Where to begin. Perhaps at the end. Heavenly Father has taught me that my understanding of prayer is wanting. Yes, even that. Oy Oy Oy.
Rewinding a bit, yesterday I taught lesson 37 “Jesus Christ Teaches the Nephites to Pray” based primarily upon the text in 3 Nephi chapters 8 and 9. For context, we reviewed/wrote the “four steps of prayer” on the board and drew a box around it (using the word “gimme” to light-heatedly emphasize how much of our time we spend in prayer asking for stuff). Then, while reading through Alma 13:28-29 and 3Ne 18:15-25 we wrote keywords from the teachings about prayer (metaprayer) around the box. I noted to all that they knew all of this. We had to take one step back to review the definition of the word “vain.” We discussed this in the context of the Siddur(s) / liturgical prayers used by many Jews / Christians during their weekly services. The knee jerk reaction was that these represented “vain repetitions.” “Do we have any set prayers we say on a weekly basis?” Several of the children quickly responded. We discussed at length that even the sacrament prayer can be vain, if our hearts are in the wrong place, and that other prayers which appear vain can be turned into something sacred if our hearts are in the right place.
Moving on, we then reviewed four prayers we have a record of in the scriptures (3Ne13:9-13; 3Ne19:20-23, 28-29, 32-34). We compared these against the “four steps” as I repeatedly asked, what is the Savior doing here? I had considered asking them if Mary had forgotten to teach Jesus how to pray, but fortunately didn’t. The children had little difficulty understanding that the Savior opened and closed his exemplary prayer (“the Lord’s Prayer”) by blessing / praising / glorifying the Father.
Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.
(, 3 Nephi 13:9–13)
In this same context, it is worth reading D&C 109. We probably should have included several other great prayers: “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and “why hast thou forsaken me,” and “let this cup….”
The children had a little more difficulty understanding what the Savior was doing in 3Ne19:22.
Father, thou hast given them the Holy Ghost because they believe in me; and thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them.
One of the parents injected that “He was just talking with the Father.” We spent some time discussing getting to “know” the Father. If time had been used more efficiently, this last point might have been made more clearly and strongly by reviewing some portions of John 17. Here, we see our Savior doing something very different. He makes several requests, but in doing so He adds a great deal of context to the request (we see some of this in D&C 109). It almost seems as if He is making a report, confirming that He has fulfilled the will of the Father. This presupposes prior communication of His Father’s will; how/when did that take place? It is reasonable to consider that He prayed the way He did as a testimony to and for the benefit of those who were listening. After all, the Father already knew all these things, and it is reasonable to presume that Christ had already mentioned much of what He was saying here in prior prayers. We might even speculate that His private, personal prayers were quite different. Okay, but how could we know? Besides, would we thus limit His teaching via prayer by excluding style and method, presuming He can only accomplish one thing at a time?
There is something sublime going on here. Clearly Heavenly Father commands that we come to know Him. Communication is implied. If we presume that Heavenly Father wants us to initiate (spiritual) “age appropriate” dialogue (implying our need for His meekness, charity, kindness, and patience among other virtues), what does that sound like? How do we develop this kind of rapport? After all, virtually all prayers we hear within in the LDS tent are stuck within the confines of the four steps. As per previous posts we might step outside the tent to find others to teach us how to praise and bless God (e.g., Praise). Abraham and Moses provide some good examples. Enos? The Brother of Jared? But, where would we go to learn to dialogue with God at our current spiritual level?
It will be interesting to see how He will respond to the prayer requesting Him to teach us how to pray.