When the disciples of Christ asked him to teach them how to pray, he said, "When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name" (Luke 11:2).
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints we address all of our prayer to our Father in heaven. Since prayer is nothing more than us talking to God and we are taught that we are children of God, members of the LDS Church think of prayer as a child talking to their father. And it is because of this belief that when we pray, we tend to think that it is God, our Father, who personally answers our requests.
However, we also believe that every person who is alive on this earth (currently 6.6 billion) are all children of our Father in heaven and that He watches over and cares for each one of them, whether they believe in Him or not. Therefore, when anyone prays to Him, through whatever belief system they hold, He hears their heartfelt pleas and provides answers for them. But how can one Being answer every prayer of every person all over the world?
It is acknowledged by all Christians that God is omnipresent, omnificent, and omnipotent, meaning that He is present everywhere, He knows everything, and is all powerful. Because of this belief, we tend to think that it is easy for God to be everywhere, answering every prayer Himself by virtue of his great power and knowledge. Although it is certain that there are things God can do that we can't, that doesn't mean it is God who does all things.
The apostle John wrote, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made" (John 1:1-3).
In the beginning, before the world was made, Jesus - as the Word of God - lived with God, the Father. Although Jesus was God, He was not God, the Father. He was a Son of God and all Christians agree on this point. However, the Father is always greater than the Son. Thus, what John is telling us is that it was the Son, not the Father, who made all things. But if the Father is all powerful, why didn't He create the earth Himself rather than having His Son do all the work?
Speaking of Christ, the apostle Paul wrote, "Then the end will come, when he (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he (Jesus) has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. For he (God, the Father) has put everything under his (the Son's) feet. Now when it says that everything has been put under him (Jesus), it is clear that this does not include God (the Father) himself, who put everything under Christ. When he (the Son) has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him (the Father) who put everything under him, so that God (the Father) may be all in all" (1 Corinthians 15:24-28, NIV).
What Paul told the Corinthians is that when Christ has finished His work by subduing all things under His feet and reigns supreme over all things, then He will "hand over the kingdom to God the Father." Furthermore, Paul tells us that when the scriptures says that He who put all power and authority under Christ, "it is clear this does not include God Himself" thereby showing that Christ is second in authority and power to no one except God, the Father. And after Christ has subdued all things and hands the kingdom back to the Father, then Christ, as the Son, will then put Himself in subjection to the Father, so that the Father may be supreme over all things.
But, if the Father has greater power and authority than the Son, then why does the Father have the Son do all the work, only to have Him hand it to the Father when the work is all done?
To understand why all we need to do is look at the way any organization operates. Most organizations have someone at the head who gives direction to it and who makes the final decisions. This person may be known as a chairman, president, CEO, or other such titles but they all have one thing in common. They oversee the entire organization and are responsible for making sure it accomplishes its intended purpose. In a very small organization, one person may be able to easily direct every aspect of its operation but when an organization becomes too large, it then becomes impossible for one person to personally oversee everything. Therefore, they must enlist others to assist them in fulfilling their responsibilities. And, the larger the organization, the more people must be enlisted.
The word that is used to describe this process is called delegation. At all times, the president, CEO, or other such person is always responsible for the proper functioning of their entire organization but, since they can't do everything themselves, they entrust part of their authority and responsibility to others. What that means is each person who has been given power and authority from the head is not acting on their own but, instead, is carrying out the wishes of the person who gave them their power and authority. If they do something other than what they have been told, then they have gone beyond the limits of their authority and have lost their power to enforce their commands.
Since God rules over a kingdom, He does so the same way anyone else governs a large organization, and that is by delegating His authority to others, who are then empowered to only do what God has given them the right to do.
All Christians believe in angels but in both the Hebrew and Greek, that words means "messenger." And, indeed, most of the time when we read about angels in the scriptures it has to do with them delivering a message. But, if God is all powerful, why does He need angels to deliver His messages? Why doesn't He deliver His own message? However, angels do more than just speak. They do work. Angels are spoken of as guarding people from harm, fighting battles, bringing comfort and help, as well as many other dutites. But why does God use angels to perform all these tasks if He can do them all by Himself without anyone's help?
All biblical scholars agree that the scriptures indicate that angles are grouped in different ranks, with some having more power and authority than others. Since we know that angels only do what God commands them, it is abundantly clear that God delegates His powers to higher angels who then delegate it down to lesser angels. Yet, regardless of their rank, each angel does only what God has allowed or authorized them to do. And it is in this way that God rules over His kingdom.
As members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that this church is God's kingdom here on earth and that it is patterned after that which exists in heaven. From the very top of this organization we see a system of delegation that reaches down to every man, woman, and child in the church. Jesus Christ is the head of this Church yet He has delegated certain powers or keys to one man who presides as Christ's mortal representative. This person, known by the title of President of the Church, in turn, shares that power with his two counselors and they with the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Those men, in turn, delegate their power and authority to others and so it goes down to bishops and auxiliary leaders. Yet, not one person, including the President of the Church, operates under their own authority. Each person who shares that authority is responsible for making sure that they are following the directives, commands, and orders of the head of the Church, Jesus Christ.
