Recognizing Answers to Prayer: A Radical Shift in World View

by Joseph

Dear Joseph,

“God is your Heavenly Father and He loves you perfectly, and He is not a domineering, cigar-smoking authority figure who wants you to bend to his will…. You cannot pray to both a true God and a false one.”

I like what you’ve said here and it makes very good sense. Only thing is, I have been reaching all this time for a connection with a being I could regard as a Father. In being unable to find such an one, I have resigned myself instead to a mere awareness of a non-hostile General. It is an idea that satisfies me at least.

The missionaries have suggested I try fasting to find God. We read three verses from Alma regarding a man who fasted and found God, so they want me to give it a go, with prayers and scripture reading all the while of course. So far, I’ve spent an entire shift at work hungry and thirsty, repeating variations of the same prayer in my head whenever the job didn’t demand my full attention, and reading from Mosiah on my breaks.

Here’s a tidy version of the message I’ve been pushing out into the great wide expanse:

God,

Most people start a prayer to you with an expression of gratitude for something or another but that doesn’t seem entirely appropriate in my case. Too disingenuous; gratitude is one emotion I definitely do not feel when I think about you. I’ve been told that through fasting I might find you. I don’t think that means you’ll come to me if I fast. My guess is it has something to do with my moving closer to you.

This isn’t a challenge to you, like “work a miracle before my fast ends or else”—no, nothing like that. I just want to feel something; I don’t expect to be made to know anything. “Knowing isn’t faith,” I’ve heard. I just want to feel something that I can put my faith in. I’m willing to serve a just cause—even eager to do so—but I need to feel that the cause is just. From my perspective right now, your cause doesn’t look very just.

I have two main questions I would love answers to:
1. Do you even exist?
2. If you exist, is your nature and power anything like the various scriptures describe?

As it stands, in this moment, I absolutely do not believe the latter and I tend toward doubting the former. But in the same way that a person can wish they could fly or teleport of have telekinesis and believe their life could be so much more awesome with any (or all!) of those abilities—even while knowing for a fact that they’re all completely impossible—I can imagine how much more awesome my life could be if you existed and your nature and power were anything like the various scriptures describe, and you were actually in my life.

So if fasting moves me closer to you, if you’re out there, to where I can hear you, feel you, sense you in anyway whatsoever, I’m willing to give that an honest effort. I’ll be like a grown man making a sincere wish to fly, and I’m jumping off the cliff now. I don’t know if you’re there to catch me. If you are there, I still don’t know whether you even could catch me if you wanted to.

But I hope so. I really do.

Amen.

It’s the most sincere prayer I’ve prayed in about a decade.

—Thomas


Dear Thomas,

I can’t help but be moved to tears by the plea of your heart towards God. In my mortal weakness I would cry out that a God who would not respond to such sincerity would be cold and unfeeling, and perhaps not worthy of the name “Father.” In my weakness I would believe that an unmoved being would be better referred to as “General.” As you said, Thomas:

“…I have been reaching all this time for a connection with a being I could regard as a Father. In being unable to find such an one, I have resigned myself instead to a mere awareness of a non-hostile General.”

But my dear friend, Thomas, I assure you that if I who am but a mortal built of weakness (nonetheless I try to be as righteous as possible) am moved in the least degree by your words, then the Father of your spirit, who looks upon the hearts of men (1 Samuel 16:7), is touched with a sympathy far beyond our acquaintances.

This is one of the most satisfying aspects of believing in a personable God: He is a being of passions, as we are, and so He is automatically relatable. The creeds of man-made religions (or at the very least, man-altered religions) state that, “[God is] infinite in being and perfection, a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, [etc.].” This is not scripture; this is the precepts of men. As you asked God Himself:

“If you exist, is your nature and power anything like the various scriptures describe?”

Be not deceived by that which appears true, or is mingled with truth, but which is false. Be sure that the being you are seeking to believe in is not the equivalent of a genie with (and I quote Aladdin, the Disney movie), “phenomenal cosmic powers[, but an] itty bitty living space,” because he fits inside of your heart. Such a being is an incomprehensibility, and there is no beauty in an incomprehensibility unless you are a die-hard fan of smoke and mirrors. As the prophet Joseph Smith stated:

“That which is without body, parts and passions is nothing. There is no other God in heaven but that God who has flesh and bones….
“We came to this earth that we might have a body and present it pure before God in the celestial kingdom. The great principle of happiness consists in having a body. The devil has no body, and herein is his punishment. He is pleased when he can obtain the tabernacle of man, and when cast out by the Savior he asked to go into the herd of swine, showing that he would prefer a swine’s body to having none.”

—Joseph Smith,

When we come to an understanding that God the Father is actually a person—body and all—just as His Son who walked among men and was resurrected is actually a person (John 5:26), a forgotten kinship can be reestablished, and you can begin to remember Him. When that happens, we no longer pray to a being whose feelings and nature we can only guess at; we pray to a person who feels as we feel and who is like we are. He knows what it is like to be one of us because He is one of us. The difference between He and us is that He sits enthroned in yonder glory and is more intelligent than we are—but that is not the same as being elevated beyond what might be termed “mere human feelings and simple things such as smiles or tears—yes, even tears! The precepts of men teach that God is cold as a rock and out of our reach to comprehend, but it is not true—He feels as we feel, and the ancient prophet Enoch recorded it:

“And [Enoch] beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced. […]
“And it came to pass that the God of heaven looked upon the residue of the people, and he wept; and Enoch bore record of it, saying: How is it that the heavens weep, and shed forth their tears as the rain upon the mountains?
“…How is it that thou canst weep, seeing thou art holy, and from all eternity to all eternity? […]
“The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands….
“And unto thy brethren have I said… that they should love one another, and that they should choose me, their Father; but behold, they are without affection, and they hate their own blood; […]
“…Wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer? (Moses 7:26,28-29,32-33,37)

When I read your prayer, my heart is moved for you. If my feeling is as good a one as I can produce, and if compared to God I’m evil in my righteousness, then how much more shall God’s heart be moved for you, seeing He is perfect?

