"Three years previous to the death of Adam, he called Seth, Enos, Cainan, Mahalaleel, Jared, Enoch, and Methuselah, who were all high priests, with the residue of his posterity who were righteous, into the valley of Adam-ondi-Ahman, and there bestowed upon them his last blessing… And Adam stood up in the midst of the congregation; and, notwithstanding he was bowed down with age, being full of the Holy Ghost, predicted whatsoever should befall his posterity unto the latest generation. These things were all written in the book of Enoch, and are to be testified of in due time" (D&C 107:53, 56, 57).
As Christians we believe that God is not only all-powerful but that He is also all-knowing. The scriptures tell us that He "knoweth all things for all things are present before mine eyes" (D&C 38:2) and that the "past, present, and future… are continually before the Lord" (D&C 130:7). There is nothing that He doesn't know. For this reason Adam, the very first man, three years before he died, was able to correctly and accurately prophesy what was going to happen all the way down through time to the very last generation, more than seven thousand years into the future.
This has raised the question that if God knows what we are going to do long before we do it then is our life and our actions preordained? In other words, how can God know what we are going to do if our actions, thoughts, behavior, and decisions are known long before we do them unless they have already been determined and we have no other choice than to do as God has predicted?
On the other hand, if we have the freedom to choose for ourselves what we want to do and think then it must be possible for us to do something different than what God has foretold. And if that is so then there is the very real possibility that God can make a prophecy that doesn't come true. But, as Christians, we believe that God cannot lie and neither can He say something that does not happened. The prophecy that Adam gave in front of his posterity was so certain that they wrote it in a book so that in time it would serve as a testament that Adam was indeed inspired by God in the prophecy he uttered.
That then brings up another question. If God knows everything and His knowledge is absolute, then what purpose does it serve to pray to Him since He knows the outcome of everything before we even ask it?
Take for example when Jesus ascended into heaven after His resurrection and told His disciples that He would return again. When asked when that would be, Jesus told them it would happen at a time when the entire world was in commotion and be at war. Jesus continued saying that at that time all nations would be arrayed against the Jews and would seek to drive them into the sea. It would be when it seemed that there was no way to save themselves from destruction that Jesus would appear and fight their battle for them.
If that prophecy is to come true then God cannot answer the prayers of those who pray for world peace because, to do so would invalidate that prophecy. .
In speaking of His second coming Jesus also told His disciples "but of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only" (Matthew 24:36). For more than a hundred years after the death of Jesus, His followers believed that He would return in glory during their lifetime. It is certain that many Christians must have prayed to know when that time would come, especially as they were enduring horrific persecution yet God could not answer that prayer without making the words of Jesus a lie.
Even Joseph Smith asked the Lord to know when He was going to return. At that time, there were many people who were predicting that Christ's second coming was eminent based on their biblical calculations yet, if the words of Jesus were to remain true, it was impossible for God to answer Joseph's prayer. Therefore, it is useless for us to pray for anything that is contrary to God's word since God cannot contradict Himself and what He has determined to do is going to happen whether we pray about it or not.
There have been times when people have prayed for God to change someone's mind or to affect the outcome of events, such as a national election. There are countless stories told of people praying to soften the hearts of others or for someone's attitude to be changed. Yet, if God will not take away anyone's right to freely decide for themselves then it would seem futile to offer such a prayer because to do so would require God to cause people to make a decision or take an action they were opposed to doing.
These kinds of questions have plagued biblical theologians for centuries and have led some to conclude that we have no agency to do as we want but we are just puppets who are being manipulated by God to do His bidding "according to the good pleasure of his will" (Ephesians 1:5).
Yet the answer to this dilemma is really quite simple. In fact, it is something we ourselves do all the time.
For example, a mother might right down on the calendar that on a specific date there is going to be a birthday party for their child, beginning at one o'clock in the afternoon. But how does she know that there will be such a party at that specific time and be so certain of it that she can actually make a written record of it? The answer is obvious. She doesn't just sit around hoping that somehow there will be a party on the day and at the time she has predicted. Instead, she sets a goal and then actively works to make the future event happen.
And when certain people do show up bearing gifts for her child, she has not exercised some magical power over them that has mysteriously taken away their freedom to choose. They have shown up, just as she predicted, of their own free agency and have deliberately chosen to bring gifts to freely give away to the birthday child.
All of us understand this principle and it is the same principle God uses to accomplish His will. God did not create this earth with no idea of what He intended to do with it. He has a very specific plan of what He wants to accomplish at what time and in what place and in what manner. As such, He doesn't sit around and let things happen. Instead He is actively working to make things happen so that the outcome is exactly what He wants.
