May I suggest the best way I know to keep close to the source of this great strength is through prayer. No man can stand alone in his struggle through life. Sometimes in discouragement our prayers, at best, become occasional or maybe not at all. Sometimes we forget or just don’t care. Brigham Young once said, “Prayer keeps man from sin, and sin keeps man from prayer.” Some may be thinking that because they have a Word of Wisdom problem or because they have been dishonest or immoral—because they have not prayed for years—because of any reasons they now feel unworthy—they may say, “It’s too late, I’ve made so many mistakes—so why even try?” To these we say, “For your own sake, give yourself another chance.” Sincere prayer is the heart of a happy and productive life. Prayer strengthens faith. Prayer is the preparation for miracles. Prayer opens the door to eternal happiness. The Father of us all is personal, ever waiting to hear from us, as any loving father would his children. To learn to communicate with him, to learn to pray effectively, requires diligence and dedication and desire on our part. I wonder sometimes if we are willing to pay the price for an answer from the Lord. As we learn to develop this two-way communication, the standard of our life will improve. We will see things more clearly, we will try harder to do better, we will see the real joy that can come through trials and testing. Although problems will still be with us, peace, contentment, and true happiness will be ours in abundance.
Just as the scriptures assure, “little children do have words given unto them many times”. For example, the resurrected Jesus revealed things to the Nephite children, who then taught adults and their parents “even greater” things than Jesus had taught. It has been a privilege to seal several adopted children to Nan and Dan Barker, now of Arizona. Some time ago Nate, then just over three, said: “Mommy, there is another little girl who is supposed to come to our family. She has dark hair and dark eyes and lives a long way from here.” The wise mother asked, “How do you know this?” “Jesus told me, upstairs.” The mother noted, “We don’t have an upstairs,” but quickly sensed the significance of what had been communicated. After much travail and many prayers, the Barker family were in a sealing room in the Salt Lake Temple in the fall of 1995—where a little girl with dark hair and dark eyes, from Kazakhstan, was sealed to them for time and eternity. Inspired children still tell parents “great and marvelous things”.
I speak to this generation with some sense of vicarious anticipation in your behalf of what lies ahead—urging you to pour out your hearts in supplication and prayer. There is nothing more powerful than prayer, nothing more masculine or more feminine (at the same time) than prayer. There was more power processed and expended on that single night in Gethsemane, in that small garden, than all the armies and navies have ever expended in all the battles on the land and sea and in the air in all of human history. The catalyst of prayer helped Jesus to cope with suffering, and by his suffering he emancipated all men from death and made possible eternal life. This cardinal fact about the central act of human history, the Atonement, ought to give us pause, therefore, as we face our challenges individually. I believe it was George Macdonald who reminded us that the only door out of the dungeon of self is the love of one’s neighbor. How proud we ought to be, in a quiet way, that we are members of the church of the most selfless being who ever lived. How proud we ought to be to belong to a church that makes specific demands of us and gives us specific things to do and marks the strait and narrow way, lest we fall off one side of the precipice or the other. I am so grateful that God loves us enough to teach us specifically. Had secularists written the Ten Commandments, they might have said, “Thou shalt not be a bad person.” Note what the Ten Commandments say: “Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet, thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, thou shalt not commit adultery,” and so on. The gospel of Jesus Christ is specific because God cares specifically for each of us and, caring for us, will mark the way carefully lest we fall out of happiness.
Finally we decided we’d better hurry home before it was too dark to see. There was no trail on the hill, and the snow came up above our knees. We started down on the run, jumping through the deep snow. My hands were cold and half numb. All of a sudden I felt Father’s hammer slip through my fingers and fly into the snow behind me. I called to my friends to wait. They stopped to see what the trouble was, but soon they became impatient and insisted on going on. I went back in my tracks to try and find the hammer, but it hadn’t even left a mark in the snow. I looked around frantically. It was really getting dark now, and I was alone up on the hill in the deep snow. I knew I shouldn’t have taken my father’s hammer without his permission, for he needed the tool in his work. Now it was lost and I couldn’t find it! As I sat in the snow, I was so sad and cold and lonely that I felt just like crying. Then I remembered how I had been taught that when I needed help, I could pray to our Heavenly Father—no matter where I was. I needed help, so I put my face in my hands and prayed with all my heart. As I opened my eyes and rolled sideways to get up, my hand went down deep in the snow and touched something hard. I took hold of it and pulled it up through the snow. It was Father’s hammer! I thanked our Heavenly Father for answering my prayer. Then I jumped up and hurried as fast as I could to catch up with the other boys who were way ahead of me. As I caught up with them, I realized I had learned something of special importance that day—that we are never alone and that our prayers are heard and answered.
