Tag Archives: Prayer

Hymn #23: We Ever Pray for Thee

In the first few years after the restoration of the Church, it was quite possible that every member of the Church had at least occasional personal interaction with the prophet himself. Joseph Smith was even known to get down in the dirt and play games with the children.  The people knew the prophet, for they talked to him regularly.

These days, the vast majority of Church members have never met the prophet personally. We support and sustain him, of course, but our trust is based upon our faith in God, not personal experience. At a distance, it’s easy to make our modern prophets and apostles into idealized role models, practically perfect in every way.

As I listened to one of the apostles speak at a Stake Conference recently, I was struck by how false this idealism is. These are great men, of course, who have sought the Gifts of the Spirit and the blessings of revelation, but they are still just men. They have the same emotions that we do, the same long days and restless nights that we have. They get the same sicknesses, stub the same toes, and occasionally spill their drinks the same way we do. They are simply children of God who have learned to hearken to the voice of the Spirit, something we should all aspire to.

Today’s hymn is “We Ever Pray for Thee“. It’s message is simple—an acknowledgement of heavy burden borne by our prophetic leaders, and a prayer that they will be strengthened and empowered to handle the burdens placed upon them.

We ever pray for thee, our prophet dear,
That God will give to thee comfort and cheer;
As the advancing years furrow thy brow,
Still may the light within shine bright as now,
Still may the light within shine bright as now.

If advancing years “furrowing the brow” isn’t an acknowledgement of prophetic human-ness, I don’t know what is. Note that the sustaining blessing we seek for the prophet here is “comfort and cheer,” something we can all relate to. The prophetic calling does not remove the basic emotional needs all of us have.

We ever pray for thee with all our hearts,
That strength be given thee to do thy part,
To guide and counsel us from day to day,
To shed a holy light around our way,
To shed a holy light around our way.

As General Conference approaches in only a few weeks, it is appropriate to pray that our leaders will be given both spiritual and physical strength necessary to prepare for those duties—to be able to “shed a holy light around our way.” But this prayer alone is not enough; I hope we’ll also pray for willingness to follow that counsel.

We are truly blessed to have modern prophets to lead us—prophets authorized by God to direct his work and his ordinances throughout the world. But the Gifts of the Spirit are not limited to those who might address us at General Conference. We all have the same access to those gifts if we will earnestly seek them. “Seek ye earnestly the best gifts, always remembering for what they are given.” (D&C 46:8) As we learn to receive and act upon revelation for ourselves, the burden borne by our leaders will be lightened.

So yes, let’s pray for the prophet, and let’s pray for the apostles, presidents, bishops, counselors, and other leaders who have been called to guide us. But in doing so, let’s not neglect our own spiritual growth. Let’s listen to the prophet, but let’s also listen to the Lord.

prayer

Hymn #142: Sweet Hour of Prayer

prayer

The simple double long meter and the pounding rhythm of bum BUM, bum BUM, bum BUM, bum BUM make this an instantly recognizable hymn, as well as an easy one to learn to play. It’s not uncommon to enter a Latter-day Saint home and hear a child plunking this tune out on the piano. There’s nothing too tricky about it, which is fitting, because when you get down to it, there’s really nothing too tricky about prayer. We address the Father, we offer thanks for blessings received, we ask for further blessings, and we do so in the name of the Son. Amen.

It’s simple, and perhaps because it’s so simple, it’s easy to overlook. A child can pray, and sometimes after a lifetime of prayer, our prayers can feel rote and facile, like a child’s. “Thank you for this day. Bless us to be happy. Bless us to be nice.” We may catch our minds wandering during a prayer, and often, we may catch ourselves nodding off. Sometimes it’s difficult to make something we repeat so often into a meaningful act.

And make no mistake–our prayers are intended to be meaningful acts. When we pray, we address our Father and are called “from a world of care and bid… to [our] Father’s throne [to] make all [our] wants and wishes known.” Prayer allows us to remove ourselves from the world and stand before a loving Father who wants nothing more than to hear from us. He doesn’t want us to hold back. He wants to know all of our wants and wishes. He wants to hear from each of us, and often. We are to pray in good times as well as in “seasons of distress and grief.”

