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

And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program

Getting More Out of Prayer

By Rex Goode


Lily Tomlin as Edith Ann

Based on a talk given by me in the Butler Creek Ward of the Gresham Oregon Stake on 7/15/2012.

Most people of my generation will recognize the precocious little girl in the rocking chair, Edit Ann, who had funny things to say about life and people. Edith Ann was one of the many characters invented and played by Lily Tomlin, a genius of wit, comedy, and social commentary.

One of my favorite routines was from the album, “And That’s the Truth”, where Lily plays an average, single woman walking home from somewhere and encounters the persistently annoying Edith Ann.

Part of the conversation that ensues is as follows:

Edith: Lady, do you see that church over there?

Lady: Yes, Edith, I do.

Edith: (in a hushed, serious tone) Do you think God is watching us?

Lady: I don’t know.

Edith: (interrupting) God has a TV set! Whenever I think God is watching me, I sing and dance and do a commercial for myself.

Somehow, culturally, we have arrived at a point where prayer might just be like that for many of us. We know from sacred history that God frowns on self-exalting prayers.

From the parables, Jesus teaches:

Two men went up into the temple to apray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican.

The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.

I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.

And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.

I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted (Luke 18:10–14).

The Book of Mormon gives us also the example of the wicked Zoramites, who had a daily prayer from a tower extolling their virtues and superiority over others.

Thankfully, we have far more examples of prayers that show us how to pray to God for the things we need. In fact, with many examples we can find, we might discover that we can get away with a few things in our prayers that we might not have tried before.

If you go by the example of our public prayers, such as those said in our meetings, you would get the impression that as a praying people, Latter-day Saints tend to be fairly formal. We think of this as proper, even unselfish, when praying on behalf of others. What is problematic is when we take that formality into our private prayers, we might not understand that in our personal prayers, we are to be completely personal. Yes, we probably use the kind of prayer language we have been taught, but just because the language itself is formal, the pouring out of our hearts should be personal.

For example, God doesn’t require that you believe in him for you to pray to him. Some people think that they can’t try out prayer if they don’t believe in God. Yet, King Lamoni or the Book of Mormon, prayed, “O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God, wilt thou make thyself known unto me, and I will give away all my sins to know thee, and that I may be raised from the dead, and be saved at the last day (Alma 22:18).”

Surely, if you can pray even when you aren’t sure if someone is listening, you can pray when you have doubts about other things. The key is to keep your heart open to whatever you hear.

Another inhibition we might have is that we are afraid to pray for the same thing more than once. We might think it shows a lack of faith. We might be afraid to “nag” God. We might think that if you don’t get what you ask for, that it is a permanent “no”. Unless I’m praying for something outrageously bad for me, I tend to think that a “no” is more like a “not now”.

Jesus illustrated and gave permission to us to pray over and over for the same thing. In the parable of the importune judge, he said:

In a revelation to Joseph Smith, the Lord repeated this parable regarding the Saints appealing to the government regarding the persecutions in Kirtland, Ohio. See D&C 101:81–91).

And he spake a parable unto them to this end, that men ought always to pray, and not to faint;

Saying, There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:

And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;

Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.

And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith.

And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them (Luke 18:1–7)?

 I think this is also illustrated well for us, in a personal sense, with the timeless hymn, that was formerly in our LDS hymnal. It is called, “Unanswered Yet” and was penned by Charles D. Tillman.

Unanswered yet? The prayer your lips have pleaded
In agony of heart these many years?
Does faith begin to fail, is hope departing,
And think you all in vain those falling tears?
Say not the Father hath not heard your prayer;
You shall have your desire, sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet? Though when you first presented
This one petition at the Father’s throne,
It seemed you could not wait the time of asking,
So urgent was your heart to make it known.
Though years have passed since then, do not despair;
The Lord will answer you, sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet? But you are not unheeded;
The promises of God forever stand;
To Him our days and years alike are equal;
“Have faith in God”; it is your Lord’s command.
Hold on to Jacob’s angel and your prayer
Shall bring a blessing down sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet? Nay, do not say ungranted;
Perhaps your part is not yet wholly done;
The work began when first your prayer was uttered,
And God will finish what He has begun.
If you will keep the Spirit burning there,
His glory you shall see, sometime, somewhere.

Unanswered yet? Faith cannot be unanswered;
Her feet were firmly planted on the Rock;
Amid the wildest storm prayer stands undaunted,
Nor quails before the loudest thunder shock.
She knows Omnipotence has heard her prayer,
And cries, “It shall be done,” sometime, somewhere.

The third verse here was not included in the former LDS hymnal. Also, the phrase, “Spirit burning there” was originally written as, “incense burning there.

As described in the 15th chapter of Matthew, Jesus had an opportunity to show us the parable of the importune judge in action. A non-Israelite woman followed him and his disciples around trying to plead for her daughter, possessed of a devil, to be healed. She wouldn’t let up. She kept following and asking. Irritated by her pleadings and by the Lord ignoring her, they asked Jesus to send her away.

Jesus answered them, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel (v. 24).”

Hearing this, she pleaded with Jesus, saying, “Lord, help me (v. 25).”

His answer to her was symbolic. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs (v. 26).”

Then, she did what a lot of the stuffier of Latter-day Saints would probably not do. She argued with the Lord.

She said, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table (v. 27).”

For this, he commended her for having great faith. He healed her daughter from a distance and sent her away.

I know that we believe that God knows all and wants us to obey, even to accept a “no” from him when it is not good for us. Do we believe, however, that God can be reasoned with? Our prayers can be a conversation where we dare to reason with God.

