In 3 Nephi 19:24 we read about a special kind of praying, a prayer where the subject of your prayer is given to you, so you know what you are supposed to ask for, and what you should say. This is a worthy goal, and one I would like to discuss with you now.
Please note that this is not a master class on how to pray. It is also not intended to be a lesson on how to pray better than you already are. These are just my thoughts on what the Disciples of Jesus experienced after they had received the Holy Ghost and then were commanded to pray.
Jesus gave a commandment and made the following promise in 3 Nephi 18:19–20.
19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
20 And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
The commandment is that we “must always pray unto the Father in [Christ’s] name.” The promise is that if what we ask for is “right” then it shall be given to us. But what does that mean, “which is right”? How do we know what is right? When we approach our Father in prayer, how are we supposed to determine what the best, most correct thing is that we need to be asking for at that moment?
Let’s not get derailed by thoughts of those prayers we utter that are primarily just prayers of thanksgiving. If all we are doing is thanking the Lord for what we already have been blessed with then, of course, there is nothing to ask for in such prayers. The prayers I am talking about here are those where we are expressing our needs, desires, and the longings of our heart. Such prayers as these always come with supplications.
What did the Disciples do?
Here is the text of 3 Nephi 19:24.
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. [Emphasis added]
Again, let’s not get derailed because the Disciples were praying to Jesus. This was only allowed because Jesus was with them. Jesus said as much to the Father in his next prayer. Our commandment has been, and always will be, to pray to the Father only, but always in the name of Jesus. We do not pray directly to Jesus.
The part of verse 24 I want to emphasize is the part in bolded text. They had what they should pray for given to them. Think about this amazing thing. If the Spirit, the Holy Ghost, he who bears witness of truth, and who teaches us all truth, tells us what we should pray for then by definition it is the “right thing,” right? Can you even imagine the Holy Spirit telling us to pray for something the Lord would disagree with? Never! The members of the Godhead are completely united in all things. If any one member of the Godhead tells us to do something then that is what either of the other members of that body would also tell us. That is what makes the Holy Ghost such a trustworthy companion. He is always in agreement with God, our Father, and with Christ, our Redeemer.
The last of the verse
The very last phrase of verse 24 says that “they were filled with desire.” We aren’t told what desire filled them, only that they were filled with desire. What possibilities might fit here? Earlier they had desired the gift of the Holy Ghost. So being filled with his influence would certainly fit the desire that filled them. They had been given callings as special witnesses of Christ in a new priesthood quorum. They probably had desires concerning their new responsibilities to the people and to the Savior whom they now represented in a new way. Might they also have had personal desires that they needed help with? We all have those, weaknesses that need overcoming, habits that are detrimental to our happiness, etc. There are so many things they might have desired.
I feel comfortable that the key here is that the Disciples were taking their desires, whatever they were, to their Father in Heaven, and submitting them and discussing them with God in the name of His Son. When we take our needs to the Lord, part of the secret to making our prayers successful is that we offer up true desires, those that are most heartfelt and sincere.
Being taught by the Spirit
When we pray, how do we learn to be so in tune with the Spirit that he is able to teach us which of our desires, or which new issues we need to bring before the Lord? The key here is that what we ask for has to be “right.” That means it needs to be worthy, righteous, timely, and what the Lord would have us talk to Him about at this time. That is a lot to consider.
Here is a description of some of my failures in my efforts to learn how to do this. I have gone to the Father in prayer and I waited to be told what to say. When my knees hurt enough to break any and all focus on the Lord and what He wanted from me at the moment, I got up and went to bed. I have also gone to God in prayer and prattled on ad nauseam, hoping the Holy Ghost would manage to slip something in my incessant stream of words that would count as the right thing at the moment.
Need I go on with my failures to learn how to pray effectively? I think one of my problems was that I was reducing prayer to such simple terms that I was excluding other parts of prayer that needed to be there. For example, I hadn’t considered what my true desires were. I was trying to get the Lord to fill my mind with spiritual knowledge without trying to understand or reason through things for myself first. In other words, I wasn’t putting in any personal effort into my requests. I was expecting the Lord to do the work for me.
What has worked
As I said at the beginning of this article, this is not a master class from someone who has conquered the spiritual art of prayer. I am only exploring with you some of my failures and successes. I presume you will have had times when you have already experienced great success in your prayers. You have also probably crashed and burned more than a few times. Don’t we all sometimes fail in our attempts to connect to the Infinite?
I have found greater success rates in my prayers when I approach the Lord having already been living the commandments given by the Savior. When I can kneel in a state of greater obedience, my own faith is increased, for we are promised answers and blessings when we are obedient to the Lord. We can then approach Him with greater confidence in what we want to discuss with Him.
One of the great demonstrations of prayer given to us through Jesus in chapters 17-19 of 3 Nephi, is that when the Savior speaks to God he speaks what is in his own heart first. In these chapters Jesus prays several times. He tells his Father what worries him, he explains what is currently happening, explaining what he has already done to fill the commandments he had already been given, as well as to ask for blessings for those not even present that day, but who would hear the testimonies of those who were there that day.
When Jesus prayed his prayers were personal, direct conversations with his Father. When we pray do we talk to God like we are sitting on a couch next to him with His hand on our knee while He listens to us pour out our heart to Him? Do we see Him as just that present and involved in what we are saying? He is.
Remember that the Holy Ghost doesn’t usually have a club he beats us with to get our attention. Often his influence comes to us in the form of a thought that just seems to slip itself into the conversational stream, or perhaps it seems to come from out of nowhere, but there feels like there is a sense of urgency in it being said out loud. Either of these are possibilities of the Spirit teaching us or prompting us to say or ask for certain things.
The conversations we have with God don’t need to be long, drawn out, exhausting affairs. A simple, heartfelt declaration that we are doing all we can to fulfill His commandments, followed by the troubles we are having, and an expression of the desires of our heart to be obedient and fulfill His will in the best way we know how, can be enough to align our hearts with His. In this way the number of times we succeed in asking for what is “right” will begin to increase.
We won’t always be aware that we have just crossed the threshold and asked for what God wanted us to ask for or talk to Him about at that moment. But that doesn’t mean the blessings won’t come anyway. Learning to pray successfully is an art that takes years and years of practice. When we become comfortable conversing with our Father, we will begin to feel that we are aligning our life with His desires for us. The Spirit will give us nudges and confirmations of these successes.
If you don’t get anything else from this today, please take away this principle: God loves you. He wants you to be happy. He will help you learn how to ask for what is “right” as you exercise your desires to be and to do good. Personal obedience, and a desire to do God’s will goes a long way in helping the Spirit teach you what the Lord would have you talk to Him about today.
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