In the 9th section of the Doctrine and Covenants we read "Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me. But behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your own 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. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong." (D&C 9:7-9)
This counsel that was given to Oliver Cowdery is considered by many to be the principle on how we are to pray. Yet there is often much debate over how much is up to God and how much is up to us when we do pray. The argument goes something like this: Should we go to God in prayer only after we have decided everything ourselves or should we consult with God before we have reached a decision? Should we only seek God's approval or disapproval for what we want, or should we seek God's help from the beginning? Is God displeased with us if we don't first use our mental abilities to find a solution to what we want, or is He displeased if we don't seek for His help before trying to reach our decision?
IThis topic has been debated back and forth by many people and, in most cases, it appears they get caught up in discussing specific situations without ever getting to the heart of the matter. Very often they see the problem, but they miss the concept behind the solution. However, before we can fully appreciate the concept, we need to first understand the basics.
Simply put, payer is nothing more than talking to our Father who is in heaven. Although this is an acknowledged fact, there is an important concept in this statement because the Person we are talking to is not just some unimaginable Beings but, instead, is our father who happens to live in a place we refer to as heaven. And if God is our Father, then, by definition, we are His children. Therefore, prayer is nothing more than a child talking to their Father.
When a child talk to their father are there rules they must follow, are there restrictions on what they can talk about, how they must talk, and when they must talk? Of course not. A loving parent is willing to listen to whatever their child has to say no matter what, when, where, or how they do it. The father is then willing to give that child advise, motivation, or help depending on what he feels is best for them. All of us completely understand this principle of a parent/child relationship.
This is the same relation that exists between God and His children.
Normally when our children want to talk with us it's to ask for something they want. "Dad, can I have the car tonight?" "Dad, I need help with my homework." "Dad, I'm having problems dealing with someone at school." At times like this, as parents don't respond in only one way but have multiple ways of handling a child's request, depending on what, in their our own wisdom, they feel is best for their child at that moment or for that particular situation.
Take the case of a child who comes for help with a homework assignment. Maybe, in one situation, the child is simply being lazy and wants the parent to give them the answer so they won't have to put forth very much energy or time in completing their assignment. In this scenario, the parent might very well tell the child that they are capable of finding the answer for themselves. Or the parent might instruct the child to do the homework as best they can and afterwards the parent will review the work and let them know if their answers are correct or not. In this way, the parent is only giving a "yes" or "no" response to their child, but is not providing any other assistance. This is the type of response the Lord gave Oliver Cowdery in the 9th section of the Doctrine and Covenants.
Why would a parent do this? To motivate, to stimulate, or perhaps to just reinforce other principles the parent wants their child to learn. Whatever the reason, a loving parent would take this approach only because they felt it was the best answer for their child in that particular instance.
But if the child was truly having trouble, the same parent would respond to the same request in a different manner. They might work with the child to help them learn how to find the answers to their problems, or they might just give them the answer - not because they don't want to spend the time to guide their child, but because that's all the child really needs. As before, what the parent ultimately decides to do will be based on what they feel is best for their child in that particular situation.
If God is our Father, then we would expect Him to treat us the same way.
There are other ways parents and children talk to each other. When a child is young, parents need to make most of the decisions for them. However, as a child grows, the parents expect them to make more and more decisions for themselves. For example, a 5 year old may not be able to decide what clothes they should wear, so the parent decides for them. But when a child is 12 years old, the parent doesn't expect to still have to make that decision.
However, at that age a child may not be making very wise choices in their selection of clothes. In that case, the parent may ask their child to show them which clothes they have chosen to wear so that the parent can give their approval or disapproval, while still allowing the child to make the decision for themselves.
As the child matures and shows that they can make wise choices, the parent may no longer require then to get approval. In this case, the decision of what to wear is left entirely up to the child. It's not that the parent doesn't care anymore, it's that whatever pleases the child also pleases the parents.
This is no different from the way God deals with us.
Sometimes a child has needs that they don't express. Perhaps a child may need to get a job in order to earn money for the things they want. One child may not realize the need to work. Another child may not have the means to get around to look for a job. Still another child may be afraid to approach an employer about applying for a job. Obviously, there is not just one way of meeting these different needs to work.
