Gospel Principles #8: Praying to Heavenly Father
Prayer. In a year where we are returning to “Gospel Principles,” this is THE gospel principal. It’s the earliest lesson in primary (“Fold your arms and close your eyes”) and yet as we grow older, the conversation only grows richer, deeper, and sometimes more painful and confusing. How do we speak to God? How does He speak to us?
So how would I approach this lesson? Well . . . prayerfully. As Spencer W. Kimball said, “The Lord answers our prayers, but it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” That someone can be a Relief Society teacher.
I am a teacher by trade, and if I have ever felt God’s guidance in my life, it has been in finding ways to reach my students. “Help me be sensitive to the needs of my students . . . help me say or do something that will reach someone who is seeking today . . . ” These are prayers I believe in.
What is Prayer and Why do we pray?
The lesson has some excellent scriptures for discussions. To open this part of the lesson, I would ask the sisters how their prayer life and understanding of prayer has changed through the years? In different seasons of their lives? What have they learned about prayer?
When Should We Pray?
Many scriptures implore us to “prayer always” (D&C 10:5; 2 Nephi 32:9)), to pray over all aspects of our life (Alma 34:17-27), and to “counsel with the Lord in all [our] doings” (Alma 37:37). What does this really mean, in practice?
Here are two thoughts for extending that discussion.
1) Read Alma 34: 26-27 aloud. What does it mean to “pour out your souls . . . in your secret places and in your wilderness.” When I hear “pour out your soul,” I think of “emptying” ourselves before God, opening ourselves. I think we all have “secret places” in our soul — hidden fears, shame, scars, pain. We might put on a brave face in public, but “in the quiet heart is hidden sorrow that the eye can’t see” (see the hymn “Lord, I Will Follow Thee”). I wonder if God is asking us to meet him there, in that secret place in our soul, in our own private wilderness. I wonder if he is asking us to trust him with ourselves.
Well, the scriptures are filled with stories of people wandering in the wilderness, searching for the promised land (Moses, Lehi’s family, the Jaredites, the early Saints). We might not be on a literal exodus, but who hasn’t felt “lost in the wilderness” at some point, looking for a promised land — be that a good job or a strong family relationship? In the scriptures, God doesn’t provide instant success — people sometimes wander for years — but He does provide sign posts and mercies — manna from heaven, a Liahona, light for ships when “the mountain waves dash upon” us (see Ether 2 for a beautiful story about prayer that helps people through — but does not allow them to avoid — trials).
Question for discussion: How has prayer helped guide you in the “wilderness” — during times of personal struggle? And how have you “endured to the end” in those times when answers were NOT forthcoming?
2) Prayer life requires patience and endurance. As a friend once said, “God is not a vending machine — put the right change and out pops your choice of treat.” Look at examples of Enos “crying” to God day and night (Enos 1). Alma 8:10 uses the imagery of “laboring” and “wrestling” in mighty prayer. You might want to share this quote from President Uchtdorf from the most recent conference:
The children of Israel waited 40 years in the wilderness before they could enter the promised land. Jacob waited 7 long years for Rachel. The Jews waited 70 years in Babylon before they could return to rebuild the temple. The Nephites waited for a sign of Christ’s birth, even knowing that if the sign did not come, they would perish. Joseph Smith’s trials in Liberty Jail caused even the prophet of God to wonder, “How long?”
In each case, Heavenly Father had a purpose in requiring that His children wait. Every one of us is called to wait in our own way. We wait for answers to prayers. We wait for things which at the time may appear so right and so good to us that we can’t possibly imagine why Heavenly Father would delay the answer.
We must learn that in the Lord’s plan, our understanding comes “line upon line, precept upon precept.” In short, knowledge and understanding come at the price of patience. Often the deep valleys of our present will be understood only by looking back on them from the mountains of our future experience. Often we can’t see the Lord’s hand in our lives until long after trials have passed. Often the most difficult times of our lives are essential building blocks that form the foundation of our character and pave the way to future opportunity, understanding, and happiness.
How Should We Pray
Here I would bring a picture of Jesus in Gethsemane. If Jesus is our spiritual exemplar, we should turn to his life to teach us something about prayer. Discussion question: What can we learn about pray from Jesus’ life and from records of his prayers?
Jesus’ “teaching prayer” — commonly known as The Lord’s Prayer — is recorded multiple times in the Gospels as well as in the Book of Mormon. It’s worth analyzing. See Luke 11 for one example.
Our Father which art in Heaven
(notice the familiar, familial way of addressing God)
Hallowed by thy name
(this is pure worship — how do we use the language of worship in our prayers?)
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.
(the trust to submit our will to God’s, this foreshadows’ Jesus prayer in the Garden: “Not my will by thine be done”)
Give us day by day our daily bread
(temporal needs — reminds me of Jesus’ injunction to “consider the Lily’s of the field” and to focus on “one day at a time”)
And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive everyone that is indebted to us
(forgiveness, healing relationships, loving our neighbor — the heart of the gospel)
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil
(spiritual strength, deliverance)
Other prayers of Jesus include hisintercessory prayer, his prayer on the cross, his prayer to raise Lazurus, and his prayers with the Nephites in 3rd Nephi. Depending on time, you could study some of these together.
How Are Prayers Answered
Hopefully this discussion is embedded throughout the rest of the lesson, as people share their experiences — and struggles — with prayer. I would consider ending by coming back President Kimball’s words: “The Lord answers our prayers, but it is usually through another person that he meets our needs.” And follow it with this quote from Former General Relief Society Counselor Chieko Okazaki (October 1996 General Conference:
Oh sisters, dearest sisters . . . Choose hope even though despair seems close! Choose to grow even though circumstances oppress you! Choose to learn even though you must struggle against your own ignorance and that of others! Choose to love, even though ours are days of violence and vengeance. Choose to forgive, to pray, to bless another’s life with simple kindness. Choose to build the sisterhood of the Relief Society by lifting and strengthening one another with love, testimony, faith, and service. I promise that you will feel the abundant love of the Savior.
He receives each act of mercy to one of the least as one done to Himself. And in return He defies hopelessness, weariness, despair, and meaninglessness on our behalf.
The Apostle Paul asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?” Then came his magnificent answer:
“Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
“Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:35, 37–39).
I testify that my Christ is my hope. He is my hope on rainy Monday mornings, my hope on dark nights, and my hope in the face of death and despair. And I bear this living testimony in His holy name, even the name of my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.
Did you know that at lds.org, you can search by topic and it will give you and organized set of scriptures, talks, and articles? Click here for the section on prayer.
Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.