Across from me a woman sat sobbing. With tear-filled eyes, she told me, “I don’t know what I believe anymore.” She spoke of having struggled and prayed many days to know how to make a vitally important decision in her life, without success. She anguished, “I don’t know what to do. If you’ll tell me what to do, I’ll do it.” With her hand on the scriptures, she said, “God told us He would help us. He answers everybody else’s prayers. Why won’t He answer mine?” When one is caught in a whirlpool of emotion, it is difficult to find a way out alone. My prayer is to help you who have similar feelings. When answers to urgent prayer don’t seem to come, it can be that we don’t understand some truths about prayer, or because we don’t recognize answers when they come. Our Heavenly Father did not put us on earth to fail but to succeed gloriously. It may seem paradoxical, but that is why recognizing answers to prayer can sometimes be very difficult. Some face life with only their own experience and capacity to help them. Others seek, through prayer, divine inspiration to know what to do. When required, they qualify for power beyond their own capacity to do it. Communication with our Father in Heaven is not a trivial matter. It is a sacred privilege. It is based upon unchanging principles. When we receive help from our Father in Heaven, it is in response to faith, obedience, and the proper use of agency. It is a mistake to assume that every prayer we offer will be answered immediately. Some prayers require considerable effort on our part. True, sometimes impressions come when we have not specifically sought them. They generally concern something we need to know and are not otherwise able to find out. We are here on earth to gain experience we can obtain in no other way. We are given the opportunity to grow, to develop, and to gain spiritual maturity. To do that, we must learn to apply truth. How we face challenges and resolve difficult problems is crucially important to our happiness. To better understand prayer, I have listened to the counsel of others, pondered the scriptures, and studied the lives of prophets and others. Yet what seems most helpful is seeing in my mind a child approaching trustingly a loving, kind, wise, understanding Father, who wants us to succeed. Don’t worry about your clumsily expressed feelings. Just talk to your Father. He hears every prayer and answers it in His way.
Prayer, if given in faith, is acceptable to God at all times. If you ever feel you cannot pray, that is the time when you definitely need to pray. Nephi taught in plainness, “If ye would hearken unto the Spirit [of God] which teacheth a man to pray ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit … teacheth him that he must not pray”. President Harold B. Lee taught, “The sincere prayer of the righteous heart opens to any individual the door to divine wisdom and strength in that for which he righteously seeks.” Obedience assures us an answer to our prayers. We read in the New Testament, “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight”. The Prophet Joseph Smith learned in a revelation given to him in Kirtland in 1831, “He that asketh in the Spirit asketh according to the will of God; wherefore it is done even as he asketh”. In order to lift, enhance, and cultivate your relationship with God as His spiritual children, you have the unique opportunity to converse with the supreme source of wisdom and compassion in the universe. Daily, simple but sincere and mighty prayers will help you lift your lives to a higher spiritual altitude. In your prayers you praise God, give thanks to Him, confess weaknesses, petition needs, and express deep devotion to your Heavenly Father. As you do this in the name of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer, you perform a spiritual effort that leads to increased inspiration, revelation, and righteousness—not self-righteousness—and brings the brightness of heaven into your lives.
I am grateful for this privilege, and I invoke the Spirit of the Lord to sustain us as I speak about the power of personal prayer and how we may improve our communications with our Heavenly Father. All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above almost any other advice I have received. It has become an integral part of me, an anchor, a constant source of strength, and the basis for my knowledge of things divine. . . I bear witness to you, my beloved brethren and sisters, that God lives. He is not dead. I bear testimony that God our Father and His Beloved Son, our Savior and Redeemer, did in very deed appear to Joseph Smith. I know this as I know that I live. I testify there is a God in heaven who hears and answers prayer. I know this to be true. I would humbly urge all within the sound of my voice—member and nonmember alike—to keep in close touch with our Father in heaven through prayer. Never before in this gospel dispensation has there been a greater need for prayer. That we will constantly depend upon our Heavenly Father and conscientiously strive to improve our communication with Him is my earnest plea.
