Your Path Into the Light of Christ

Standard

There is a lovely road that runs northeast from Mesa, Arizona into the mountains. These mountains are tree-covered and jagged, and they are lovely beyond any singing of it. The road climbs hundreds of miles into them, to a small mountain city called Payson; and from there you look down on one of the fairest valleys of Arizona. About you there are trees and rocks and you may hear the forlorn crying of the red-tailed hawk. Beneath your feet is the Mogollon Rim, a 200 mile wide cliff rising sharply from the desert valleys. It is upon this cliff you can look down from forests of pine onto the red and gray rocks that are softened by rich greens and browns. It is lovely beyond any telling of it. If you look off the rim before the dawn, you can look down at the darkened valleys. The sun first lights the mountain tops. The valleys are filled with darkness but the dawn’s light will come, just as it has for millions of years. The sun then reaches part of the valley, leaving part in darkness. The light will come there too, just as it has for millions of years. Eventually the light of the sun chases away all the darkness of night.1Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1

After rising out of the valley, you can contemplate the vastness of creation upon this wind-swept plateau. You can marvel at the beauty of the earth — mighty mountains, towering trees, and whispering wind. You can marvel at rising from dark desert valleys into the sunlit mountains. This elevation gain comes from traveling a twisting trail up away from dark valleys towards sunlit mountaintops. Without knowing the destination it is easy to doubt the journey. Why does this road turn here instead of going straight there? Wouldn’t it be faster and shorter to head straight up? What might seem fastest is not always safest. Engineers designed the road to provide safety while traveling. We too, can travel twisting roads in life. Prophets talk of strait and narrow roads. If we pay attention, most of the time the reference is to a strait — S – T – R – A – I – T — rather than straight — S – T – R – A – I – G – H – T — road. The first strait means narrow. The second straight means without turns. Our safest road through life to return to the Savior, who is the light of the world, might twist and turn; some of the turns might even appear to move us away from our destination.

This year [2020] we celebrate the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith’s enlightening vision of Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Pres. Nelson asked us to prepare for the upcoming General Conference by immersing ourselves in the light of the restored gospel of Christ. Pres. Nelson wrote: “The time to act is now. This is a hinge point in the history of the Church, and your part is vital.”2 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng We are in the midst of a hinge point — an adjusting turn — in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is neither a course-correction nor an unplanned deviation. This turn is part of an exalting, covenant path. This hinge point will provide safety as it elevates us from darkened valleys into God’s everlasting light. The Lord doesn’t want us to wait in dark valleys until His light eventually reaches us, He wants us to rise into His light. We are to act and not wait to be acted upon. We are to seek additional light and knowledge and not just wait for it.

It is no coincidence that we study the illuminating Book of Mormon as a church this year [2020]. Alma the Younger was one of the great Book of Mormon prophets. He was a rebellious son of the prophet Alma, who previously served a wicked king but was converted to the Lord. Alma the Younger also was converted under miraculous circumstances through faith in Jesus Christ. All conversion, all repentance and forgiveness, is a miracle even if the circumstances seem less noteworthy than Alma’s. Alma repented and became a great church and political leader. He later gave up the accolades of the world to serve full-time as missionary and prophet. One mission brought him to people who had established an apostate church. The members of this church denied the coming of Christ. They set themselves up as lights to the world rather than basking in the light of Christ. They coveted riches and cast out the poor.

It was among these poor and cast-off that Alma and his missionary companions found people who were willing to listen. “They began to have success among the poor class of people; for behold, they were cast out of the synagogues because of the coarseness of their apparel…therefore they were poor as to things of the world; and also they were poor in heart.”3Alma 32:2-3

These humble people gathered to hear the words of a prophet. They said to Alma, “[the priests] have cast us out because of our exceeding poverty; and we have no place to worship our God; and behold, what shall we do?”4Alma 32:5 When Alma heard this, he turned to them to teach them in their humility. Alma said, “I behold that ye are lowly in heart; and if so, blessed are ye. Behold thy brother hath said, What shall we do?—for we are cast out of our synagogues, that we cannot worship our God. Behold I say unto you, do ye suppose that ye cannot worship God save it be in your synagogues only? And moreover, I would ask, do ye suppose that ye must not worship God only once in a week?”5Alma 32:8-11

