Welcome to Tween Talk for Latter-day Saints! This week, Episode 10 of Tween Talk is about prayer.
Tween Talk Episode 10
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Have you ever wondered: why does it feel like there’s no answer when you pray?
Hey y’all, welcome back to tween talk – this is episode 10! I’m really excited about this week’s topic – prayer.
I know it’s not a commandment, but we’re going to follow the same pattern to answer your questions about prayer as we do in almost every podcast: doctrines, principles, and applications.
With this podcast, we’ll focus mostly on the doctrine of prayer: what it is
Then we’ll touch on principles: how we should pray, with lots of quotes from modern General Authorities.
Then for applications, we’ll talk about different ways to pray and things we can say.
Lastly, we’ll talk about getting answers to prayers, since that’s what so many of you are wondering about.
So first: what is prayer?
I think my favorite definition of prayer comes from the Gospel Topics manual on the Church’s website, where it says, “Prayer is two-way communication with Heavenly Father.”
In Primary, we learn that prayer is set up this way:
“Dear Heavenly Father, we thank Thee for (list a bunch of blessings), we ask Thee (list a bunch of requests), in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.”
While that is fantastic for a five year old, and perhaps group prayers like at a Church meeting, it’s not really great for personal prayers.
Think of prayer like a sandwich. The two slices of bread on the end are the same: start by addressing Heavenly Father, and end in the name of Jesus Christ.
But the middle is whatever you want!
A five year old likes a simple PBJ, but as you get older, your tastes become more refined. Or unique.
For example, my brother puts Nacho Cheese Doritos on his ham and cheese sandwiches.
That’s what works for him, and it’s his favorite comfort food.
Prayers are like that: unique and individual.
There is a hymn that says, “Prayer is the soul’s sincere desire.”
The Bible Dictionary says, “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.”
If you’re having a difficult time with prayer, ask God for His help! Your Heavenly Father YEARNS for you to pray to Him. Remember how we talked about how we counseled with Him on the blueprints for our lives? We used to talk with Him regularly! He misses it! And our souls miss it, too.
What you put inside your sandwich of prayer is entirely up to you.
This is the principles part. What to pray about.
Alma 34:17–26 and Alma 37:36–37 both talk about what to pray about. They say to cry to the Lord when you wake up in the morning, in your fields, in your closets, about enemies, at mid-day, in the evening, over the crops of your fields and the flocks, and when you go to bed.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I don’t have any flocks or fields.
But I DO have children. I DO have a blog. I write novels.
And you know what?
I pray when I start to write my books. Even though they have nothing to do with the gospel (they’re clean regency romances). But every time I sit down to write, and I don’t start with a prayer, I get the worst writer’s block. But as soon as I remember to pray, the ideas just flow in.
You guys have homework. You have friends you care about. You manage relationships with parents and siblings. You have responsibilities. You may have church callings.
But my favorite thing about prayer?
You can tell God ANYTHING. Because NOTHING you say will surprise Him. Or shock Him. Or even offend Him.
Alma 34:26 specifically says, “But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.”
You’re not in a wilderness, but you may feel like you’re in a wilderness when you’re at school and everyone else is making decisions and telling you what to do and you feel lost.
When you sin? You can pray about it.
When you are angry? You can tell God that you’re angry at Him, even.
When you want to give up? You can tell Him.
The secret parts of your soul, He already knows. But He wants YOU to tell Him about it.
So then that begs the question: if God already knows everything, then why should we pray?
The Bible Dictionary under “Prayer” has an AMAZING answer for that:
“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”
We’ve already established by now that we’re not perfect, right? And our wills may not be in agreement with God’s will.
Prayer helps us work that out.
We have our agency. And remember how justice is a thing? We talked a lot about that when we talked about the Atonement several episodes ago.
God can’t just throw blessings at us or help us along if we haven’t asked Him for it.
