22 May

Praying To Our Heavenly Father

Posted by Jenna, Under Religious

I love prayer and think it adds so much to my life. I’m excited to take a few minutes and share some ideas about prayer from and LDS perspective. I think when talking about prayer, a few key questions need to be answered.

Why do we pray?

Prayer is how we talk to God. There are many different kinds of prayer: formal prayers offered out loud, blessings on the food, prayers offered on your knees by your bed at night, and those you offer up quickly to say thank you or ask for help throughout the day. All are important and allow us to talk to our Father in Heaven in different ways. Could we just speak to Him in our mind throughout the day? Yes. But I think offering audible prayers, kneeling down at night, and other such physical acts show an extra dose of humility. Sometimes when it’s late at night and I’ve already curled up in my blankets after kissing That Husband good night the last thing I feel like doing is turning over and saying my prayers. I don’t know why it feels like such a big deal, but it often does. Then I get on my knees and I remember that the feeling of peace of contentment I have during and after my prayers is worth falling asleep a few minutes later.

We should do it because praying is an opportunity to put in a little, and get a lot back. The returns on your investment are unheard of!

When do we pray?

A scripture tells us that we should “pray always”, but I don’t think the Lord is asking us to spend every moment speaking with Him. He wants us to accomplish other things in our life as well, and I find that for me prayer is often about contemplating an action, and then getting up off my knees and executing what I’ve just pondered.

I’m not perfect from it, but in an ideal day I pray at least 6 times. First on my own when I wake up in the morning, as a personal prayer on my knees. I don’t say this one out loud, I just think it. Then a prayer over breakfast, and another over lunch, and another over dinner (and if I have any snacks it makes sense that I would pray over that as well). I offer them sitting down, and say them in my head if I’m alone, or out loud if I’m with other people. If the other people I’m eating with are LDS we will decide which one of us will say it beforehand. I personally don’t pray over public meals like at a restaurant, as it feels strange for me. There are LDS members who do so though. I’ve heard some members say that they don’t think there is any reason to pray since it’s not a commandment, but I think it shows gratitude and reminds me that God provides me everything in life, especially the food that I need to live.

At the end of the day I read scriptures and say a “couples prayer” with That Husband. We’ve done this since the day we got married, and all LDS couples are encouraged to do so. Then we turn and say our individual nightly prayers. We say the couples prayer out loud, but the individual nightly prayers in our heads.

In my family growing up we also prayed together in the morning, and again at night. We don’t currently pray regularly with T1, but we will start doing so soon! I’m so excited for the time in his life when he starts offering simple, heartfelt prayers.

I’ve also offered many prayers when things were hard, and I try to remember to offer prayers of gratitude when the Lord blesses me, but I’m still working on that. I worked as a waitress for a summer during college and one of the pastry chefs used to drive to work voicing and singing praises to the Lord. I always admired her for using her time that way, as I was always listening to This American Life episodes with my driving time. Often I offer up little prayers as I’m writing posts about the LDS faith, as I want to be a good representative of the Lord’s gospel.

How do we pray?

I think Mormons have a pretty distinctive way of praying (at least based on what I’ve experienced) and it’s one of the first things taught to investigators of the Church.

First the physical aspects.

We bow our heads and close our eyes, as seen in the picture below (this is at an LDS ring ceremony, I didn’t take a picture during the prayer, but I did take it in the second right after he said amen). Most LDS members will also cross their arms over their chest, though clasping them and extending your elbows is common as well.  As a child I would pray by kneeling next to my bed and clasping my arms, but now I usually pray while kneeling on my bed.

Second, the language.

We open our prayer with Our Father in Heaven, Our Father, Father in Heaven, and other reverent acknowledgments of God. Most Mormons use the term Heavenly Father or Father at the beginning of their prayer because our relationship with Him is very personal. We are literally His children! Opening with a phrase that uses a term like God is perfectly acceptable though. The most important part is clarifying that you are praying to God, and no one else.

