Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Hour of Prayer

I gave a talk a few months ago in Church and since I haven't been on here much (for reasons I'll hopefully find a way to articulate later but largely have to do with being pregnant) I thought I would post it.  I had to edit some while on the stand for time and inspiration but I tried to update these so that my record would reflect the actual talk given as much as possible.  In any case, enjoy.

Hour of Prayer
by Megan K. Geilman


When Brother Steven’s called me to ask me to speak it was right before I was going to begin my scripture study, which I thought was perfect timing. After I accepted he told me the topic was “Hour of Prayer.” I repeated it back to him “Hour of Prayer?” and he confirmed.

I thought this was an interesting topic to be asked to speak on-- “Hour of Prayer” because usually there’s a really broad subject like “prayer” or a practical question like “How can I get answers to my prayers.” And then I got literal and thought “Wow...have I ever actually had a whole entire hour of prayer?” No I haven’t...and then I felt bad because you know, really spiritual people probably have regular “hours of prayer,” right?

Collectively, yes, I’ve had many hours of prayer but I have definitely never had an Enos like extended period of meditation with the divine. I seem to connect more with the sentiment Adam Miller says in his recent book “Letters to a Young Mormon.” "When you pray," Miller writes, "the most important thing is to stay awake."

Luckily he continues: “The substance of a prayer is [a] willingness to remember, to heave your wandering mind back, once more, in the direction of God, and then, when it drifts off yet again, to heave it still another time."

And of course I thought of the hymn. I had it running through my head all day “sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer...” with the vague understanding that what the Bishop seemed to be signaling to me was that I was to perhaps reference and delve into the context of prayer: the hour, the place, the timing, the environment of communing with our Heavenly Father. What are our “hour(s) of prayer”? My scripture study didn’t seem to yield much nor did the tags I had collected the past couple years in my notebook on “prayer.” Regardless, I opened a document, added my title and there it sat for the rest of the day.

I figured I would start with someone who did have a few hours of prayer--Enos in the Book of Mormon. As the account reads, he prayed “all the day long...and when the night came [he] did still raise [his] voice…” So we’ve got a few hours of prayer to work with here.

And Enos says: “I will tell you of the wrestle which I had before God, before I received a remission of my sins.”

Now, fun fact about Megan: I participated on my high school’s wrestling team for two seasons, and I’m sure I looked as ridiculous as you can imagine me being on a wrestling team but it ended up being a great experience. In any case, I feel like I’ve always had a really personal connection to Enos’ description of his supplication--because I have spent some time literally wrestling other people for extended periods of time.

In wrestling, you have two opponents who face each other on a mat with a ring around it. The object is to stay in the ring on the mat, and to simultaneously try to pin your opponent’s back to the mat while not getting pinned yourself by your opponent. You can win by achieving this pin or by scoring points through escapes, takedowns, or reversals. You can also lose points by stalling or having unsportsmanlike roughness. It’s a very engaging sport--you don’t participate through any tools like a bat or a ball. You have to be there, in the moment, and you have to be in shape or you’ll get hurt.

Now we often mistake the account and read that Enos had a wrestle WITH God--but that’s not the case--he had a wrestle BEFORE God. In a word, he was wrestling with himself. While we are here on this earth, working to progress and become more like our Savior and to overcome the effects of the Fall, we are essentially having a continuous wrestling match between our divine nature and our natural man.

Now Enos was--and I think this is a huge takeaway-- having this wrestle so that he could “receive a remission of [his] sins.” I think this phrase is where some people have thought that Enos was perhaps a rebellious dude. I think that’s hardly the case.

To go back to my wrestling imagery, one of the players is the part of us that wants to do good and wants to be good, and the other player is the one that sometimes doesn’t want to live up to the standard--but even more common I think it’s side that doesn’t want to go through the wrestling process of repentance. The side of ourselves that wants to save ourselves. We want to fix all our sins on our own accord, we don’t want the help of the Savior or we don’t believe we are worthy of this help.

We often associate our divine nature as the side that to quote Isaiah wants to “hide our face from sin” but I think it’s actually our natural man that tries to ignore the parts of ourselves that need fixing, the things we need a Savior for. We hide our face from these things so we don’t have to deal with them, but in doing that we kind of miss the point of our time here on earth.

