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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Trivial Miracles and Petty Prayer: How the Accuser Teaches a Man Not to Pray

Sometimes we create our own barriers to spiritual experiences.

Many people, including some Latter-day Saints, struggle with the notion that God would or could answer individual prayers, especially those dealing with seemingly trivial topics like a lost object or getting food when we are hungry. Influential circles of intellectuals spread waves of mockery when someone dares to share an experience involving a small blessing in which they felt that God helped them find food or car keys or some other thing they needed, for such alleged miracles are insulting to the collective intelligence of the Wise and Cynical Ones. These Wise and Cynical Ones (WaCOs for short) focus on the Big Problems of the world, all the suffering, war, hunger, climate change, and poverty, and find their collective intelligence insulted to think that God would ignore their list of global issues to reach down and help some Christian widow find her cat or help a hungry Mormon find a quarter to buy some chicken.  How can God answer these petty personal prayers and provide trivial miracles when there are gaping global needs still unmet? The appeal to cynicism is draped in robes of justice: How can a just God ignore the big problems and provide little miracles to some random individual?

A recent classic example of this involves the story from Elder J. Devn Cornish in which he shared how the Lord helped him at a hungry time in his life to find a quarter in order to buy some chicken. Howling and mockery were the result among the WaCOs. Elder Cornish, contrary to the accusations of the cynical, is a genuine intellectual acquainted with the realities of life and death. He is one of the world's great innovators in rescuing premature infants, and has dealt with the life and death struggles of these precious beings and the tears of their families for decades. He is as nuanced in the brutal realities of life as anyone I know. He was my bishop when I lived in Atlanta, where I served first as a Young Men's president and then a first counselor in the bishopric with him. He is one of the most inspiring and intellectual men I know. I think the mocking of the antis and of some of the Saints regarding his story of the chicken is just pathetic. It's a story that can teach us much. Nothing to be ashamed of. May we all have the faith and the humility to recognize the willingness of the Lord to help us even in the small things, and to recognize His hand and thank Him for those blessings, even when they are as small and simple as giving us this day our daily bread, or chicken.

The skeptical attitude that mocks or at least reflexively questions specific minor miracles like the one reported by Elder Cornish seems reasonable, but its effect maybe to cast a critical light at personal prayer, to trivialize it, and ultimately to teach a man "that he must not pray" (2 Nephi 32:8), a teaching which the Book of Mormon identifies as one of the Adversary's main doctrines. The Lord, on the other hand, implores us to turn to Him daily and to cry unto Him not just about the Big Things like war and world peace, but also over the small things in our lives. The Lord's prayer teaches us to make our daily, personal needs part of our prayers: "Give us this day our daily bread," That helps us recognize that we are dependent on God and His blessings, even His miracles, for our sustenance. Do we recognize what a miracle and blessing a good slice of bread is? Are we grateful for this and see it as a blessing from Him, even when we appear to have earned the money that purchased it?

The Book of Mormon also teaches us to make our daily personal issues a subject for prayer, as we read in Alma 34:
24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.

25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.

26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. 
27 Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
It is in such small things that some of the clearest miracles occur, where we encounter the tender and personal mercies of the Lord. We must not let the existence of big problems crush our faith in the Lord and in His willingness to guide us in small things.

Do not give in to the mocking attitude of the WaCOs out there. Let us see the hand of the Lord in all things and be grateful for each blessing, even the small trivial things that He may choose to help us with if we will let Him.

Yes, there is suffering, and we need to do more to abate it. We need to be more prayerful for those in need, more generous, more proactive, more loving, etc., and that is clearly God's will. But do not let all those unmet needs out there cause us to abandon faith in God, or in our ability to make a difference with His help. Nor should we let it stop us from asking for help each day in our lives, and having a heart full of gratitude for the small helps and even small miracles we may encounter.

6 comments:

Scott Hinrichs said...

My dad was one of those that could not imagine a personal God. When meeting with the missionaries, they asked him to pray with them. He did so to honor their belief. Then at one meeting, a missionary turned to him and told him it was his turn to pray. Dad felt extremely awkward. But he began to pray.

Before the first word exited his lips, Dad had a spiritual experience that is too sacred to describe here. Suffice it to say that he became fully aware of God's personal love and concern for him as an individual. He could not deny that God hears and answers prayers.

Dad was a tremendous scholar. He understood pain and suffering, having grown up in Hitler's WWII Germany. But from that moment onward, he knew that God wanted to hear and answer his prayers, even about seemingly minor matters.

Regardless of what scoffers and cynics say, it will never change the reality of God's willingness to hear and answer an earnest prayer.

Anonymous said...

I get your point, but isn't there plenty of prayer and prayer rhetoric that weakens faith? Like constantly asking God to make our food "nourish and strengthen us" (as if it would ever be good for him to save us from our bad food choices--and Mormon waistlines are a clear indication that he doesn't) while routinely forgetting to thank him that we have said food. And thanking him "for this day" as if another day wasn't going to happen on its own. Fill every prayer with stuff like that an what does prayer even mean? We constantly ask for things that we don't actually want and wouldn't be good for us if we got them, while failing to ask for charity, patience, revelation, etc. I wouldn't mind the occasional keys-finding story, but at least in my ward, that's about all we ever get. An outsider learning about prayer from my ward would think that we see it only as a substitute for a metal detector, defensive driving, and seeing a nutritionist instead of a way for communing with our Father.

Paul E. Black said...

Thanks very much for the post. You expressed it very well. I find myself relying constantly on the Lord for "little" things, which I cannot provide for myself.

Pops said...

I think there's a good reason why God shows His hand in the small things in our lives while seeming to ignore the large things: it's because the large things are the learning experiences that we need. The small things let us know that He's aware of us and our lives in great detail. But He isn't about to intervene and deny us the growth we need, the growth that will come through struggling with the big things.

He also steps in and strengthens us as needed if the big thing becomes too big.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 9:52 am August 22,2013 said:

"An outsider learning about prayer from my ward would think that we see it only as a substitute for a metal detector, defensive driving, and seeing a nutritionist instead of a way for communing with our Father."

I cracked up laughing after reading that! You make a good point. It is true in just about all wards.

I understand what you are saying. We get in ruts, in just about every thing in our lives. Prayer should not be one of those things that we take for granted and get into a rut with what we say. In the LDS church, in my opinion, there is a strong culture of how things are done, and prayer is a victim of that culture. If LDS members really paid attention to what they say in prayers, in church and at home, I think the LDS members would experience greater blessings and other Heavenly things.
On the other hand, I have visited other religions services. And to be honest their praying is no better than what the LDS do. And if you were to watch the television Preachers/Evangelists or what ever they call themselves, their prayers are no better either. So I think Christianity, as a whole, could do a much better job with prayer.
Just my opinion. Thank you. JRSG

Bookslinger said...

Anon at 9:52 AM, August 22, 2013:

Expecting other people to live up to your own standards always leads to disappointment