Sunday, February 15, 2009

Prayer - Communication with God

In the early 1990s, rap star MC Hammer had the courage to use a popular song to publicly state to the contemporary music world: "You've got 2 pray just 2 make it today."

Something not often stated regarding the Hammer: he was right.

Prayer is our opportunity to communicate with our Father in Heaven. He expects us to pray - it is even a commandment.

This is one of those principles where I find it useful to draw an analogy to human parents. Our parents want to hear from us, and we, likewise, want to hear from our children. It's natural. We want the best for our children, as does Heavenly Father. And even if we could read minds and knew everything that was going on in our childrens' lives (as Father knows us), we'd still want them to make the effort to contact us and share with us.

We are admonished in the scriptures that we should pray always. That doesn't mean we need to be on our knees in prayer 24/7 - but we should be ever aware of God, praying either directly, or by keeping a prayer in our heart. Example: I pray on my knees each morning and each night, and I say a prayer over my food when I eat. But I will pray at other times as well - such as when I'm driving along the freeway and I see the evening sun striking the snow-covered Wasatch Mountains - the beauty is so wonderful that I will turn off the car radio and say a quick prayer of thanks - expressing my gratitude for the awe-inspiring view. (And yes, I keep my eyes OPEN while driving!)

The point is, it is important to be close to God, to converse with Him on a regular basis - not just when we're in need (like Wile E. Coyote praying as he falls through air to the bottom of a deep cliff). Wouldn't you be a little offended (or at least disappointed) if your children only called you when they wanted something, like to borrow money?

I am so thankful that we have the freedom to pray any time and any place we want. Even if it is only a silent prayer in your heart, there is no circumstance in which you cannot reach out and communicate with the God of the Universe. I think that's awesome. And it is not to be taken lightly - we should pray realizing that the communication is real.

As President Thomas S. Monson put it:
"As we pray, let us really communicate with our Father in Heaven.
It is easy to let our prayers become repetitious, expressing words with little or no thought behind them. When we remember that each of us is literally a spirit son or daughter of God, we will not find it difficult to approach Him in prayer. He knows us; He loves us; He wants what is best for us. Let us pray with sincerity and meaning, offering our thanks and asking for those things we feel we need. Let us listen for His answers, that we may recognize them when they come. As we do, we will be strengthened and blessed. We will come to know Him and His desires for our lives. By knowing Him, by trusting His will, our foundations of faith will be strengthened.
If any one of us has been slow to hearken to the counsel to
pray always, there is no finer hour to begin than now."

But don't be discouraged if your prayers are not reciprocated by an instant thunderous lightning bolt of revelation. Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said:
"Every sincere prayer is heard and answered
by our Heavenly Father, but the answers we
receive may not be what we expect or come
to us when we want or in the way we anticipate."

This is indeed true. The story I am about to tell illustrates this. It also is a testimony of the power of prayer - that a prayer of faith can result in a miracle. I don't just say this because I believe it because I read it somewhere or it was told to me - I have experienced it myself, so I have a first-hand testimony.

One example: In December of 1998, I was going through the darkest period of my life. I was in a situation that was literally destroying me - physically, emotionally, spiritually, personally. I had reached my wit's end - I didn't know where to turn or what to do - I just knew that I couldn't go on like that any longer. I was suffering deeply. I had made some very poor choices, and I was paying for it (had been paying for it for years at that point). I prayed fervently. I asked only that I might know WHEN my burden would be lifted - when things were going to at last get better. In my mind at the time, I envisioned things getting better in a way quite opposite to how they ended up getting better, but that's beside the point. The very salient point is that while in the midst of that tear-strewn prayer, I heard the Holy Ghost utter to me, in clear words, "Sunday, January 3rd, 1999." That was my distinct answer. I knew I had been spoken to, and I knew that if I could just hang in there for another two and a half weeks, I'd be okay.

My prayer was answered, and all I had to do was wait. Well, by the time January 3rd rolled around, I'd almost forgotten about that experience. But something drastic changed in my life that day, and it wasn't until a few days later that I realized - my burden had been lifted that day, in accordance with the answer I'd been given to my prayer. He'd kept His word. It wasn't what I'd been hoping for, but in the end, it was far, far better for me.

