What Does a Priesthood Blessing Give That a Similar Prayer Does Not?

June 25, 2004 | 22 comments
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I have the Melchezidek Priesthood. It gives me authority to officiate in certain ordinances and the responsibility to obey all the commandments and serve those around me. This I understand. Here is the question. If I bless someone as a Priesthood holder, is that blessing more likely to occur than if I were to have simply stood there and offered a prayer for their recovery? Perhaps this question is not sensible. Perhaps the effect of the Priesthood is to change what or when I pray. I am open to that.

I think the question is sensible and the answer is (maybe) yes. I think that the Priesthood gives me the right to speak on behalf of God in a way that a prayer does not. A prayer is a petition. A blessing can be an answer wherein the holder acts as God’s authorized servant. A blessing may also be us literally saying what God would say. But I believe that God will honor what we say as authorized servants on his behalf if we are righteous, even if it is not exactly what He would have said. Perhaps I even believe that blessings pronounced may be honored even when a similar prayer may not be.

And yet, that seems like an odd thing to believe. It suggests that there are blessings available that we ask God for and he doesn’t give us, but when we promise them as an authorized servant we get them. So I’m very open to scriptures, prophetic statements, or insights that might clarify this.

22 Responses to What Does a Priesthood Blessing Give That a Similar Prayer Does Not?

  1. Adam Greenwood on June 25, 2004 at 2:29 pm

    No more odd than thinking that there are blessings God would like to give us but won’t unless we ask for them.

  2. Kingsley on June 25, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    When I was a child I believed that if I was seriously injured & only my mom was home, I’d be in much graver peril than if my dad was on hand with his Priesthood Powers. I wouldn’t have countenanced for a second the idea that my mom’s prayers could get an equal hearing from God. It was like the driver’s license analogy missionaries use for explaining the Priesthood: “You wouldn’t pull over if a mailman was flashing his lights at you, would you? No, of course not! He doesn’t have the proper authority. In the same way, God does not recognize baptisms …”

    So: my mom didn’t carry the license: my dad did. It’s a very crude & childlike (ish?) way to think of it, but is it really that different from the typical Churchwide view? But if my mom’s prayers are just as effective, why the hullaballoo? Why the oil, the specified prayer, the hands on the head, etc. It sure seems more than mere ritual: it seems to work, practically speaking: it seems, on occasion, to heal physical wounds, & it always (at least in my experience) goes a great way toward healing spiritual wounds, bringing comfort, solace, assuaging grief, etc., in a way that is more immediate & electric (so to speak) than bedside prayer.

  3. Frank McIntyre on June 25, 2004 at 2:38 pm

    I am inclined to agree. Which is why I think there may be a difference between a blessing and a prayer.

  4. Kingsley on June 25, 2004 at 3:07 pm

    Frank: Didn’t mean to be redundant, but I probably was. There’s a disconnect between my practical experience of priesthood blessings & my feeling that if pa’s at work God should recognize ma’s pleas for a wounded child just as if she was the one with the little silver vial of oil on her keychain. If x says, “Well, God does do that,” I say, “Then what’s the point of the little silver vial? Ritual?” etc. If x say, “God doesn’t do that, live with it,” I get the feeling of disconnect.

  5. Last_lemming on June 25, 2004 at 3:33 pm

    The priesthood gives you the right (indeed the responsibility) to pronounce God’s will for the person being blessed. It does not give you the right to impose your will. Such an attempt, even in the slightest degree, would be unrighteous by definition, thereby relieving God of any obligation to honor your pronouncement.

    If you want to know God’s will concerning your condition, ask for a Priesthood blessing. If you just want to get better, then seek the prayers of as many faithful people as you can, whether they hold the priesthood or not.

  6. Kingsley on June 25, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    Last_lemming: I wouldn’t come down too hard on people who “just want to get better,” as if physical suffering is something to wink at. Regarding the difference between a prayer & blessing (the subject of the post): Do I understand you correctly: Are you saying that prayers are for “get[ting] better,” blessings for “know[ing] God’s will concerning your condition”? It would be hard to deny that, traditionally at least, the priesthood has been strongly & dramatically linked to the idea of physical healing. (That God won’t reply to my demands as a priesthood holder I take for granted.)