But if He is so anxious to hear from us, why doesn’t He begin the conversation, we may wonder. We may wonder why we never hear an audible answer to our heartfelt prayers. We may wonder why we bother with the futility of it all when it seems so meaningless and solitary. It’s an easy question to ask ourselves, and an easy challenge to our faith until we remember that it’s our faith itself that powers the interaction. Our faith is tested by being required to address a being that we cannot see or hear, but who is real nonetheless. As we exercise faith in Him, our faith is strengthened as we receive our answers through the confirming presence of the Holy Ghost. Our asking for blessings can often unlock favors the Father is only too willing to bestow on us but that are made conditional on our asking. “Thy wings shall my petition bear,” we sing in the second verse, “to him whose truth and faithfulness engage the waiting soul to bless.” We are waiting for the promised blessings of prayer, yes, but He is also waiting for our prayers so that He can provide those promised blessings.

He wants us to pray. He implores us. We are asked over and over to pray, whether in our church meetings, in scriptures, in counsel from our leaders, in teachings from our parents and family, and so on. And we are counseled to do so not merely on occasion, but to do so as a way of life. We pray always, hoping that by drawing nearer to the Lord, He will draw nearer to us. And He does so, just as He has promised. When we feel His love come as an answer to prayer, even if we don’t see His face, hear His voice, or feel His presence, our faith is strengthened, and our desire to pray increased a day at a time.

And since he bids me seek his face,
Believe his word, and trust his grace,
I’ll cast on him my ev’ry care
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!

Image credit: “cold prayer,” flickr user Keith Riley-Whittingham. (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Hymn #114: Come unto Him

I wander through the still of night,
When solitude is ev’rywhere–
Alone, beneath the starry light,
And yet I know that God is there.

This hymn starts off (to me at least) with imagery that reminds us of the story of Enos, the Book of Mormon prophet who went into the woods to hunt, recognized that “[his] soul hungered,” and knelt in prayer, looking for his own experience to mirror those of his father, which had sunk deep into his heart. An answer came to him, an audible voice that told him that his sins were forgiven him. He prayed on, engaging in conversation with the Lord. It’s a powerful story, one that teaches us of the importance of deep, meaningful prayer.

I’ve offered prayers like that. My soul has hungered, and I’ve turned to the Lord, hoping to have a significant spiritual experience. And those experiences have come, although not in such a grand or profound way as Enos’ was. Most people don’t see visions, hear voices, or encounter angels as a result of prayer, no matter how meaningful or heartfelt. That doesn’t make our spiritual experiences any less powerful to us, though. “I kneel upon the grass and pray,” we sing in the first verse of this hymn, and we are met with “an answer… without a voice.”

The Holy Ghost touches our hearts as we give them to the Savior. He testifies of the Father and the Son, helping us to remember why it is that we believe in Him and trust Him. We are filled with His love. Our hearts are purified. We don’t need to see an angel to feel that love, nor do we need to engage in an audible conversation with the Lord to have our sins cleansed from us.

“When I am filled with strong desire and ask a boon of him,” we sing in the second verse, “I see no miracle of living fire, but what I ask flows into me.” When we offer our sincere prayers to the Lord, we can feel the promised blessings come into our lives. Those blessings are confirmed to us by the Holy Ghost, which is that “miracle of living fire” we feel, but do not see.  Two other Book of Mormon prophets, the brothers Nephi and Lehi, felt that living fire manifest to themselves powerfully, as did the people they taught. They felt the words of Christ sink deep into their hearts, as did Enos, and their lives were changed for it. Our lives are changed too, when we do the same.

The central message of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that we are to come unto Him. We are to give our lives to Him, our hearts, and everything else that makes us who we are. As we do so, we are filled with His love, and we know that the Holy Ghost will testify of that love to us. He will always be there for us. It’s up to us to draw ourselves near to Him. We remind ourselves of that every time we sing this hymn.

Come unto him all ye depressed,
Ye erring souls whose eyes are dim,
Ye weary ones who long for rest.
Come unto him! Come unto him!

Hymn #26: Joseph Smith’s First Prayer

Sacred Grove

Is there a God?

If so, how can we know about him? Does he care about us enough to communicate with us? Do any churches teach true doctrine? Is there any way we can discover truth about God, if he even exists? How can we know what he wants of us?

Questions like these may have been on the mind of Joseph Smith in the spring of 1820. They are certainly on the minds of many, many people today. The faith of millions rests on their answers. When fourteen-year-old Joseph walked into a grove of trees near his home, he didn’t expect to change the world. He simply had questions, and believed that God would answer them.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. (James 1:5)

What an answer he received! In response to Joseph’s simple prayer, a light descended from heaven and rested upon Joseph. God the Eternal Father and his son Jesus Christ personally visited Joseph Smith. They answered his questions. He knew, then, that there is a God. He knew that God can and does communicate with us. And he knew that at that time, no true church existed on the earth.