That was a big one, but I've also experienced many little blessings that reinforce my testimony of the power and reality of prayer.

A footnote: I originally intended this post to be paired with a post about revelation -
the other part of communication with God. That post is here. So this one completes the pairing.
(Coincidentally, that post was written about ten years to the day after the experience described above.)

The greatest prayer of all time.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Sweet Feeling of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is a central principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is forgiveness, as a function of the Atonement of Jesus Christ and our own repentance, that allows us to be cleansed from sin, freed from guilt, and able to live in peace. It makes salvation possible, because forgiveness actually eradicates our sin - wipes it from existence.

"Behold, he who has repented of his sins, the same is forgiven, and I, the Lord, remember them no more."
-Doctrine & Covenants 58:42

He remembers them no more! Gone!

Without forgiveness, we could not go to heaven and live with Heavenly Father, for no unclean thing can dwell in His presence.

Obtaining forgiveness feels good! Whether it be from a loved one or from our Father in Heaven, there is a great feeling that comes with being forgiven - a weight is lifted. The prophet Alma, when he was converted, experienced the great contrast between the heavy guilt of sin and the peace and joy of being forgiven by a loving God:
"Now, as my mind caught hold upon this thought, I cried within my heart: O Jesus, thou Son of God, have mercy on me, who am in the gall of bitterness, and am encircled about by the everlasting chains of death. And now, behold, when I thought this, I could remember my pains no more; yea, I was harrowed up by the memory of my sins no more. And oh, what joy, and what marvelous light I did behold; yea, my soul was filled with joy as exceeding as was my pain! Yea, I say unto you, my son, that there could be nothing so exquisite and so bitter as were my pains. Yea, and again I say unto you, my son, that on the other hand, there can be nothing so exquisite and sweet as was my joy." -Alma 36:18-21
Forgiveness is sort of a two-way street. Not only are we promised forgiveness if we repent and rely upon the mercy of God through the Atonement of His Son, but we are also expected to forgive others. This makes perfect sense, since we are here to learn how to become more like God. It should be noted, however, that the commandment for us to forgive others is not merely a suggestion - it is conditional for our own forgiveness.

Indeed, choosing to not forgive others only hurts yourself, both by disqualifying yourself from heavenly forgiveness, and by causing your soul to be harrowed up and cankered by anger, spite, hatred, and negativity. Carrying anger and unresolved issues hurts your soul and is even physically unhealthy. You may think you are somehow punishing the unforgiven, but you are only punishing yourself.

Many in the world perceive a willingness to forgive as a weakness. It is actually a great strength! It takes humility, love, patience and many other Christlike virtues to be forgiving. And forgiveness is NOT a capitulation of any kind. Elder David E. Sorenson of the Seventy said:

Forgiveness does not require us to accept or tolerate evil. It does not require us to ignore the wrong that we see in the world around us or in our own lives. But as we fight against sin, we must not allow hatred or anger to control our thoughts or actions. The Savior said, “Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin (D&C 64:9).”

One other note - when we are commanded to forgive all men, that includes ourselves. Sometimes that can be very hard, but it is part of the principle of forgiveness that we be willing to forgive ourselves.

I testify that forgiving others is the only way to live in true peace with others. People are fallible. They will inevitably hurt you and let you down, whether intentionally or unintentionally - out of ignorance, carelessness, or selfishness. Likewise, we ourselves are not perfect, and will surely be the cause of harm to others through our own shortcomings. This is why forgiveness is so crucial. We are all in need of forgiveness from one another, as we are all in need of forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.

The Lord said, "As I have loved you . . . love one another." Surely that includes, in a large measure, our willingness to forgive one another.

For a most excellent book on forgiveness, you should read The Miracle of Forgiveness by Spencer W. Kimball. It is a very worthwhile read, and although written 40 years ago, it is as pertinent today as it was then. I challenge you to read it, and to work each day to forgive others, and to seek forgiveness from our Heavenly Father.

You'll be glad you did.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Obedience is the key to true happiness.

