“O Lord, I beseech thee, let now thine ear be attentive to the prayer of thy servant.” (Nehemiah 1:11)
How many times have we felt as the faithful Old Testament nobleman Nehemiah and found ourselves on our knees “beseeching” the Lord in prayer? The word “beseech” means to beg eagerly for or to make an urgent appeal. No one makes it through this life without some degree of sorrow and some seem to have more than others. Sometimes we feel strong as we bear our burdens but other times we feel weak and desperately seek relief. The greatest source of relief comes through our loving Heavenly Father.
However, sometimes our pleadings to the Lord seem to go unanswered. Why are some prayers answered to the immense relief and joy of the supplicant while others are left to wade through their trials? Why are some prayers answered immediately and others take time? Why is it that as I struggle to do what is right, I see others prospering and living a life of relative ease while ignoring the counsels of God? Wouldn’t life be better without trials and tribulations? Why me?
Feeling like I needed more understanding on this matter, I looked to the Lord. After my own beseeching, I turned to the scriptures. In the Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ, I found a man named Amulek who was teaching a group of people about prayer. He taught them:
“Yeah, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him. . .
. . . ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.
Yea, and when you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.
And now behold, my beloved brethren, I say unto you, do not suppose that this is all; for after ye have done all these things, if ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart of your substance, if ye have, to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain, and availeth you nothing, and ye are as hypocrites who do deny the faith.” (Alma 34:19,26-28)
I realized that I was not doing as much as I could. I assumed prayer would be enough but there is much more the Lord wants us to do as we seek answers. Early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known to many as the Mormons, were suffering great persecutions and were told that “they were slow to hearken unto the voice of the Lord their God; therefore, the Lord their God is slow to hearken unto their prayers, to answer them in the day of their trouble” (Doctrine and Covenants 101:7). I realized that if I wanted something from the Lord, I needed to be diligent in my efforts to follow His commandments.
I continued my search for understanding. President Spencer W. Kimball, the twelfth President of the Church, wrote a book called Faith Precedes the Miracle. In it I found enlightenment. He said:
“Should all prayers be immediately answered according to our selfish desires and our limited understanding, then there would be little or no suffering, sorrow, disappointment, or even death, and if these were not, there would also be no joy, success, resurrection, nor eternal life and godhood. …
Being human, we would expel from our lives physical pain and mental anguish and assure ourselves of continual ease and comfort, but if we were to close the doors upon sorrow and distress, we might be excluding our greatest friends and benefactors. Suffering can make saints of people as they learn patience, long-suffering, and self-mastery. …
If all the sick for whom we pray were healed, if all the righteous were protected and the wicked destroyed, the whole program of the Father would be annulled and the basic principle of the gospel, free agency, would be ended. No man would have to live by faith. …
If joy and peace and rewards were instantaneously given the doer of good, there could be no evil—all would do good but not because of the rightness of doing good. There would be no test of strength, no development of character, no growth of powers, no free agency, only satanic controls.” (Faith Precedes the Miracle (1972), 97-100)
Reading this was to me as “cold waters to a thirsty soul” (Proverbs 25:25). How could we feel joy if we never felt sorrow? We would never know the difference. We were sent to this earth as a test; to gain experience and make wise choices. It is often referred to as the plan of salvation or the plan of happiness.
What if everyone was granted every desire just by asking? What if no one ever got sick or died? How would God’s plan work? What if every good deed was immediately rewarded and every wrong choice instantly punished? Everyone would be good, I have no doubt — but what would be our motivation? It would be a conditioned response without understanding.
I thought back through my life and realized the times of greatest distress were also the times of greatest growth. I could see that the Lord lifted and strengthened me as needed. Sometimes He answered my prayers immediately, sometimes after some time had passed, and sometimes in ways I wasn’t expecting. As I stayed close to Him, He always answered my prayer and I came out of the experience a better person.
It is still painful to go through sorrow and distress. Sometimes it is self-inflicted, sometimes others inflict it, and sometimes things just happen. I know now to stay close to the Lord and obey his commandments. I also need to include deep supplication and conversation with Him followed by doing what I can to help others who are suffering. I need to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees” (Doctrine and Covenants 81:5). Then I need to leave it up to God, knowing He knows what is best for me and will answer my prayer appropriately.
As I have continued through life with this knowledge, I realized I can be happy and at peace even in the midst of trouble. I know Heavenly Father loves me and is watching out for me. I can see His hand in my life guiding me and supporting me and helping me to return to Him.
This article was originally published in January 2009. Minor changes have been made.