Last post, we talked about a teenager named Joseph Smith, who prayed to find out which church to join and to know what was true. He got a rather unexpected response—God and Jesus came in person to answer his prayer.
The Bible promises us that if we ask God for wisdom, God will tell us what we want to know. That scripture, found in James 1:5, is the one that prompted Joseph Smith to pray for an answer, but the promise is for all of us. Anyone can go to God and ask which church to join and to find out what is true. However, we probably won’t get a personal visit from God or Jesus Christ. So how do we pray and what will probably happen when we do?
When I was young, I was taught to recite prayers that were written by someone else. When I started looking into Mormonism, the teachers, my new friends, and the missionaries taught me that prayer should be a conversation from my heart. They suggested I just talk to God. They did offer a pattern for prayer that I should follow, but the exact words of the body of my prayer were to be what was in my heart.
The basic pattern is very simple. You begin as you would begin any conversation—greet God by name and title. “Dear Heavenly Father” or “My beloved Father in Heaven” or some other respectful greeting will do just fine.
Next, take some time to think about all the blessings God has given you. Thank him for those things, naming them specifically. This is not only courteous and thoughtful but it helps us realize God is really in our lives, involved and paying attention to our needs.
Now it’s time to ask your questions or to request help, if you have any questions or requests. (If not, just skip this step.) It’s here that you will ask God about which church to join. There are some things you need to do first though. God likes us to take some responsibility for the things we need. So in your first prayer, you might want to instead ask God to help you find resources for the information you need or to be led to the right churches to research. Then, after you’ve researched some churches, regularly praying to be alert to truth, choose one you think might be right. Explain to God why you’ve chosen that church and ask Him to confirm or correct your choice.
When you close your prayer, end by saying, “I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.” Prayers come to God through Jesus.
Okay, now is the hard part. Most people finish up their prayer and then jump up and go to bed or run off to do something else. What’s wrong with that? When you talk to someone, how do you feel if they talk and talk and then run off without letting you say a single word? You get pretty mad, right? It’s rude and, if they were asking you a question, it is pretty silly not to stop and listen for your answer.
You don’t want to be rude to God and if you want Him to answer your prayer, you have to wait for His answer. You have to act like a person who has faith, who trusts God to answer. Not waiting for an answer suggests you didn’t really expect one. Some people think they can ask that question and then a member of the true church will immediately walk up to them and start telling them about their church and they can accept that as their answer.
That does happen sometimes, but usually it doesn’t. Instead, you have to stay on your knees and wait for an answer.
What will the answer look like? There are several ways an answer might come to you. Most of the time, if you offered God the correct choice, you’ll feel peace and security, perhaps a warmth in your heart, a feeling of rightness. Some people will try to tell you that you can’t pray to know what is true because you won’t know who answered you—God or Satan. But remember, God promised He would answer our prayers. I trust God to keep His promises. I also believe God can do anything at all, so I believe He can answer my prayers in a way I can recognize.
Satan cannot bring true peace or joy, so if you’re feeling those things, you know they are from God. If you pray and you feel confused or uneasy, it is likely you are on the wrong track and should keep looking for the true church.
Another way you might get an answer is to feel an answer in your mind. Thoughts will come clearly in your mind and you will understand they are from the Holy Ghost and not from yourself. This can be harder to recognize and it can take time and practice to know the difference between your own thoughts and the teachings of the Holy Ghost. The more often you pray and the more often you try to listen for promptings from the Holy Ghost, the better you will get at recognizing the Holy Ghost’s “voice.” (Remember, this is not an actual voice, just an impression in your mind.)
Finally, once in a great while, you’ll hear an actual voice. Usually this is because it’s an emergency. For instance, once I was driving my children to a class when a voice said, “Pull off the road right now.” I immediately pulled over and at that moment a semi truck swerved into my lane without warning, right where I would have been. A voice was needed then to make sure I paid attention, since there was no time for me to decide it was the Holy Ghost. Normally, however, it is the feeling or the thought that gives us our answer.
Why doesn’t God just use a regular voice so we’d be sure of the answer? The Old Testament shows us it isn’t how God does it. He wants us to be quiet and listen. Read the story of Elijah, who needed to listen to God:
“11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake:
12 And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.” (See 1 Kings 19.)
So what you’re listening for is that still, small voice, because that’s where Elijah found God.
God loves you with all His heart. He wants you to find the truth—it is part of the quest He sent you on when He sent you to earth. While you have to do the legwork yourself, He is standing by waiting for you to come to Him with your decision and to tell you if you’re on the right track or if you need to switch to a new path. He is ready to guide you during the search.
So, as you start your quest, take some time to explain to God what you’re doing and why. Ask Him to help you out so the true church comes into your path during the quest. While you’re searching, ask Him to keep the Holy Spirit with you so you’ll know whether or not you’re hearing truth.
To have the Holy Spirit with you, you must be living a moral life. He can’t be where sin is. It’s true, of course, that you may not entirely know what is moral and what isn’t yet, but the Holy Spirit can even help you with that. When you do something, take a moment to see how things feel. If you feel a sense of evil or immorality around you, stop or leave. If you feel peaceful and spiritual, even in a fun secular setting, you’re on the right track.
Listen to good music. Wear modest clothing. Don’t get into immoral situations with your dates. Obey your parents. Be kind and don’t listen to hate-filled speech from others. All these things can help you to keep the spirit around you.
Next, we’ll find out how to investigate a religion you’re interested in. Then we’ll talk about what to do if you pray and don’t get an answer right away. In the meantime, start talking to God and getting to know Him better.