There is a lesson here as we continue to learn what worship means as part of a home-centered church. Worshiping God is not just once a week, two hours on Sundays; it can occur in our homes throughout the week. We can worship God when we live as disciples of Christ, ministering as He did. We worship Heavenly Father when we pray and when we study the words of ancient and modern prophets. As we always remember the Savior, we can always have His Spirit to be with us.6Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77 With our lives and homes built on a Christ-centered foundation, we then come to church to be strengthened together as we partake of the sacrament, participate in lessons, and serve one another. We then minister to others as the Savior would — caring for them, helping them feel the Spirit and the love of Christ, and inviting them to receive ordinances.

As we minister to others, we nourish their faith and our faith. As faith is nourished, it will grow into a tree of everlasting life, as Alma taught.7See Alma 32:28-43 This tree, as Lehi saw, is found at the end of a strait and narrow road.81 Nephi 8:20-21 It is at the tree we partake of God’s loving grace and worship Him. It is at and by that radiant tree that we are filled with an eternal light. Lehi saw in his vision one tree of life. Alma taught that each person needs to plant and nourish a seed of faith that will grow into a tree of life: “If ye will not nourish the word, looking forward with an eye of faith to the fruit thereof, ye can never pluck of the fruit of the tree of life. But if ye will nourish the word, yea, nourish the tree as it beginneth to grow, by your faith with great diligence, and with patience, looking forward to the fruit thereof, it shall take root; and behold it shall be a tree springing up unto everlasting life.”9Alma 32:40-41 Lehi saw an iron rod representing the word of God. Alma compared the word to a seed of faith. As we hold to that rod, as we plant and nourish that seed, we gain access to a tree of life and can partake of the fruit. We each need to plant and nourish our own tree of life. We plant and nourish the seed but God gives us the tree and fruit. He blesses us with His Spirit and His love.

We can nourish this seed of faith as we regularly pray in our fields, in the wildernesses of our lives, in our homes, our church buildings, our closets, and our hearts. As we do so, we will be filled with the Holy Ghost. Having the Spirit of God in our hearts and homes is necessary for us to arise from the dark valleys of life and bask in the Savior’s light. Pres. Eyring encouraged us to “never delay an impression to pray.”10 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng Prayer invites revelation. In prayer we can seek and receive a changed heart. A one-time change of heart is not enough. In prayer, as we plead daily for forgiveness of our sins, we will receive enduring change. King David was a man after the Lord’s heart but he made mistakes, sinned, and fell from the light of grace.11 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39 Salvation is not a single event; following the covenant path requires enduring faith, repentance, service, sacrifice, and prayer.

Another way to nourish the seed of faith and follow the strait and narrow road is regularly reading the scriptures. In 1 Nephi 1 we read of one of Lehi’s visions; he saw Jesus Christ and the twelve original apostles: “And they came down and went forth upon the face of the earth; and the first came and stood before my father, and gave unto him a book, and bade him that he should read. And it came to pass that as he read, he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.”12 1 Nephi 1:11-12 The first of these heavenly visitors gave Lehi a book to read. This book was filled with prophecy and revelation — it was scripture. When Lehi read the revelation-filled scriptures, something important happened — “he was filled with the Spirit of the Lord.” When Lehi read the scriptures he not only felt the Spirit but also was filled with the Spirit. That’s the difference between being thirsty and having a few drops of water fall on you and being thirsty and drinking your fill of refreshing water. Feeling water doesn’t satisfy thirst like drinking and being filled does. That is one reason why it is important to read the scriptures regularly – so we can be filled with the Spirit each time we read. The scriptures are filled with prophecy and revelation. As we feast upon them, we will be filled with the Spirit of God, receiving personal prophecy and revelation.

