Several years ago during a visiting teaching appointment, my companion said something that really changed how I pray. She said (paraphrasing), “I was taught that when we pray, we don’t have to fill the entire prayer up with talking. We should pause in between phrases so that we can feel the Holy Ghost and be guided on what to say next. We get more out of prayer, and we truly say what we need to say.”
I felt strongly impressed to follow that advice. As I started to pray that way, I noticed my attitude about prayer changed, my relationship with Heavenly Father strengthened, and my ability to receive personal revelation increased.
I’ve always known that prayer is important, and I believe in the power of prayer, but I really struggled to make my prayers personal. Once during a youth activity, we learned different examples of people in the scriptures praying all day to Heavenly Father (see Luke 6:12, Enos 1:4, Mosiah 21:14). I remember our leader telling us that we should be able to pray like that some day. She said that our relationship with Heavenly Father and our ability to pray should get to that point. I remember thinking, “I’ll never be able to pray like that. I’m a failure at prayer.” For most of my life, I generally prayed using memorized and repeated phrases. I believed in prayer, I knew it was important, but I didn’t feel that I was “good” at praying.
When I started pausing during my prayers to allow the Holy Ghost to enter my heart, everything changed! I felt like my prayers meant something. I felt like I was actually talking to my Heavenly Father and that He was listening. The things I said in my prayers became more personal, and very much needed. When I allowed my lips to be still, so that the Holy Ghost and Heavenly Father could talk to me, I would be reminded of things to give thanks for that I had forgotten about, or I would feel impressed to ask for someone to be blessed or helped. Often I didn’t know if anything was going on their life, I just felt like they needed a prayer.
In Sister Carol F. McConkie’s recent general conference talk, “The Soul’s Sincere Desire”, she taught the exact same principle:
“We pray by the power of the Holy Ghost because ‘he that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God.’ (D&C 46:30) When we pray with faith, the Holy Ghost can guide our thoughts so that our words harmonize with the will of God.”
Inviting the Holy Ghost into our prayers allows us to learn God’s will. We align our questions and actions to His will. I can attest to this through personal experience, as I find it easier now to hear the answers to my questions. Sometimes my questions get answered while I’m praying, and I know that I am having a conversation with my Heavenly Father. Sometimes they get answered right after I end my prayer. Sometimes they don’t get answered until the next morning after a good night’s sleep. And sometimes, I am led to my answer through the scriptures, or our modern day prophets, or a family member or friend. There have been a few times where I have received an answer to a question that I hadn’t verbally asked yet, but it had been in my heart. This is called personal revelation.
In the Doctrine and Covenants we are taught what to do in order to receive revelation and how we know that we are receiving revelation:
“Yea, behold, I will tell you in your mind and in your heart, by the Holy Ghost, which shall come upon you and which shall dwell in your heart.
Now, behold, this is the spirit of revelation…” (D&C 8: 2-3)
“But behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.
But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore, you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.” (D&C 9:8-9)
The burning in the bosom and stupor of thought can be slightly different for each person; so if you wouldn’t describe your feelings that exact way, know that you are still receiving personal revelation. For me, a confirmation makes me feel calm or I feel strongly impressed to do a specific thing. For a “no”, I feel a very firm “no” or I feel myself wrestling. If I feel myself wrestling I eventually figure out the answer is no and I need to let go and move on. Once I do that I generally feel better. Sometimes I even pray for help to let go and to feel better.
If the answer to a heartfelt question is no, we may be tempted to believe that our prayer has not been answered. Sister McConkie reminded us that even our Savior, Jesus Christ, asked a question where the answer was no:
“As the Savior entered the Garden of Gethsemane, His soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. In His agony,the only one He could turn to was His Father. He pleaded, ‘If it be possible, let this cup pass from me.’ (Matthew 26:39, 38) But He added, ‘Nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.’ Though sinless, the Savior was called upon to ‘[suffer] pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind,’ including the sickness and infirmities of His people. ‘[He] suffereth according to the flesh that he might take upon him the sins of his people, that he might blot out their transgressions according to the power of his deliverance.’ (Alma 7:11, 13) Three times he prayed, ‘Father, they will be done.’ (Matthew 26:39-44) The cup was not removed. In humble, faithful prayer He was strengthened to go forward and fulfill His divine mission to prepare for our salvation, that we might repent, believe, obey,and obtain the blessings of eternity.”
Even though the answer to Jesus’ question was no, He still followed God’s will; and in doing so, God blessed him with the strength and comfort to do what he needed to do. When we pray with the power of the Holy Ghost, we can also be blessed with that same strength and comfort in times of need.
In opening up my heart to the Spirit during prayer and receiving answers to my questions, my relationship with Heavenly Father has deepened and strengthened. As my relationship with Heavenly Father has strengthened, I find it easier to open my heart to the Spirit, and easier to notice revelation. All three are connected and as I grow in one area I grow in the others as well.
I testify that the power of prayer is real. Heavenly Father hears our prayers. He answers our prayers. And as we open our hearts to the Spirit, our faith, our testimonies, and our relationship with our Heavenly Father will grow.