There are a handful of times when set language is used, like the prayer over the Sacrament each week (which must be said exactly right, or it must be offered again) or when a person is baptized, but other than those few times there are no set prayers. The things that are uttered come from the heart and soul of the person offering them. When teaching young children or new members about prayer we talk about opening by expressing our gratitude, for the things we have, then talking about the things we want. I try to follow this pattern in my own personal prayers, because without it I sometimes find myself spending all of my time asking God for things, and hardly any time thanking Him for the multitude of things He has blessed me with!

We close with in the name of Jesus Christ, amen. This is the other part of the prayer that is very important and never changes. We open our prayers by addressing our Heavenly Father, but we close them by offering them in the name of Jesus Christ, or Savior and Intercessor.

A sample prayer I might offer at night would sound something like:

Father in Heaven
I am grateful for all of the things that I was able to accomplish today.
I am grateful that T1 was in such a good mood, and that we were able to get along so well together. I pray that he will be free from the pain of teething soon.
Please help me to be more patient with him. Please bless my friend who is going through a hard time.
I am grateful for the blessed life I lead.
Please lead me in thy work.
I say these things, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

Unless I’m very tired my prayers are usually much longer and more specific than that, but you get the idea. :)

What happens next?

Ideally, I spend a few minutes waiting for promptings and whisperings from the Spirit. Maybe I prayed about when to have our next baby, or where to take Jenna Cole, or how to help someone I know who is struggling. I ask God for help with so many things, it is important that I take the time to listen to his replies! Recently I had someone in my life who was really struggling, and I didn’t know how to best help them. I spent some time on my knees talking with God about the situation, and then spent some time in the act of meditation, where I tried to leave my mind open to suggestion. The answer I received was a subtle thought, but it was so effective and solved the problem so readily, that I have no doubt it came from God. I have prayed about big things, and little things, and I know the answers will come with time if I listen for the reply.

Do I always get the answer I want? No, certainly not. And there are times when I’m not sure that I heard the answer at all. But I do think that Heavenly Father answers in some way, if we will listen for His reply. Developing that relationship takes time, and effort on our part though. I consider it a life-long journey that I will never really master.

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I hope this post helped you better understand prayer from an LDS perspective. I’d love to hear more about how you talk to God in the comment section below.

26 Comments


  1. What a lovely post. You expressed our feelings about prayer so beautifully.

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  2. All of the LDS members I’ve heard praying, in Church or at family function, use the old fashioned language “thee” and “thou”. Is that a regional thing? This was in Texas, and now that I think of it, the only person who didn’t use that language was a very new convert.

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    Jenna Reply:

    No, not regional, we are encouraged to use it, even in our personal prayers (to show respect). I admit it’s something I struggle with, as I want to talk to Heavenly Father like I would my closest friend who knows EVERYTHING about me, so I at times will structure my sentences in ways that avoid the use of thee, thou, and thine. Prayer is definitely an area where I feel I can always improve and I think you touched on one of the areas I’m always working on feeling more confident in.

    I think part of it is also the awkwardness of the English language. Other languages have a commonly used formal version of the singular version of you, but thee/thou/thine are never commonly used in English anymore.

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    Sophia Reply:

    I’m the same way- when I pray, I talk to God like a close personal friend as well :)

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    Katie Reply:

    Actually “thee” and “thou” *are* the informal versions of “you” in English. They were used as “tu” is in French, for speaking to someone you were familiar with, whereas “ye” and “you” (like “vous” in French) was only used when addressing people formally, or more than one person. It’s funny that now, since it sounds old-fashioned, we tend to think of it as being the more formal version when it actually isn’t!

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    Jenna Reply:

    Really? I’d like to learn more about this if you have some links. Obviously I only took one grammar class during my time at BYU :)

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    Katie Reply:

    Easy! Look at Wikipedia’s T-V distinction page (the grammatical term for this attribute in languages). I’m a French teacher, so this is close to my heart :)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TV_distinction

    So funny that the page even says “Somewhat ironically, to a modern English speaker unaware of the origin of the distinction, the use of thou (for example in prayer), originally a sign of intimacy, now has connotations of formality due to its archaic appearance.”

