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The following is part of Ted Gibbons’ ongoing series on prayer. It comes from his book, ‘Put Off Thy Shoes’. To get your copy, click here. To read other articles in the series, click here

Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened. (3 Nephi 14:7,8.)

“Seek and ye shall find”

Have you noticed that there is no uncertainty in the way the Lord speaks to us about answers to our prayers? Clearly conditions exist which affect our productivity in praying, but when the Lord speaks of giving answers, he never leaves us in doubt about what he will do. Not a single verse on prayer with which I am acquainted contains conditional language. The Lord has never said, “Ask and maybe you will receive. Seek and ye might find. Knock and perhaps I will open unto you.”

The verb of divine choice with regard to answers to our prayers seems to be shall, and we ought to remember it.

God Answers Every Prayer 

If we are willing to acknowledge that “No” is an answer, then we must acknowledge that the Lord answers every prayer, and that he answers either in the way we want, or in a better way, “for every one that asketh receiveth.” (Matthew 7:8.) The form of the answer is determined by God’s desire to bring to pass our immortality and eternal life (Moses 1:39), and not alone by our desires. And regardless of his response, we must be assured that he will listen and give us the answer that is best for us. He may not always give us what we want, but he will always give us what we need. The presence of God is like a “sea of glass and fire where all things . . . are manifest past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord.” (D&C, 130:7.) It is on the basis of that all-knowing perspective that God listens and answers. It must be interesting for him to evaluate our requests, based on the perspective we gain by standing on anthills while he views us from the heights of the mountains.

There seem to be at least three answers that our Father can give.

  1. Yes. It will be good for you. You have asked in the name of my Son. You have asked with real intent.
  2. No. It’s not good for you. It will not bless you. I want you to grow.
  3. Wait. Not yet. You aren’t ready.

To these possible answers might be added a fourth:

  1. It does not matter. Decide for yourself and I will support you in your decision.

When we pray for something we want, we seek answer number one. When the other responses come, unless we are submissive and certain of God’s love, and unless we have confidence in God’s perspective, we may have feelings of betrayal or unworthiness.

It is so hard when sincere prayer about something we desire very much is not answered the way we want. It is especially difficult when the Lord answers “No” to that which is worthy and would give us great joy and happiness. Whether it be overcoming illness or loneliness, recovery of a wayward child, coping with a handicap, or seeking continuing life for a dear one who is slipping away, it seems so reasonable and so consistent with our happiness to have a favorable answer. It is hard to understand why our exercise of deep and sincere faith from an obedient life does not bring the desired result. (Elder Richard G. Scott, Ensign, Nov. 1995, p. 16.)

I remember a time when I had such feelings.

My father died when I was seventeen and my mother lived for nineteen years as a widow. Then she remarried. She and her new husband lived in Logan, Utah, a couple of hours away from my home in Orem. A few years after her second marriage, her new husband passed away. She had by that time become almost completely blind, but she was fiercely independent and refused to move in with any of her children for fear she might become a burden. Instead she elected to live alone in Logan in the home her second husband had left her.

Even though I had a sister in Logan, I felt both a desire and a need to help with Mom’s care. I made my wishes known to my supervisors in the Church Education System and waited for their decision. My wife and I fasted and prayed, asking the Lord to assist us in achieving this righteous objective. But when assignments were announced for the next year, we were not asked to move. I was disappointed, but when I asked for an explanation, I was told that no move would be possible for me that year.

That summer, during meetings at BYU, I encountered the principal of the Logan Seminary, a dear friend with whom I had discussed my desire. “Ted,” he asked, ”why did you decide not to come to Logan?”

“I didn’t decide,” I told him. “The department did. I thought it was because you didn’t have any openings.”

“Of course we did!” he announced. “We put three brand new teachers in the Logan Seminary this year. They could have gone anywhere.”

I came as close in that moment as I have ever come to shaking my fist at heaven. I knew what was best for my mother. Didn’t I? Why hadn’t the Lord given me the thing I so much desired?

A few months later, my lovely mother surrendered her indepen-dence. She moved to Orem to the home of my sister, who lived just down the street from me, less than half a mile away. Wouldn’t I have had a wonderful time in Logan?

The following summer, my sister’s husband accepted an assignment to serve as a mission president for three years. Just a few minutes were sufficient to move Mom to her new home with us. How thankful I have been that the Lord gave me what I needed rather than what I wanted!

