Many people learn as children to pray when they need something. Usually, this is something tangible—help finding something that is lost, a good grade, or a date for the dance. As they grow older, however, they begin to have questions that don’t have tangible answers and they wonder how to get answers to those types of questions—and if God will even answer them. The New Testament tells us:
If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him (James 1:5).
Wisdom is often what adults are looking for when they turn to God. They have come to understand that people can get things wrong, even when they are well-intentioned. If they believe that God knows all truth, they realize He is the only being that can give them an answer that will absolutely be right.
Mormons—a nickname sometimes used to describe members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—read the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible. In the Book of Mormon, a prophet named Enos tells of his miraculous experience with prayer.
He went into the woods to hunt—although this is most likely metaphoric—and felt a need to repent of his sins. It’s not that he had terrible sins; it’s just that he became aware that his life was not what it ought to be. He prayed intensely for forgiveness—a full day and night of prayer. There could be no doubt as to his sincerity and his longing for forgiveness. God rewarded this deep faith and he heard a voice assure him he was forgiven. He recognized the voice of the Lord—not because he’d heard it before but because he knew the Lord in his heart and so could recognize the Lord’s voice. He asked how this was done. The Lord told him it was because he had faith in Jesus Christ, even though he’d never seen or heard the Savior—in fact, Jesus would not even be born for many, many years. It was his own faith that made him whole, a phrase the Savior would repeat during His ministry.
While God normally will not speak to us quite so directly, He does answer our prayers. Sometimes he says yes, sometimes, no, and sometimes not yet. God knows everything that will happen and what is best for us, so sometimes what we want is not what is best.
Mormons teach their prospective members, even children who will be baptized at age eight, they must pray and ask God if the church is true and if they should join it. They are taught not to trust the answers of mere mortals, but to ask God directly. For this reason, learning to pray is one of the first things a prospective member is taught and they are assured God answers prayers.
The first step to seeking wisdom from God is to study the problem in our mind. God likes for us to use the intellect He gave us and He likes us to study and learn. We then use the information we’ve gathered to make a decision. Once our decision is made, we present it to God in the form of a yes or no question. This makes it easier, especially if we aren’t used to receiving non-material answers, to recognize the answer that comes. A yes comes as a feeling of peace, well-being, and correctness. Some describe a swelling in the heart. A no often results in confusion or negativity. Later, you’ll learn to recognize when thoughts come into your mind that are inspiration. You’ll learn to know the difference between inspiration and your own thoughts.
Sometimes we have to pray multiple times or for long periods of time, as Enos did. These long or repeated prayers help us reaffirm our commitment to the answer and sometimes strengthen our understanding of the issue.
When an answer comes, we need to be willing to accept it even if it isn’t what we wanted it to be. To ask and then say, “Oh, never mind. I didn’t want to do that, so I’m going to ignore your advice” is to show powerful disrespect for God and can minimize our ability to get answers in the future. God always answers our prayers sincere prayers, but in his way, not ours.