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    Jenna Reply:

    I love when my commenters help me learn and understand new things!

    I did some reading, and found an article that says this:

    The special language of prayer that Latter-day Saints use in English has sometimes been explained by reference to the history of the English language. It has been suggested that thee, thou, thy, and thine are simply holdovers from forms of address once used to signify respect for persons of higher rank. But more careful scholarship shows that the words we now use in the language of prayer were once commonly used by persons of rank in addressing persons of inferior position. These same English words were also used in communications between persons in an intimate relationship. There are many instances where usages of English words have changed over the centuries. But the history of English usage is not the point.

    Scholarship can contradict mortal explanations, but it cannot rescind divine commands or inspired counsel. In our day the English words thee, thou, thy, and thine are suitable for the language of prayer, not because of how they were used anciently but because they are currently obsolete in common English discourse. Being unused in everyday communications, they are now available as a distinctive form of address in English, appropriate to symbolize respect, closeness, and reverence for the one being addressed.

    If any other LDS members are reading this thread the whole article is here and very excellent: http://lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD&locale=0&sourceId=2df19209df38b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&hideNav=1

    Thanks for being so patient with me Katie and helping me better understand this!

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    Katie Reply:

    No problem! I love etymology!

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  3. At my church, at the end of the service, there is an oppertunity for members of the congregation to come up to the front to receive prayer. Other members come up, place a hand on your shoulder, and you pray together. It is a very intimate and moving experience to pray aloud with another, and one I am still learning about.

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  4. What is the sacrament prayer and why must it be offered correctly word-for-word? Do LDS not think that our Heavenly Father understands our heart and motive behind the prayer? Or do LDS think that God is in the Celestial Kingdom critiquing every word of every prayer uttered and refusing those that aren’t offered perfectly?

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    Jenna Reply:

    I did a little reading up and apparently meeting leaders can let incorrectly said prayers pass, but I’ve never been in a ward that had done so (an example of where this might be appropriate would be if a disabled individual is saying the prayer and the leader must choose between a “perfect” prayer and embarrassing the offerer.*

    I like the idea that the prayer must be said word-for-word though. To me it symbolizes perfect, something Christ spoke about in Matthew 5:48. Those offering the prayer have a card they can read off of, and a desire to not mess up forces them to slow down and really think about what they are saying (hopefully).

    And keep in mind that this is one prayer, not every prayer. One prayer that’s said the exact same way around the world every single week (of course translated into different languages where appropriate!). To me, that unifying aspect is very beautiful.

    *I have actually been in situations where a mentally/physically handicapped person has tried many times over and over, and though it’s probably very stressful for them, I found the experience to be really moving. We as a ward family were all sitting in our seats rooting for him.

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    Evelyn Reply:

    I have always understood that the reason the sacrament prayer must be said word for word (with certain exceptions Jenna alluded to) is because it is an ordinance.

    If you are interested, here’s a link to the definition of ordinance as it is commonly “interpreted” within the church: http://lds.org/study/topics/ordinances?lang=eng&query=ordinance

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  5. I love learning how others pray! It’s a good way to learn more ways to deepen my spiritual life. Contrary to common misconception, Catholics are *not* limited to just praying the Rosary (although I do!). :) Here are a few things I do:

    ~One of my favorite ways to talk to God is by keeping a prayer journal. In it, I write to God whatever is on my heart/mind at the moment.

    ~When I pray or journal, I usually try to follow this acronym: A.C.T.S. which stands for:

    A – Adoration
    C – Contrition
    T – Thanksgiving
    S – Supplication

    I first make an act of Adoration, that is acknowledge that it is God who we speak to, who deserves reverence, awe and adoration. Then I make an act of Contrition, in which I recognize before God my sins, and express sorrow for doing so. Thanksgiving is then needed because He gives us so much already, and before we can ask for more it is right and just that we thank Him for all He has already given us. Then I pray in Supplication, that is, I ask God to supply for me all that I need materially and spiritually, and have faith that He will give what is best for me.

