Be Prayerful

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(This is an excerpt from the book Happy Like Jesus.)

The Savior wants us to be full; for instance, he wants us to be prayerful and peaceful and fruitful. These characteristics will be the topics of the next three chapters.

Jesus sometimes began his day by rising early and finding a solitary place to pray. “And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out, and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed” (Mark 1:35). During his three-year mission, he repeatedly and deliberately set aside hours of solitude during which he prayed to Heavenly Father and rejuvenated his spirit:

“And when it was day, he departed and went into a desert place” (Luke 4:42). “And he withdrew himself into the wilderness, and prayed” (Luke 5:16). “He went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God” (Luke 6:12). Other examples are found in Matthew 14:23; 17:1; 26:36; Luke 9:18; and John 6:15.

Although Jesus was incessantly pressed upon by multitudes and many times forced to go without food and sleep, in key moments he would find solitude and commune with his Father in preparation for more spiritual labor. He also prepared the future leaders of his Church: “He took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray” (Luke 9:28). Even during the agony of Gethsemane, Jesus admonished his Apostles, “Rise and pray, lest ye enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46). Actually, that is one of the grand purposes of prayer: we cannot succumb to temptation while we are engaged in sincere communication with our Father, so prayer is key to avoid ruining ourselves with sin.

On a certain day the disciples asked Jesus how to pray. He not only gave them a model prayer but also taught them through a parable to seek God—as the friend at midnight—with “importunity” (Luke 11:8). The verb importune means “to request with urgency; to press with solicitation; to urge with frequent or unceasing application.”

Jesus’ story relates how a guest dropped in on a man in the middle of the night, and the man, realizing he had no food to offer his guest at that hour, attempted to wake up his sleeping neighbor to borrow three loaves of bread. Though a friend, the neighbor was reluctant to arise at that hour but finally—because of the persistence of the would-be borrower—got up to answer the need.

The point of the parable is the importance of importuning—persisting in imploring for what we want from God. The parable is followed by the frequent injunction: “Knock, and it shall be opened unto you. . . . And to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9–10). God wants us to pray, plead, implore, and importune—specifically, frequently, and sincerely. He wants us to plead with him in humility for what we need. In the Joseph Smith Translation, the parable of the friend at midnight begins with a simple but powerful promise: “Your heavenly Father will not fail to give unto you whatsoever ye ask of him” (JST, Luke 11:5; emphasis added). The message is, “Don’t give up or despair; keep asking.” In this case the repetition is not vain repetition. As the Prophet Joseph Smith said, “Come to God [and] weary him until he blesses you.”

Jesus taught more about this important principle of being prayerful with another parable, this time about an unjust judge (Luke 18:1–8). The issue that drew this parable from the Lord is stated in verse 1: “Men ought always to pray, and not to faint” (not to faint means not to give up, not to despair). The story is sometimes called the parable of the importunate widow. The parable teaches the same lesson as the parable of the friend at midnight: perseverance and persistence in prayer. Keep on importuning the throne of God, and he will eventually answer. Sometimes God insists that we keep importuning because he knows we are not ready for the requested answer or blessing—at least, not yet. We keep asking not until he is ready but until we are ready.

God is telling you to keep pleading. “Thy prayers . . . have come up into my ears,” and they will be answered “according to thy petition” (D&C 90:1). You must keep asking.

President Hugh B. Brown, then a member of the First Presidency, recounted an experience with mighty prayer earlier in his life:

“In 1904 I went to England on a mission. . . . When I got into Norwich the president of the district sent me down to Cambridge. He said, ‘. . . There is not another Latter-day Saint within 120 miles of Cambridge, so you will be alone.’ He said, ‘You might be interested to know, Brother Brown, that the last Mormon elder that was in Cambridge was driven out by a mob at the point of a gun and was told the next Mormon elder that stepped inside the city limits would be shot on sight.’ He said, ‘I thought you would be glad to know that.’ . . .

“[I] went to Cambridge. . . . I went out on Friday morning and tracted all morning without any response except a slammed door in my face. I tracted all afternoon with the same response, and I came home pretty well discouraged. But I decided to tract Saturday morning. . . . I went out and tracted all morning and got the same results. I came home dejected and downhearted, and I thought I ought to go home. I thought the Lord had made a mistake in sending me to Cambridge. . . .

“I was feeling sorry for myself, and I heard a knock at the front door. The lady of the house answered the door. I heard a voice say, ‘Is there an Elder Brown lives here?’ . . .

“He came in and said, ‘Are you Elder Brown?’

“I was not surprised that he was surprised. I said, ‘Yes, sir.’

“He said, ‘Did you leave this tract at my door?’ . . .

“I said, ‘Yes, sir, I did.’

“He said, ‘Last Sunday there were seventeen of us heads of families left the Church of England. . . . We decided that we would pray all through the week that the Lord would send us a new pastor. When I came home tonight I was discouraged; I thought our prayer had not been answered. But when I found this tract under my door, I knew the Lord had answered our prayer. Will you come tomorrow night and be our new pastor?’

“Now, I hadn’t been in the mission field three days. I didn’t know anything about missionary work, and he wanted me to be their pastor. . . .

“He left. . . . I went up to my room and prepared for bed. I knelt at my bed. My young brothers and sisters, for the first time in my life I talked with God. I told Him of my predicament. I pleaded for his help. . . . I got up and went to bed and couldn’t sleep and got out and prayed again, and kept that up all night—but I really talked with God.

“The next morning . . . I went up on the campus in Cambridge and walked all morning. . . . Then I walked all afternoon. . . . I came back to my room at 6:00 and I sat there meditating, worrying, wondering. . . . Finally it came to the point where the clock said 6:45. I got up and . . . dragged myself down to that building, literally. . . .

“Just as I got to the gate the man came out, the man I had seen the night before. He bowed very politely and said, ‘Come in, Reverend, sir.’ I had never been called that before. I went in and saw the room filled with people, and they all stood up to honor their new pastor, and that scared me to death.

“. . . I suggested that we sing ‘O My Father.’ I was met with a blank stare. We sang it—it was a terrible cowboy solo. Then I thought, if I could get these people to turn around and kneel by their chairs, they wouldn’t be looking at me while I prayed. I asked them if they would and they responded readily. They all knelt down, and I knelt down, and for the second time in my life I talked with God. All fear left me. I didn’t worry any more. I was turning it over to him.

“I said to him, among other things, ‘Father in Heaven, these folks have left the Church of England. They have come here tonight to hear the truth. You know that I am not prepared to give them what they want, but Thou art, O God, the one that can; and if I can be an instrument through whom You speak, very well, but please take over.’

“When we arose most of them were weeping, as was I. . . . I talked forty-five minutes. I don’t know what I said. I didn’t talk—God spoke through me. . . . And he spoke so powerfully to that group that at the close of that meeting they came and put their arms around me, held my hands. They said, ‘This is what we have been waiting for. Thank God you came.’

“I told you I dragged myself down to that meeting. On my way back home that night I only touched the ground once. . . .

“Within three months every man, woman and child in that audience was baptized a member of the Church . . . and most of them came to Utah and Idaho. I have seen some of them in recent years. They are elderly people now, but they say they never have attended such a meeting, a meeting where God spoke to them.”

President Brown’s unusual experience well illustrates what can happen if you are prayerful. And Jesus’ whole ministry is one illustration after another of life-changing things that can happen to anyone who constantly directs his or her petitions to heaven. So be prayerful—like Jesus.

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