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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 29:12,13)
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Jeremiah’s promise that if we search diligently for the Father we will find him is more than prophetic rhetoric. Abraham discovered it was true!
Now, after the Lord had withdrawn from speaking to me, and withdrawn his face from me, I said in my heart: Thy servant has sought thee earnestly; now I have found thee . . . (Abraham 2:12.)
Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught,
We approach Deity in the spirit of awe, reverence, and worship. We speak in hushed and solemn tones. We listen for his answer. We are at our best in prayer. We are in the divine presence. (Bruce R. McConkie, The Ensign, January 1976, p. 12, emphasis added.)
“We are in the divine presence” when we pray. We are not sending letters or postcards. We are not leaving messages on an answering machine or flinging handfuls of beautiful words into the cosmos. We make our petitions in person, before the Throne of Grace.
Many places inspire awe and reverence. But nothing else is like this holy ground! We are not in the Oval Office, nor in the courts of kings, nor in the Sistine Chapel. We are in the company of the Creator. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet,” the Lord said to Moses, “for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5.)
At the very least, as we enter the “holy ground” of prayer to speak with the King of the Universe, we should do the same: we should pause spiritually and “take off our shoes.” A private audience with God needs preparation.
“And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.” (Moroni 7:26.)
Was there ever a promise given that embraced more joy and opportunity than this? How could we fail to prepare for such an experience? Some of our preparation and communication might follow this pattern:
Now, picture him in your mind’s eye. Think to whom you are speaking, control your thoughts–don’t let them wander, address him as your Father and your friend. Now tell him things you really feel to tell him–not trite phrases that have little meaning, but have a sincere, heartfelt conversation with him. Confide in him, ask him for forgiveness, plead with him, enjoy him, thank him, express your love to him, (Elder H. Burke Peterson, Conference Report, Oct 1973, p. 13.)
“The Spirit of Awe”
What if this note came to you by special courier? “You are requested to meet with the President of the Church at the time and place of your choosing. The full resources of the Church are available, and you have permission to ask for anything.”
How much time would you spend in laying the groundwork for such a meeting? What kind of thoughts would go into your requests? What would your attitude be?
Can you imagine yawning or dozing off in such a meeting? Would you race through the formalities and then leave so that you could get on to more important matters?
We have just such a request from the God of the universe. The brother of Jared demonstrated how we ought to regard an invitation to meet with our Heavenly Father.
O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires. (Ether 3:2.)
Is our own entrance into the Father’s presence typified by this same demeanor? Do we rejoice at the privilege he has granted us to counsel with him? I raised teen-agers who loved me very much, but who believed the major purpose of my existence was to meet their needs. “Hey, Dad!” they would say as they dashed into the room, “Can I borrow five bucks?” or “Do you need the car tonight?” I loved them but their approach was wrong.
Yet many of us approach our Heavenly Father in the same way. We fall to our knees between the nightly news and bed, pour out a sufficient collection of thoughts to justify the effort, and go to sleep.
I was in the hall of the Mission Home of the Brazilian Mission as a young missionary. Someone told me that Elder Spencer W. Kimball was in the President’s office interviewing missionaries. He had no schedule. Anyone in the hall was likely to get a turn. I sat down and waited by the door. I was filled with anticipation. I was about to have a personal meeting with an apostle of the Lord.
Imagine yourself in the hallway outside the office of God, waiting for the door to open, waiting for your turn to meet with him. That is the feeling we should bring to prayer. Calling upon God always demands preparation.
“The Sacred Language”
Part of the process of entreating the Father in a proper manner is addressing him in what Elder L. Tom Perry called “the sacred language of prayer.” (Conference Report, October 1983, p. 14.)
When we go to worship in a temple or a church, we put aside our working clothes and dress ourselves in something better. This change of clothing is a mark of respect. Similarly, when we address our Heavenly Father, we should put aside our working words and clothe our prayers in special language of reverence and respect. In offering prayers in the English language members of our Church do not address our Heavenly Father with the same words we use in speaking to a fellow worker, to an employee or employer, or to a merchant in the marketplace. We use special words that have been sanctified by use in inspired communications, words that have been recommended to us and modeled for us by those we sustain as prophets and inspired teachers. (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Conference Report, April 1993, p. 17.)
“But this is unfamiliar and difficult,” some might say. Another apostle responds:
Why should we have to use words that have not been in common use in the English language for hundreds of years? If we require a special language of prayer in English, we will discourage the saying of prayers by little children, by new members, and by others who are just learning to pray.
Brothers and sisters, the special language of prayer is much more than an artifact of the translation of the scriptures into English. Its use serves an important, current purpose. We know this because of modern revelations and because of the teachings and examples of modern prophets. The way we pray is important. (Elder Dallin H. Oaks, Conference Report, April 1993, p. 17,18.)
This article was adapted from chapter 3 of the author’s book, Put off Thy Shoes. The book can be found by following the links at tedgibbons.com