When we are first taught to pray, we are often given an order of things to say. We may be instructed to: first, address our Heavenly Father; second, express gratitude; third, ask for blessings we need; and lastly, close in the name of Jesus Christ. As we gain experience in communicating with God, our prayers may change. The order of our prayers may change too as we face disorder in our lives.
This is especially true when the last drops of our faith are being wrung out under the weight of our sufferings. When the gravity of our circumstances force us to weigh whether our desperate prayers are working or not, we should realize that “prayer is a form of work” (Bible Dictionary, p. 753). It isn’t supposed to work, we are.
In desperation, we might take the approach of “wrestling with God in mighty prayer” (Alma 8:10), but do it incorrectly. We may expend a lot of spiritual sweat before we realize that we cannot pin God down into giving us the blessings we want or think we need; rather, we need to “ask for things it is possible for God to grant” (Bible Dictionary, p. 753). This can be frustrating, because “we know not what we should pray for”; fortunately, “the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8: 26). We can find peace in knowing that “it shall be given [us] what [we] shall ask” by the Spirit (D&C 50: 30).
We don’t wrestle against God, but with Him as we “labor[…] in the spirit” (Alma 8:10) to “feel” and understand the “still small voice” prompting us to ask for those blessings the Lord can give us (1 Nephi 17:45). Sometimes we need the rending wind, the earthquake, or the fire of our sufferings before we can hear this voice or even want to hear it (see 1Kings 19:11-12). Regardless of our circumstances, when we recognize His voice, we need to listen. Just like a child who initially repeats the promptings of a parent when he or she learns to pray, we can be open to the Lord’s voice and repeat His promptings in our prayers. This order of prayer may be termed a “true order of prayer”, because it reflects the true order of our relationship with God.
The awareness of our relationship with God should change our prayers. Our prayers might lengthen as we punctuate them with pauses to listen for promptings. They may grow beyond the bounds of discrete events into a lifestyle change where our “hearts [will be] full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually” (Alma 34:27). Even our grammar may change. Like the Savior, we may consider subordinating our own will with the adverb “nevertheless” from “nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus’ plea and subsequent submission in the garden of Gethsemane was not a moment of weakness, but of strength.
Our submissive prayers may not change our circumstances, but they will change us, strengthening us to meet our challenges with “sufficient” grace (Ether 12:27). With God’s additional strength, our burdens can “[be] made light” (Mosiah 24:14-15) or at least lighter. Even our longest trials can seem more like a “small moment” (D&C 121:7) when viewed in the context of an infinite timeline. Additionally, spiritual perspectives can help us glimpse the good a bad experience is doing for us (D&C 122:7) and fill us with gratitude.
Part of the equation for gaining answers to prayers is to “remember how merciful the Lord hath been” to us (Moroni 10:3). In the same way that the Spirit can prompt us to ask for certain blessings, he can also help us be thankful by bringing “all things to [our] remembrance” (John 14:26). Gratitude is a natural pride softener. When we are thankful, we are more likely to accept the answers the Lord knows we need, especially those times when the Lord’s will is at variance with our own. Thankfulness diverts our thoughts away from our own problems long enough to realize that there are others struggling under the weight of life’s burdens too. Gratitude may also prompt us to “look unto [our] God” in the midst of our trials to consider what God’s concerns are for us (1 Nephi 18:6).
God may not be interested in the problem itself but how he can use our trials to make us more like him and his son. Prayers are on-the-job tutorials for becoming more like Christ. As we recognize and follow promptings in our prayers we train ourselves to think and act like the Savior. When we close our prayers “in the name of Jesus Christ, amen”, we are making the statement that our prayers reflect the mind and will of the Lord. We are saying things for him and a little as him.
Thank you to my friend Katherine for her editing suggestions on this article and to my friend Brandon for the photo.