  7. Frank McIntyre on June 25, 2004 at 4:03 pm

    Disclaimer:

    My comment above was actually directed at Adam’s statement, not Kingsley’s. I may also a gree with some of Kingsley’s, but it has mutiple parts so requires more thinking.

  8. John David Payne on June 25, 2004 at 4:06 pm

    Frank, I have often thought that one of the primary purposes of priesthood blessings is to help us as priesthood holders grow as we magnify our callings. But clearly, there is some special power there, since it is an ordinance, and power of God is manifest in ordinances (forget the reference – D/C somewhere). Prayer is not an ordinance. A blessing is.

    Maybe the difference is this: a blessing is not a request. I am not asking God to heal this person. I stand in the place of God and command (bless) that person in the name of God to be healed. This is only efficacious if it is God’s will, which is why it is important for priesthood holders to live worthy of the inspiration of the spirit. And why it is a good idea to pray and seek that inspiration before a blessing, if you have forewarning.

    So, a prayer is a request to God, and a blessing is a command from God. That’s the way I parse it.

  9. Frank McIntyre on June 25, 2004 at 4:12 pm

    Suppose God has in front of Him a whole host of outcomes that are good (but not all equally good) for the person being blessed. Then the priesthood holder asks for one of those things. God respects the authority of the asker to speak in His name and fulfills the blessing. His will is done in the sense that He knew the blessing was a good one. But the priesthood actually gave the blesser the authority to designate a particular blessing. Thus the priesthood mattered.

    But if the same thing had been asked in a prayer, could the outcome be different because the person lacked the authority?

  10. Geoff B on June 25, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    Most of Jesus’ healing was specifically aimed at the issue of faith. People would be healed if they believed that He had the power to heal them. In the same way, I personally believe that the restoration of the priesthood, and the healing powers of the priesthood, has to do at least in part with promoting faith in the restored Gospel. Joseph Smith, through the priesthood, frequently healed people in the same way the Savior did. The message, in my opinion, is that we are supposed to have additional faith in the restoration of the priesthood and the special role it plays in God’s restoration of the Gospel today. This role is in addition to the power of prayer, which has always existed.

  11. John David Payne on June 25, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    Frank, I’m not going to answer your question because I don’t know how. But I’ll suggest another possibility. We know that faith matters– that in some sense the receiving of a blessing from God depends on faith. Perhaps part of the reason we have priesthood blessings in addition to prayers is to provide us with an anchor for our faith. Call it the magic feather effect.

    When Joseph Smith began his translation of the Book of Mormon, he used the Urim and Thummim. Later he used a Seer Stone for similar purposes. In the end, he did not need anything like either of these: his faith was sufficient to perform the work he had to do without any aid.

    That’s not the whole reason, obviously, but perhaps it’s one of the reasons. As a former professor of mine and Frank’s once said: “Never believe in single-cause theories.”

  12. Frank McIntyre on June 25, 2004 at 4:32 pm

    Geoff B., are you saying that priesthood helps the blesser or blessess to have more faith? If so, is this akin to the magic feather effect?

  13. Geoff B on June 25, 2004 at 4:55 pm

    It helps both the person doing the blessing and the people receiving the blessing to have more faith. I wouldn’t use the term magic feather effect, but perhaps instead, “blessed handkerchief?” Didn’t Joseph Smith give a handkerchief to Wilford Woodruff, who then used it to heal people? I kind of see it as similar to Moses holding up the brass serpent — if you had faith to look at it, you would be healed from the snake bites. That was a shadow and type for the savior on the cross. Joseph Smith (who restored the priesthood) is a shadow and type for the savior, as all prophets are. If you have faith in Joseph Smith’s role, you should have faith in one of the things he did (restore the priesthood). By believing in the healing power of the priesthood, you are showing faith in the priesthood, Joseph Smith and eventually the Savior.