That would go against the laws of justice. D&C 130:20-21 says
“There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven before the foundations of this world, upon which all blessings are predicated—And when we obtain any blessing from God, it is by obedience to that law upon which it is predicated.”
And a lot of the time, that law for us to obey is to pray and ask for blessings.
Prayer is one of the ultimate expressions of agency.
ALL we have to do is ask.
It’s like when the children of Israel were all dying from poisonous snakes, and all they had to do was look at the brass serpent Moses had and live.
How easy is that?
And then we can pray for others.
Yes, God loves them and will help them, but our choosing to pray for others is JUST as much of a service as taking someone dinner when they’re sick or writing a nice note.
It’s one way of being valiant, especially when there’s a situation where there’s NOTHING you can do.
When Alma the Younger was doing lots of bad things, nothing his father did helped him. The ONLY thing that sent the angel was the prayers of his father.
THAT’S how powerful prayer can be on behalf of someone else.
Or praying fervently that you’ll know how to help them. Or that God will send them extra comfort and extra love. Because a hug from God is more powerful than a hug of your own.
But does that mean you pray, and that’s it?
Nope – not a chance.
The Gospel Topics manual for Prayer says, “The power of our prayers depends on us. When we make a request through prayer, we must do all we can to assist in its being granted. Heavenly Father expects us to do more than merely ask Him for blessings.”
The Church’s website has an entire section called “How to Pray.” In it, it says, “There is wisdom in the saying, Pray as if everything depends on God; and act as if everything depends on you.” If you want to read that section yourself, there’s a link to it on the website for Tween Talk 10.
Like we read in the Bible Dictionary, “Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.”
Okay, now let’s get into some examples – AKA, the applications.
Remember, these are EXAMPLES! Please don’t try to include all of these things every single time you pray.
You can pray before starting your homework.
You can pray about your friends.
You can pray for missionary opportunities. This one is especially cool for me. I forget to do it a lot. But seriously, when I do remember – EVERY SINGLE TIME within a day or two, I have an amazing experience to share the gospel with someone.
Do they get baptized?
Nope, not really.
But just by praying about, I open the door to the Spirit to let me be part of the process.
You can pray to ask God what things He’s pleased with you for doing that day.
You can ask God if you’ve done anything to offend Him.
You can pray to repent.
You can ask for help on the things you struggle with on a regular basis. For me, that’s patience with my kids. I plead with the Lord every single morning for Him to help me. And then I repeat that prayer throughout the day.
I don’t go kneel down each time! It’s quick, in my head whisper, “Heavenly Father, please help me not to kill this child” when I walk in and see my toddler scribbling all over the wall with a black permanent Sharpie.
You can pray about the things you’re grateful for. You should do this every prayer, but seriously get down to unique things! Find five new things each day that you’ve never been grateful for before in a prayer.
You can even do a prayer where you do nothing but give thanks. Those are really incredible.
Elder Bednar gave a great talk called “Morning and Evening Prayers” where he goes into a lot more detail about prayer. You should go check it out! But I specifically love how he says that morning prayers are for asking God for help on things, then in the evening prayers you return and report how you did that day.
You can pray to repent (and we’ll talk about repentance in a later podcast).
You can set a timer and make yourself stay on your knees for the entire time. Even if you’re just silent, just listening. Because remember, prayer is TWO WAY communication!
Will the answers always come right in the moment as you’re kneeling?
Nope, not always.
In fact, some the of the strongest answers I’ve had to prayers haven’t come in those moments.
Because prayer requires work.
BUT gentle inspiration on what I need to do to improve, or what I did that pleased Heavenly Father?
Those come in those quiet times.
Asking Him to help me feel His love when I’ve had a really hard day?
If I just jump up off my feet and run to the next thing, I’m not going to feel it.
But what about those times that we ask and ask and ask, and it feels like radio silence?
Elder Richard G. Scott gave an INCREDIBLE talk in General Conference about this called “Learning to Recognize Answers to Prayer.”
If I didn’t think it would bore you to death, I would read it to you. It’s that good.
