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February 9, 2014

Living on Purpose: Praying with Real Intent

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Living on Purpose:  Praying with Real Intent

    I said the worst prayer of my life when I was 4 years old.  I was mad at my grandmother for putting me to bed before my parents got home so I devised a plan!  Instead of the usual, I said, “Salami, salami, bologna, bologna. Amen.”  Blasphemous, I know.  She quickly set me straight!  And so did my parents the next morning.
    My take away from this experience?  Prayer is real!  God, our Father in Heaven is real.  He is always at the receiving end of our prayers and we should not mock Him or waste His time with false prayers.  So what is a real prayer and how should we pray with, as the scriptures instruct, “real intent” (see Book of Mormon, Moroni 7)?
    Sincere prayer is easier when we think about God and His role as the Father of our spirits, an incredibly loving parent, omniscient (He knows all) and omnipresent (He can be with us always).  He knows the answers, He knows our hearts and circumstances and wants us to be close to Him!  Understanding this relationship makes it easier to approach Him.  We know He won’t turn us away. He will never “hang up” on us.  He will listen and respond as often as we need Him to.
    Where to begin?  I found a very simple answer in a song children sing during their Sunday instruction.  It is called, “I Pray in Faith” written by Janice Kapp Perry. 
        I begin by saying, “Dear Heavenly Father”;
        I thank him for blessings he sends;
        Then humbly I ask him for things that I need,
        In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

    It is very simple.  But then we need to open our hearts and minds for the answer.  It may come and we don’t notice because we are preoccupied either in thought or deed.  It may come and we don’t fully trust God’s answer.  It may not come because we are not asking in the right way. 
For example, when I was preparing to graduate from high school I really wanted to know what to do with my life.  I prayed a lot but never felt my prayers were being answered.  I guess I hoped God would go through all the options for me and send me an easy and fully prepared map for my future.  Wrong!  I had to do the leg work while I was praying.  And I had to learn through the busyness of this time in my life how to listen and take moments through my day, and especially while I prayed, to just stop and listen.  He will “tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the power of the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart” (Doctrine and Covenants 8:2)
And sometimes we are not asking in the right way.  It’s hard to pray when your heart is not right before God.  Just ask Huckleberry Finn:

. . . I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all . . . You can’t pray a lie—I found that out.

Mark Twain had his mischievous Huckleberry learn one of the most important lessons of life.  God knows our hearts and He answers prayers but we have to be ready and willing to do our part. 
Praying with real intent often requires a sacrifice of some kind.  We may need to give up an undesirable habit or become more humble and acknowledge a need for God’s help and blessings.  We may need to re-examine what we are praying for and make sure it’s reasonable. 
My daughters all dance competitively and prayer is always a part of our preparations.  We don’t pray to win.  We don’t pray the other dancers will mess up.  We don’t pray the judges will ignore our faults and award us first.  We pray to do our best, to feel calm, to remember all the things we have practiced- and if we make a mistake, to learn from it.  That’s a prayer He can answer! 
And much as I would love Him to take away my 4 year old nephew’s leukemia, I fast and pray that he will be courageous as he goes through his treatments.  I pray his family will be strengthened emotionally to continue supporting him.  I pray his brother providing the bone marrow for the transplant will be cooperative and healthy (he’s not quite 2 and rather spunky!).  Time and again I have seen these prayers answered. 
Last time my nephew went to the hospital he said hi to the nurses, asked for his favorite toys and a cup to pee in and jumped up on the bed (sorry if that was irreverent but it’s almost a direct quote- the nurses love him!)  He smiles in every picture and continues to find incredible joy in the very simple things in life. 
He may have a cancer diagnosis but he is not letting that get him down.  I know a loving Heavenly Father is pouring incredible blessings upon him and his family.  Could God take away the cancer?  Yes.  But we have all learned so much going through this process I believe He didn’t so we could have abundant opportunities to learn.  I want him to live but maybe God needs him to do something he can’t do here on the earth.  I can accept that, although it makes me heartbroken to think about because I will miss him tremendously.
I have faith in God’s ultimate promise that we will all return to live with Him if we are faithful and obedient.  That testimony gives me an eternal perspective as I pray and helps me understand the answers I receive, especially if the answer is not what I originally thought it should be!
I conclude with a challenge to anyone reading:  Pray one more time every day than you have been in the past.  That may be once or it may take you to 100.  Either way, write down somewhere how that makes you feel after a week.  You will certainly begin to notice the hand of God in your life.  Remember, this can happen anywhere- turn the radio off in your car, close your eyes and have a quiet moment on the subway or in a waiting room, kneel by your bed in the morning or at night.  Start the conversation!  Heavenly Father wants to hear from YOU. 
        -Mitzi Robins

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