For example, the apostle Paul prophesied that before Christ comes again there would first be a falling away but the time would come when there would a restoration of all things (2 Thessalonians 2:3; Matthew 17:11). Over a thousand years before that statement was made Joseph, who was sold into slavery to the Egyptians, prophesied that the Lord would raise up a mighty prophet whose name would also be Joseph and that his father would also have the same name. The prophet Micah prophesied that "in the last days it shall come to pass that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established in the top of the mountains and it shall be exalted above the hills and people shall flow unto it" (Mica 4:1). Ezekiel prophesied that there would come a time when "the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim" will be put "with the stick of Judah" and they shall become one in our hand (Ezekiel 37:19).
God didn't just know this was going to happen because of His great knowledge but because He was going to make sure it happened. And He started His preparations to bring about the restoration more than three hundred years before the restoration actually took place.
God wanted to restore His gospel in a land where there was religious liberty but in 1492 no such land existed so, like a farmer who prepares his field before planting, God set about to prepare a land where He could plant the seeds of the restoration. He began by choosing a man named Christopher Columbus who was receptive to the whisperings of the Holy Ghost and inspired him and guided him to discover the land we now call America. Then, more than a hundred years later, He inspired and helped a group of people who were seeking to do His will to settle in this land in a place they called Plymouth in the new England.
It took a hundred and fifty more years before that little band of Pilgrims grew to almost three million people when many of them became restless with the burning desire for freedom from England. Through a long, bloody war, God guided the army of General George Washington, protecting them until He finally gave them the victory. Yet, this fledgling nation was still not united and needed some form of government that would make them one nation under God. Although the men who met in Philadelphia in 1787 had many different ideas of how to maintain their freedom, after four grueling months of arguing, they came together to sign a document, the likes of which the world has never seen. But they didn't come up with that form of government because of their own great wisdom. God's invisible hand was working on them, inspiring them and guiding them as they sought His help in their undertaking.
Finally the land was prepared for the restoration to begin and it was just eighteen years after the United States Constitution had been written when Joseph Smith, Jr. was born in Sharon, Vermont. But that wasn't where he needed to be. He needed to be in Palmyra, New York. Yet, as a very young child, he didn't have the ability to move himself to where the Lord wanted him to be, so the Lord had to work on his father. Again, the Lord went to work, causing conditions to exist where Joseph Smith Sr. felt the need to move to a better place. Through a serious of sicknesses and crop failure, father Smith became discouraged and felt the need to move to a milder climate where the ground was more fertile.
But where should they go? The family counseled together and it was decided to move to Palmyra, New York. I'm sure to them this seemed like a decision they had come to all on their own but, being a religious family, they also prayed about it and, in answer to their prayers, they were inspired and guided to the very place where God intended them to go.
At that particular point in time there was a great religious excitement in that part of New York, with each church seeking to gain converts. However, that was not by accident. The Spirit of the Lord was at work, inspiring preachers to go forth and proclaim the gospel with great furor and passion. Being religious themselves, the Smith family attended the various church meetings in an effort to decide which church they wanted to become associated with. Yet, for young Joseph Jr. he seemed to have a stupor of thought and could not make up his mind. In fact, the more churches he attended, the more confused he became, but that was not because he was lacking intelligence. It was the Spirit of the Lord working on him.
In this state of confusion he naturally turned to the Bible as was the custom of his family. Whether or not he was led to James 1:5 or whether the Lord simply waited for him to make his way to that verse, is immaterial because when he finally did read it, the Holy Spirit made the strongest impression on Joseph that he had every felt. Something inside of him seem to say, "Pray and ask God in faith to find out which church is true!" Again, God had been preparing the soil before planting the seed. Throughout his fourteen years of life God had been preparing Joseph for this very moment and when the time was right and the invitation to pray was given, Joseph readily and freely accepted it.
Now all the preparations had finally been completed and the time had fully come for God to begin His process of restoration. But this didn't happen by accident or simply because God sat around waiting for events to play out by themselves. God had worked hard and diligently for over three hundred years to make sure the beginning of the restoration happened just as He had planned it.
But what about Joseph Smith's first name and the name of his father, and how did Joseph in Egypt know what their names would be more than three thousand years earlier? The answer is, because that's the name God had planned on giving to his prophet of the restoration. Joseph Jr. was the fourth child in his family and the third son. Just about every parent struggles to figure out a name for their new born child and it is certain that the same thing happened to father Joseph and his wife Lucy. How or why they decided to name their fourth child (not their first) after his father, the record doesn't say but it's obvious that such an idea was inspired by the Holy Ghost. Therefore, the name they gave him was not given by accident, although, at the time, father Joseph no doubt didn't realize the significance of what he had done in giving that particular son that particular name. It probably just seemed like a good idea to him and his wife at the time.