    ~Catholics also pray before meals, traditionally with this prayer:

    “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts which we are about to receive from Thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

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    Stephanie C Reply:

    I am a newly converted Orthodox Christian and I find this so helpful! Right now I am mainly sticking to what is in my prayer books, but this helps when I am not near one.

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    Rachel Reply:

    Glad I could help! I do love prayer books too; they definitely help keep my mind from wandering. :)

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  6. Stephanie C says:

    As I said in a reply to an earlier commenter, I am a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy and while I grew up an evangelical Christian, I find that I am learning about prayer in a new light that make so much sense to me.. so I feel like a child again !
    Moving on, as I am still learning I don’t want to make statements here, but one of my favourite prayers is the prayer of St Ephraim, normally done during Lent with (repentant) prostrations. “O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power, and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, humility, patience, and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother, for blessed art Thou, unto ages of ages. Amen.”
    I used to pray without a guide, but I have found that using a prayer book has really helped me examine my own life and come to God with more reverence and humility.

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  7. I like to pray through the Lord’s Prayer (the “Our Father”) but based on the spirit of the prayer and not necessarily the words.
    - praise God’s name
    - pray for his coming kingdom and his will, and for me to be able to be an instrument of his will and kingdom. This is also where I pray for world leaders, the church, non-believers, etc
    - petitions (daily bread, requests for others and myself)
    - confession of sins
    - letting go of unforgiveness of others
    - protection against temptation and evil

    I think this is the type of prayer Jesus meant when he taught us to pray in the Bible. Although I pray in lots of different ways, I think this is the “bread and butter” so to speak :)

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  8. I really appreciated your post, I think you did a great job of explaining the most common instances and patterns of prayer for you (and probably most Latter-day Saints… myself included ;D).

    I think one of my favorite examples of prayer in the scriptures is that of King Lamoni’s father, found in Alma 22:16-18

    I find that when I am similarly sincere and earnest, my time spent in prayer is most fulfilling and enriching.

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  9. Thank you so much for taking the time to write such thoughtful Sunday posts! Prayer is something I’ve been struggling with lately, so I really liked this one. I can definitely tell that you do pray for guidance as you write these posts and I appreciate that. You represent the gospel well.

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  10. This is a great post. I love praying! I also love that, though various religions have their own ways of praying, I still feel like I’m talking to God no matter how the pray is conducted. When missionaries visit me (as happens often, since I live in SLC), I always ask to pray together. I’m not going to convert, but I love the spiritual fellowship!

    This way of praying is really similar to how I was taught to pray, growing up Baptist.

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  11. What a great post, Jenna! I often forget to include a few minutes of meditation after prayer, and I think that’s such an important thing to remember – thanks for reminding me of that. :)

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  12. I was going to explain the ACTS thing too, but someone else already did! When I was in high school I came up with my own acronym because those words were too long for me to remember, haha.

    We pray lots of “set” prayers too like the Our Father, Glory Be, Come o Holy Spirit, Bless Us O Lord (the before-you-eat prayer), etc. I love it because it takes the focus off “am I being creative/accurate/respectful enough in my prayer? What’s the best way to say what I’m thinking” and instead just makes it about the actual emotions and feelings that are too deep for words. I also love the idea that I’m praying the words hundreds of thousands of people before me have prayed and will pray after me. We also do lots of spontaneous prayer as well.

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  13. Britney says:

    Hey. I think we may be related somehow… I was reading your blog as I was preparing for my lesson, and that picture is of my grandpa!!

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    Jenna Reply:

    No relation to me – it was a picture I took of a wedding. Are you related to Shelly Ragsdale Arroyo? I photographed her wedding!

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    Britney Reply:

    She married my uncle!! I was on my mission for their wedding. Wow! Small world!

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