How To Pray in a Way God Can Answer

Original blogpost can be found HERE.

April 12, 2016

It’s 4:30 a.m. and my two-month-old son is up again—for the fourth time tonight. “God,please help him to go back to sleep,” I silently beg in my head.

Nope. He’s still awake.

I pick him up, feed him, and put him back down. “God, please help him to sleep in!”

Nope. He doesn’t sleep in and wakes up an hour later.

Now repeat this scene for two more months.

I think when my third child was born, a good 90 percent of my prayers revolved solely around our collective sleep patterns. However, these prayers never seemed to be answered—at least not in the time frame I was hoping for.

This did not cause me to lose my faith in prayer or the power of prayer, but it did cause me to reflect on how I could improve my prayers to ask for things that God is more able to answer.

The Bible Dictionary says: “We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us (John 15:7). We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind.”

What are those things it is possible for God to grant? How could I make sure my wishes are the wishes of Christ?

To figure this out, I drew a little diagram: my desires on the left, God’s on the right, and things we both want in the middle.

On the left I wrote some things I tend to pray for a lot (sleep, ease, comfort, health, happy and obedient children, happy husband, everything happy and easy); in the middle are the things that I want that I’m sure God wants for me too. These circles are not mutually exclusive. It could be God wants everything in the left circle as well; I’m just not sure what His will is for those desires yet. But I am sure He always wants me to keep His commandments and to be faithful, kind, and forgiving.

On the right, I wrote things God wants for me that I don’t always want for myself. The biggest thing here is trials. I rarely want them, but I fully admit my times of trial are when I learn the most and grow closest to God. It’s good for this heart-changing goal we both have. Also in this circle could include commandments that are particularly difficult for me to keep.

I noticed that the things I want are largely circumstantial things—things based on the circumstances of life—while the things that God wants for me are mostly un-circumstantial (don’t look that up; it’s not really a word), or things relating to the state of my heart.

Does this mean I should never ask for circumstantial things that I want? No way! Does this mean God will never answer my prayers if I just ask for things I want? Certainly not! I have had way too many experiences praying for things I want when God has given them to me to think that God doesn’t care about the left side of this diagram. I think God loves every one of us and cares deeply about our wants. I think He delights in giving us even those little things we ask for sometimes. Like any good father, He knows how to give us good gifts. But above all, He wants what is best for us, and what is best for us eternally does not always include the circumstances we desperately hope for.

So how to pray to align these two circles? How to pray for the things I want while accepting God’s will and His desires for me?

I came up with a little formula to help me in my prayers. It is simply this—whenever you ask for something you want and you’re not totally sure if it’s something God wants for you, tack on the phrase “but if not” and then add something you’re sure God would want for you.

For example: “God, please help me get some sleep tonight, but if not, help me to have enough energy to be pleasant and hard working anyway.” “God, please bless that my child will get over this sickness and feel better, but if not, help us to trust in Thee and be patient with each other.” “God, please bless that I will be included in my group of friends, but if not, even if I feel excluded, help me to be kind and generous.”

I’ve tried this out for about a year now, and I can say my rate of prayer success has skyrocketed. Here are some benefits I’ve experienced so far:

I feel like I’m finally fulfilling the real purpose of prayer, which is not to negotiate my desires, but to align myself with God. The two circles from my graph have grown much closer since praying in this way.

An unexpected benefit has been that I don’t fear hard situations or not getting what I want nearly as much as I used to because I’ve seen and felt God answer my prayers—both my desires and my “but if nots.”

It’s been a great exercise in praying not for my circumstances to change, but that I in my circumstances may be changed, which is what Elder Bednar says is the key tounlocking grace in one of my favorite gospel talks of all time.

I feel a deep trust in God growing up inside me.

And eventually my son and I did get more sleep (though he still has this lovely habit of waking up at 5:30 a.m.). But that’s OK. I may not always get what I want when I want it, but I can feel God’s love and receive those things I need to become the person He wants me to be.

Celeste graduated from BYU with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in sociology. Her proudest accomplishments include her marriage, her three kids, and that one time she had all the rooms in her house clean at the same time.

Missionary Monday: Advice for the Younger Missionary Me: We Aren’t God’s Only People

by Samuel B. Hislop  
Original article printed HERE.Pride didn’t seem to be my problem. I was a 19-year-old missionary in the mental throes of learning Russian. My mind was weary from language study, my body exhausted from walking everywhere, my spirit stretched uncomfortably thin from my new life in the former Soviet Union. And yet looking back, I now see Easter Sunday, 2004, as a pride-revealing moment.

That was the day a cheerful 50-something woman in the eastern Ukraine city of Makiivka greeted me and others with the words, “Dear brothers and sisters, Christ is risen!” She said this with joyful and serious conviction, and the group responded, almost in unison, “Indeed, He is risen!”

