Prayer, Joy & Happiness

Recently I have felt that it is important for me to work on offering more heartfelt and sincere prayers, and to focus more on the joy and happiness that I have now and ahead of me. Here are a few quotes from the past general conference that I found to be meaningful. Hearing and reading these words and the rest of these (and other) talks from the recent LDS general conference was an answer to my prayers. I offer my testimony that these are men and women who have been called by the Lord to serve, teach and share these inspired messages. I share my own personal witness that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet of God, a man who has dedicated his life to serving, encouraging, and loving others and teaching people to follow Christ.

“As you pray to Heavenly Father in faith, “he will console you in your afflictions, … [and ye may] feast upon his love.” President Henry B. Eyring shared that his father’s prayers during a losing battle with cancer taught him the deeply personal relationship between God and His children:

“When the pain became intense, we found him in the morning on his knees by the bed. He had been too weak to get back into bed. He told us he had been praying to ask his Heavenly Father why he had to suffer so much when he had always tried to be good. He said a kindly answer came: ‘God needs brave sons.’

“And so he soldiered on to the end, trusting that God loved him, listened to him, and would lift him up. He was blessed to have known early and to never forget that a loving God is as close as a prayer.”

– Carol F. McConkie (and quoting Pres. Eyring)

“Joy is powerful, and focusing on joy brings God’s power into our lives. As in all things, Jesus Christ is our ultimate exemplar, “who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.” Think of that! In order for Him to endure the most excruciating experience ever endured on earth, our Savior focused on joy!

And what was the joy that was set before Him? Surely it included the joy of cleansing, healing, and strengthening us; the joy of paying for the sins of all who would repent; the joy of making it possible for you and me to return home—clean and worthy—to live with our Heavenly Parents and families.

If we focus on the joy that will come to us, or to those we love, what can we endure that presently seems overwhelming, painful, scary, unfair, or simply impossible?”

– President Nelson

“Essential to the plan is our Savior, Jesus Christ. Without His atoning sacrifice, all would be lost. It is not enough, however, merely to believe in Him and His mission. We need to work and learn, search and pray, repent and improve. We need to know God’s laws and live them. We need to receive His saving ordinances. Only by so doing will we obtain true, eternal happiness.

We are blessed to have the truth. We have a mandate to share the truth. Let us live the truth, that we might merit all that the Father has for us. He does nothing save it be for our benefit. He has told us, “This is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.”1

From the depths of my soul and in all humility, I testify of the great gift which is our Father’s plan for us. It is the one perfect path to peace and happiness both here and in the world to come.”

– President Monson

A way to overcome evil

God has given us a way for us to overcome the evils in our world. The people of Alma understood it and showed us how to do it.

And Alma established a church in the land of Sidom, and consecrated priests and teachers in the land, to baptize unto the Lord whosoever were desirous to be baptized. And it came to pass that they were many; for they did flock in from all the region round about Sidom, and were baptized. (Alma 15:13-14)

So Alma had established the church of God and baptized many and in a later verse of that chapter there is an interesting phrase suggesting they had great success:

…Therefore, after Alma having established the church at Sidom, seeing a great check, yea, seeing that the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts (Alma 15:17)

So the verse says “the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts”. Some of the definitions of “check”: to restrain, control, reduce or diminish. How did this reduction and restraint of the pride of the people come about? That is explained in the same verse.

…[they] began to humble themselves before God, and began to assemble themselves together at their sanctuaries to worship God before the altar, watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction— (Alma 15:17)

They humbled themselves and met together at church often. I believe the last part is also extremely significant: they were “watching and praying continually”. What does it mean to “watch”? That was my question today so I did some cross-referencing and found a few other scriptures that shed some light. Matthew 26 records the Savior’s counsel to his apostles to “watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation”. Amulek teaches in Alma 34 that we should be “watchful unto prayer continually, that ye may not be led away by the temptations of the devil”. Luke writes Christ’s words, “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching”.

