Dear 100 Hour Board,
How do you get yourself to pray for help when you know you don't deserve it? I do believe prayer works, but I also believe you need to be living righteously for God to give you help when you ask. If I'm not doing everything I know that I should be (e.g. I'm terrible at daily scripture study), how can I pray in faith for help in things I need or want to do in life? Or do I need to get things straightened out first (and pray for help doing that before other things)?
I don't know about you, but I'm not very good at doing everything my parents want me to. Every time we talk, it seems like there's always something (hopefully small) that we disagree about, or something they point out I should be doing, but I'm not. But as much as we may disagree, I know my parents would be even more heartbroken if I didn't talk to them or ask for their help. In fact, it seems when I'm having the hardest time that they want to help me the most. Their reaction is never, "Oh, look at how horrible you're doing, you better improve your life before you come and talk to us again!" It's always an offer of help, and those offers come more and more when they realize just how much I need their help.
Out of all the titles of adoration and worship that are given to deity, our God has asked us to call Him "Father." The moments we are our lowest are the exact moments He wants to help us—He's just waiting for us to ask Him. If we had to wait until we were perfect to receive God's help, goodness knows I would never ask God for anything. We will never be perfect in this life; we are not supposed to be perfect in this life. C.S. Lewis said, "The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us."
Sometimes it's hard to remember this, especially when you feel unworthy to even talk to God, let alone ask for His help. I think those are the most important times to remember that God is our Father, who intends for us to fall over and make mistakes in this life. Just as you wouldn't deny your friend help because they can't fly, God won't deny us help because we aren't perfect. We just have to be willing to ask for that help.
-guppy of doom
There are indeed some things we have to maintain a certain level of worthiness in order to participate in. Examples of such things that come to mind are partaking of the sacrament and being able to enter the temple. There are other things which we are allowed to participate in regardless of our level of worthiness. One such of these things is prayer.
It doesn't matter how faithful we have been or how sinful we may be; God always wants us to pray. I do believe that our prayers will have greater power, and that we will be in a better state to receive God's blessings the more we live righteously. However, that in no way means that when we pray in times of unrighteousness that our prayers have no power for good, or even worse, actually are bad.
Perhaps if you want a specific blessing or certain heavenly aid, more than prayer will be required of you. But I've found that praying often strengthens my resolve to do the more that is required.
God loves you, and is always willing to listen.
I think feeling unworthy to pray is more common than you think. There are a lot of reasons why sometimes we feel like we can't pray; and I think that just comes with being imperfect, mortal, human beings. Although we may not always feel like it, God loves us and always wants to hear our prayers. He is always ready to bless us beyond what we could possibly deserve. Not only does prayer work, but it works for you. It's true that living righteously is important, but prayer is something that you can do right now to help you feel closer to God and better face your daily struggles.
I was looking through the index of the scriptures the other day and I came across the section for purify. I read through the scriptures listed and it surprised me that quite a few of the scriptures talked specifically about prayer. In Helaman 3:35 we read: "Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God."
When they prayed it purified and sanctified their hearts. In one of my classes I'm learning about how different materials are processed, and when metals are purified it changes their very molecular structure and makes them stronger. I think prayer does the same thing to our hearts. When we yield our hearts to God he takes them and changes them; which makes us more humble, repentant, and resistant to temptation. This is so important that God actually commands us to pray. Doctrine and Covenants 10:5 talks about the commandment to pray and the promised blessings for doing so. "8. And now, my beloved brethren, I perceive that ye ponder still in your hearts; and it grieveth me that I must speak concerning this thing. For if ye would hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray; for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray. 9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul."
The two main things that jump out to me are: 1. God always teaches us to pray, and 2. If we pray before doing something, he will consecrate our performance for the welfare of our souls. The first point is pretty straightforward, but it's interesting to note that God doesn't make us feel like we shouldn't pray; only Satan does that. The second point is really interesting to me. I once had a music professor at BYU who asked the class "Do you pray before you practice?" When he saw that some of us didn't pray before practicing he had us read 2nd Nephi 32: 8-9. After we read he told us "Not only will your performance improve if you pray to thank God and to seek divine help before practicing, but God will also consecrate your practice time for the welfare of your soul." "What a strange concept!" I thought. To me it seemed odd that practicing an instrument could benefit your soul, but I really need all the help I could get so I began to pray before I practiced. And do you know what? I improved a lot and I felt like my practicing improved my relationship with God. If God will bless us for practicing an instrument, how much more will he bless us if we ask for his help to repent?
Lastly, I'd like to share my favorite quote about prayer. Someone once asked Brigham Young what he should do if he didn't feel like praying. Brigham Young responded, "Get down on your knees and pray until you feel like praying." I have seen this work for myself and for many others. It may seem like you're lost, and prayers won't be answered, but I testify that God listens, and that as you begin to pray your desire to pray will grow. Good luck in your endeavors to improve. I don't know you personally, but from reading your answer it seems like your heart is in the right place and you are headed in the right direction. God cares more about our direction than our speed. We're here for you and believe in you, and God believes in you and loves you perfectly. Hope this helps.
First of all, never forget that God is your Father. He knows better than anyone that we are not perfect. But He also loves us more than we could ever comprehend. He is waiting to bless us and help us. Believe me that whatever imperfections you are trying to conquer will be easier to defeat if you are praying and building that line of communication with your Heavenly Father.