The way Christ intends to subdue all things under His feet is by delegating His authority, which He received from His Father, to mortal men and woman who are willing to help Him accomplish His work. Thus, the concept of delegation is not something invented by man but is an eternal principle.
However, that still doesn't answer the question of why God delegates His work to others if He is able to do everything Himself
There are several reason but one of the most important is that God is trying to teach us to become more like Him. As any parent knows, telling a child how to do something, no matter how well the lesson is taught, will never help their child learn how to do it. The best teacher is experience coupled with instruction. That is the reason for the saying "practice makes perfect." The more we practice the better we become. And the more we practice with someone who shows us how to do it and explaining how to overcome our mistakes, the faster we learn. In fact, practice implies making mistakes. If the very first time we did something we were able to do it perfectly then there wouldn't be any need for practice. This is where the saying comes from "we learn by our mistakes."
God is in the business of saving souls. If we are going to become like Him then we too must learn how to save souls and the only way we can effectively do that is by having the opportunity to do what God does. If He did everything Himself no one else would ever learn how to become like Him. Therefore, when God delegates His power to others it's for the purpose of allowing them to not only work with Him, thereby sharing in the rewards of His labors, but learning how to do what He can do.
When we leave this earthly existence the only thing we can take with us is the knowledge we have gained. Therefore God is trying to teach us as much as we are willing to learn and the way He does that is by having us do what He does, even if we do it rather imperfectly, making multiple mistakes.
But this learning process didn't start with our life on earth. There are four phases we go through on our journey to become like God. The first phase started when we lived in heaven before the earth was ever created. As members of the LDS Church we often talk about how our Father in heaven presented a plan whereby we could become like Him. However, in reality, God had been teaching and preparing us to achieve that goal long before He ever presented His plan of salvation
From the time we had been born to Him in heaven He had been teaching us eternal principles of righteousness and gave us many opportunities to grow spiritually. It wasn't until we had reached a certain point in our development that He then was able to present us with the next phase of our learning. Had we not progressed to a certain level of readiness, it would have been foolish for Him to shown us His plan. Yet, that had been His goal from the very beginning. Thus, the salvation of our souls began the moment we were born as spirit children of a heavenly king.
The Lord revealed to Abraham, "Now the Lord had shown unto me, Abraham, the intelligences that were organized before the world was; and among all these there were many of the noble and great ones; And God saw these souls that they were good, and he stood in the midst of them, and he said: These I will make my rulers; for he stood among those that were spirits, and he saw that they were good; and he said unto me: Abraham, thou art one of them; thou wast chosen before thou wast born" (Abraham 3:22,23).
We learn two important truths from these verses of scriptures. The first is that before the world was ever created there were people who had proven themselves to be "noble and great" and "good." The only way they could have done that was by doing something that made them that way. That indicates that we had been taught and prepared ourselves for salvation long before our Father showed us His plan and some people excelled at that better than others. What that also implies is that we had opportunities in heaven to serve God and grow spiritually before the earth was ever created.
The second thing we learn is that God intended to make these noble, great, and good people rulers of His earthly kingdom. But, to be a ruler means that a person must have someone to rule over. The fact that God intended to make these people "My rulers" clearly infers that God intended to delegate some of His authority to them. If God's plan was to save His children then it is clear that God's rulers would be responsible for helping Him achieve that goal.
Most people in the LDS Church think that the next step in our progression was coming to earth, but that's the third step. In this earthly environment we are given many opportunities to learn how to govern in God's kingdom by doing missionary work, helping to perfect the saints, redeeming the dead, and practicing priesthood principles of leadership. The fourth step happens after we've laid our mortal bodies in the ground and our spirit goes to the spirit world. There the work of the Lord continues as we carry on doing missionary work, helping to perfect the saints, and practicing priesthood principles of leadership.
All of this work helps prepare us for the resurrection. Those who have been true and faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ will have gained the needed skills and knowledge to not only inherit the celestial kingdom but enter into their exaltation where they will finally inherit all that God has and truly become like Him.
But, there is one step in this process that is often overlooked and that is the step in between us leaving our home in heaven and us arriving in mortality. Many LDS member just assume that after our Father presented His plan we continued to live in heaven, sitting around, taking it easy, not worrying about anything until one day we got the good news that it was our time to go to earth. However, such an idea is inconsistent with everything we know about how God deals with His children.
The gospel of Jesus Christ in its simplest form is to love God and love our neighbor. That means salvation is centered around caring about others because this is the essence of Godhood. When viewed from this perspective, it is easy to see that the salvation man requires a group effort. We don't save ourselves individually but rather we save ourselves by helping to save others. And it is in that process of helping to save othes that we become more like God.
As we've already seen, before God presented His plan for our salvation, He first prepared us to receive His plan. And part of that preparation not only included instruction but the opportunity to put into practice what we learned. And the same is true of the next step of our progression which is designed to prepare us to enter into mortality. If God is consistent, then He does that the same way He does in every step of our learning and that is by delegating some of His authority to His children and allowing them to assist Him in saving His children.