I’ve met people who refused to read the Book of Mormon. I can understand the hesitancy. People are busy and reading a long religious book isn’t a high priority for many people. There are many reasons why people refuse but I wonder if some were worried what would happen if they read it. If they read and felt or were filled with the Spirit, that would require change. When people read the scriptures, they invite the Spirit to fill their hearts. When people see the scriptures, hear the words of prophets, and understand, they will be converted and healed. This healing is simple. Because it is simple, many people, like the ancient children of Israel, refuse to look and be healed. We should read and invite our families to read the scriptures. As we read the scriptures individually and as families, we will see, hear, and understand the words and be filled with the Spirit. We should invite those to whom we minister to read the scriptures. As we love, serve, and share scripture with others, they will be filled with and lightened by the Spirit. They will be healed. The Spirit will fill their hearts and start the softening process of conversion.

It is with the great love of Christ that I urge you to use this hinge point in our church to experience greater individual and family conversion. If you are not filled with the Spirit of God, make the necessary changes. Start by reading scripture and praying. As we read and study the teachings of ancient and modern prophets, we will invite the Spirit into our lives and homes. As we pray, we will receive revelation. As we minister to others, we and they will nourish our seeds of faith. The Spirit will provide the guidance needed to help us stay on the strait and exalting road, even if it twists and turns. As we actively strive to follow the living prophet, we will rise into the light. We will see the light of the Son chase away the darkness of night in our lives. Jesus Christ lives and loves us! He is the light of the world.

Notes and References   [ + ]

1. Extensive quoting with paraphrasing from Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, Chapter 1
2. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/my-2020-invitation-to-you-share-the-message-of-the-restoration-of-the-saviors-gospel?lang=eng
3. Alma 32:2-3
4. Alma 32:5
5. Alma 32:8-11
6. Doctrine & Covenants 20:77 https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/scriptures/dc-testament/dc/20.75-84?lang=eng#p77
7. See Alma 32:28-43
8. 1 Nephi 8:20-21
9. Alma 32:40-41
10. https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/study/liahona/2020/02/the-first-vision-a-pattern-for-personal-revelation?lang=eng
11. 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22; D&C 132:39
12. 1 Nephi 1:11-12

Thankful Prayers

Standard

Last Sunday I had the prompting that all personal and family prayers (other than blessings on food) for everyone in the home should be nothing but expressions of gratitude. For one week we would not ask for anything in prayers and instead just focus on the blessings we receive. It’s been a wonderful experience. We’ve all been able to reflect more on things we are grateful for. It seems like the children have bickered less – not that they ever do much but occasionally they’ll bug one another – and that our home has been more peaceful.

I urge you to try the same – take a week and only express gratitude in your prayers. The Lord will show unto you the many tender mercies which He bestows upon you continually.

Image by MTSOFan on Flickr. Used under a CC license.

Life-changing Prayers

Standard

In my opinion, one of the most impactful of all the talks at the April 2014 General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Pres. Henry B. Eyring’s talk given during the priesthood session: “The Priesthood Man.”

In particular there is one paragraph that I believe to be life-changing:

“We all pray, but the priesthood holder you want to be prays often and with real intent. In the evening you will get on your knees and thank God for the blessings of the day. You will thank Him for parents, for teachers, and for great examples to follow. You will describe in your prayers specifically who has blessed your life and how, during that day. That will take more than a few minutes and more than a little thought. It will surprise you and change you.” (Eyring, Henry B. (2014). The Priesthood Man).

Ever since I re-read this talk, I’ve taken his counsel to heart. Specifically, I “describe in your prayers specifically who has blessed your life and how, during that day.” This requires me to be more mindful throughout the day of how and who does something for me. The blessings can be as little as a smile or holding an elevator door or helping me with a task. The blessings can be a hug from a child or a spouse or a kind word said. Modifying my prayers to include this level of specificity helps me be more mindful of small and large acts of service around me and particularly ones done for me. Trying to mention names has also been beneficial. I’ve never been particularly good at remembering names (I once even introduced myself by the wrong name but that’s a story for a different time) so this counsel from Pres. Eyring provides encouragement for me to go out of my way to try and learn, remember, and later recall someone’s name.