Ernest Borgnine as the Centurion in “Jesus of Nazareth”

The 8th chapter of Matthew contains a similar exchange. A Roman centurion, knowing that the law made him unclean to Jews, had a beloved servant who was sick with a form of palsy. Jesus probably shocked a few Pharisees when he offered to come to the gentile’s home to heal the servant, fodder for their complaints about his lack of orthodoxy. The Roman knew this and also felt unworthy for Jesus to come to his home.

He reasoned with Jesus that rather than coming to his home to heal the servant, that Jesus had servants of his own, unseen servants, that could heal the servant without Jesus’ physical presence. The centurion compared it to his own military authority, where he didn’t have to go and do all the work himself, but could send a servant to do his bidding.

Jesus’ response to the reasoning of the centurion was to declare that he had not found such great faith in all of Israel. The servant was healed. It really is acceptable to God for us to reason with him. Remember that the great patriarch, Abraham, dared to reason with God over the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. If our father Abraham could, so can we.

Sometimes, prayer isn’t a polite conversation with God, where we negotiate our desires and merely reason. Sometimes, it is an all-out struggle. Those kinds of prayers I think of as wrestling. I’ve prayed like that and prevailed.

The ancient patriarchs struggled for the survival of the people that are part of the covenant where God promised Abraham that in him should all of the families of the earth be blessed. Even with the promise, it was hardly a stroll in the garden.

Jacob received the name of Israel through a wrestle. Most of us remember the story, but we don’t always remember what it was about. Jacob feared for the survival of his family and to retain the promises made to him that he was the inheritor of Abraham’s covenant. Returning from his long sojourn in the land of his kinsman, his brother Esau had become a powerful mad. Jacob feared that Esau would try to destroy him.

Jacob wrestled with a messenger of God over the assurance that his family would be safe. Some have said it was God himself, others an angel, and still others, a man. I don’t really know. It isn’t relevant, to me, regarding the point.

In the story, Jacob wrestled vigorously, was even injured, but he would not let go of the messenger until he received the assurance that his desire would be granted. I have always taken that to mean that it is acceptable to wrestle with God over the things that we desire. In my own life, fighting for my own spiritual survival, I wearied God one night and refused to “let God go” until he blessed me.

Scriptures from Latter-day revelation bear this idea up. Joseph Smith wrestled to get an answer to his prayers. Enos wrestled with God for a full day, including the night. Alma wrestled with God over the souls of the city of Ammonihah. If they can wrestle with God, so can you.

Perhaps you can’t think of a way to frame your disappointments with the Lord and your life in a way that doesn’t seem like complaining. Does it seem sacrilegious to you to take God to task when you feel he isn’t doing for you what you have desired?

I always wonder at people who think that God doesn’t already know their feelings, like it might surprise Him to find out that one of his children is angry or upset at him.

Who can forget the complaint of Joseph Smith from Liberty Jail? It is a beacon of eloquent complaint by one whose hope was quickly fading. It is an icon of Mormon thinking on the subject of prayer.

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?

How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?

Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them (D&C 121:1–3)?

If Joseph Smith can complain to God, so can we. Maybe at this point, you are thinking that it was fine for the prophet, but you wouldn’t dare. I would venture to say that Joseph Smith’s boldness grew by practicing it, by venturing to speak from the depth of his heart when praying.

If you don’t yet have this kind of confidence, God has provided a way for even the most uncertain of us to pray. I remind myself often of the words the apostle Paul spoke to the Romans regarding the uncertainty of their prayers.

Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered (Romans 8:26).

I take this to mean that my prayers are not entirely from me. The Holy Ghost is there with me, not only to help me know what to pray for, but also reaching deep into my own soul and pulling out even the desires I don’t yet fully know I have. This means that even when I lack the confidence to pray, all I really need to do is get started and the Spirit will help me with the rest.

In this era of the world, with television, and, unfortunately, commercials, we can get fairly distracted. Don’t you just hate it when you are just getting into a story and  up comes a commercial that totally jerks you back into our sick, sad world?

The Prophet Jeremiah

I kind of suspect that God is also annoyed by commercials. He wants us to get back to our stories. Doing like Edith Ann, singing, dancing, and doing commercials for ourselves will not produce the relationship with God that we want. He is not interested in the product we are selling. He wants our hearts.

My favorite scripture comes with a promise from God regarding the reward of seeking him. He made this promise through the prophet Jeremiah during the great captivity. In other words, this promise happened in the midst of their trials, even when they were suffering the consequences of their sins.

God said to them and to us:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.

Then shall ye call upon me, and ye shall go and pray unto me, and I will hearken unto you.

And ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:11–13).

May we seek more out of prayer and search for the Lord daily with all our hearts.




3 people like this post.

4 Responses to “And Now, Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program”

  1. Iona Naqshbandi said:

    Dearest nephew, you have hit the nail on the head. I wish I had been there to hear you in person. You are in my thoughts constantly. I pray now for your dear sweet wife Barbara that she will find excellent health again. Wish you and my son Paul Lund could get together, you match each other in inspiration. Check out today’s quote by him on faceBook. Love you dear boy, Aunt Iona

  2. Rex Goode said:

    Thank you, Auntie. I looked at Paul’s facebook and didn’t see any quotes.

  3. Iona Naqshbandi said:

    Paull Lund

    1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

    We had a very good speaker, a new Missionary in our ward here in North Calgary Coventry Ward. This was in his talk. All the best in all of your righteous endeavours. Aunt Iona with love and hugs to you and your family. Hope Barbara has overcome her scare.

  4. Ross said:

    Thank you Rex, I have been stuck in many of these mental traps. I have some things to talk to God about now.

Leave a Reply

If your comment is a support question, please post it at the forums.