not really wanting to follow it.

There are many reasons why a person may not receive revelation. Your statement would be true if you said, "some people that don't know it's true may not want to follow it."

Mateo said...

So... you're now making a vague statement that really doesn't say anything. What you seemed to be inferring at first was that those who fervently ask for an answer and do not receive are asking for the wrong reasons. That god will not answer to those that merely are curious and not willing to follow him. To which I responded that there ARE people that are willing to follow (and are doing so) the teachings of the church but don't receive answers as to it's veracity.

Now you seem to be saying nothing in particular with "some people that don't know, may not want to follow." You could just as senseibly say "some people that don't receive an answer may not hold the color green as their favorite."

Pops said...

I pointed out that God isn't likely to answer casual questions. For someone seeking answers, that could be useful to know.

Mateo said...

Right. Because people were talking about being upset that their casual questions weren't being answered. :P

Pops said...

Thou sayest.

Anonymous said...

I still think about this passage....a lot. Mateo, any answers yet? The way you brought up your honest and sincere concerns I just love.
Still searching. ..
Geoff