The end result is that I get to express gratitude for specific acts of kindness or service. To do so requires me to be more grateful and watchful throughout the day. Our Father notices falling sparrows so we can certainly notice a held door or a warm smile. Searching and expressing gratitude for acts of kindness and service encourages me to go out of my way to do kind things for others. I’m grateful for the teachings of living prophets that help me become a better man.

The Truth of the Book of Mormon

Standard

As he was completing the Book of Mormon Moroni wrote the following exhortation:

“Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things. And whatsoever thing is good is just and true; wherefore, nothing that is good denieth the Christ, but acknowledgeth that he is. And ye may know that he is, by the power of the Holy Ghost; wherefore I would exhort you that ye deny not the power of God; for he worketh by power, according to the faith of the children of men, the same today and tomorrow, and forever.” (Moroni 10:3-7).

Whether or not the Book of Mormon is true is not the question. The question is whether or not we are willing to do what it takes to discover the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. If we pray and ask sincerely, really wanting the answer and with openness to the Holy Ghost, we will know that the Book of Mormon is true. We will never receive the answer that the Book of Mormon is not true. I was once summarily dismissed by someone while I was a full-time missionary when she said that she had prayed about the Book of Mormon and had received witness that it was not true. The fact of the matter is that that is not possible, as audacious as that might sound (but it’s only as audacious as stating that Jesus is the only Way and path to salvation). God will never provide witness that the Book of Mormon is not true.

In other words, the Book of Mormon is True. It’s Truth is independent from us. Our opinions or beliefs or thoughts about its truthfulness do not change its nature, which is Truth. The Book of Mormon is not on trial, we are. It is thus imperative that we deny not the power of God and deny not His word. We can deny His word simply by choosing never to ask about its truth. Many times people make decisions in life by simply choosing not to choose. Choosing never to honestly seek for a confirmation of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon is denying the power of God by choosing to remain in ignorance. Being ignorant of the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon does not mean the Book of Mormon is not true, it just means one is ignorant and ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it is a willful ignorance.

Unexpected Answers and Examples

Standard

Sometimes the Lord answers prayers in unexpected ways. I started feeling ill last night, I felt ill this morning. I knew that today was supposed to be a busy day (with other people having to scramble around if I was not at work) so I did not feel like I should take a sick day. Instead, I prayed to feel better and to have strength to get through the day. I showed up at work and the patient I was supposed to work with did not show up (it turns out that the individual called to cancel the appointment yesterday but no one got the message). I saw this as the unexpected answer to my prayer. I wasn’t healed and I might not even have been physically strengthened in this illness, but circumstances changed that made the day bearable. Sometimes we are strengthened in our burdens and sometimes the burdens go away.

The Lord always answers our heartfelt prayers but we might miss those answers if we are not paying attention.

As an addendum on the topic of prayers – this morning I was glad to catch my oldest daughter saying her morning prayer after she caught me saying mine. This experience reminded me of a story Pres. Monson told in the October 2007 General Conference:

“We can teach the importance of prayer to our children and grandchildren both by word and by example. I share with you a lesson in teaching by example as described in a mother’s letter to me relating to prayer. ‘Dear President Monson: Sometimes I wonder if I make a difference in my children’s lives. Especially as a single mother working two jobs to make ends meet, I sometimes come home to confusion, but I never give up hope.’

“Her letter continues as she describes how she and her children were watching general conference, where I was speaking about prayer. Her son made the comment, ‘Mother, you’ve already taught us that.’ She asked, ‘What do you mean?’ Her son replied, ‘Well, you’ve taught us to pray and showed us how, but the other night I came to your room to ask something and found you on your knees praying to Heavenly Father. If He’s important to you, He’ll be important to me.’ The letter concluded, ‘I guess you never know what kind of influence you’ll be until a child observes you doing yourself what you have tried to teach him to do.'” (Monson, Three Goals to Guide You, October 2007).