That is to say, real happiness and freedom comes from keeping the commandments of God.

Think of it this way (this one's a lot easier to grasp if you have children of your own): You love your child (or children) and want them to be happy. You want them to be safe, and to enjoy their freedom and health and to have a good life. You hope they will share your values.

So, you give them instruction as they grow - you teach them how to make good choices. You set out rules and guidelines and suggestions. And then you let them govern themselves and hope they choose things in their lives that will yield true happiness (not just fleeting pleasure).

Heavenly Father has given us all our own agency (freedom to choose for ourselves). He also gave us commandments - laws that will bless our lives if we follow them (see D&C 130:20-21). If we do our part, He will do his. That is an excellent promise.

Whereas we can choose our own actions, we cannot choose our consequences. If I choose to steal a car, I cannot choose to skip the jail sentence given to me by the judge. If I choose to smoke cigarettes, I cannot choose to skip the resulting health problems. If I choose to speak unkindly to someone, I cannot choose the effect it has on that person.

What I've found in my own personal life is that when I choose things that I know are wrong or contrary to God's commandments and His will, I may or may not feel some short-term pleasure as a result, but in the long term (and it's not usually very long at all) - I end up feeling unhappy, or even miserable. And the more I do wrong, the worse I feel. (Thankfully, I can always repent, which alleviates that ill feeling.)

Indeed, wickedness never was happiness.

On the other hand, I have also learned from experience that when I do right - when I make choices that are aligned with God's will, when I keep His commandments and choose the right - I feel happy. A real, solid, lasting happiness. And it builds and grows, the more I do right. This is what's known as joy.

Many in the world - those who shun authority - claim that obedience is restrictive - that it limits your freedom. The opposite is true. When you choose to be disobedient, you immediately forfeit your freedoms. For instance, when you choose to partake of addictive substances such as alcohol, nicotine, cocaine, or even caffeine - you relinquish some of your self-control to the addiction. It starts to control you by exerting influence over your decisions, actions, and judgment. A more obvious example is when you choose to break a criminal law and wind up in prison. That is a clear case of giving up your freedom in exchange for choosing to break the law.

On the other hand, when you choose to keep the commandments, you are free from addictions, free to feel happiness without guilt, and free to enjoy the direct and indirect benefits of adhering to laws that have been designed for our own good.

As a young child may think his freedom is being restricted unfairly because his mother won't let him touch the hot stove or jump off the roof of the house or pull the cat's tail, we may sometimes feel that God's laws are just there to limit us. But He is our all-wise, all-knowing, and all-loving Father. His laws are there to help us, to protect us, and to help us learn how to become more like Him.

Elder Richard G. Scott said (emphasis mine):
"True, enduring happiness, with the accompanying strength, courage, and capacity to overcome the greatest difficulties, will come as you center your life in Jesus Christ. Obedience to His teachings provides a secure ascent in the journey of life. That takes effort. While there is no guarantee of overnight results, there is the assurance that, in the Lord's time, solutions will come, peace will prevail, and happiness will be yours."

Jesus is our example. He was perfectly obedient. He kept all His Father's commandments. And if we emulate Him, we will obtain true happiness.

Additionally, it's important to me that striving to keep the commandments allows me to remain worthy (and therefore free) to use the Priesthood, and to enter the Holy Temple. If you want to stay morally clean, be obedient. As Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin stated: "Willing obedience provides lasting protection against Satan’s alluring and tantalizing temptations."

Being obedient is not that hard. I mean, it takes work, no doubt, but it's not so hard that you shouldn't even try. Such discouragement is a tool of the Deceiver. President James E. Faust said:
"Many think that the price of discipleship is too costly
and too burdensome. For some, it involves giving up too much.
But the cross is not as heavy as it appears to be.
Through obedience we acquire
much greater strength to carry it."

Look, I've seen both sides. I've chosen both ways. And I fully endorse keeping the commandments as the best way to be happy and free. I'm not perfect in doing so - I fail often and repent often. But I have made my choice to follow the Lord's example and try to be obedient. It takes humility, and strength, and determination.

But it is so worth it.

My Family

My Family
THIS is what it's all about. (July 2013)

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