But instead, I’m going strongly, strongly, STRONGLY urge you to go read it – or watch it or listen to it. The link is on the website for Tween Talk episode 10.
But he said, “Our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously. It may seem paradoxical, but that is why recognizing answers to prayer can sometimes be very difficult.”
“Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege. It is based upon unchanging principles. When we receive help from our Father in Heaven, it is in response to faith, obedience, and the proper use of agency.”
When we have something important to us that we are praying about, it usually falls into one of three categories:
- it’s a question about the gospel that we need Him to answer (is President Nelson really a prophet?)
- it’s asking for direction on a choice (should I continue with piano lessons or try out for the softball team?)
- it’s a request of some kind we need Him to do for us (please help me to find a good friend)
Every single one of these questions comes with the requirement to put forth work on our part.
If we are asking questions about the gospel, we should also be reading and studying our scriptures, as well as talking with parents and other trusted adults in the Church. We should research that specific topic and listen closely to others’ testimonies.
You can’t just kneel down and ask God if President Nelson is His prophet without listening to Conference and searching for information about prophets in the scriptures.
If you are asking for direction about a choice, you need to put some effort into deciding which one is the best and THEN go to the Lord with YOUR choice. He is much more likely to confirm or negate a decision YOU make than to just give you an answer from a list of options.
Oliver Cowdrey learned this lesson directly from the Lord Himself! He had a question for the Lord, who said this in D&C 9:7-8.
“But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.”
Now, I’ll be honest – I’ve never had my bosom burn within me. But I HAVE felt peace or comfort when I’ve gone to the Lord.
When it’s wrong, I keep mulling it over in my mind. I don’t feel at rest about the choice.
This happens especially when the choice the Lord tells me is the one I DON’T want to do.
In the last podcast, we talked about how the Holy Ghost feels. I told you about the time we were supposed to move to another state. I really, really didn’t want the move, but I felt peace about it at the same I didn’t want to do it.
Similarly, there have been times I’ve really wanted a specific answer, but then when I pray about it, I just feel anxious about it. Even though I want it, I keep feeling the urge to pray about it more. I never was able to feel settled and move on from it.
But what about when you pray over a choice and the Lord just seems to be silent on the matter? You don’t feel good OR bad about it?
In Elder Scott’s talk I mentioned before, he says:
“When we explain a problem and a proposed solution, sometimes He answers yes, sometimes no. Often He withholds an answer, not for lack of concern, but because He loves us—perfectly. He wants us to apply truths He has given us. For us to grow, we need to trust our ability to make correct decisions. We need to do what we feel is right. In time, He will answer. He will not fail us.”
So sometimes it’s because the Lord wants US to choose the arrow!
And sometimes this is on big decisions, like who to marry.
Or sometimes the answer comes, and it seems like the wrong one based on how it all played out.
When Moses when to Pharaoh to ask him to let the Israelites go, Pharaoh got angry and make the work so much harder for everyone. The Israelite leaders came and yelled at Moses about it, saying he should just go away and leave them alone.
But like Elder Scott said, Heavenly Father will NOT fail us.
He has the blueprints we made with Him together. And even if WE don’t remember them, HE does.
And we begged Him in the pre-earth life to help us keep the promises we made to Him. And He is keeping that promise.
Which ties in with the third type of prayer: when we ask the Lord for a specific blessing or request.
There are times when I ask the Lord to do something, and it seems like the complete opposite happens!
If you’re asking for something specific, be aware that the thing you are asking for may not be answered in the way you want.
When I was first diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, I begged and pleaded with Heavenly Father to be healed. I was admitted to the hospital 13 times in the first 9 months I was married to my husband. I almost died several times.
My poor husband was in school full-time to finish his senior year of college AND he was working full-time. I was also supposed to be teaching that school year, but I was on a feeding tube and couldn’t even get out of bed to shower without collapsing, let alone stand in front of a classroom.