We need to be mindful of God’s blessings and mindful of our examples to others. Sometimes answers and examples come when and how we least expect them.

2012 Mutual Theme – Arise and Shine Forth

Standard

The theme for Mutual (Young Men and Young Women weekly activities in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) this coming year comes from the Doctrine and Covenants. The Lord told Joseph Smith: “Arise and shine forth, that thy light may be a standard for the nations” (D&C 115:5). In the following brief video, Elder L. Tom Perry introduces the Mutual Theme for the year:

“Arise” can be applied in many ways but the most important is to pray day and night and then arise and go forth unto the temple. “Shine forth” means being a good example to others – those within and without the church. It means to encourage others to read the scriptures daily.

The Church put together a nice music video with the theme song for the year – Arise. Pay attention to the lyrics, they’re inspirational. For the lyrics I tried to include all the parts when possible. Lyrics of background singers are in parentheses ().

We are the voices.
We are the rising sun.
We are the children.
Last of the fearless,
We are the light and love
Shining in darkness.

Reaching out to all places,
Calling out to all nations.
If your heart is changing
Now your chance has come.

Arise, arise, arise!
Arise, arise, arise!

We are all travelers
Looking to the sky
Destined for glory.
Here on this journey
We are all sure to find
Those who are wandering
And show the way.

Reaching out to all places,
Calling out to all nations
(Arise, arise)
There’s promise on the horizon
Now’s your time to
Shine!

Arise, arise, arise!
Arise, arise, arise!
Arise, arise, arise!

Praying day and night
We will all kneel down.
Raise our voices
Up!
If we humble ourselves,
We’ll be lifted!

Arise, arise, arise, arise, arise, arise, arise!
(Arise, arise!)
(Arise)
Arise and bring in the new day!
Arise and bring in the new day!
(Arise)

Reachin’ out to all places (arise)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Calling out to all nations! (arise)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Now’s your time to shine! (arise)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Now’s your time to shine! (arise)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Now’s your time to shine! (arise)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Now’s you time to
Shine! (arise)

Arise, arise, arise! (arise)
(Now’s your time to shine!)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Arise, arise, arise! (arise)
(Now’s your time to shine!)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)
Arise, arise, arise! (arise)
(Arise and bring in the new day!)

You can download a PDF of the piano/voice sheet music for Arise from the LDS Youth website. The Church has many other resources available for the youth and youth leaders at the LDS Youth website. I’ve enjoyed the videos and music (including many of the now classic Seminary video songs). Take time to navigate the website and learn what the Lord hopes for the youth and for all of us, for we were all young (or still are) at some point.

Are All the Answers in the Scriptures?

Standard

While listening to a talk in church this morning something a speaker said reminded me of something I had been taught in my youth. This is something I was taught in church or seminary that is not true. The speaker today did not teach this but something she said reminded me of this false teaching. What is this great falsehood? All answers to our questions are found in the scriptures. Sometimes this was softened with a “most answers” instead of “all answers” but while the sentiment is good, there is a lurking untruth at the core of this teaching. Occasionally I had teachers who got it right though – they said that the answers might not be in the scriptures, the scriptures will tell us how to find the answers. That is the truth, not that the answers are all in the scriptures.

We have living prophets and the gift of the Holy Ghost precisely because all the answers are not in the scriptures. Joseph Smith read the Bible but had a question that could not be answered by the scriptures – “which of all the churches was right?” What he did find in the scriptures is how he could get an answer – ask God in prayer. The scriptures guided Joseph to his answer but God provided the answer. That is how it should be in our own lives – we seek knowledge from the scriptures but guidance best comes from the living prophets and the Holy Ghost.