Just like there are different circumstances, so also are there different types of responses. The parent may strongly encourage their child to get out and look for a job. The parent might feel the necessity to drive the child from place to place as they search for employment. It may be that a parent might go in with their child to give them support, guidance, or counsel, or maybe to provide a helpful word to the employer.
Knowing that their child wants to find a job, a parent might talk to someone without their child even being there. The parent could then bring home an application, have the child fill it out, and then take it back to the person they spoke with. In this situation the child has done almost none of the work while the parent has put forth almost all of the effort.
Again, there is not just one way to handle a child's need to obtain a job and there is nothing wrong with any of these different types of responses as long as they are based on what is best for the child. Therefore, a wise, loving, caring father will use whichever response they feel will best benefit their child.
Our Father, who lives in heaven, is an all-wise and all-loving parent. He cares about us, and wants what's best for us. As His children, He wants us to come to Him with our desires, our problems, our hurts and our needs. He wants us to talk with Him; to tell Him what's on our mind and in our heart. He is, in every sense of the word, our Father.
There maybe times when we come to Him, like Oliver Cowdery did, to ask for something that He feels we have the ability to do ourselves. In cases like these, He may tell us to go find the solution on our own. Under such circumstances God, our Father, will only tell us if our final decision is right or wrong; good or not so good.
But, this is not the only way God answers our prayers. To say that it is, puts restrictions on our relationship with our Father. As parents we don't put such restrictions on our children and neither does God.
Like the child who wants to get a job, God, our Father, may take many approaches to our problems, depending on what He thinks is best for us. He might only strongly encourage us to do what we don't want to do, but what He knows is right for us. He might provide a little bit of assistance that we can't provide for ourselves. He might provide us with His Spirit to give us support, guidance, inspiration, or help. Then again, He might do most of the work and drop the solution in our lap without much effort on our part. Just like an earthly father, our heavenly Father is not confined to one way of helping us.
When we catch the vision of who we really are, our relationship with God becomes so much clearer. God doesn't become this terrible, fearful supreme being that we are afraid to talk to or to offend. Yes, He is strict and He does demand obedience, but the same can be said for every good father. Like every good father, He loves us no matter what we do. He cares about us - so much so that He sent His only begotten Son to die to save us from our sins. He wants what's best for us, even though we may not always agree with Him. In that regard, we sometimes do indeed act like children.
Then what is the right way to pray? Is the method found section nine of the Doctrine and Covenants the only way?
When we were a child we didn't have any trouble deciding how talk to our father and as parents we how do we want our children to talk to us. And God, our Father is no different.
When we talk to God there are no restrictions but there are some guidelines. First, we must remember who we are talking to. Speaking to God in a flip or irreverent manner is disrespectful. It's true He'll still love us, but if we were in His place we wouldn't appreciate our children speaking to us in such a manner?
Secondly, we shouldn't do all the talking. We need to give God a chance to answer us. That means we need to take the time to listen for His answer. As parents we know how we would feel our children asked us a question but then didn't listen to what we told them.
Thirdly, we need to be careful not to pester Him. When children don't like the answers they get from their parents, they will often ask the same question over and over again, hoping they will wear out their parent's patience and get them to change their mind. Sometimes we have a tendency to do the same thing with God. We must remember that if we don't get what we ask for, it's not because God didn't answer our prayer; it's because His answer to our request was "no".
And fourthly, when we talk to God, we should act more like a twenty-one year old than a one year old. When a child is very young the parents have to make almost every decision for them. That is expected; that's normal. But, by the time a child has grown to the age of twenty-one they are expected to make decisions on their own. A twenty-one year old who acts like a one year old is an embarrassment and a chore to their parents.
God treats us like we are adults and we need to act like adults when we talk with Him. We should not constantly run to Him with petty, foolish requests. Instead, we should learn to understand when we need His help and when we need to help ourselves. Yet, at the same time we should always seek His wise advice in all we do and strive to learn from Him so we can become more like Him. That's the way earthly fathers want their children to behave therefore it should not be hard for us to understand that this is also the way our heavenly Father expects us to treat Him.
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