Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Deeper Conversation

Anyone who knows me well also knows I love a good conversation, and the deeper the better. I love to talk with friends. The energy that comes from an enjoyable discussion of meaningful things can fuel me for days, and often longer. My interest is not talking for the sake of talking, but conversing with the intent to share. It isn’t just exchanging ideas, but finding something else in common. Sometimes it may be an idea that we agree on. Sometimes it is merely the fact that we can express different opinions openly without worry of causing offense or needing to be defensive. Most of the time, it’s just nice to have someone you can trust who feels the same. This type of sharing lifts me and inspires me.

Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a close friend of mine. We interrupted my errands and his lawn mowing for an unplanned visit and had just such a conversation. It picked me up for the rest of the day. In a matter of a few minutes we talked about a number of things that both of us had in common and felt strongly about. I ate it up. Consistently, I have been grateful that my friend has been willing to share with me, and challenge me, so I can grow. That is a priceless gift.

I talked with another close friend of mine yesterday as she was pulling weeds in her garden. Regrettably, we didn’t have time for a longer conversation, but the few minutes we did talk were very uplifting. I was grateful that a friendship could have that kind of effect. My feeling is that this is possible not just because of the conversation, but because we share other things in common, more than words alone. As I’ve mentioned, it’s nice to have someone you can trust who feels the same.

Many of my Salty Pockets posts this year have been tied to discussions I have had with my closest friends. We have shared ideas and have lifted each other. Then, almost without the ability to prevent it, that inspiration seems to spill out in everything else that I do. For me, this overflowing has been a beautiful thing. It has given me much to reflect on in regard to my closest relationships, and the conversations we have.

Daily, I have opportunities to talk with my Father in Heaven through prayer. These visits don’t have to be planned, but they need not be sporadic, either. Occasionally, I offer much longer prayers because my heart is so full and I need someone to talk to who I know will listen. I need a one-on-one connection with someone who understands me perfectly, so I pray. I find that when I do schedule these conversations regularly, I maintain an ongoing connection that uplifts me unlike anything else. Because we share something deeper, even a prayer that lasts a few minutes can go a long way to keeping my tank full. Each minute adds oil to my spiritual lamp as I prepare for the eleventh hour of the night.

Perhaps, like me, you have also had many conversations that aren’t so deep or substantial. Usually the subject matter is fleeting and inconsequential. On some occasions, small talk is brief and very convenient when you have something else you would rather be doing. It is easy to greet as a gesture, acknowledge the weather, and then move on to something that you consider more worthwhile. Perhaps, like me, you have wanted a deeper discussion, but the other party was anxious to get on with something else. It may not have been because you weren’t important to them, but perhaps because something else was pressing. I sometimes wonder if I do that to Father.

Planning to pray two, three, or even five times a day may be easier than matching my habit of prayer with real intent. If I really intend on talking to Father in Heaven, do I schedule time to talk with Him? Do I believe He will really listen and answer my prayers? Do I believe that I can not only pray to Him, but have a deeper conversation? My hope is to clarify the reality that Father wishes to converse with us as much as we want to converse with any close friend, and that this is really possible. The method is prayer made practical through practice.

Ashamedly I will admit that too many of my prayers with Father have had more resemblance to small talk than a deeper conversation. Instead of a dialog that has gone back and forth, I have somewhat hurriedly greeted as a gesture, acknowledged my thanks and what I needed, and then moved on to other things that were pressing. Yikes! Even as I say this it sounds awful and incriminating. If you think there is a possibility that this idea could also be mistaken as criticism towards anyone who has similar simple prayers, please pardon my offense and take a closer look at my intent.

One thing I do not wish to do is disrepute the power of a short, heartfelt prayer. Father blesses His children whenever they do what He asks, and to whatever degree that they offer. His words are clear, as given through His Only Begotten Son, “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8) There is great validation that the Savior repeats the same thing twice, both in future tense and in present tense, with a statement of the result as though it has already happened. That is how Father works. Whether in the past or the future, it is the same. He does not lie, but keeps His word.

Perhaps, for those moments where I am looking for more, and I need more, I can plan for a deeper conversation with Father in Heaven. If I look beyond simply pouring out my heart to Him, hoping that it will be enough, I can pause to listen to what He has to say. If I am uplifted by conversation with a close friend that is deeper than small talk and strengthens my connection with that friend, why could I not enjoy the same blessing with a Father who loves me more than I can comprehend?

This idea of prayer as a form of conversation presumes a few points, which I personally have found to be true. First, the heavens are open. Father does not intend for us to walk aimlessly without direction. Rather, He speaks to His servants the prophets, and He will speak to us when we ask. Second, Father wants to give us every good thing. He is not selfish, but is waiting for us to be selfless so He can trust us with His treasure. Third, He has commanded us to ask for the things we need. This allows us to grow in faith when he answers our prayers. The only thing we have to lose is our faith if we choose not to ask at all. Fourth, God gives to all men liberally and doesn’t get upset when we ask Him for help. He is ready to give us more than we ask for, if we ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, and have faith in His son, Jesus Christ. If we believe these things to be true, then all that is left is to try.

The idea of prayer being conversational may sound disrespectful, as though it were too casual. As we offer up the prayers of our hearts, if we do not believe there can be an exchange, we shortchange our faith. We prevent Father from giving us the blessings He wants to give us. I also believe that we need to approach God in reverence and respect. Because He is perfect and I am not, I should not approach Him with a request as though I were haggling for a price at a store, believing that I had something of equal value to trade. Instead, I need to realize that His ways are not my ways. His are always better because they are perfect. His gifts are always greater than anything I have yet imagined. When I am willing to submit my will to His, Father can pour out blessings that will overflow into every part of my life because I am learning to be obedient. I am learning to be trusted.

