A Primer on Mormon Prayer: Deciding

July 6, 2011 | 16 comments
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Prayer can be approached as a means or as an end.

You’re tired of using God as a crutch to get wherever else you want to go and finally decide, throwing it all over, to just make God your explicit destination. Consecration it is. The kingdom of God or nothing.

You’re a Mormon. And you’re relieved.

From now on, when you get out of bed in the morning, getting-up won’t just involve (on a good day) a passing prayer but will be for the sake of prayer. You’ll still eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast, but instead of praying so that you can pour the milk, you’ll set out the bowl, the spoon, the milk, the sugar shaker, the cereal as an occasion for prayer. You’ll still drive to work, but instead of praying in order to drive, you’ll slide behind the wheel in order to pray. You’ll tie your shoes, smooth your son’s hair, button your shirt, and kiss the nape of your wife’s neck as a prayer.

You can approach this new kind of work either haphazardly or systematically.

If approached haphazardly, you’ll probably only pray when you need something and, thus, you’ll probably only pray as a means to some other end.

If approached systematically, you’ll still probably only prayer as a means to some other end – but there’s a chance something else might happen.

You give an intentional approach a try. You have to start somewhere. You decide to take up prayer as a practice, as a discipline, as a work, as your daily bread.

You’ll have to decide a couple of things.

First, what exactly is it that you are trying to practice when you practice prayer? In particular, what exactly is it that you are trying to practice when you practice prayer as an end in itself rather than as a means to some other end?

Take the following as a guide. Whatever you take the essence of this practice to be, that practice must be literally extendable into the business of everything you do, every day.

In short, the test is: whatever you take prayer to be, it must be possible to literally “pray always.” The practice of prayer is anything but metaphorical. Entering into the rest of the Lord is anything but metaphorical.

Second, you’ll have to decide what concrete steps to take to actually practice praying in this way. Maybe you’re a prodigy who can play by ear . . . but probably not.

16 Responses to A Primer on Mormon Prayer: Deciding

  1. Adam Greenwood on July 6, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    Not to quarrel with what you’re disadvocating, but to disagree with your implication that seeing prayer as means is wrong–the scriptures seem to advocate that you use prayer as a way of asking for stuff that you want. In fact, they are often unabashedly material.

  2. clark on July 6, 2011 at 1:26 pm

    I have to second Adam here Adam. (grin) On the one hand I agree with what you are saying as a neglected aspect of prayer. However if prayer is a fundamental way of forming a relationship with God it probably should be seen as analogous to regular relationships. I ask friends for help. I am gracious to my friends and appreciative. I discuss things of concern to me. But none of those exhaust my relationship.

    I think most of my relationship with friends, family, spouses, etc. might be seen as “idle.” I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Far from it. Rather the positive sense sometimes captured as “play.” But that’s not quite right either. It’s more the notion that most of my conversation with friends and family isn’t aimed at some simple functional role. To reduce it to function and an economy of exchange (request, thanks) is to miss something fundamental about relating.

    If that’s what you are getting at I agree wholeheartedly. But we can’t ignore the important role for requests, for supplication, for praise, for gratitude and so forth.

  3. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    Adam and Clark, I don’t disagree. In fact, I covered just this point with some care in the previous post:

    “There’s nothing wrong with undertaking prayer as a means to an end, as an aid to life, except that it will not satisfy. It can ease, facilitate, bless, and even cure – all good things – but it cannot save.”

  4. Alan Jackson on July 6, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    I can’t tell if this is just a mental exercise or you are arguing that this is the proper order of prayer.

    I’m not trying to sound too argumentative, but I don’t see this type of philosophy anywhere in the scriptures or teachings of modern prophets when taken holistically. It sounds like a far over reaching interpretation of the admonition to pray always.

  5. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    Alan, good question.

    I think praying always would totally qualify as “over reaching” if the admonitions in the sacrament prayer to “always remember him” and “always have his Spirit to be with us” are also only meant to be taken metaphorically.

    If, though, the sacrament prayer is to be taken literally, then I think the command to prayer always is also meant to be taken literally because they amount to the same thing.

  6. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    Adam and Clark: also, as I mentioned in the previous post, “Nothing is more liberating than discovering that even prayers can be offered as a prayer.” Even a prayer offered on behalf of some specific, ulterior end can be offered as a end in itself.

  7. clark on July 6, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Sorry Adam. I’ve been so busy I’ve not had time to read all the posts in the series. My bad.

    That said, I’m not sure what it means for prayer to save. It’s a step on the path to salvation but I’m not sure we should expect it to save. Nor is it a means to an end because if you see prayer as a means to an end (salvation) I think it ceases to be authentic prayer. Perhaps that’s what you mean.

    It seems to me that for LDS salvation is very much about a certain kind of relationship with God and prayer is part of developing that relationship. I think we’re fairly unique in that particular view.

  8. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 4:03 pm

    No trouble, Clark. I haven’t had a chance to look at your blog in months :0

    I agree that salvation is very much about a certain kind of relationship with God.

    I’ll say more about this later, but I think that Jesus’ prayer – “nevertheless, not my will but thine be done” – typifies and enacts precisely this kind of saving/saved relationship.

    Prayer is the practice of this relationship. Prayer is the practice of “entering into the rest of the Lord,” not simply as a future promise but as a present fact, and not just occasionally but always.

  9. Bob on July 6, 2011 at 4:12 pm

    Adam: Sorry, I am lost again. In your last post, I thought you were talking along the lines of my 1960s efforts at “TM”. Now this sounds like my 1960s efforts at “Psycho-Cybernetics”. I failed badly at both.

  10. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 6:27 pm

    Bob, I’ll take credit for the trouble. But if kissing the nape of your wife’s neck as a prayer counts as 1960′s era psycho-cybernetics, count me in.

  11. Bob on July 6, 2011 at 7:38 pm

    Adam: I didn’t even know you knew my wife, or that she liked that. But we digress.
    TM, Yoga, Zen, psycho-cybernetics, LSD, mushrooms,in the 60′s and in others times, were ways to transform the mind’s reality. To take it to a higher level. Maybe even gain insight as to your purpose.
    I guess prayer or fasting can be put in this group. I am just uncomfortable in doing that.

  12. clark on July 6, 2011 at 7:49 pm

    Heh. I haven’t really written much on the blog for a few months. Although I started it up again last week.

    I see what you are saying. I guess I just see it as important as keeping it a two way relationship. That is we aren’t to be purely passive in a fashion akin to mystic quiet. Rather I think that as we unify our will with the father it is bringing part of us to the relationship rather than just being absorbed in him. I’d note that one of the main metaphors of our reconciliation is the relationship of spouses. I think that significant. I’d also note the place of the narrative of the Brother of Jared in fulfilling that “not my will but thine” for Mormon theology. That place of God’s will offers a place for human creativity and will.

  13. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 7:52 pm

    I’m with you, Clark – though I’d tweak it a bit and say that the “mystic quiet” is anything but purely passive.

  14. Me on July 6, 2011 at 8:13 pm

    “Prayer can be approached as a means or as an end.”
    or both. Prayer can be approached as a means and an end.

  15. Adam Miller on July 6, 2011 at 8:20 pm

    Re: #14. Yes. Exactly what I said in comment #6.

  16. michelle on July 7, 2011 at 2:09 am

    What comes to mind reading this is ‘an eye single to the glory of God.’

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