This may be obvious to some but for my purposes here I want to be clear, I found these definitions of “watch”: to be alert, on the lookout, to keep awake, remain vigilant, to be careful or cautious.

Combining the definitions of watchfulness with the usages of the word in the scriptures and the words in Alma 15:17– the people of Alma were continually vigilant and alert, praying to be delivered from the influence of Satan, they were awake (spiritually) and cautious at all times. They were careful and watchful not only in regard to temptation but also regarding those things which would cause them death (spiritual death?) and destruction.

Fast-forward about 3 years later, and we see the fruits of their efforts:

“…the church had been established throughout all the land—having got the victory over the devil, and the word of God [was] preached in its purity in all the land, and the Lord [poured] out his blessings upon the people.” (Alma 16:21)

Relying on the Promises of God

The scriptures consistently give me an increased sense of hope and well-being that is found few other places. I’ve learned that there’s an important reason to not only read the scriptures, but rather “search” them and rely on them in order to obtain hope:

Search these commandments, for they are true and faithful, and the prophecies and promises which are in them shall all be fulfilled. (D&C 1:37)

God Keeps His Promises to Us Personally

As the years go by more and more scriptures have become meaningful to me on a personal level. I’ve been able to lean on certain scriptures and phrases from the words of God to get me through tough times. It’s evident to me that God uses the scriptures to speak to us. It’s also evident to me that when I take a specific scriptural promise to heart, and if I’m living with integrity, faithfully living God’s commandments associated with that specific promise, God will fulfill that promise in my life according to his timeline. That’s how he works, because he loves us and because he is a God of truth and wants us to trust and rely on Him. He tells us:

“I, the Lord, am bound when ye do what I say; but when ye do not what I say, ye have no promise.” (D&C 82:10)

And also has said clearly, “…Behold I say unto you, that you must rely upon my word.” (D&C 17:1)

So what promises in the scriptures can and should be searched for, sought after and relied on? The prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon explained, “…I did liken all scriptures unto us”. (1 Nephi 19:23)

It might seem a little unusual at first that a promise that God made to the ancient Israelites could have direct application to us in our vastly different modern world of today, but truth is eternal. Every promise that God gives in the scriptures can and should be likened to us, or in other words they can be compared and applied to us personally in our individual lives with whatever challenge we may be experiencing or with whatever righteous gift or blessing that we need or want.

Using God’s Promises as Spiritual Armor

A while ago I decided to more actively pursue the promises in the scriptures that were meaningful to me or that I felt I needed to have fulfilled in my life. I wrote several of them down on 3×5 cards so that I could quickly and easily access and read throughout the day and make them part of my everyday thoughts and desires. By reading them often and memorizing many of them, they have been a source of strength even when I’m not consciously thinking about them and also as a shield against discouragement as well as negative and faithless thinking. Here’s a few examples:

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” (Isa 41:10)

“Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (D&C 112:10)

“The righteous cry, and the Lord heareth, and delivereth them out of all their troubles.” (Psalms 34:17)

“…I will go before your face. I will be on your right hand and on your left, and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.” (D&C 84:88)

These are just a few of the promises God has given us in the scriptures that I rely on daily. There are hundreds more I could add, but the promises that are the most meaningful and valuable are the ones that God will personalize to us individually through the power of Holy Ghost. In my experience these kinds of personal promises are most often found through prayer when seeking specific blessings and then searching/studying the scriptures, then allowing the Holy Ghost to teach by considering them with deep reflection.

God’s Laws Each Have Promised Blessings

It’s no coincidence that each commandment that God gives us comes with a promised blessing for following it. A good example is the law of tithing, giving back one tenth of your income to God. The heavenly law as well as the associated promises for following it is spoken of in the book of Malachi (3:10-12):

“Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”

Here’s the rest of the promise:

“..And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts. And all nations shall call you blessed: for ye shall be a delightsome land, saith the Lord of hosts.”