These Ukrainian Latter-day Saints were exchanging a Paschal greeting, an Easter custom they carried over from their Eastern Orthodox faith tradition. That night I wrote in my journal:

“On Easter, the people here say ‘Иисус Воскрес’ [Jesus is risen] … in greetings, in testimonies, in talks, in lessons, saying goodbye. A little annoying.”

I now cringe when I read that phrase, “a little annoying,” because it reflects an immaturity and pride born of an ignorance too common for me and other missionaries I knew when it came to thinking about other religions. Most missionaries with whom I served were ablaze with the trademark spirit and fire of missionary work—but that fire can sometimes consume our humility and blind us to the goodness and richness present in other faiths.

Cultivating “Holy Envy” for Other Faiths

Perhaps this is a subconscious reaction to the familiar words of the canonized account of the First Vision, when the Savior told Joseph Smith to not join any of the other creeds of his day because they “were an abomination in his sight,” whose “professors were all corrupt” (Joseph Smith—History 1:19).

Of course we should own and proclaim our distinctive Latter-day Saint truths. But sometimes we hear this verse—especially the words “wrong,” “abomination,” and “corrupt”—and we unthinkingly assign those labels to every church, preacher, and teaching that isn’t exclusively Mormon. We should remember other choice teachings from Joseph’s life, including these words he wrote in 1842:

“When we see virtuous qualities in men, we should always acknowledge them, let their understanding be what it may in relation to creeds and doctrine; for all men are, or ought to be free. … This doctrine I do most heartily subscribe to and practice” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 345–46).

Indeed, belonging to the “only true and living church” does not mean we are the only people doing good or that we’re the only group blessed with spiritual insights from God. Our Church’s interfaith and humanitarian efforts prove we can’t do God’s work alone—we are, after all, a church of only 15 million in a world of 7 billion.

My life’s journey has directed my gaze outward to learn from the leaders and followers of other faiths. I’ve come to appreciate what Swedish theologian Krister Stendahl (1921–2008) called “holy envy”—the ability to admire elements and teachings in other faiths. Our fellow believers see things differently and don’t express their views in the same way we do, and I often find great value in this.

Here are three favorite insights from notable authors of other faiths.

The Christian Who Makes Me a Better-Thinking Christian

I listen to podcasts from Christian author and apologist Ravi Zacharias. In one episode, he tells the story of the man who asks Jesus whether it’s appropriate to pay taxes. The well-known line comes from Jesus: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:21).

Ravi then adds this perceptive commentary:

“The disingenuousness of the questioner is noticed in the fact that he did not come back with a second question. He should have said, “What belongs to God?” And Jesus would have said, “Whose image is on you?” Give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar; give to God that which belongs to God. God’s image is on you.”

From listening to this and many other hours of his sermons, I’ve developed a deep admiration for Ravi’s firm Christian convictions. Simply put, he inspires me to be a better-thinking Christian.

An Orthodox Christian Explains the Why of Sabbath Observance

Earlier this year, Orthodox Christian and conservative author Rod Dreher of The American Conservative wrote this about the importance of the Sabbath:

“If we no longer keep going to church as at the center of Sabbath observance, we unavoidably deny that there’s anything sacred about time. Or, to be precise, we affirm, whether we want to or not, that we, not the God of the Bible, are the sovereigns of our own lives, and have the right to pick and choose what it means to be faithful. Sabbath worship is absolutely integral to Christianity.

“Whether you want it to or not, this habit—or lack of a habit—will erase the memory of Christianity from yourself and your family. This is the risk you take by making Sabbath churchgoing optional.”

Not only does Rod’s insight give me greater appreciation for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve Apostles’ heavy focus on the Sabbath day, it also makes me want to always be better at making Sunday a special day.

A Rabbi Explains the Expansive Nature of Divine Love

My mind often returns to a passage of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It’s a succinct sermon about the infinite nature of divine love:

“We are each blessed by God, each precious in his sight, each with our role in his story, each with our own song in the music of humankind. To be a child of Abraham is to learn to respect the other children of Abraham even if their way is not ours. We know that we are loved. That must be enough. To insist that being loved entails that others be unloved is to fail to understand love itself.”

Perhaps his message continues to resonate with me because I spend too much of my life insecure in the favor God shows to others, thus blinding myself to the eternally expansive nature of His love—and to the reality that there’s enough of it for me and everyone else.

These three insights remind me of the New Testament account of John saying to the Master, “We saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us” (Luke 9:49–50).

No, they aren’t members of our Church, but that’s OK. In the words of Elder Orson F. Whitney: “God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of his great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous, for any one people” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1928, 59).

Samuel B. Hislop is a communication professional, originally from Logan, Utah. He writes often, reads widely, and plays frequently with his three precious daughters. He serves in his ward’s Young Men organization.