“Or what man is there of you, who, if his son ask bread, will give him a stone?
“Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (3 Nephi 14:9-11).

So the question to really answer for you is not whether God will hear your prayer or not; it is that what if, after reaching out “into the great wide expanse” (as you still believe it to be), you receive no answer—none to satisfy you? Assuming all I have written to you on the personality of the character of God is true, then what can be learned when no answer seems to come to you?

“For I am the Lord thy God; I dwell in heaven; the earth is my footstool; I stretch my hand over the sea, and it obeys my voice; I cause the wind and the fire to be my chariot; I say to the mountains—Depart hence—and behold, they are taken away by a whirlwind, in an instant, suddenly” (Abraham 2:7).

I do not believe it would be a productive or pertinent use of my time to attempt to troubleshoot your prayer and fasting. If you are truly doing the things you are doing with honest intent, and the prayer you are praying is as heartfelt as you have written, then there is no problem with the message or the manner in which you are sending it; however, do you know how to recognize revelation—the answer—when it comes, even if you just want “to feel something”?

I will tell you this upfront: there is a critical shift in your spirit that needs to take place in order for you to get anything out of the conduit to Heaven. As evidence of this need, I will quote your own words:

“Gratitude is one emotion I definitely do not feel when I think about you[, God].”

Your life experiences have hardened your heart to the point where you have made the above statement. There is no fault there. However, if you desire to recognize revelation when it comes to you, you will have to soften your heart on this point. What is being betrayed of your world view when you make the above admission is that you do not see God’s hand in your life anywhere; there is no need to thank Him for anything because He has done nothing in your life worth thanking Him for. In other words, you’ve put the blinders up and you willingly choose to remove God from the equation of anything good.

Is this a correct stance to take? Are you justified in believing that God has ignored you all your life?

There was a man who aided Joseph Smith as a scribe when the Book of Mormon was being translated whose name was Oliver Cowdery. Before Joseph and Oliver’s first meeting, Joseph was given to know exactly when and where Oliver would arrive to seek him out. And so when the appointed time came, Joseph greeted Oliver and told him exactly how Oliver had come to arrive at that place. Oliver was stunned and wanted to know how Joseph could have known such a thing. Despite Joseph’s telling Oliver that it was the workings of the spirit of God, Oliver put up the blinders and couldn’t believe it. In a revelation that Joseph Smith later received, God reminded Oliver of this fact:

“Verily, verily, I say unto thee[, Oliver], blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
“Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth” (Doctrine and Covenants 6:14-15, emphasis added)

As you can see from the language of this revelation, Oliver had been acting according to the ‘Spirit of truth’—guided to the place he now was—without knowing it! Once Oliver shifted his world view to one that included God in the equation of all things good, he could look to the past and clearly distinguish the influence of God in his life, which enabled him to slowly recognize the operations of the Spirit of God in the present.

If you are to recognize God’s answer to your seeking, you must have the spiritual vision to look ahead in faith, which is marked by an awareness of the workings of God in your past. Without these things, you are like the person who stays indoors for fear of the trees, though his house is made of wood. It’s akin to the message given in a monologue by Reverend Graham Hess, played by Mel Gibson, in the movie Signs:

“People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance…. For them, [an abnormal] situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one…. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope.
“See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?”

I have found in my own life that God most often speaks to me in symbols, which have the power to convey much more than mere words. Language is sometimes a prison for our thoughts, and it should be no surprise that when God speaks He chooses to break free of that confinement. When I was riding my bike one night as a missionary in Taiwan, I looked up and I saw a most illuminating vision. In my journal I recorded:

“In the dusk, as shades of amber and grey kicked up into the darkening blue from city around us, I saw that the light was truly speaking to me, testifying that God rules in the heavens. And below lay an expanse of sharp edges and smoke, all illuminated by red lights but appearing black as grime…. Clawing the hills I beheld the smoke stacks of industry—pillars of worldly righteousness. All of this business gripped the land like a molten, crusty chain… strewn tightly across it. Above, the familiar colors of the setting sky painted by Heavenly Hosts proclaiming the omnipotence of a Heavenly Father; below, His children blinded by idols, an enraptured audience to a sinister soliloquy of laughter coming from the head of the dark chain.”

God speaks to man, you and I, “according to their language, unto their understanding” (2 Nephi 31:3), so do not be under the impression that because I looked up into the sky and experienced a certain something that you must have the same experience. Whatever the means will be that God will use to communicate with you, it will be perfectly understandable to you, but only if you recognize it.

The key is that God has already been working in your life. As I wrote to you before, if this were not the case you would not be where you are now presented with the restored Gospel. It’s been the process of your life to find fault with God, and that’s natural if not expected per the course your life has taken, but now you must use your agency and open your eyes to His goodness and mercy—the guidance of His Spirit of truth—in your life. Simply put, you must repent, which for you includes what I will call a radical shift in world view (Bible Dictionary, “Repentance”).

When you do, the rain upon the mountains, the color of the sunsets, and the time spent with missionaries will reveal a real, personable Someone you’ve only briefly forgotten.

—Joseph

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