I think if Enos is to be considered rebellious, it’s in the way that we’re all rebellious--we are in constant need of repentance and it’s much easier in the short term to ignore our sins than to face up to them. The first step of repentance is always “recognition” because if we aren’t aware of something we don’t work to fix it. It’s easier to stay busy with “normal life” than to take the time to wrestle and repair our souls. As human beings, we don’t go to a doctor unless we know that we’re sick. And no one likes to realize that they’re sick--but we are--we are all fallen and we need a Savior.

And this is what I think is so remarkable about Enos’ “hour(s) of prayer”--that he took the time to wrestle with himself for a remission of his sins. He was willing to admit he has sins and then give up his pride and go through the repentance process. I don’t know if there is anything more admirable and worthy of respect than someone willing to go through the repentance process. To pin down the natural man and allow the Savior to take our sins upon Him. We don’t like to become aware of our weaknesses--yet it is only when we allow ourselves to do this, to wrestle with our weaknesses, that find redemption. That we can become changed, to eventually become holy:

Ether 12:27 “And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.”

Contrast this with a quote from C.S. Lewis' “The Screwtape Letters” a fictional correspondence between two devils:

“You must bring him to a condition in which he can practice self-examination for an hour without discovering any of those facts about himself which are perfectly clear to anyone who has ever lived in the same house with him or worked in the same office.”

We win this wrestling match when give up our will for the Father’s in actually admitting our sins and using the Savior’s Atonement to change rather than attempting to change ourselves--an impossible and fruitless task.

Again from “The Screwtape Letters” the senior Screwtape counsels the junior devil Wormwood on the subject of prayer. He counsels that he can slow down progress of the subject by the subtle art of misdirection and making them believe they can change themselves. “The simplest is to turn their gaze away from Him (Jesus) towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven.”

When we spend energy trying to change ourselves rather than humbling ourselves and allowing Christ to change our natures, we really slow down our progress in an effort to feel validated. We spin our wheels in self examination without ever actually getting anywhere. It is only through the Savior that we can put the rubber to the road.

Salvation is a process, and as King Benjamin says in the Book of Mormon: “that there shall be no other name given nor any other way nor means whereby salvation can come unto the children of men, only in and through the name of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.”

When I went to bed that night I had not written anything and my thoughts and inclinations didn’t seem to point in any specific direction. I had had a vague feeling to reread Luke 22, which I had read the day before and remembered it specifically mentions Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. As I reread the account, it struck me that what I really needed to speak on was THE hour of prayer. The most important hour of prayer to ever be prayed in the history of man.

The account of Luke reads:

41 And he was withdrawn from them about a stone’s cast, and kneeled down, and prayed,

42 Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.

43 And there appeared an angel unto him from heaven, strengthening him.

44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground.

THIS hour of prayer, and the events surrounding it, are the only reason we have any hope to be saved from this world of care or from the tempter’s snare.

I want us to think about this specific and sacred hour of prayer as I reread the lyrics from the hymn “Sweet Hour of Prayer.” The hour when the Savior lay in agony, and as Alma states: “suffer[ed] pains and afflictions and temptations of every kind...tak[ing] upon him [our] infirmities, that his bowels may be filled with mercy...that he may know according to the flesh how to succor his people…” (Alma 7:11-12)

Sweet hour of prayer! Sweet hour of prayer!

That calls me from a world of care

And bids me at my Father's throne

Make all my wants and wishes known.

In seasons of distress and grief,

My soul has often found relief

And oft escaped the tempter's snare

By thy return, sweet hour of prayer!

When I started writing this talk I was sort of thinking how I could improve or possibly actually achieve an hour of prayer. What I realized in writing this talk is that I need, and might be more successful, if instead I focus more of my energy meditating on HIS prayer and HIS sacrifice for mankind, that prayer and ultimately his death and resurrection, and how through him, and only through him, I (and subsequently my prayers) can be changed.

Also, as this being Father’s day, I wanted to give a shout out to all the Father’s out there and thank you for all that you do and who you are. I’m grateful for my husband who is a wonderful father and for my own father, but most especially for my Heavenly Father. In the Bible Dictionary, the section on “Prayer” reads:

As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are His children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7–11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship. Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

Testimony and Close

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