  14. Kingsley on June 25, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    We believe that “proper priesthood authority” is necessary to make (e.g.) a baptism efficacious, thus the missionary analogy of mailmen writing out speeding tickets. Jesus taught “as one who had authority, & not as the scribes.” Part of our idea of authority has to do with the image of a cop walking his beat at midnight, swinging his nightstick & whistling: he’s an otherwise normal fellow who wields an awesome power in defense of the innocent. Graham Greene & Evelyn Waugh wrote movingly about this. The priest is quite simply a man like any other man, except for the authority that God has given him. He is quite literally a G-Man in the Government of Heaven. He might appear frail & plain in his drab dark suit, but bad guys tremble at his approach. It’s not him they’re afraid of: it’s his power. If he says, “You’re coming with me,” that means you are. If he says, “Get thee hence, Satan,” that means Satan will. All the Government of Heaven, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners, is at the beck & call of the little, ordinary, everyday priest, who also happens to be your dad, your home teacher, your bishop. A romantic (yet strangely practical!) image: but it comes to us from Joseph Smith, who insisted that agents from heaven, including Peter, came down to swear him in. Catholics insist similarly: they’re directly descended from Peter, who was sworn in by Christ. So you have this image of a real government with duly appointed officers maintaining its business. “… a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.”

  15. Gary Lee on June 25, 2004 at 5:58 pm

    GeoffB: You seem to suggest that the Priesthood is like a prop, which serves to increase the faith of the priesthood holder and the person receiving the blessing. Is that really how faith is strengthened? Surely faith is not induced by focusing one’s attention on a prop which is used to strenghten one’s conviction that God will do what is being asked. That is reminiscent of the old movies where hypnotists would use a watch to hypnotize their subjects and put them under their control.

    And your statement that “Joseph Smith (who restored the priesthood) is a shadow and type for the savior, as all prophets are” surprises me. In what sense is a prophet a type and shadow of Savior? That is a rather troubling, almost blasphemous, notion to me. I do not see how a messenger, even a prophetic messsenger, can be a type of the Redeemer.

  16. John David Payne on June 25, 2004 at 6:27 pm

    Read 1 Nephi 22:20-21. The idea of prophets being types and shadows of the Messiah is not new.

  17. Heather Oman on June 25, 2004 at 6:42 pm

    I’ve got one for y’all. What happens when a worthy priesthood holder gives a blessing of healing, and it doesn’t work? In fact, what if the opposite effect from what the blessing requested, or as was said earlier, commanded, happens? Lack of faith? Not really a worthy priesthood holder? Will of God?

  18. Kaimi on June 25, 2004 at 6:57 pm

    Heather,

    Wrong church?

    :)

    Perhaps that’s a way to see where the true church really is. Have an old-fashioned heal-off. An elder, a Baptist minister, a Catholic priest, etc. Keep a placebo around to represent atheism. First one to leave the hospital wins . . .

  19. Kingsley on June 25, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    “Keep a placebo around to represent atheism.”

    My co-workers wonder why I suddenly laughed, choking water all over the place.

  20. Heather Oman on June 25, 2004 at 7:03 pm

    Ah, Kaimi, you forgot to add Western Medicine to the list. If he wins, well, then, we’re all screwed, right?

  21. Aaron Brown on June 26, 2004 at 12:17 am

    I’m not sure I know the answer to any of these questions, but a couple things I do know for sure:

    (1) If you bless a puppy with a broken leg that it will die, it might not. It might even get better.

    (2) If you anoint a broken air conditioner with consecrated oil and bless it to start working, your blessing probably won’t work.

    I know these things because both were attempted by elders on my mission.

    Aaron B

  22. Geoff B on June 26, 2004 at 10:34 am

    Gary Lee, I would never suggest the priesthood is a prop. It was the power through which the Earth was created. It is real and efficacious. But it is not obvious. You can’t touch it and feel it. When you get the priesthood, you don’t obviously and automatically change from one type of being into another (although I would argue that it helps you change slowly over time if you are faithful). Jesus looked like any other man. Therefore, you must develop faith in the priesthood because you can’t see it, just as we must develop faith in Christ because we can’t see him. That is the point I’m trying to make.

    The scriptures use teaching tools (symbolism, parables, types) to help us learn. Look at the actions of Elijah, just for one small example. He miraculously produced food, he brought somebody back from the dead, he lived alone in the desert, he fled from enemies, he controlled the elements (bringing fire down from the sky) and on and on. His actions are intended to point us to the Savior, who would later do these things. Joseph Smith also did many of the things that Jesus did. Prophets, therefore, are shadows and types of the Savior. And JDP is correct, this idea is not new.