The function of satellite dishes gives us some insight into how spiritual communication works. A website gives a technical explanation of how satellites and dishes function:
“A satellite dish works in the same way as the reflector for a torch or car headlights. A signal is produced or reflected from a focal point. This signal then reflects off the large part of the satellite dish and travels towards the satellite.
“At the satellite, the signal reflects off another curved reflector towards a focal point where the signal is received. The signal is then amplified and sent back towards Earth using a different frequency.
Another website describes the necessary conditions for a satellite dish to work properly:
“There has to be a direct line of signal from the dish to the satellite in the sky to work . . . there can be no obstructions of any kind between the satellite and dish. The dish must be located in an area clear of trees, bushes, buildings or any other objects. It has to be mounted securely and completely level to function correctly. It must be set to the precise elevation degree needed.”
A third site explains why a satellite dish might not work:
“Satellite dishes need to be aligned very accurately to get a signal, because of the way the work and the frequencies that they use. It is not easy to align a satellite dish by eyesight alone or by looking at the direction of the neighbour’s satellite dish. An adjustment of a millimetre of two can be the difference between a good reliable satellite signal and no signal at all.”
What did you glean from these descriptions of satellite dishes? There may be more points of value, but I’ve chosen to mention five.
First, a signal must be produced by a satellite dish and be beamed into space.
Second, the signal must be aligned to a specific frequency and aimed at the correct location.
Third, the signal must be unobstructed.
Fourth, the signal cannot be borrowed from another dish or be the result of guesswork.
Fifth, the signal must be aligned correctly not only to send, but also to receive, a signal.
These lessons apply beautifully to personal prayer. Consider our five points in order.
First, prayer, in order to function, requires a person to pray. The prayer may be silent or spoken aloud, but it must be uttered intentionally by the individual. The Bible Dictionary of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints says that “prayer is a form of work” (Bible Dictionary, 753). Truly it is. In order to receive dividends, one must first put in the “work.” In order to receive an answer from prayer, you must first pray. Send your personal petitions, desires, concerns Heavenward just as a satellite dish sends a signal skyward. This is the first step to receiving an answer from God, just as a satellite beaming a signal to space is a prerequisite to receiving a signal and projecting an intelligible picture onto your TV.
Second, a satellite won’t function if it’s tuned into the wrong frequency. Your prayers, if not aligned to the proper spiritual frequency – a frequency defined and set forth in revealed scripture – won’t be very profitable. The Lord isn’t so concerned with the verbiage one uses in his prayers, and has consequently never instituted set prayers except in specific instances regarding collective rites. However, He is concerned about the petitioner demonstrating proper principles, patterns, and attitudes.
For instance, a normal personal prayer should be addressed to God our Father and conclude in the name of Jesus Christ (Matthew 6:9). The prayer should be offered in childlike humility and with expectant faith, such as when Jesus, when praying before His disciples, said to the Father “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). They should be sincere and from the heart, not rote and repetitious (Matthew 6:7. Prayer should be a personal exercise hidden away from the world, not a self-serving spectacle for public consumption (Matthew 6:6, 16-21).
When your prayers are dialed into the correct spiritual frequency and our attitudes are properly sincere and humble, your prayers begin to reach the ears of your Father in Heaven who is eagerly waiting for you to learn how to approach Him, communicate with Him, and receive knowledge from His Spirit. Citing the Bible Dictionary again, it’s important to note that a huge factor in having the correct attitude for effective prayer hinges upon our understanding that we are the literal spirit children of the Heavenly Being to whom we’re praying:
“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” (Bible Dictionary, 752-753).
If we don’t want our prayers to bounce off the ceiling, as it were, we must remember who we are, that God is not some distant Being but a personal and very near Father who loves us, and that speaking to Him should be as normal as speaking to our earthly parents. When I served as a missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Russia, I sometimes encountered people who had never prayed before. Never. Not once. On one such occasion, after teaching a young man that God was His literal Father and that He should be approached in a familial and familiar manner, this childlike Russian began his first prayer: “Good day, Father.” It was a touching moment. That prayer absolutely reached Heaven. Every prayer tuned into the frequency of sincerity, humility, and familial love, will be heard and answered.
Third, just as a satellite dish won’t work if cluttered by branches or covered in snow or rain, distracted and cluttered prayers have diminished capacity. If we rush our prayers, fail to pray sincerely or humbly, or have hardened and cold hearts that would rather be doing something else, can we honestly expect to receiving amazing answers from God? He has given us a pattern for right living. If we disregard this pattern and disobey His commandments, we can’t help but reap a negative reward. Part of that ignominious reward is unanswered prayers and a break in the sweet communication with the Spirit of God.
