Drawing Closer to Heavenly Father through Prayer:
Good morning Brothers and Sisters. It’s nice to be here at church on this beautiful Sabbath day. It has been a couple of years since I have had the assignment to give a talk, and hopefully after today, a few more will pass until I get to do it again. During that time, there have been many talks, I sure much better than this one, and I have enjoyed all of the ones I have managed to stay awake for. You might know my family, or at least remember seeing my family: We have a tendency to show up a little late and then walk right up and sit in the front pew as has been the custom in my family for the past 30 some odd years that we have all been coming to church in this building. My name is Nathan Alldredge. My wife Rachel is sitting down there with my sons Ammon and Noah, and my daughter Emma.
A little bit about me, I am not the greatest communicator. My wife will confirm this for you if you have any doubts. As an example, yesterday we were scheduled to go out to my sister’s house to participate in a baby blessing, since her husband has been scheduled to work for the last several Sunday’s in a row, and it looks like he will continue that trend for the foreseeable future. Anyway, this had been scheduled for a few weeks, and I am sure that she had told me about it. But I probably wasn’t paying attention and so it didn’t get processed in my head as something that I was scheduled to do. I had lots of plans in my own head, projects that I wanted to get done yesterday. It seems like I never have enough time during the weeks to get anything done, and so when I thought I didn’t have any plans yesterday, my first thought should have been “What am I missing?” “What did I forget about?” But it wasn’t. I was going to do some electrical wiring, and get out our wood chipper to take care of the big pile of brush in the backyard… Luckily I have a wife that pays attention to things and events, and so she was able to set me straight. I really should try harder…
In my example above, there were several fails in communication on my part. I likely went through the motions of listening to the event being communicated to me, but I didn’t REALLY pay attention. I may have even nodded and smiled. Maybe I was too tired to process the communication, or I was thinking about something else at the time that the day and time of the blessing was communicated to me. I also mentioned that when I thought I had a bunch of free time, I should have known better. I should have asked someone (my wife) if they had better plans for me and my day. Not that my plans were bad, because those were all things that need to be done. But there were better plans that I might have missed out on if I didn’t have someone to remind me.I mention this because there are several things about this story that draw parallels to developing a real, personal relationship to God through prayer. Listening, paying attention to responses, asking what gods wants for me… I don’t know if this is what Brother Fairbanks had in mind when he called me to speak, but it is what I immediately thought of when I heard the topic. I felt like I needed to work on this myself, and perhaps share these thoughts with you all as well.
What is prayer? Elder James E Faust listed several attributes that make up a prayer in a conference talk entitled “The Lifeline of Prayer” First, prayer is a humble acknowledgment that God is our Father and that the Lord Jesus Christ is our Savior and Redeemer. Second, it is a sincere confession of sin and transgression and a request for forgiveness. Third, it is recognition that we need help beyond our own ability. Fourth, it is an opportunity to express thanksgiving and gratitude to our Creator. Fifth, it is a privilege to ask Deity for specific blessings. I would like to add a sixth, that prayer is an opportunity to align our motives with those of our Heavenly Father. In essence, Prayer is a perfect form of one on one communication.
Once we become familiar with these different aspects of prayer, the whole reason for prayer becomes more than just something we do. It becomes an opportunity to learn about God, and speak with a loving Father. James 4:8 teaches us that if we Draw Nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. What that scripture tells me is that the harder we try to come to know and understand our heavenly father, the more open and available he becomes for us. He becomes more than just a nebulous idea in our minds, he becomes a real person. Someone we can really truly pour out our hearts to, someone who understands and cares. Someone who has our best interests in mind. Someone who will help us find true happiness. It is a way for us to open ourselves up completely to a person who completely and perfectly understands us. Once we begin to accept the idea that prayer is a true two way form of personal communication, we can begin to ask real, heartfelt question and listen for the responses that God sends us. Sometimes they may be immediate, sometimes they may be slow in coming. Sometimes we may hear a voice. Other times, a feeling of peace or comfort. Many scriptures teach about the ways God will speak to us if we listen. My purpose in giving this talk is not to enumerate those ways, but simply to remind us that he does listen, and he definitely can answer, if we are willing to hear. It is also an opportunity to speak to someone who knows exactly what we are talking about. Matthew 6:8 teaches For your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. We can be completely comfortable knowing that we are not going to be misunderstood, because God knows our thoughts and intentions. We can feel comfortable praying for things like Amulek teaches in Alma 34: 20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks. Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening. Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies. Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness. Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them. Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase. But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness. Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.Elder Faust relates the experience of one Daniel Tyler, an associate of the prophet Joseph Smith: “At the time William Smith and others rebelled against the Prophet [at Kirtland], … I attended a meeting … where ‘Joseph’ presided. Entering the school-house a little before [the] meeting opened, and gazing upon the man of God, I perceived sadness in his countenance and tears trickling down his cheeks. … A few moments later a hymn was sung and he opened the meeting by prayer. Instead of facing the audience, however, he turned his back and bowed upon his knees, facing the wall. This, I suppose, was done to hide his sorrow and tears.
“I had heard men and women pray from the most ignorant, both as to letters and intellect, to the most learned and eloquent, but never until then had I heard a man address his Maker as though He was present listening as a kind father would listen to the sorrows of a dutiful child. Joseph was at that time unlearned, but that prayer, which was to a considerable extent in behalf of those who accused him of having gone astray and fallen into sin, [was] that the Lord would forgive them and open their eyes that they might see alright—that prayer, I say, to my humble mind, partook of the learning and eloquence of heaven. There was no ostentation, no raising of the voice as by enthusiasm, but a plain conversational tone, as a man would address a present friend. It appeared to me as though, in case the vail were taken away, I could see the Lord standing facing His humblest of all servants I had ever seen. … It was the crowning … of all the prayers I ever heard.”
I believe that this is the kind of relationship we should all be striving to have with our Father in Heaven. There have been points in my life where I have felt that this is true for me as well. That I really had a grasp on my relationship with my Father in heaven. There have been other times when I have not felt that same closeness. Again, like James teaches, it was not my Father that drew away from me during those times, but I who had drifted away from him.