An obvious follow up question to this notion may be, “If I haven’t had a conversation with God before, how can I begin?” I believe we start by understanding the two most important parts of a conversation – learning how to talk, and learning how to listen.

Very little caution has been given to what we say in our prayers except where we are presumptuous, proud, or selfish. “Be thou humble; and the Lord thy God shall lead thee by the hand, and give thee answer to thy prayers.” (Doctrine & Covenants 112:10) Ask, “that all may be benefited that seek or that ask of me, that ask and not for a sign that they may consume it upon their lusts.” (Doctrine & Covenants 46:9) When you pray, “use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.” (Matthew 6:7) Instead, “ask whatsoever you will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done. But know this, it shall be given you what you shall ask….” (Doctrine & Covenants 50:29-30)

One of my favorite examples of this attitude of prayer is when the Lord Jesus Christ was teaching His people among the Nephites. “And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.” (3 Nephi 19:24)

What a wonderful thing, to be taught by the Holy Spirit how to pray, and to be filled with the desire that allows us to do so! Whenever I don’t feel like praying, but I know I should, I consider this scripture. Then I ask Father in Heaven to help me. I ask Him to teach me how to pray again and to fill me with desire as He did the Nephites. I have found this simple step works as often as I have the desire, or even as often as I wish I had the desire.

If I believe that Father wants to give me every good thing, this belief should lead me to have faith enough to trust Him. It should help me to want what he wants me to have, because it will be better. This doesn’t mean that I have to give up my desires. It also doesn’t require that I add the tagline, “if it be thy will,” at the end of my prayer. What it does mean is that I can ask him to teach me how to pray. I can ask Father to validate what I am praying for while I am in the act of praying. Because the heavens are open, and God does speak to His children, I can ask if what I am praying for is the right thing. But this requires the second part of the conversation, namely, listening.

The Lord has told us that He will give us answers to our prayers by confirming our thoughts and feelings through the power of the Holy Ghost. First, he expects us to study the issue to the best of our ability. Next, we should come to the best conclusion we can based on what we know. Then we should ask if our conclusion is right. If we are right, He will tell us by confirming truth in our minds and in our hearts. (Doctrine & Covenants 8:2-3) A stupor of thought will suggest that it is not true, but the warm burning feeling of peace that comes from the Holy Spirit will help us to recognize that it is true. (Doctrine & Covenants 9:7-9)

Applying this pattern to listening suggests a simple way to carry on a conversation through prayer. If I have a question I hope to have answered, and I ask, believing that Father will answer me, I should save time to wait for a response. If you haven’t done this before, I might suggest starting with a simple question to which you might expect a simple answer. You might try questions such as, “Father, are you there?” “Are you listening?” “Do you love me?” “Did Jesus really give His life for me?” And then wait for the confirming feeling. Yet, it is important not to forget the pattern for inspiration and revelation. Study it out, come to a conclusion, and then ask if you are right. If I feel that something is true, and then I feel a peaceful confirming feeling that reinforces it in my heart and in my mind, then I begin to understand how revelation works.

After experimenting, I may move on to less simple questions. “Are there prophets today?” “Do you speak to them?” “Is the Bible a true book?” “Is the Book of Mormon true?” If God has promised to answer such questions by the power of the Holy Ghost, then I should not doubt that He can answer more complicated questions. In this instance, if I want to be taught how and what to pray for, I might say, “Father, I am having a hard time making a decision. I have a few choices I can choose from, and I would really like this option, but I’m not sure it will be in my best interest. As I have looked at the possibilities the best I can, I feel that this is the way to go. Am I right? What would Thou have me do?”

In most conversations, one question may lead to another. By asking the right questions, and by coming to my own conclusions during my prayer, I may have additional questions to ask. The first time I experiment, I may only have one question. But, if I make prayer practical through practice, I may find that my prayer becomes a question and answer session where more information is shared. Those prayers have come to mean a lot to me, and they work. Prayer is such a simple yet powerful act. It is a means of communication that allows us to access the power of God and receive direction in our lives.

The key word to receiving “more” is merely to “receive.” The prophet Jacob taught, “Wherefore, brethren, seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works.” (Jacob 4:10) In order to receive answers to prayer, I must be willing to tell Father what I would like, come to a conclusion, ask if it be right, and then be willing to accept the answer. It is not appropriate for me to tell Him what to do, or tell Him what is right. If I am not willing to accept a perfect answer from a perfect being, I may not be in the right frame of mind to receive an answer at all. This dilemma goes back to my first premise that a conversation has two parts. If I am not willing to listen, I am not willing to have a conversation. Contrary wise, if I am not only willing to listen, but I am willing to ask and continue learning, then I am prepared to talk with God.

Small talk has its appropriate times and places, but I usually get out what I put into it. It may be, if I want small blessings, that small talk might be enough to help me get what I need. I take great comfort, however, that Father is waiting for me to realize that He really is there to listen. He does want to help, and He will when I am ready to let Him. It’s up to me to take a few extra minutes to find sincerity and real intent. It’s now my decision whether I will be sporadic or plan time for a scheduled conversation. In either case, He is ready and is always available. The sky is the limit. While spending a few minutes with a close friend is nice, my preference is always a good conversation; with Father, the deeper the better.

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