In this life we care about those who have gone ahead of us into the spirit world by doing baptisms for the dead, but those who have yet to come to earth have the same attitude towards us. Their hearts are turned to their future fathers and mothers through whom they will be born. Furthermore, their hearts are also turned to their former friends who have gone ahead of them to earth. As such, those waiting spirits have just as much an interest in our salvation as we here on earth have in one another and in those who have gone before us. That means that those who are waiting their turn to come to earth are working just as hard during their pre-mortal life to help God save His children we do here on earth and as do those who have graduated from mortality.
The question this raises is: What do they do there for our salvation?
While nothing has been specifically revealed, it is certain that they are organized in the spirit world in much the same way, doing much the same work that we do here on earth. That is to say, they are busily engaged in helping us succeed because their salvation is closely dependent on ours. But to accomplish this work they are no doubt grouped in ranks of authority with spirits overseeing their work just as we are. Although they may use different terms, we can think of them as being the equivalent of bishops, stake presidents, regional authorities, and so forth, each giving direction and guiding the work of salvation within their sphere of responsibility in accordance with the will of our Father in heaven.
When Christ reorganized His Church in April 1830, He explained the various ranks or offices of the priesthood, describing their individual duties and responsibilities. However, the duty of all the offices of the priesthood are to "visit the house of each member, and exhort them" as well as "to watch over the church always, and be with and strengthen them; And see that there is no iniquity in the church" (D&C 20:46-53). We often refer to this as "home teaching" but, in reality, this duty extends to everything we do in the church.
Under the direction of the bishop, auxiliary leaders meet each Sunday to discuss the needs of individual members of their ward in what is called the Priesthood Executive Committee or PEC. There the bishop receives reports and gives direction on how best to meet the needs of those who are having problems within his ward. However, these people are acting in accordance with written procedures, contained in the Handbook of Instructions, that have come from the highest level of Church government. Therefore, whenever there is a PEC meeting held anywhere in the world, each member of those committees is following the direction and working within the guidelines authorized by the President of the Church. In that sense, he has delegated some of his authority to them and they, in turn, are acting in his behalf, doing what the President of the Church would do if he were present.
There is every reason to believe that this same kind of organizational structure exists within each of the four steps of our eternal progression. Those who are waiting their turn to live in mortality no doubt have the same responsibility for watching over, being with, and strengthen those of us who are struggling against sin here on earth. However, it seems certain that, instead of one person being responsible for home teaching several families as we do here on earth, there may very well be several spirits assigned to watch over, be with, and strengthen each one of us individually. Thus, when we pray to our Father in heaven, there is a great probability that it is those spirits who are assigned to watch over us who actually answers our prayers.
If that is true, then why do we pray to our Father in heaven? Shouldn't we instead pray to our guardian angels? The answer is that the angels are only acting as representatives of God. When they answer our prayers they do so in accordance with the will of God. That means, when we pray to our Father in Heaven, the angels that have responsibility over us don't answer our prayers according to their own desires but act within the guidelines, directions, and instructions they've received from God.
If perhaps there should ever come a time when we offer prayers that our guardian angels are not sure how to answer, there are no doubt lines of authority they can go through to receive further direction and instruction, just as home teachers do in the Church. In addition to those duties, there are no doubt PEC types of meetings held among those in the spirit world where problems of individual mortals are discussed and plans of action are decided upon to help those in need here on earth.
For example, let's say in the pre-mortal spirit world a person had accepted an assignment to perform an important task while living in mortality but once here they began living in such a way that it would prevent them from fulfilling that assignment. This situation might be discussed in a "PEC" type meeting among the pre-mortal spirits as it would be discussed here in one of our PEC meetings. Under the direction of a spirit "bishop" the guardian angels assigned to that person might be given the task to take certain steps to help the wayward mortal get back on the right path to salvation in hopes of helping them still achieve the task they agreed to in their pre-mortal state.
But, if those steps fail to turn the wayward person around, then, in another "PEC" meeting, the spirit bishop might discuss what would be the consequences if the mortal person doesn't complete their assignment and which other mortal might be suitable to have that task assigned to. What makes this scenario seem very possible is that this is precisely the kind of discussion that goes on in PEC meetings here on earth. If the LDS Church is patterned after that organization which is found in heaven, then there is no reason to believe that such meetings are happening on both sides of the veil.
However, even though God may not be personally involved in answering every prayer offered to Him, we can be assured that when we do pray, those who are responsible for answering our prayers are giving us God's answer. Just like bishops and other leaders on earth seek the Lord's Spirit to guide them in their decisions, so too, those on the other side likewise seek to know our Father's will when answering our prayers. In this way it insures that each of our Father's children have their prayers answered the way our Father wants them answered. That's why we pray to Him.
On the other hand, if God did everything Himself then we wouldn't grow in skill, knowledge or wisdom. It is by allowing His children the opportunity to do what He can do that helps us truly learn how to become more like God.
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