Just when I finally started to feel better and I got back to the classroom, we found out I was pregnant. The morning sickness was so extreme, I ended up back in the hospital every day the entire time having to get fluids.
It seemed like the Lord wasn’t hearing a word I was asking! I just wanted to be better. Not even for myself, but for my husband who was working so hard to take care of me, and for my unborn baby who was at risk because my body was so ill.
I thought maybe I didn’t have enough faith to be healed.
So I started pleading with Heavenly Father to help me have more faith. I was almost manic in my study of scriptures and prayers – over and over again asking Him to please help me.
I asked for Priesthood blessings, which were comforting, but they never gave me the healing I desperately wanted.
Finally in one blessing the Lord said that my health was going to be the “great challenge of my life” and that when it was time for me to die, I would know clearly by the Spirit so I could prepare my husband for it.
Talk about scary, right?
That was NOT the answer I was looking for.
And you know what? It had nothing to do with my faith.
It had everything to do with the Lord keeping His promises to me that He made in the pre-earth life.
I’m sure the day before I left for earth, our conversation went something like this:
“So, Tiffany, are you ready?”
“Yes, I’m ready! It’s going to be great! I’m going to get a body, and I’m going to take the right arrow every time, and when I don’t, I’ll repent!”
“Now remember, bodies can be hard. Your body especially will have a lot of physical pain.”
“But that’s okay, because I know that’s what I need! I need that trial to help me be better and return back here.”
“I know, Tiffany, but I don’t think you’ll realize how hard this is going to be. You’re going to have days where you beg Me to take this away from you?”
“gasp I would NEVER!”
“But I think you will.”
“No, I won’t!”
“But what if you do?”
“Well, well, then just don’t listen to me! I won’t know what I’m talking about! Just ignore it and follow the flowchart that I need.”
And Heavenly Father promised He would ignore me when I begged for Him to do something that wasn’t part of the plan to get me back to the Celestial Kingdom.
Now, I’m not sure it went EXACTLY like that, but I’m pretty sure.
Elder Bednar gave an amazing talk in a CES fireside in 2013. In it, he talked about a young man he called John who was diagnosed with a fatal bone cancer three weeks after he got married.
He had a surgery, and it was shortly afterwards that Elder Bednar visited John and Heather in the hospital. John asked Elder Bednar for a blessing, who then said, “[John,] do you have the faith not to be healed? If it is the will of our Heavenly Father that you are transferred by death in your youth to the spirit world to continue your ministry, do you have the faith to submit to His will and not be healed?”
And guys, THAT is the question.
It’s easy to have the faith to be healed.
It’s easy to follow God’s plan – which is your plan, too – when it lines up with your own desires.
What’s hard is to have the plan or the doctrine or the answer be what you DON’T want, and still trust God.
Still believe that He loves you. Even when He has the power to heal you and CHOOSES not to.
That’s so hard.
But this life isn’t about just doing the right thing and being happy all the time, is it?
It’s about being valiant. About being trustworthy to put your own desires to the side and follow God’s will.
It’s about believing He is in charge of His church, even when the answer isn’t something we want to hear.
It’s about trusting Him. Believing Him.
Can you do that?
It’s not easy. Especially when you pray and pray and pray, and it seems empty and silent or it’s different than you thought.
But like Elder Scott said, God won’t ever fail us.
And I know that’s true. I have felt it again and again. Having the faith to not be healed, or to trust God when I don’t understand the answer why, is HARD.
But because I have a testimony of the Plan of Salvation, it makes it a little easier. A lot easier, actually.
So I want you to focus this week on improving your prayers. One of the best days for prayer (other than every day), is Sunday!
I know that’s a big thing – is something appropriate for Sunday or not?
That’s a HUGE point of contention between members of the Church, especially as it comes down to doctrine versus culture, and several of you have asked about that.
So next week, we’ll talk about it – how to know which activities are okay to do on the Sabbath Day. Until then, this was Tween Talk episode 10.