Let’s be more explicit. If we watch porn, drink alcohol, harm another, quarrel with our spouse, or any other number of sinful behaviors, and then attempt to pray without regretting our actions, confessing them, and petitioning for forgiveness and the strength to be better, can we expect to be heard of God? You can answer for yourself.
I want to be clear, prayer is for sinners. We’re all sinners. Prayer is for the weak. We’re all weak sometimes. Prayer is for people who fall short. We’re all in that category. If we make a mistake, let a curse word slip, let our temper flare up, view an inappropriate video online, flip someone the bird in a fit of road rage, or any other number of misdeeds, prayers is actually the best thing we can do! That is, prayer is the best thing we can do in our lowest and most shameful moments if we sincerely regret our actions, do our best to repair the damage, and confess in full to the Lord and anyone else to whom it may be necessary.
A great man of God, a prophet of the Lord Jesus Christ, Lorenzo Snow, gave this encouragement:
“If we could read in detail the life of Abraham or the lives of other great and holy men we would doubtless find that their efforts to be righteous were not always crowned with success. Hence we should not be discouraged if we should be overcome in a weak moment; but, on the contrary, straightway repent of the error or the wrong we may have committed, and as far as possible repair it, and then seek to God for renewed strength to go on and do better. . . .
“. . . We must not allow ourselves to be discouraged whenever we discover our weakness. We can scarcely find an instance in all the glorious examples set us by the prophets, ancient or modern, wherein they permitted the Evil One to discourage them; but on the other hand they constantly sought to overcome, to win the prize and thus prepare themselves for a fulness of glory” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Lorenzo Snow, 100-101).
If we find that our prayers are too distracted or rushed or if we know that our conduct has not lived up to the standards outlined in the holy scriptures, then the solution is, ironically, prayer. A sincere prayer asking for forgiveness and the strength to be better is worth more than most people comprehend. The moment we intentionally take a step back our Eternal Father, He sees the effort and runs to us, just as the father ran to his dejected and battered prodigal son (Luke 15:18-24).
Some of the best prayers of my life have been uttered in the aftermath of some stupid mistake on my part. It never ceases to amaze me how willing my Father is to run to me in my moments of weakness and error when I simply turn my heart to Him and attempt to pray from the bottom of my heart. However, I also testify that prayers have even more power when backed up by personal purity; for, as James said, “the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Fourth, just as one satellite dish cannot borrow a signal from another, we cannot live on borrowed Gospel light. We can’t subsist on other people’s prayers. Having other people pray in your behalf is wonderful, but their petitions can’t substitute for your own personal, private prayers. The prayer of a priest at a public meeting is insufficient. The prayer of a friend in a prayer circle is insufficient. The prayer of a spouse before bedtime is insufficient.
Our prayers must be be our own. They can’t be written for us by another. They can’t be read from a book. They can’t be regurgitated from memory. True prayer is specific, individualistic, and genuine. We must learn to send our authentic communications, longings, questions, desires, apprehensions, and concerns to our Father in Heaven. What troubles John across the street or Sarah down the road might not matter or apply to you. Your Father wants to know what matters to you. He wants to know what troubles you. He wants to know what questions you have for Him and what you need and desire in your life.
When we pray, we may fumble with our words; there’s no harm in that. Moses suffered from a speech impediment. Yet, he became an effective communicator through the medium of prayer. He poured out His mind and spirit to His God and His Redeemer and was blessed with miracles, revelations, and power. Our minds and hearts must be similarly bowed in an attitude of humility and sincerity. Our words must be our own and come from the heart. When our prayers come from the depth of our souls, they’ll find the right signal and won’t have to borrow anything from anyone. A personal conduit to Heaven will be opened that will, if you keep it open by righteous living, be a source of continual light and knowledge, comfort and love.
Fifth, just as a satellite has to be properly lined up in order to beam its signal to space, it must be aligned aright in order to receive a correct signal. Prayer is the same. Prayer is not a one-way form of communication. President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:
“Pray to the Lord with the expectation of answers. . . . The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries—we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another. “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:18)” (Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 114).
Thinking of prayer like a two-way phone call can be helpful. If your environment is too loud, how effective is speaking on the phone? If raucous music or revelry drowns out the voices, how effective is a phone call? Many things can impede our ability to communicate with our Father. By the same token, many things can block His messages to us. Impurity, anger, insincerity, selfishness, hatred, ignorance, raucous music, irreverence, and a hundred other things, can deaden our spirits and diminish our ability to hear our Father’s communications, answers, and words.
The Holy Spirit is a bit finicky. He doesn’t like inappropriate situations, deafening music, cursing, immorality, anger, fighting, or violence. He avoids circumstances where He would expose Himself to these degrading influences. If we, therefore, put ourselves in these circumstances, how can we expect to hear the sensitive communications of the Spirit? How can we truly hear our Father if we’re surrounded by evil? How can we hear the small voice of the Spirit if we’re drowning it out with profane behavior?