“It Mattereth Not Unto Me”

On a few occasions, the Lord has indicated that he does not intend to give direction in every possible circumstance. When the elders who had journeyed to Missouri by divine appointment were preparing to return to the Kirtland area, the Lord told them

I will speak unto you concerning your journey unto the land from whence you came. Let there be a craft made, or bought, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me, and take your journey speedily for the place which is called St. Louis. (D&C 60:5,22, emphasis added.)

When the prophet and his companions met a group of Elders journeying to Zion, the Lord gave them a revelation which said in part:

And now continue your journey. Assemble yourselves upon the land of Zion; and hold a meeting and rejoice together, and offer a sacrament unto the Most High. And then you may return to bear record, yea, even altogether, or two by two, as seemeth you good, it mattereth not unto me; only be faithful, and declare glad tidings unto the inhabitants of the earth, or among the congregations of the wicked.(D&C 62:4,5, emphasis added.

In a revelation calling Stephen Burnett on a mission in 1832, the Lord instructed

. . . go ye and preach my gospel, whether to the north or to the south, to the east or to the west, it mattereth not, for ye cannot go amiss. (D&C 80:3, emphasis added.)

The privilege of receiving revelation is so precious, and the promises so powerful, that we may agonize over what appears to be divine indifference or silence when we seek direction. When the answers do not come as we have hoped, we would do well to review our own worthiness. If we are prepared to receive an answer, then we ought to remember the counsel of the Lord from D&C section 58:

For behold, it is not meet that I should command in all things; for he that is compelled in all things, the same is a slothful and not a wise servant; wherefore he receiveth no reward.

Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness;

For the power is in them, wherein they are agents unto themselves. And inasmuch as men do good they shall in nowise lose their reward.

But he that doeth not anything until he is commanded, and receiveth a commandment with doubtful heart, and keepeth it with slothfulness, the same is damned. (D&C 58:26-29.)

Brigham Young gave superb counsel about the proper course of action when we are unable to determine the will of God.

If I do not know the will of my Father, and what He requires of me in a certain transaction, if I ask Him to give me wisdom concerning any requirement in life, or in regard to my own course, or that of my friends, my family, my children, or those that I preside over, and get no answer from Him, and then do the very best that my judgment will teach me, He is bound to own and honor that transaction, and He will do so to all intents and purposes. (Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses, vol. 3, p. 205.)

Trusting in the Love of God

In every case we must, as we approach the Throne of Grace with our requests and our gratitude, remember the love of God for his children. Consider Job. He had ten children, and “was the greatest of all the men of the east.” (Job 1:3.) Four messengers came to him one day. Each arrived while the preceding one was still speaking. Their message? All Job had–his sheep, his camels, his oxen, and his asses–was gone and his children were dead. (See Job 1:13-19.) Perhaps real empathy is impossible for us in the face of such tragedies.

Even though Job was consumed by grief (Job 1:20), he said,

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.(Job 1:21.)

Then the disease came. Job was so disfigured that his friends did not recognize him. (Job 19:13-15.) Pustulating sores in which worms or maggots bred covered his body. (Job 7:5.) His breath was so foul, and his body emitted such an odor, that his friends abhorred him. (Job 10:17.) He was covered with boils and lived with the outcasts beyond the city limits. They mocked him. (Job 30:1, 5, 8-13.) Pain was his constant companion. (Job 30: 17, 30.) Things became so bad that his wife cried, “Dost thou still retain thine integrity? curse God, and die.”(Job 2:9.)

In one of the great statements of the Old Testament, Job responded, “What? Shall we receive good at the hand of God, and shall we not receive evil?”(Job 2:10.)

If we believe that God is wise enough to know when to say “Yes” to us, then we must believe that he is wise enough to know when to say “No.” We must trust him, no matter how he deals with us. Job told his friends, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him.” (Job 13:15.) Or, in other words, “If God has not given me what I want, then what he has given me is better.”

A simple testimony from Nephi offers comfort when God seems to be far away, his purposes seem hard to discern, and all his answers seem to be negatives. Nephi said, “I know [God] loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.” (1 Nephi 11:17.) We may not always understand what God is doing, or why, but we can always trust him. He is love. (1 John 4:8.)

A small blind girl demonstrated this kind of trust when she accompanied her father to visit his friend. As they were talking, the friend placed the small girl on his lap and held her. A moment later, the father realized that she might be nervous in the arms of a stranger. “Sweetheart,” he said, “do you know who is holding you?”

“No,” she replied, “but you do.”

In a time of trial some day, someone may say to us, “Do you know why this is happening to you?” And we should respond, “No. But my Heavenly Father does.”

Our responsibility is to learn to hear the answers God gives to us, and then to submit, knowing we are safe in the everlasting arms of his love.