"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
June 22, 2012
You Pray? To a Loving God? Do You Have Rocks in Your Head?
by Jeff Lindsay

Many people are trained to believe that faith in God and prayer to God are the fruits of mental weakness and delusion. Too many lack the imagination to understand that Mormons and other Christians who believe in personal prayer to a loving God may not be complete morons. I think it's time people expanded the power of their imagination.

I know that God is real, that He loves us, and that He hears and indeed answers prayers. I have known highly educated and successful men and women who have experienced the reality of God and the power of prayer. It is blindness to dismiss their experience and witness as mere stupidity.

It is largely through prayer that I know that God exists and that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.

Prayer must be understood primarily as a tool to change us and refine us, bringing us closer to God, rather than a tool for changing God and tweaking His will. The test for the reality of prayer is not whether prayer brings miracles on demand (healing cancer, acing tests, finding lost keys or cats) but whether prayer helps us reconcile our lives to the demands of God and helps us grow closer to Him.

Prayer is worship, not just a place to deposit our wish list. Prayer, though, may frequently lead to experiences ranging beyond expressing gratitude and receiving comfort. I have experienced obvious and wonderful answers to many prayers and have so much to be grateful for, though many times the answer is an undesired "No" or a frustrating "Do your best" or "You're asking the wrong question."

Prayer may be the most important single component of LDS worship. Going to church does not save a soul. Sitting through hours of meetings doesn't change our life or help us to know God if we are not worshipping Him personally and seeking Him through prayer.

A Latter-day Saint who is not praying daily - and having meaningful prayer - is missing the point of our religion: to know God the Eternal Father and His Son Jesus Christ, Whom He has sent. It is through prayer, personal communication with God, that we can learn His will, understand His nature better, and receive guidance in our lives.

Some of the most dramatic evidences of God's love and existence have been His "small" gifts, "tender mercies" in the language of Nephi in the Book of Mormon, often in response to prayers seeking for help or understanding, often in things that may seem small to others. Many of the most interesting experiences have been when I was seeking guidance in helping someone else or in fulfilling a calling or in parenting.

While I hesitate to give personal examples on the web or to publicly discuss sacred experiences in my life, I will offer a tiny personal example, adapted from a journal entry of mine from August of 1995. It's an example of a tiny "tender mercy" that helped me in my spiritual journey.

Let me first ask you to use a little imagination to understand that there may be reasons why God will sometimes be kind and merciful in small matters while not seeing fit to eliminate the bigger challenges of mortality (death, pain, war, taxes, crime, and presidential elections). I've touched upon this call for tolerance and imagination a couple of times while blogging at Mormanity with posts entitled, "Do Big Tragedies Negate Small Miracles?" and "Don't Begrudge Other Folks Their Miracles." I hope you can at least tolerate this tiny one of mine.

In the summer of 1995, while living in Wisconsin, I spent some vacation time in Utah. Part of that time was in southern Utah, where the wonders of God's creation can overwhelm the observer. The majesty of one location - Cedar Breaks National Monument - literally brought my wife to tears. A geologist and relative of mine, Paul Crosby, had taken us on a brief tour around the St. George area, explaining some of the processes that had created such strange beauty.

A few days later, my three-year old son (now on a mission in Peru) and I were walking along a deserted trail, once a road, on Butler Hill, right next to the Wasatch Mountains by Salt Lake City. I was surprised at the huge variety of rocks I was finding: igneous, metamorphic, sedimentary, in many colors and shapes. I paused and examined the setting and the beautiful mountains and wondered how such variety was possible on that former shore of Lake Bonneville.

As I looked over the valley and recalled the inspiring morning with a geologist a few days earlier, I wished that I could talk to a geologist again to better appreciate that part of God's creation. My son and I then returned to picking through the many rock piles, looking for treasures of beauty.

Just moments later, a man and his dog strolled by on that isolated lane. He interrupted us, saying, "I noticed that you are looking at the rocks here." Before I could say anything, he began to explain why there was such a variety of rocks to be found.

The road that once went up this hill had been closed off by dumping random truckloads of rocks from around the state of Utah - whatever rocks Salt Lake County happened to have it its trucks. As a result, there were varieties of lava rock from southern Utah, rocks from the Oquirrh mountain range, granites from Alta Canyon, metamorphic rocks from elsewhere in the Salt Lake area, and even some loads containing Indian artifacts.

I was impressed and asked him how he was so well informed. "I'm a geologist for the State of Utah and have studied this area." Thrilled, I bombarded him with a number of other questions before he had to go, thus learning the identities of many of the rocks that had stirred my curiosity. It was a true treat for me - and a marvelous blessing.

The Lord may seem to ignore most of our foolish pleas and may choose to let us suffer pain and disappointment for our own good, somehow, but through it all His loving kindness shows in marvelous ways. That gentle but flagrant act of kindness - apparently sending a geologist to visit me on an isolated stretch of long-closed road - shows me something about the loving Parent we worship.

Not only is He kind, but He wants us to know about His works and appreciate them - even to the point of sending a geologist our way at just the right time.

The journey of faith, to quote from an LDS scripture, is about recognizing "the hand of the Lord in all things." It's about being grateful for small miracles and blessings, even when big things go wrong at the same time.

Remember, this journey is not about getting our way or avoiding trouble - we are all going to die and suffer in various ways as conditions of this mortal journey. Further, the pains of sin will rage as a result of the abuse of the terrible but marvelous blessing of agency that God has given us, agency that we can and should use to choose Jesus Christ and turn toward His grace.

So prayer is not about having our demands fulfilled, but being filled by God with His spirit, with knowledge that He wishes to impart, with comfort and courage, with direction and even commands about what we must do to help others, and sometimes with joyous surprise when tender mercies are made manifest.

He is there, He lives, and He answers prayers in marvelous ways - if we'll exercise a little faith and have enough imagination to realize that our views and expectations may not be His for good reasons.

For more from Jeff Lindsay, see Mormanity at http://mormanity.blogspot.com and his Mormon Answers section at http://jefflindsay.com/LDSFAQ/.

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About Jeff Lindsay

Jeff Lindsay has been defending the Church on the Internet since 1994, when he launched his LDSFAQ website under JeffLindsay.com. He has also long been blogging about LDS matters on the blog Mormanity (mormanity.blogspot.com). Jeff is a longtime resident of Appleton, Wisconsin, who recently moved to Shanghai, China, with his wife, Kendra. He works for an Asian corporation as head of intellectual property. Jeff and Kendra are the parents of 4 boys, 3 married and the the youngest on a mission.

He is a former innovation and IP consultant, a former professor, and former Corporate Patent Strategist and Senior Research Fellow for a multinational corporation.

Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins and Mukund Karanjikar are authors of the book Conquering Innovation Fatigue (John Wiley & Sons, 2009).

Jeff has a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering from Brigham Young University and is a registered US patent agent. He has more than 100 granted US patents and is author of numerous publications. Jeff's hobbies include photography, amateur magic, writing, and Mandarin Chinese.

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