Undoubtedly, this fifth step in the prayer process is the hardest. It’s been the struggle of my life to find out how the Lord speaks to me. He speaks differently to everyone. To one person, He speaks through dreams. To another, He uses His own voice. To another, He imparts subtle thoughts, hints, and feelings. Just as each person is different, so, too, is Heaven’s voice tailored to us as individuals. It’s our job to make sure our spiritual satellite dish isn’t cluttered or misaligned. If we want to receive information from God, we must be in tune with Him and His laws. There’s no other way.
I’ve drawn much inspiration from the rough-around-the-edges pioneer prophet Brigham Young. His heartfelt advice on prayer stirs me. I think you might benefit from it, too. I quote several of his statements, taking them from chapter three of John A. Widtsoe’s book Discourses of Brigham Young:
“Let every man and every woman call upon the name of the Lord, and that, too, from a pure heart, while they are at work as well as in their closet, while they are in public as well as while they are in private, asking the Father m the name of Jesus, to bless them, and to preserve and guide in, and to teach them, the way of life and salvation and to enable them so to live that they will obtain this eternal salvation that we are after.”
“When you get up in the morning, before you suffer yourselves to eat one mouthful of food, call your wife and children together, bow down before the Lord, ask him to forgive your sins, and protect you through the day, to preserve you from temptation and all evil, to guide your steps aright, that you may do something that day that shall be beneficial to the Kingdom of God on the earth. Have you time to do this? Elders, sisters, have you time to pray?”
“It matters not whether you or I feel like praying, when the time comes to pray, pray. If we do not feel like it, we should pray till we do. And if there is a heavy storm coming on and our hay is likely to be wet, let it come. You will find that those who wait till the Spirit bids them pray, will never pray much on this earth.”
“We may say that our work drives us and that we have not time to pray, hardly time to eat our breakfasts. Then let the breakfasts go, and pray, get down upon our knees and pray until we are filled with the spirit of peace.”
“If the Devil says you cannot pray when you are angry, tell him it is none of his business, and pray until that species of insanity is dispelled and serenity is restored to the mind.”
“If I did not feel like praying, and asking my Father in Heaven to give me a morning blessing, and to preserve me and my family and the good upon the earth through the day, I should say, “Brigham, get down here on your knees, bow your body down before the throne of him who rules in the heavens, and stay there until you can feel to supplicate at that throne of grace erected for sinners.””
May we each follow Brother Brigham’s sage advice and humble ourselves, get on our knees, and talk with our Father in Heaven. He’s waiting to hear from us. He loves each of us. He wants to hear about our lives, concerns, and desires. He can’t wait to bless us, enlighten our understanding, and draw us closer to Him as soon as we’re ready and make that first feeble step towards Him.
Just after writing these last lines, my ten-month-old baby girl woke up in the other room and started calling “Papa!” I immediately wet in to her, picked her up, and gave her a daddy-sized hug. Do we really think it’s any different with our Eternal Father when we raise our voices to Him? I witness with all the fervor of my soul that He loves to hear His children call Him “Father” and talk to Him!
To close, I remind you that the scriptures plead with us to pray and promise us unimaginable blessings if we do so in purity of heart. The Apostle Paul encouraged us to “come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). Who doesn’t need mercy and grace? If we approach God in prayer, it’ll be ours. The Apostle James also told us that “if any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5). Again, who doesn’t stand in need of greater wisdom? And, finally, the Lord showed us repeatedly, by His perfect example, that we must pray. In one particularly touching instance, He showed His love for those who follow Him when He prayed to the Father in this manner:
“And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. . . .
“I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word. . . .
“Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovedst me before the foundation of the world.
“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me.
“And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17).
If we want to know God, which is eternal life, we must pray. There’s simply no substitute for personal prayer. Talk with your Father in Heaven. Plead with Him on your knees. Pour out your soul to Him. He won’t be bored hearing about your troubles, struggles, concerns, and regrets. He won’t tire of your questions and seeking for truth. It will fill Him with joy to hear from you, His precious child. His Spirit will smile upon you. And, together with your Savior Jesus Christ, They will make Their abode with you (John 14:21, 23).
There’s true power in prayer. If you don’t currently pray, pray! Get on your knees and talk with you Eternal Father. Get to know Him. Declutter your life, turn down the volume, and clear the wax out of your spiritual ears. Speak and then listen. Ask and receive. And enjoy developing a truly beautiful relationship with your God as you speak to Him and listen to His responses. May God the Father bless you as you open your heart to Him in sincere prayer!
May 30, 2021
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