If that's the case, then what is the sense in us praying to God since He already knows what He's going to do and is going to do it regardless of whether we pray to Him or not? This has led some to feel that since God's plans cannot be thwarted then not only is praying useless but there is nothing we can do except sit and watch as God takes care of things. Their attitude is that since God is all powerful and is in full control of everything then what will be will be. In that case there is no need for us to do anything.
But this is the same attitude some people have about God being all-knowing. Since He knows everything then He doesn't have to do anything except sit and wait for events to play out with no involvement from Him. But, as we have seen, that is not the case and, if we are followers of Christ, then we should follow His example. If He gets involved in shaping events to make them conform to his plans, then we too should likewise become involved in furthering the work of God.
As we have seen in the cited examples, God does His work through mortals. We are the instruments in His hand that He uses to accomplish His goals. We call Jesus our Lord and Master but in saying that, it makes us His servants. In fact, the apostle Paul often referred to himself as a servant of God and has counseled us to yield ourselves as "servants to righteousness unto holiness" (Romans 6:19). Since a servant is someone who does the work his master commands then, as servants of Christ, our duty is to do that which God commands us.
That is not to say that God can only use those who believe in Him. Because of His great knowledge He can get even the unrighteous to obey him when it is necessary. However, there is no magic involved in doing this. Like a master salesman, God merely sets up circumstances that will insure people will be receptive to His influence. For example, it took the Pharaoh ten plagues before he finally had a change of heart and let Moses take the children of Israel out of Egypt. This is why, when we pray for help, God is able to bring people to our aid in ways that seem almost miraculous yet happens in a very natural way without ever forcing anyone to do something they don't want to do.
Yet God depends upon those who are ready to do His bidding and He works more through those who willingly listen to and act upon His promptings than those who don't. If we are true followers of Christ then, when His Spirit whispers to us, we obey, not out of compulsion but because of our desire to serve Him whom we love.
For that reason, when we pray we need to do so with the intent of knowing what the Lord would have us do because there are times when what we want is not what the Lord wants. Even when what we want may be righteous, it may not fit into God's plan. In that case, our prayers may be in vain. But when we seek to know what the Lord wants us to do then we open ourselves to guidance from the Holy Spirit.
However there are times when the Lord will not act unless we do pray. For example, during America's Revolutionary War, not only did General Washington pray fervently for divine help on many occasions but the Continental Congress issued several proclamations setting forth a specific day when the entire nation was asked to fast and pray in humility. It could be said that it was always God's plan to give America the victory in that war but it was also His plan that America should be a land that acknowledged His hand and looked to Him as their source of wisdom.
Therefore to make sure this happened God deliberate raised up men for this very purpose (see D&C 101:80), men who had a firm reliance on divine providence and who were used to seeking the blessings of heaven through prayer. And even before then God raised up a dynamic preacher named George Whitefield who came to America in 1738 and began what has been called "The Great Spiritual Awakening." It was he who instilled in Americans a deep worship of God. So, what we see then is that it was no accident that the leaders of the Revolution were men who frequently looked to God in prayer for His help. This was the same situation with young Joseph. In order for him to receive a visitation from the Father and Son, it was necessary for him to pray to know which church was teaching the true gospel. But, more importantly, it was necessary for him to pray because without doing so the restoration could not begin. Therefore, God had to impress upon Joseph's mind the need to pray and so, as he read James 1:5 and felt that prompting, he voluntarily acted on that impression.
Although we may not be involved in something as dire as the Revolutionary War yet all of us experience times of great difficulty in our life and none of us take joy from unpleasant experiences. At times like this all of us feel the need to pray to the Lord for relief from our sufferings but the Lord answers our prayers as He feels is best. For example, Joseph Smith prayed with great earnestness for relief as he was confined in Liberty jail for six months but the Lord did not immediately grant his request. Instead, He told him that it was necessary for him to endure his suffering because it would give him experience and be for his good (D&C 122:7).
Of course, there are many times when God does answer our prayers in the way we desire. Although God has His own plans, that doesn't mean He controls and directs our own personal lives. As long as what we want doesn't conflict with His purposes, He is very willing to give us what we desire, sometimes when it isn't for our good. For example, when Martin Harris kept imploring Joseph Smith to let him show some of the sacred plates to his wife and Joseph continued to press the Lord for permission to do so, God eventually granted him his wish, even though it was not a wise request.
The scriptures tell us to pray always (2 Nephi 18:19; Luke 18:1) but as we pray we also need to remember that our desires should conform to God's purposes because God's plans have already been predestined.