Knowing that the scriptures do not, in fact, have all the answer does not diminish the importance of them; to the contrary, it raises their importance as a source of direction but the scriptures are given greater power by the prophets and by the Spirit. The scriptures were never meant to be a closed canon of the summation of God’s teachings for us. Personal revelation and ongoing revelation is vital in our lives.

Use Not Vain Repetitions

Standard

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Savior said, “But when ye pray, use not vain  repetitions, as the  heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking” (Matt. 6: 7).

This is a verse that was much discussed back in my seminary days. Maybe I am just remembering wrong but I remember the general consensus was that this meant saying the same things over and over in prayers and maybe without sincere intent. While I think this is a valid view of what the Savior meant, I believe it is not entirely correct.

So what are vain repetitions? If it is not saying and asking for the same things all the time in prayers, what are vain repetitions?

Elder Oaks provided one explanation:

“Literary excellence is not our desire. We do not advocate flowery and wordy prayers. We wish to follow the Savior’s teaching, ‘When ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking’ (Matt. 6:7; see also 3 Ne. 13:7). Our prayers should be simple, direct, and sincere.

“We are especially anxious that our position on special language in prayers not cause some to be reluctant to pray in our Church meetings or in other settings where their prayers are heard. We have particular concern for converts and others who have not yet had experience in using these words.

“I am sure that our Heavenly Father, who loves all of His children, hears and answers all prayers, however phrased. If He is offended in connection with prayers, it is likely to be by their absence, not their wording.” (New Era, Jan. 2006).

Elder Oaks equated vain repetitions in prayer as the opposite of “simple, direct, and sincere.” In other words, saying prayers that feed our vanity. These are prayers that we give in order to impress other people with the ‘power’ and ‘beauty’ of our prayers. They are prayers where our reward is the accolades of other people rather than the Spirit of God. The other part of Elder Oaks’ explanation of vain repetitions was insincerity. I will return to this topic later.

When people do things to be seen and recognized by other people, especially in prayer, they are exhibiting their pride.

We read in Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecc. 1:2). Such is the vanity of those who pray pridefully.

There is another type of vanity. This is what we are commanded not to do – e.g., we “should not take the name of the Lord [our] God in vain” (2 Ne. 26:32). This vanity is two-fold. On one hand it means with disrespect but on the other hand it means without reward or power or result. If the Lord’s name is used in vain, it could be ‘swearing’ or it could be an attempt at an unauthorized use of His name (e.g., trying to perform priesthood ordinances without priesthood authority). This type of vanity goes well beyond pride or lack of sincerity but is a part of my final point on this topic. Now I want to return to sincerity in order to transition to my final point.

King Claudius, the villain of Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, at one point retires to a chapel to pray. He offers what sounds like a repentant prayer, or at least the struggling towards one.

O, my offence is rank it smells to heaven;
It hath the primal eldest curse upon’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will:
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent;
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect….
Try what repentance can: what can it not?
Yet what can it when one can not repent?
O wretched state! O bosom black as death!
O limed soul, that, struggling to be free,
Art more engaged! Help, angels! Make assay!
Bow, stubborn knees; and, heart with strings of steel,
Be soft as sinews of the newborn babe!
All may be well.

It sounds like he is trying to repent but the king soon reveals his lack of sincerity.

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go (Hamlet, Act III, Scene III).

Again, the king was honest enough to recognize his lack of sincerity but his prayer was in vain. He was not sincere. His repentance was in vain.

Now my final point is this: what the Lord means is to not keep asking for things that are vain. Vain meaning prideful but vain meaning it won’t happen. This could be because what we are asking for is impossible, even for God (at least not possible without destroying His plan for us). Our prayers might be vain when we ask without sincerity like Hamlet’s uncle / step-father. Our prayers might be vain when we keep asking God for something about which He already told us “no.” These types of prayers could go like this, “Please give me one million dollars so I can buy a ski boat.” Then this prayer is repeated over and over. That might seem laughable but it only differs in degrees from the vain repetitions found in prayers we sometimes offer.

