The Odd Thing: Prayer
But when we imitate Jesus' prayer and ask for our "daily bread," we are not making an insistent demand. We are not being superstitious. Instead, we are confessing that we do not have the power to master even our ordinary, daily difficulties, and we are conceding that God, the Creator and Master of the universe, has all power. With prayer, we place our existence and our well-being in the hands of God, and that changes everything.
Mormon scripture teaches us to pray for our salvation (Enos 1:4), for forgiveness of our sins and for the power to face temptation. Mormon scripture also teaches us to pray for the souls of others (Enos 1:9), for spiritual gifts (Alma 17:3), and for the love that comes through the Holy Spirit (Moroni 8:26).
But scripture teaches us not only to pray for such obviously spiritual things. It also teaches us to pray over more quotidian concerns, such as our work (Alma 34:20, 24-25) and our families (Alma 34:21). Scripture teaches that we can pray about a problem of any kind. It is even possible to pray that our financial situation will be better (Alma 34:25).
We must remember, however, that our prayers are not occasions for asking for whatever we wish. They are the occasions for entering a relationship with our Heavenly Father. To do that, we must have the Holy Spirit, who taught the disciples in the New World what they should pray (3 Nephi 19:24), and who will teach us too how to pray (D&C 88:137).
Of course there are moments in my life when I do not have that Spirit, when I have left his company. But even in such moments, I must pray. I must pray particularly when I find it most difficult to do so.
Perhaps in such moments my prayer will only be a prayer that I would be able to pray, that my heart will be broken and that my spirit will be humbled. In any case, it is necessary that I pray always, even if I think it is impossible. (See, for example, Lk. 21:36; 1 Thess. 5:17; 2 Nephi 32:9; Mosiah 26:39; 3 Nephi 18:15; and D&C 10:5.)
Mormons believe that when we were baptized we entered into a covenant with the Father that the Son made possible and which allows us to receive the Spirit. Without the sacrifice made by Jesus Christ, we would not have the good news of the gospel, the news that it is possible to return to the presence of God.
Without Jesus' life in the world as God and as a human being among other human beings, our prayers would be useless. But because of that life and the gift that it was for us, we are commanded to pray in the name of Jesus Christ, and he has promised, "Whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do" (Jn. 14:13).
When we teach our children to pray, we Mormons tell them that prayer has four parts: (1) we call on our Eternal Father, (2) we offer him our praises and thanks, (3) we tell him of our needs, even our insignificant daily ones, and (4) we conclude in the name of the Son.
That outline shows both the simplicity and the profundity of prayer. It is profound because it is the foundation of our religious life and the power by which we enter into and remain in accord with God. It is simple because it is a thing that even a small child can do.
Without prayer, the highest wisdom I can have access to is the fallible wisdom of other human beings. Without prayer, I am lost in the world. But through prayer I find myself once again in the presence of the Father, a presence that remakes the world and re-situates me within it, reminding me of who I am and strengthening me against the difficulties of the world.
James Faulconer is a Richard L. Evans Professor of Religious Understanding at Brigham Young University, where he has taught philosophy since 1975.