One of my all time favorite talks is a devotional given by Elder Holland entitled "For Times of Trouble" (you should definitely read it. It's fantastic). In it, Elder Holland shares the story of Eli H. Pierce. He was a man who was not really living the Gospel as well as he should have. However, upon receiving a mission call, Brother Pierce immediately left his home to serve the Lord. Miracles followed. Elder Holland then says, "Now if God in His heavens will do that for a repentant old cigar-smoking, inactive, swearing pool player, don’t you think He’ll do it for you? He will if your resolve is as deep and permanent as Eli Pierce’s. In this Church we ask for faith, not infallibility."
I promise you that if you have faith that God is listening (and He is), He will come to your aid.
I have had some similar feelings lately, where I want desperately to ask for God’s help, but haven’t necessarily felt worthy of his assistance. In my prayer, I find it helpful to acknowledge my weaknesses, because it helps me feel closer to God and his will. This approach not only allows me to reflect on the areas in which I need to grow, but it helps me find motivation to work on those areas.
Overall, the perspective that I find most helpful is asking God not to change my circumstances, but to change me. I may not feel worthy to ask for all my sorrows and trials to be removed, but I can ask for strength and guidance in the face of hard times. I can ask him to help me find ways and circumstances in which I can better align myself with his will. I can ask him to be with me, to give me peace and comfort, even if he can’t solve all of my problems. And even if I don’t feel worthy enough to receive any miracles, it’s comforting to know that God will still help me, even in small and simple ways. Even if I’m maybe not worthy of Godly assistance, this reminds me that I am always worthy of the support of friends who love me unconditionally.
First thought, from this article:
Prayer is not a negotiation process. It is an alignment process. We don’t move God to our point of view. Prayer is less about changing our circumstances and more about changing us. It is about seeking His will and asking for His help to do what we need to do. When we align our will with Heavenly Father’s will, answers and spiritual power will flow more freely.
If prayer is about bringing us to God, it makes way more sense to understand that He doesn't want us to wait to do it.
It sounds like you've got an understanding of areas where you lack, and you know that some of them might need improvement before you're able to progress in other ways you'd like to move forward. If you know that, that's something you can acknowledge to God as you pray. He already knows what you want. He's your Father. He's not waiting until you're perfect to give you anything that can make you happy. He's not going to wait until you've repented of every sin that is 5 bad out of 10 before He will help you with a problem that is 3 bad out of 10.
Crucial to believing this is understanding that we don't earn blessings from God. We don't wait until we 'deserve' them to ask for them because as King Benjamin reminds us, we can never not be indebted to the God who first of all gave us our lives. I think one of the relevant principles at hand here is powerfully explained by Stephen Robinson in this devotional. He tells his daughter to save her money so she can buy a bicycle. Consider that to be you, still working on repenting of your sins and improving yourself. However, his daughter just doesn't have the earning capacity to get enough money to earn the bike by herself. One penny at a time she'll pretty much never get there without him stepping in and paying a way bigger portion than she ever can. Robinson explains:
We all want something desperately—it isn’t a bicycle. We want the celestial kingdom. We want to be with our Father in Heaven. And no matter how hard we try, we come up short. At some point we realize, “I can’t do this!” That was the point my wife had reached. It is at that point that the sweetness of the gospel covenant comes to our taste as the Savior proposes, “I’ll tell you what. All right, you’re not perfect. How much do you have? What can you do? Where are you now? Give me all you’ve got, and I’ll pay the rest. Give me a hug and a kiss; enter into a personal relationship with me, and I will do what remains undone.”
There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that he still requires our best effort. We must try, we must work—we must do all that we can. But the good news is that having done all we can, it is enough—for now. Together we’ll make progress in the eternities, and eventually we will become perfect—but in the meantime, we are perfect only in a partnership, in a covenant relationship with him. Only by tapping his perfection can we hope to qualify.
Now I want to address what might be your next hangup if you're like me or many other Mormons who have a tendency towards toxic perfectionism. "But Anne," you say to me, "If I really gave it my best effort, I WOULD GET IT RIGHT! Maybe not everything, but a whole lot more than I do right now!"
Yeah, I get that. I feel that way too. I don't have all of the answer to this yet, but it has to do with what Elder Holland spoke on recently: Be Ye Therefore Perfect - Eventually. God knows that we aren't going to get everything right during our lives, so if you think that trying your best would make you get everything right right now, there's something you're probably not quite getting mentally right. So what is a "best effort" (a phrase I don't really love)? Maybe a more helpful goal for us than a "best effort" that seems unattainable just like perfection is something else Holland expresses: "strive for steady improvement." That's way more concrete to me. It's not about getting super twitchy and self destructive, it's about making progress and promising God that you're going to keep trying to make progress.
So, to loop back to prayer: God wants us to have access to blessings because He's our Father and he created us to have joy. Joy's not just the end reward of attaining perfection, it's the continual blessing He wants us to have that we're enabled to get in lots of different ways through various things we ask for, seek for, and receive while we are still in the process of becoming perfect.
If you're ignoring your need to improve on your habit of yelling at people but asking God to bless you with a new Ferrari because you want it, then you probably have some introspection needed. But I don't think God's going to punish us if we ask for help with things that will relieve our suffering or bring us joy while we acknowledge that we're also seeking his help to do what we can to improve.