Aren’t these amazing promises for such a simple commandment? A blessing that is so abundant you won’t be able to contain it all? And a promise that the “devourer” will be rebuked in your life, i.e. possibly protection from major financial problems, or possibly protection from other “devouring” calamities in the last days. What a great assurance and blessing to have.

Relying On the Promises of God

While many in the world look for fulfillment and comfort in things that only lead to confusion, regret and sorrow, the Lord is rescuing, healing and lifting up those who humbly follow Him and do His will. By living according to God’s commandments and also taking his promises to heart and seeking them, you will receive them. Let your focus, your thoughts, your faith and desires be squarely placed on God’s promises. If you do this, miracles will happen in your life and family, and the mercy and grace of God will be with you. Your faith and relationship with God will grow and you come to realize for yourself that God “hath all power unto the fulfilling of all his words.” (1 Ne 9:6)

“What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same. For behold, and lo, the Lord is God, and the Spirit beareth record, and the record is true, and the truth abideth forever and ever.” (D&C 1:38-39)

Cry Unto the Lord

There’s a large number of scriptures related to prayer that use the word “cry” in place of “pray”. The use of this word is interesting given the varied yet similar meanings of it. It suggests that these are the kind of prayers that might involve speaking out loud, that they might contain a degree of desperation and that they are probably full of tears. Possibly above all else, they are heartfelt and sincere prayers. This provides some insight into the level of these prophets’ reliance on the Lord. Here’s some examples:

King David, though he had fallen in sin, his heart was broken and he cried unto the Lord for mercy, “Be merciful unto me, O Lord: for I cry unto thee daily.” (Psalm 86:3)

“Evening, and morning, and at noon, will I pray, and cry aloud: and he shall hear my voice.” (Psalms 30:2)

“O Lord my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me.” (Psalms 30:2)

The prophet Jonah, “…I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell cried I, and thou heardest my voice.” (Jonah 2:2)

The words of Alma regarding his people, “…they did humble themselves even in the depths of humility; and they did cry mightily to God; yea, even all the day long did they cry unto their God that he would deliver them out of their afflictions.” (Mosiah 21:14)

The Apostle Paul writes that Melchezidek “…offered up prayers and supplications with strong crying and tears unto him that was able to save him from death, and was heard in that he feared;” (Hebrews 5:7)

As Nephi concludes his writings he speaks of his prayers for his people, “…For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.” (2 Nephi 33:3)

Job, renowned for the magnitude of his patience and suffering, simply states “…he heareth the cry of the afflicted.” (Job 34:28)

Amulek recounts the words of Old Testament-era prophet Zenos, “Do ye remember to have read what Zenos, the prophet of old, has said concerning prayer or worship?

For he said: Thou art merciful, O God, for thou hast heard my prayer, even when I was in the wilderness; yea, thou wast merciful when I prayed concerning those who were mine enemies, and thou didst turn them to me.

Yea, O God, and thou wast merciful unto me when I did cry unto thee in my field; when I did cry unto thee in my prayer, and thou didst hear me.”

“…And thou didst hear me because of mine afflictions and my sincerity; and it is because of thy Son that thou hast been thus merciful unto me, therefore I will cry unto thee in all mine afflictions, for in thee is my joy; for thou hast turned thy judgments away from me, because of thy Son.” (Alma 33:4-5, 11)

I’m certainly not a prophet, just an average guy trying to navigate a life that is sometimes amazing and great, sometimes very difficult and painful. But I have seen the Lord respond to my cries, and He’s done so in ways that leave me in awe of His mercy and miraculous power. He has strengthened me when I’ve been sick, shown me the way when I’ve been lost and lifted me up when I’ve been down. He has filled me His with love, comfort, confidence, compassion, and his voice has been like a verse from the hymn, How Firm a Foundation:

Fear not, I am with thee; O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.

I know that the Lord hears and answers all of our prayers, and I believe He sends an extra portion of help and comfort to us when we literally cry unto Him in our struggles, our disappointments and our mistakes, as well as when we cry unto Him for a needed blessing or healing.