For a few years I had been having a soft, but persistent feeling that I needed to work on the sincerity of my prayers. My husband sometimes likes to tease me about my morning prayer which generally lasts quite a long time…he says, “well you certainly look angelic, but I don’t know how much of that is due to prayer and how much to drifting in and out of peaceful slumber…”
Then one day I was preparing to give a talk at a Friday Forum and I was pretty proud of how I had organized the principle of joy into this neat little packaged equation. I was telling a very spiritual friend I have in the other ward about how it was so easy….if you keep commandments, pray, and do this and this,,,then you get the gift of joy. And she said “Wonderful! You have just described the letter of the law…now let me tell you about the spirit of the law. And she taught me that some people are going through all the motions, obeying the commandments…yet still they are not experiencing joy….the reason is, that it’s not just a matter of the acts…it is also a matter of the heart….and the acts are just a preparation to a change of heart.
Then she told me about her prayer experiences and her prayer journal. She said that sometimes she could almost feel her prayers ascending to the throne of God and feel Him reaching down to her. She was having these beautiful prayer experiences where she and Heavenly Father were partners in bringing great works to pass in her life and the lives of others.
I have had that experience a few times, but rarely, and I didn’t know why it happened when it happened…Most of the time I had been going through all the motions and not experiencing real and powerful prayer…I wanted that experience. I decided to experiment to find out just what was required in order to gain experiences like my friend.
My first tries were mostly failures. I tried more intensity, more desire, concentrating harder…all acts that didn’t work. After several months of failed experiments I began to get discouraged.
But then one day, quite by accident, something happened. A friend had emailed me a video of “Oh Holy Night that was sung along with pictures of the Nativity. And when I watched that something overcame me and the spirit was so strong that I was driven to my knees in awe and wonder and gratitude for the atonement and a desire that all men should be able to feel the love of God. During that prayer I realized that I was having the type of experience my friend described. And so I asked the Lord, “How is it done?’ I had to ponder it for several weeks before I figured out the answer.
Then I finally realized what my friend had been trying to teach me about prayer. It is not just a matter of the words or the acts…it is a matter of the heart.
What was different about that prayer, than all my other prayers when I hadn’t had that experience? It was the Spirit.
1. I had prepared before hand to feel the Spirit.
2. The spirit was present during the prayer.
3. I had allowed the spirit to enter my heart, and the spirit made my heart become unified with the Lord, It filled me with a powerful Love of God and Also Love of my fellow man….and an intense gratitude for the atonement….and thus instead of me rattling off a list of my needs and hoping somebody would hear….it became a sacred partnership…my will and the Lord’s will suddenly unified, and the prayer became powerful in a way that I had not felt in a long time.
Then I realized that preparing before, during, and after prayer to have the spirit present in order to make my heart and will one with Gods, is the way to meaningful and powerful prayer.
Elder Russell M. Nelson confirmed that having the spirit present is the true order of prayer….He said, “Jesus taught us how to pray. We pray to our Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost. This is the ‘true order of prayer’.”
I don't have time to prepare for prayer and have these experiences every day. But I have been trying to do it more. And it has made all the difference.