Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Pray Always That Ye May Endure It Well

I went to a rather large Catholic mass this past Easter, it was all in a foreign language and the congregation was very diverse, but there was a time when everyone repeated the Lord’s prayer in their respective languages. I have thought a lot about that experience since then, pondering the differences between that method of worship and the method in which we worship in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I’ve had a lot of experience with repeating prayers—that’s the only way the Ukrainian people pray also, if they pray at all. I believe the Lord answers all sincere prayers regardless of the method by which one prays, however, the problem with rote prayers is that repeating a “prayer” does not and cannot help us develop a personal relationship with our Father in Heaven any more than me reading and repeating this talk helps you and me become friends. “For how knoweth a man the master whom he has not served, taught the Savior, “and who is a stranger unto him, and is far from the thoughts and intents of his heart?” (Mosiah 5:13).

How blessed are we to know the true meaning of prayer and the purposes prayer serves! Through prayer we do learn the thoughts in intents of God. “Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other” (BD-Prayer). By praying with real intent, having faith in Christ, we will come to know the truth of all things. As we focus more on our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ, our eternal perspective will become clearer. As we come unto Christ to be perfected in Him, as we take His yoke upon us to ease our burdens through His atonement, we come to know Him better. Prayer is the key to developing our relationship with God.

With that relationship comes the added strength to withstand the devil’s “mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind” (Helaman 5:12) and to deal with whatever the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon us in our quest to put off the natural man and be perfected in Him (see Mosiah 3:19).

I wish now to relate a story of the power of prayer in helping us adequately deal with trials in our lives as illustrated in the example of Alma the elder and his people.

The people of Alma lived in the city of Helam, a city built by their own hands after they fled their homes at the threat of death by the armies of their wicked king, King Noah. These people forsook their riches and “fun” lifestyle to risk their lives and follow Alma, and they endured much because of their newfound faith and renewed desire to follow Jesus Christ. In addition to beginning a completely new lifestyle, they lived in the wilderness and started a new civilization from scratch.

Then, as if that were not enough, Noah’s priests who had escaped punishment and death, kidnapped Lamanite girls, and then put in positions of leadership and power by the same Lamanites whose daughters they kidnapped, were given free reign over Alma and his people.

“And now it came to pass that Amulon began to exercise authority over Alma and his brethren, and began to persecute him, and cause that his children should persecute their children.” (Mosiah 24:8).

Imagine what the people of Alma must’ve thought; they were in good standing with the Lord. They had prayed much and had developed personal relationships with their Father in Heaven and had already withstood many trials. They had a firm understanding of the plan of salvation and of the atonement of Jesus Christ. They forsook all they had to follow Christ, be baptized, and were striving to endure to the end. Why yet another trial? Why now?

How did the people of Alma react? They reacted in the best manner they knew how. They prayed. “And it came to pass that so great were their afflictions that they began to cry mightily to God” (v. 10). They exercised their faith in the delivering power of Jesus Christ and His atonement once again. When Amulon heard their cries, “[he] commanded them that they should stop their cries; [putting] guards over them to watch them, that whosoever should be found calling upon God should be put to death” (v. 11).

But that did not stop Alma and his people, for they “did pour out their hearts to [God]” (v. 12). And the Lord “did know the thoughts of their hearts,” and spake unto them in the midst of their afflictions saying, “Lift up your heads and be of good comfort, for I know of the covenant which ye have made unto me; and I will covenant with my people and deliver them out of bondage. And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage” (vv. 12-14).

The account continues, “and [Alma and his people] did submit cheerfully and with patience to all the will of the Lord” (v. 15). They prayed in faith, He answered, and although He did not straightway deliver them from their trials, they had the faith to be patient and endure their trials well, waiting on the Lord’s timing until He saw fit to deliver them.

“And it came to pass that so great was their faith and their patience” (v. 16) that the Lord did deliver them out of their trials and their afflictions and delivered them up to the land  of Zarahemla where “king Mosiah did also receive them with joy” (v. 25).

Then what did the people of Alma do? “They poured out their thanks to God because he had been merciful unto them, . . . And they gave thanks to God, yea, . . . [they] lifted their voices in the praises of their God” (vv. 21-22).

Prayer, as best I understand, had a three-fold purpose in helping us not simply deal with trials, but deal with them in the best way that we come off conqueror and have “peace in this world, and eternal life in the world to come” (Doctrine and Covenants 59:23). First, prayer helps us develop our relationship with deity, that we more fully understand our divine heritage and know that this life is not the end, but a proving ground for much better things. The people of Alma had that eternal perspective, which led them to rely more fully on the Lord in the midst of their trials.

Second, prayer helps us know how to best deal with trials as we experience them. Prayer invites the Spirit of the Lord that we may be comforted and helps us know that our affliction in this life is but a small moment and, if we endure it well, God will exalt us on high (see Doctrine and Covenants 121:7-8). The people of Alma were comforted as they cried unto the Lord for help. They were blessed and their trials were lessened and eventually done away with.

And third, prayer is the manner in which we express our gratitude to the Lord for His help and love both during and after our trials. The people of Alma did not escape the bondage of the Lamanites and the wicked priest of King Noah and then forget what the Lord had done for them. They poured their souls out to him and “lifted their voices in praises of their God.”

In our day, no matter the trials we face, whether they are related to the stress of school, of choosing life’s path, dating, relationships, work, family, keeping the commandments, health, finances, prioritizing, etc., prayer is the key to helping us see His hand in our lives. We are able to better see the end from the beginning. Through prayer, our relationship with our Heavenly Father develops and then we trust Him as we pray in the midst of our trials. When our trials are over or we at least feel His influence in our lives, we naturally express our gratitude to Him for His help.

I know that our Heavenly Father answers our prayers. I know that He desires to talk to us and wants only for us to be happy. When we rely on Him and the saving, healing power of the atonement of Jesus Christ, we can be successful in our journey through this life. We can conquer any trials and adversity that may come to us with His help.