I’m not talking about repetitious prayers. There are things that we need to offer our thanks for regularly and things for which we should ask regularly. In the church we have a set, ritualistic sacrament prayer. The Lord didn’t preach against repetitious prayers, He spoke against vain repetitions. There are times when we are asked to ‘weary’ (i.e., always to pray and not faint) the Lord in prayer (see the parable of the unjust judge [or, persistent widow] in Luke 18:1-8).

Prayer is about communicating with our Heavenly Father. As we read accounts of Jesus’ prayers, we see the great intensity and sincerity and faith that He had in His supplications. Jesus gave simple but powerful prayers. Our prayers should emulate His prayers.

Vain repetitions in prayers could mean a number of things. I think the key though is that vain prayers are ones done without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. They are ones devoid of intent. They might be edifices to our pride, to be gazed upon in wonder by humankind, but these types of prayers are not real prayers; we have our reward and what an effervescent reward it is! It is only in the sincere, honest, inspired prayers that we can better know God and in turn, know His will for us.

Two Brothers – A Mormon Messages Video for Youth

Standard

As someone who is training as a clinical psychologist (although I plan on an academic and research career), the following video resonated with me. The gospel of Jesus Christ has great power; that power comes from Christ – from His Priesthood and His Atonement. This video gives a perfect example of how through faith, repentance, and much prayer our weaknesses can become strengths. I am not saying that mental health issues should be tackled only by faith and prayer. Competent mental health professionals can provide necessary treatment for problems. Just as we should rely on the best medical care we can acquire – in addition to relying on faith in Christ – when we have physical illness, so should we seek out professional help when necessary for mental health issues. However, many mental health issues can be solved by faith in Christ and by His Atonement through repentance.

One Word

Standard

On Sunday in our Teacher’s quorum we talked about prayer. One point I tried to teach our Teachers is that God really does answer our prayers. The topic of prayer and answers to prayers leads naturally, at least for me and especially when teaching 14-15 year old boys, to the prophet Joseph Smith.

When Joseph was a preteen he starting thinking about the universe and the nature of God. He started seeking for truth. As he entered his teenage years he became surrounded by tumultuous teachings and preachings. A religious revival was underway – Baptists, Presbyterians, and Methodists were all preaching their gospels and vying for converts. Each minister had the same Bible (more or less) and each read the same verses but there was little agreement of key doctrines of the gospel (there still is little agreement). Joseph Smith was confused by all the controversy. If there was one Bible and one God, should not there be one gospel?

In order to sort out his confusion, Joseph did what the faithful have done throughout history – he sought the Lord in prayer. Joseph went into a grove of trees near to his home and knelt down in humble prayer. Joseph wanted to pray aloud, something he had not done before. But as soon as he started to pray he was attacked by a dark being; Satan himself tried to snuff the life out of the boy Joseph. This was one prayer Satan did not want uttered. Joseph felt the will to live flowing out of him; he started to despair but continued to pray in his heart. Then the darkness was gone and Joseph saw a light that was brighter than the sun. When this light rested upon him, Joseph saw two Beings – radiant, glorious, perfect Beings. Then came what was one of the most powerful words spoken in this dispensation – “Joseph” said one of the Beings.

The particular word “Joseph” was not what was powerful, the implications of the word were. With this simple word, Joseph’s name, the boy learned a powerful lesson, a lesson we all can learn. God loved Joseph Smith; God knew him. God loves each of us; He knows each of us by name. We are not faceless entities created to worship the Almighty God (although we should!), we are His children. He sees us with his perfect love. That is what the utterance of Joseph’s name taught – that God knows us; He hears our prayers and He answers them. Our prayers will likely never be answered in a similar manner as Joseph’s but our sincere prayers are heard and answered.

That is the lesson I wanted my Teachers to learn – they are loved of God. He knows each of their names and cares about their lives. Joseph Smith was a special person, he was called to be the Lord’s prophet but each of us are special too – we are all sons and daughters of God. While Joseph’s experience was powerful, each of us can know with the same power – the power of the Holy Ghost – of God’s love for us.