In the first part of this series we looked at how God’s love affects his ability to answer our questions (God’s Use of Patterns – Questions). In this part of the series I will be addressing how our agency affects the Lord’s ability to answer our questions.
First, let’s look at Matthew 7:6–11 again. God gives a series of instructions, all of which he, himself, lives by. Read down through these and then we will talk about each one.
6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.
7 Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you:
8 For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
9 Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
10 Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
11 If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?
Look at verses six through eight. Christ says here that we should not give sacred things to people who are not ready for them, and that if you want something from God, you just need to come and ask him for it. Now think about this thought, “Would God force me to have something I don’t want, even if it is designed to make me happy?” In other words, if I am happy in my worldly ways, would he force spiritual knowledge on me against my desires and against my will? The answer is no, He would not. The Lord has worked long and hard to protect our agency, our right to choose for ourselves. He protects that right even if it means we sin ourselves into oblivion, just as much as that right is protected for those who live their lives worthy of exaltation. That right to choose for ourselves, to do what we want, and then have to answer for our choice, is central to the whole plan of happiness we are going through here on earth.
In that vein then, God will never shove spiritual knowledge down our throats without us seeking after it. His hands are tied by the very agency He defends so arduously. I say His hands are tied only because God always obeys His own rules. In essence, when it comes to what He will and will not do for us, His behavior is governed by the laws He, himself has set. You can see this pattern all throughout the scriptures and in daily life. We are encouraged to seek Him out, to ask, to knock, etc. We are told to pray morning, noon, and night, in our closets, in our families, in our fields, in our hearts, all the time. The more we pray, the more we seek for knowledge, the greater the opportunity the Lord has to give us what He wants us to have. But there is a catch, even here.
In the first part of this article I mentioned that His love for us restricts how much we are able to be given at any one time. We must be ready for the knowledge we seek so that He is not casting His “pearls before swine.” In order for Him to be able to answer us now, and with something that we can use, the answer has to be given to one who is ready for it, and who has asked the right question. Yes, that is correct, we need to learn to ask the right questions as well. Many times we do not get the answers we are seeking only because we are not asking the right questions. We can’t really blame our Father in Heaven for not answering the question we think we are asking if we are, in fact, asking a different question.
Think about it, how equipped are we, really, to determine just how ready we are for a particular answer? Do we really have the all-searching wisdom to know what is best for us to ask for at this time? I doubt it. So where do we go to for hints to learn how to ask the right question at the right time so we get the answers to our prayers we are in need of right now? Note that I said “to ask the right question … we are in need of.” The answers we need right now are not always the answers we are seeking. We need to learn to seek for the right kind of answer, this requires seeking the Lord’s help in not only how we ask the question, but in what question we ask.
Asking the right questions
The answer resides with us all the time, the Holy Ghost. His role in the Godhead is to testify and teach all truth. Isn’t knowing the right question to ask, at the right time, part of that responsibility? His purpose is to bring us to Christ. He does that, in part, by helping us ask the questions we need to be asking, and not the questions we thought we wanted to ask. How often have you been told to invite the Holy Ghost into your meeting, into your home, into your prayers, and into your thoughts? Why do you think we are told that so often? Because with the Holy Ghost as our companion, he can help to steer us down the right path so we ask what we need to ask when we pray.
If we don’t have the wisdom to always ask the right questions so we get what will truly make us happy, and the Holy Ghost thinks like God, and has been sent to teach us to think like God, don’t you think we should be seeking his guidance when we pray so we ask what the Lord is hoping we will ask for? That way God can answer our prayers in the most beneficial way, and we grow and develop at the fastest possible speed. It is a win for everyone. I know, it can be a lot to take in the first time you think about it. But read and reread the previous three paragraphs as you think about it. You will see that the Lord has carefully thought this pattern through.
When Christ visited the Nephites in 3 Nephi 19:24–25, 28, look at this pattern being played out right in front of us. I have underlined the parts I want to emphasize.
24 And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.
25 And it came to pass that Jesus blessed them as they did pray unto him; and his countenance did smile upon them, and the light of his countenance did shine upon them, and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus; and behold the whiteness thereof did exceed all the whiteness, yea, even there could be nothing upon earth so white as the whiteness thereof. …
28 Father, I thank thee that thou hast purified those whom I have chosen, because of their faith, and I pray for them, and also for them who shall believe on their words, that they may be purified in me, through faith on their words, even as they are purified in me.
These praying men are the twelve disciples Jesus chose to lead the people. It says in earlier verses that because of their faith, their greatest desire was to have the Holy Ghost. When they prayed they had the content of their prayers revealed to them, given to them by the Holy Ghost. In verse 25 it indicates that the Lord was very pleased with this behavior, because his “countenance did smile upon them,” and in verse 28 it says that they had become purified in this process, because of their faith. How is that for a pattern to follow?
Okay, I admit, this is hard, and it takes a lot of practice, but at least we can see that it is possible to be guided in our prayers. We don’t always have to cast about, not knowing what to ask for or when. The Lord wants us to actively seek the Spirit to help us know what to say. Does this mean that we aren’t allowed to have an original thought when we pray? Heavens no! Prayer is about a lot more than just asking questions. The Lord also expects us to be grateful, and express that gratitude, as well as to pour out our hearts and express our innermost feelings to our Father in Heaven. The asking is but a small part of what prayer is all about.
To conclude, God wants to answer our prayers, but there is a lot involved in this process. He loves us and only wants to give us what will make us happy, but he won’t force it on us, and if we really want evil, he will let us have that as well. It is our agency, and he never trespasses on that agency, until we forfeit the right to have it. God wants us to learn to seek Him through the Spirit so that we ask for those things he can give us that will be of greatest benefit to us and those we love. If we understand how the pattern works, we can greatly improve the odds of getting the kind of answers we are seeking to get. When we learn to listen to the Spirit we will seek to ask the kinds of questions the Lord wants us to ask for our own benefit.