Joseph would eventually receive many other revelations. He would be taught true doctrine and directed to reestablish Christ’s church, with the same divine authority it held anciently. He would translate the Book of Mormon, a second witness of the divinity of Christ alongside the Bible. He would become the first divinely appointed prophet in this era. This vision was the beginning of a marvelous work, a pivotal moment in history.

But none of that had happened yet. After Joseph’s vision, he did not immediately establish a church. He did not yet have knowledge or the authority to do so. He had much yet to learn. After his vision, he just had a few more answers. He wrote this about that time:

I had now got my mind satisfied so far as the sectarian world was concerned—that it was not my duty to join with any of them, but to continue as I was until further directed. I had found the testimony of James to be true—that a man who lacked wisdom might ask of God, and obtain, and not be upbraided. (Joseph Smith: History v26)

The primary lesson we should earn from Joseph’s first vision is not that all the churches were wrong, or that a Restoration was necessary. These are true, but they’re not the main point. The main point is this:

We can learn truth from God, through revelation.

We do not need to rely on the word of others to vouch for the truth. Yes, we have prophets, priesthood leaders, parents; yes, we have scriptures, seminaries, and sunday school. All of these things can guide us toward truth. But ultimately, our Heavenly Father expects us to come to him with questions. He wants to teach through revelation. He wants to enlarge and clarify our understanding of the things we have been taught. This is true for all people, but especially true for those who have received the Gift of the Holy Ghost after baptism. If we expect to participate in God’s work, we must learn to receive guidance directly from God if we expect to do his work.

We must learn to receive revelation, just as Joseph did.

Hymn #17: Awake, Ye Saints of God, Awake!

Awake, we’re told over and over in this hymn. We’re told twice in the title alone, and the tune, as with most hymns about Zion, is upbeat and powerful. We sing vigorously, an attitude about as far from sleep as possible. And yet it’s clear all of us (those of us singing, anyway), are quite literally awake. So why are we urging ourselves and other saints to awake?

What does it mean to be asleep?

Sleep is associated with refreshment and rejuvenation, certainly, but it’s also tied to fatigue and exhaustion. We sleep when we’re tired, and while we sleep, we’re usually completely unaware of the world around us. When we sleep, we dream, a word often associated with hopes and striving, but it can also represent unattainable ideas and goals, or even a state out of touch with reality.

In this hymn, sleep represents captivity and an inability to progress. The first verse urges us to “call on the Lord in mighty prayer that he will Zion’s bondage break.” There are times the saints of God have been in literal bondage; the children of Israel in Egypt immediately come to mind, but the people of Alma, held captive by the Amulonites in the Book of Mosiah qualify, too. They cried to their God that He would release them from their bondage, and He heard them and set them free.

In both cases, the promised deliverance only came after the people took action. It wasn’t enough for them to wish they were free; they had to exercise faith and ask God for His aid. Idle wishing for an escape from our trials is like, well, daydreaming. We may as well be asleep for all the good it does us. Instead, we call each other to action. We remind each other that while we rely on the Lord for all that we have, His blessing to us are conditional on our asking for them. We exercise faith through our actions, and the promised blessings come as we do so.

It’s right there in the fourth verse: Awake to righteousness; be one. We take action, we follow the principles we have been taught, and as we do so, we unite ourselves with others who do so. And if we do not – if we decide to blaze our own trial and stick to our own teachings rather than those revealed truths – the Lord says to us, “ye are not mine.” He will have a united and true people. He has given us the tools and teachings to do so, and has promised that we will find power in so doing. Our faith strengthens us, of course, but we draw power from the Father and the Son, who build us up and make us able to accomplish tasks beyond our own power.

We are reminded in the second verse that the “God of Jacob does not sleep.” He may not, in a literal sense (I won’t pretend to know), but in a symbolic sense, meaning that His attention is distracted from us, He assuredly does not. We are His work and His glory, and we are continually before Him. He dedicates His whole self and work to helping us to achieve what He has, perfection and eternal glory. He does that through calling us to action. Our action is essential to our progression; after all, we can’t hope to achieve anything by sitting around waiting for it to happen. So we are urged to awake, arise out of our too-deep sleep, rubbing our eyes and shaking off the last vestiges of dreams that call us back to bed. We get up, we remember our purpose here, and we move to action, helping others in their path along the way.

In short, we awake, we saints of God.