“Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:63).
This is the third in a series of four articles. This article addresses the answer to the third question in the following list:
- How do we draw near unto Him?
- Where and how do we diligently seek Him?
- What should we ask Him?
- What does it mean to knock and how do we go about it?
Prior to discussing what we should ask God for in our prayers, it is important to note the need for expressing gratitude before asking for the things we desire. I’ve found it helpful in my own life, before I ask Heavenly Father for anything, to “count [the] many blessings” I’ve received because of His tender mercies. Doing so makes it easy to “confess His hand in all things” and come before Him in greater humility. It also strengthens my faith in Him and reminds me of His boundless love for me and His eternal desire to bless and lift me in my life.
What to Ask
Once we’ve expressed gratitude for all our blessings, the question then is “What do we ask for?” The answer to this question is given multiple times in the scriptures.
The Savior taught His disciples in Jerusalem, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matthew 21:22). That marvelous promise sounds wonderful and gives our hearts hope. However, taken by itself, it could lead us to believe that if we have enough faith, the Lord will give us anything we ask for, which we know is not the case. The Lord gave the Nephites greater insight when He taught them the same principle. In 3 Nephi 18:20 we read:
“And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.”
This verse gives us the key to receiving what we ask for. We can ask Heavenly Father, in Christ’s name, for many things and exercise faith, and they will be given to us. But the things we ask for have to be the “right” things. In other words, they need to be things that Heavenly Father, in His wisdom, knows are the best things for us or for others for whom we may be praying.
This begs the question, however, “How do we know what the ‘right things’ are?” The Savior taught the following to Joseph Smith, Oliver Cowdery, and David Witmer, as recorded in D&C 18:18:
“Ask the Father in my name in faith, believing that you shall receive, and you shall have the Holy Ghost, which manifesteth all things which are expedient unto the children of men.”
In other words, the Holy Ghost can help us know which things “are expedient” for us. To have the Holy Ghost, we must be, as Nephi taught, “keeping [the] commandments” with all diligence.
When we are keeping the Lord’s commandments and seeking the Holy Ghost’s guidance to know what to ask for in prayer, we can approach the throne of God with confidence, knowing that He will hear and answer our prayers according to our faith.
We can confidently follow Amulek’s counsel to the Zoramites in which he encouraged them to ask for mercy, blessings on their families, homes and households, protection from their enemies—especially Satan, blessings on their fields (gardens) and animals, and blessings for the welfare of their own souls and the souls of those around them. We can also follow Alma’s counsel to the people of Gideon and ask for “whatsoever things [we] stand in need, both spiritual and temporal.”
I’ve had multiple personal experiences with asking and receiving, many of which are too sacred to share in this venue. However, a simple one will suffice.
Several years ago, I was a leader for eleven-year-old scouts. Our troop was invited to participate with the older scouts in what is knowns as the “Klondike Derby,” a winter campout which often lives up to the spectacularly frigid image conjured by the word Klondike. The camp was in the mountains of Colorado in February and, as if we were in Alaska’s Klondike, it was ridiculously cold and snowy. However, even in those conditions, it was hard to keep teenagers from finding a way to have fun.
At one point the boys were running around in a field of snow chasing each other and throwing snowballs. In the midst of the frosty chaos, one of the boys lost a set of keys. The loss went unnoticed until a few hours later and then a bit of panic set in. All of the boys and leaders began frantically scouring the area where we had been messing around, looking for the keys—an area at least a hundred yards wide and covered in 18 inches of snow. We searched for well over half an hour to no avail, finally returning to camp having decided that the search was useless under the circumstances.
During the chaotic key hunt, however, we’d forgotten to kneel and pray for the Lord’s help. At that moment I felt strongly impressed to do so. Following that impression, I separated myself a little way away from camp and knelt in prayer. I expressed my gratitude to Heavenly Father for the gift of prayer and for the knowledge I had that He was aware of me, that He could hear me, and that if I asked in faith He would answer me. I then explained the situation, knowing that He, if it was His will, could guide me to find the keys, even in that field of snow.
I closed the prayer, and waited for a few moments, listening for any promptings to come. They did come, and I was guided to go and look in an area at the edge of where we had been looking. After walking about twenty or thirty yards, I knelt down, brushed away the snow, and there were the keys. That experience proved to be a testimony-strengthening experience for both myself and each of the boys who were with us.
Just as I asked in faith and received an answer to my pleadings, so too each of us can have the same experience, in multiple ways, throughout our lives if we will live for it. The Lord’s love for us is eternal and His desire to bless us knows no bounds.
With that knowledge, however, knowing that God will give us what we ask for in faith, as we ask for the things which are expedient for us, we have to remember something: sometimes what is expedient for us when we ask, is for God to answer “No.” We all know, especially when we feel that what we are asking for is of extreme importance, that a “No” from God can be very difficult to accept. Yet if we follow the Savior’s example and exercise the same thy-will-be-done humility, all things will “work together for [our] good,.”
Just as I’ve experienced many “Yes” answers to prayer, so too I’ve had several definite “No” answers, for which, over time, I’ve come to profoundly thank our all-wise Creator. Again, a single example will do for illustration.
When I was in college, right after serving as a missionary to Argentina, I met a girl that I fell head over heels for (or so I thought). We hit it off and had a lot of fun together. Things got serious enough that I asked her to marry me, and she said yes.
Even so, it was short-lived. Both of us had prayed about it and both of us had what I call “Martin Harris moments.” We got “No” for an answer but weren’t willing to accept it and kept our engagement. Then she finally recognized the “No” and broke things off.
At the time, it really hurt, but later, after meeting my beautiful sweetheart, how I thanked God for His loving answer. Now, after having five beautiful children, and looking through the eyes of eternity at my beautiful wife and kids, words can’t begin to express the gratitude I feel for God’s kindness in saying “No.”
God lives! He hears and answers prayers! He loves us and desires with all His heart to be able to rain down blessings on our heads if we will ask in faith and act in faith so that we can receive all that He wants to give us.
May we have the faith, the humility, the wisdom, and the courage to ask for “whatsoever [we] stand in need,” trusting that an all-wise, kind, and eternally loving Heavenly Father will answer in His own way and time, is my humble prayer.
Randall McNeely is a husband, father of five, and author. He is also a singer/songwriter and has written several patriotic songs, children’s songs, and multiple religious hymns. The best known is 'Oh Jesus, Savior of Mankind', which won a Special Recognition award in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints 2008 Music Submission contest. He and two of his daughters have also recorded and released the children’s song Everybody Speaks Smile! Randy has a firm testimony of Jesus Christ. He is the light and the life of the world. It is said and written of Him that "He went about doing good." In doing so, He weaved light into the hearts and souls of all with whom He came in contact, both in word and deed. Randy's desire is to have the same said of him. He wants to have the words and lyrics he writes uplift, inspire, and bless others. To read more articles by Randy visit his Pure Testimony website at www.puretestimony.org.