…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Seek Not to Counsel the Lord

Remaining Open

By Rex Goode


Sometimes it is really easy to get stuck in a way of thinking that leads to a dead end in life. I often find myself thinking that there is only one solution to a situation and that I must focus all of my efforts on that situation. I think this way of thinking results too often from what I think of as the positive mental attitude cult.Latter-day Saint culture seems to get wrapped up in some of the platitudes of “success” that are not always centered around the gospel. I’m talking about things like “don’t quit,” “make a plan and stick to it,” and the ever-popular among Mormons, “pray about it.”

Even writing that out, I have a pang of guilt, because I see truth in each one, but also the danger of getting tripped up by them. I will be thought of as especially heretical for the last one. Before you pass too much judgment on me, hear me out.

I do agree that you can’t give up on a good thing, even when it doesn’t seem to be initially working out. Tenacity, endurance, and loyalty are all wonderful virtues. While practicing them, don’t get trapped by their shadowy counterpart–stubbornness.

The problem is, some things need to be quit. Some plans are ill-advised or downright deadly. I don’t agree with the old saw, “Quitters never win and winners never quit.” Sometimes, quitting is exactly the right thing to do.

The same goes for sticking to a plan that is taking you down the wrong road. A plan like that is the last thing you want to stick to. If you really give a plan a try and realize that there’s something about it that is just plain wrong, unstick yourself.

How can I justify including praying about something as a potential hazard? I mean, the very thought of it sounds like I’m on the road to apostacy.

I don’t mean to say that we shouldn’t pray about things. I do mean to say that before you consider a prayer decidedly answered in the affirmative, be certain that you didn’t just come up with your answer and confuse your satisfaction for inspiration.

To me, the steps outlined in our scriptures, as given from Joseph Smith to Oliver Cowdery by revelation are pretty clear:

Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.

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 9:7–9).

The Latter-day Saint model of getting answers to prayer is:

  1. Don’t supposes that God answers prayers without doing our homework.
  2. Tell God what you think and give him something to answer.
  3. Discern right answers by a “burning in your bosom.”
  4. Discern wrong answers by a “stupor of thought.”

We find it to be reliable. It works. For us, it is divinely designed. If you have felt that burning in your bosom or even that stupor of thought, you know what I mean.

It is not my intention to introduce doubt into your prayer life, but I have seen a great many times in my own life and the lives of my friends where we were so certain that we had correctly discerned God’s answer, moved ahead with it, only to be frustrated that things weren’t working out very well.

I’ve resolved in my mind that many of those times for me were because the thing that God verified that I should do was meant to end the way it did rather than the way I hoped. In order to have that faith, I was required to remain open to other outcomes than the one I planned. Even more than that, I had to be willing to believe that the outcome God wrought was better than the one I envisioned.

I’ve seen the result of combining too many self-help and motivational books with the divine model of prayer be that people get disappointed and sometimes even suffer a crisis of faith. Always remember that it is the word of God we seek to follow and not the philosophies of men, no matter how similar they seem to the word of God.

Another form of seeking to counsel the Lord is to narrow one’s mind on only one possible solution. It is the supreme form of stubbornness to lock out all other possibilities in favor of one course of conduct that seems like it is the only way to deal with a problem. A person can get so focused on that one course that he even tells God it is the only way.

Remembering that model of getting answers from God, doing our homework should always involve a lot of possible solutions. Even though we will probably take one at a time to the Lord to get his approval, to “study it out in [our] mind[s],” would require us to think of all of the possible solutions and consider their likely outcomes. If we only have one course we think we can take, we haven’t really studied the problem.

If we only have one idea and are sure it is the only one, why bother asking God at all? We won’t be open to the answer anyway. Getting answers to prayers requires being open to the answers, even if they are not what we wanted.





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