Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Thoughts on Prayer

But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
2 Nephi 32:9
Latter-day Saints pray a lot. Recently, I was curious how often the typical practicing church member prays, so I sat down and counted it. (The number varies based on what day of the week it is and what kind of family situation the person is in.)
  • At a minimum, an active church member will pray in the morning upon getting up, before each meal, and in the evening before going to bed. (Assuming 3 meals per day, the running total so far is 5.)
  • On a day with church meetings, the number increases, since each meeting begins and ends with prayer. (Assuming it's a Sunday, that's 6 more prayers, bringing the total to 11.)
  • For people who are in family situations with more than one practicing church member, there is also family prayer. (I wasn't raised in the church, so I don't know how most families do family prayer. Is it morning and night, or just at night? Running total, 12 or 13.)
Plus, there's the option to approach God in prayer any time we feel a need, and we're supposed to keep a prayer in our hearts at all times. So, the answer to my initial question ranges from 5 to infinity.

With all that praying, it's really easy to fall into a pattern of just going through the motions. I know there have been times in my life where I've said prayers without actually praying. I think that's what Jesus warned against when He said to avoid "vain repetitions". (In fact, since we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, a perfunctory prayer is probably a violation of the commandment against taking the name of God in vain.)

I think the text of the Lord's Prayer is instructive on how to make prayer more meaningful. I'm going to use the version in Matthew 6:9-13 because it's the most familiar. (It's also available in Luke 11:2-4 and 3 Nephi 13:9-13.) I'm going to break it down with commentary.
  • After this manner therefore pray ye:
These aren't the exact words we need to use. This is simply a formatting guide.
  • Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
We should begin by addressing God. I find it interesting that there are two ways of addressing God in this verse. We are to simultaneously address Him in a way that acknowledges His majesty and glory (Hallowed be thy name) and in a familiar and intimate way (Our Father). This teaches a great truth. The Supreme Being wants to have a personal relationship with each of us.
  • Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.
God's will is done in heaven. It is not always done on earth. We live in a messy, broken world. Some of God's children are poor, oppressed, downtrodden, frightened, or friendless. This is not God's will. We need to pray for His will to be done on earth. (Then we need to go and do our part to fix things, but that's a subject for another post.)
  • Give us this day our daily bread.
God is receptive to our petitions. We can ask Him for what we need.
  • And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:
In Luke, the phrase "forgive us our debts" is translated as "forgive us our sins". We need to forgive those who sin against us, and we need to ask God for forgiveness from our sins. We can also pray for strength against temptation and to be freed from evil, both ours and others'.
  • For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Prayer should end with an acknowledgment of God's sovereignty.

Imagine what the world would be like if we all prayed multiple times per day with this much sincerity and carried this prayer in our hearts. We could change the world!

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