Tuesday, February 25, 2014

On the Effects of Prayer

Hello, all. In this post, I'm going to say a few brief words on prayer and on how it can affect our lives.

Regular prayer is probably the most important thing you need to do to grow closer to God. The more you pray, the more you will realize that you are not alone in this world, and that a kind and loving God watches over every step you take. Prayer can give your mind peace when there isn't any to be found in the everyday world. It helps you learn to be faithful, optimistic, and loving. But above all, every prayer you make brings you closer to God, ensuring that you will be able to rely on Him even in the darkest of worldly nights.

That said, I think I should talk about the specific effects of prayer. Rather, I'll talk about the effects of prayer's various parts: thanksgiving, asking for blessings (both for others and yourself), and repentance

1. Thanksgiving: The more I have lived life, the more I have become aware that I can do nothing of worth on my own. Every time that I try to raise myself above my failures or shortcoming by my own effort, I sink just as fast into the misery that preceded it. Without God, I can do nothing. My Father in Heaven gives me everything that I need to live a full and happy life, but the more I ignore my blessings and have vain ambitions, the more I fall into despair.

I know that the more you use prayer to express your gratitude for blessings, the more you will feel happy with what you already have. You will realize that the act of "gaining more" has never made anyone happy, for the more someone desires things for himself, the further away his satisfaction recedes. Happiness cannot occur without gratitude, and there are many things for which one cannot be grateful without God. Thus, the act of expressing gratitude to God lets you truly be happy where you are. This is humility, and I believe that you can become more humble when you sincerely express gratitude to your Heavenly Father.

2. Asking for God to bless others: When I ask my Father in Heaven to bless those who need help, I feel a greater sense of love and concern for them. This is not accidental. In fact, I believe that the more you humbly ask your Father in Heaven to bless those in need, the more you will feel a Christlike concern for them. This is the Pauline virtue of charity, and this part of prayer stands as one of the best ways to let it grow within you.

3. Asking for God to bless you: I used to feel ashamed when I asked God for help in temporal things, but I now realize that I saw things incorrectly. When you ask God for blessings in your life, it isn't a manifestation of pride. Rather, it's one of faith. If what you ask for is good for you, the act of asking for it in prayer will help you have faith that it will happen. Or more accurately, this type of prayer will increase your hope in future blessings, while building your faith in God's ability to help you.

4. Repentance: Everyone does bad things, but not everyone realizes why those things are bad. True sin always causes suffering, and this suffering is the reason we call an action a sin. However, most people are willing to turn a blind eye to the long-term fruits of their sinful actions, focusing more on the immediate pleasure that the sin affords them. Repentance, or rather the act confessing your sins to God in prayer, helps you connect the sin and its fruits. If you tell God that you're sincerely sorry for your bad actions, He will help you remember the suffering that they cause. By examining yourself and bringing your sins all before God, He will help you escape from the endless loop from sin to suffering and back again, even if it only happens bit by bit. This kind of prayer will make you more and more conscious of the effects of your actions, fulfilling King Benjamin's exhortation to "watch yourselves, and your thoughts, and your words, and your deeds" (Mosiah 4:30).

As a final note to all of this, I think that it's extremely important that you consider how you say your prayers. For myself, my prayers aren't nearly as effective when I do it passively, or just rambling off what I need to say. If I could give one piece of advice to you on the subject, I would say this: make sure that you really mean your prayers. For me, this means that I have to stop after each item in prayer, and try to really feel what I'm trying to say. If I say that I'm thankful for such-and-such, I will try to really internalize the gratitude that I'm expressing. If ask for God to bless others, I will take a moment to try to feel more love for them than I do at my default. If I bring my sins before God in repentance, I will try to feel true regret, or godly sorrow, for my bad actions. And finally, if I ask God for temporal blessings, I try to exercise a firm faith in the future fulfillment of that blessing.

By doing all these things, you can open myself up to the light of God in a way that isn't possible otherwise. When you really mean your prayer, you "turn up its volume", so to speak. If you "put yourself out there" in prayer, you won't be disappointed. You'll discover that God has always been behind the scenes, and that you'll discover Him to the extent that you look.

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