My message in the last general conference focused upon the gospel principle of asking in faith in prayer. Today I want to discuss three additional principles that can help our prayers become more meaningful, and I pray for the assistance of the Holy Ghost for me and for you. Principle #1. Prayer becomes more meaningful as we counsel with the Lord in all our doings. Principle #2. Prayer becomes more meaningful as we express heartfelt gratitude. Principle #3. Prayer becomes more meaningful as we pray for others with real intent and a sincere heart. . . We are commanded to “pray always” —“vocally as well as in [our] heart[s]; … before the world as well as in secret, in public as well as in private”. I testify that prayer becomes more meaningful as we counsel with the Lord in all of our doings, as we express heartfelt gratitude, and as we pray for others with real intent and a sincere heart. I witness Heavenly Father lives and that He hears and answers every earnest prayer.
Be Prayerful. You cannot do it alone. I look at this vast congregation, and I know that you are young people who pray, who get on your knees and speak with the Lord. You know that He is the source of all wisdom. You need His help, and you know that you need His help. You cannot do it alone. You will come to realize that and recognize that more and more as the years pass. So live that in good conscience you can speak with the Lord. Get on your knees and thank Him for His goodness to you and express to Him the righteous desires of your hearts. The miracle of it all is that He hears. He responds. He answers—not always as we might wish He would answer, but there is no question in my mind that He answers. You have such a tremendous responsibility, you young men and young women. You are the products of all of the generations that have gone before you. All that you have of body and mind has been passed to you through your parents. Someday you will become parents and pass on to succeeding generations the qualities of body and mind which you have received from the past. Do not break the chain of the generations of your family. Keep it bright and strong. So very much depends on you. You are so very precious. You mean so much to this Church. It could not be the same without you. Stand tall, proud of your inheritance as sons and daughters of God. Look to Him for understanding and guidance. Walk according to His precepts and commandments. You can have a good time. Of course you can! We want you to have fun. We want you to enjoy life. We do not want you to be prudes. We want you to be robust and cheerful, to sing and dance, to laugh and be happy. But in so doing, be humble and be prayerful, and the smiles of heaven will fall upon you.
Do I really pray and not just say prayers? Am I really communicating and not just repeating trite expressions? Some people really learn how to pray, and it is a goal that we all should strive for. One young elder came to the Missionary Training Center in Provo. He was a very bright student. He was always at the top of his class in every subject while in high school. He was called on a mission where he needed to learn Spanish. He was assigned to his district of seven or eight missionaries and for the first time found that he was not at the top of his class in the area of pronunciation because he could not trill an r. He couldn’t pronounce words like ferrocarril. His tongue didn’t work that way. He struggled. He worked and he prayed. Then after seven weeks there he wrote a letter home to his parents, and the entire first page was filled with pure rs. He had finally succeeded. He told me that if he hadn’t learned another thing during his entire two-year mission than to learn how to really pray, his mission would have been worth it. President Brigham Young said, “It matters not whether you or I feel like praying. … If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do”.
There will be times when you will walk a path strewn with thorns and marked by struggle. There may be times when you feel detached—even isolated—from the Giver of every good gift. You worry that you walk alone. Fear replaces faith. When you find yourself in such circumstances, I plead with you to remember prayer. I love the words of President Ezra Taft Benson concerning prayer. Said he: “All through my life the counsel to depend on prayer has been prized above almost any other advice I have … received. It has become an integral part of me—an anchor, a constant source of strength, and the basis of my knowledge of things divine. … “… Though reverses come, in prayer we can find reassurance, for God will speak peace to the soul. That peace, that spirit of serenity, is life’s greatest blessing.” . . We were not placed on this earth to walk alone. What an amazing source of power, of strength, and of comfort is available to each of us. He who knows us better than we know ourselves, He who sees the larger picture and who knows the end from the beginning, has assured us that He will be there for us to provide help if we but ask. We have the promise: “Pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.” As our prayers ascend heavenward, let us not forget the words taught to us by the Savior. When He faced the excruciating agony of Gethsemane and the cross, He prayed to the Father, “Not my will, but thine, be done.” Difficult as it may at times be, it is for us, as well, to trust our Heavenly Father to know best how and when and in what manner to provide the help we seek. . . Allied with prayer in helping us cope in our often difficult world is scripture study. The words of truth and inspiration found in our four standard works are prized possessions to me. I never tire of reading them. I am lifted spiritually whenever I search the scriptures. These holy words of truth and love give guidance to my life and point the way to eternal perfection. As we read and ponder the scriptures, we will experience the sweet whisperings of the Spirit to our souls. We can find answers to our questions. We learn of the blessings which come through keeping God’s commandments. We gain a sure testimony of our Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, and of Their love for us. When scripture study is combined with our prayers, we can of a certainty know that the gospel of Jesus Christ is true.