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How to get answers to prayers.

Do you want proof that God lives?

Do you want to know whether to join a particular church?

Do you have any other life-changing question? Who to marry? What career to follow?

Do you want to know for sure, without any doubt?

The scriptures tell you how.


Scriptures all Christians should know

James 1:5-6:
"If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God... And it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering"

And how will God answer?

John 14:26
"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you."

How do you experience this?

Galatians 5:19-23 teaches about the fruit of the spirit (and, for contrast, the fruit of not having the spirit):

"Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these;
  • Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness,
  • idolatry,
  • witchcraft [Greek "pharmakeia," taking drugs],
  • hatred,
  • variance [Greek "eris," strife or debate],
  • emulations [Greek "zelos," excess zeal, causing divisions],
  • wrath,
  • strife,
  • seditions,
  • heresies,
  • envyings,
  • murders,
  • drunkenness,
  • revellings [drunken parties], and such like:

of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God."

"But the fruit of the Spirit is
  • love,
  • joy,
  • peace,
  • longsuffering,
  • gentleness,
  • goodness,
  • faith,
  • meekness,
  • temperance"

Must we keep the commandments in order to hear the spirit clearly?

It helps. See "are you saved?" for details. It is common to think that we do not need to do anything in order to have the Holy Ghost with us, but that is not the case.

Will the answer be obvious?

Not always. Once the disciples saw the resurrected Jesus walking along the road, and they did not recognize him (see Luke 24). Later on they thought back and remembered that they did feel something, though they did not notice at the time.

Luke 24:32
"And they said one to another, Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?"

If we think we have not had an answer, maybe we should think back - perhaps we just did not notice it?

Are stronger emotions a good sign?

Not always. As atheists often point out, it is possible to be so carried away with emotion that you can no longer think clearly.

They are right to point out that emotion on its own does not mean communication from God. In the same way, a noise on its own does not make a conversation. But a particular type of noise in the right context is called speech. In the same way, a particular feeling in the right context is a communication from God.

But emotions (or other alleged signs of the spirit) exist on their own, then the atheists are right - it means nothing.

"Charismatic" worship

The Holy Ghost was sent to bring us knowledge, not just emotion. Read what Paul said with regard to speaking in tongues (1 Corinthians 14). Always the test of proper worship is whether or not any useful information is communicated. If we feel emotion that teaches us something new, it could be the Holy Ghost. But if we just feel emotion that does not teach us anything new (or remind us of things we have forgotten), it is not.

I have a friend who sometimes attends "worship" services that seem to consist of people praising God in very emotional ways. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that. But if nothing new is learned, it is not the Holy Ghost but something else.

There are some Christian groups who consider that shouting, falling down, and generally becoming "drunk with the spirit" (as some other Christians describe it) is a sign of the spirit. But note the signs given in Galatians (above). Such frenzy is more like the first group (emulations, revelings) than the second group (peace, temperance). Here are two examples of the damage that such frenzies can cause:

  1. The Zealots were a group of Jews at the time of Christ who were well known for their passionate belief and complete dedication. I am sure that their emotions ran very high. Yet they ignored what Jesus said, and caused the destruction of the temple (see discussion of Daniel chapter 9).
  2. The Montanists were Christians of the second century. They recognized that the apostles were dead, and the spirit was leaving the churches. So, like Charismatics today, they focused on the gifts of the spirit. They preached passionately, and prophesied and so on. But unlike today, most Christians could still remember the real thing, and they were not taken in. The Montanists brought preaching and prophesying into disrepute, and in effect discouraged genuine spiritual experiences. (See discussion in the history of Christianity.)

It is always worth remembering 1 Kings 19:11-12:

"And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice."


How can you know FOR CERTAIN?

How can I tell the difference between my emotions and the spirit?

This is a misleading question. The spirit works through our emotions (see above).

When we feel the emotions described, there are two tests that will show for certain whether or not the feeling is from God.

Moroni 7:16-19 (Book of Mormon)
"the way to judge is as plain, that ye may know with a perfect knowledge, as the daylight is from the dark night.

"For behold, the Spirit of Christ is given to every man, that he may know good from evil; wherefore, I show unto you the way to judge;

"for every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ;

"wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God. But whatsoever thing persuadeth men to do evil, and believe not in Christ, and deny him, and serve not God, then ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of the devil"

To illustrate this, the following are all actual cases, with people I have known well:

Example 1: should I join this church?

Most churches invite you to do good, and persuade you to believe in Christ. So, to that extent, they are from God. But some churches are better than others.

Some teach that doing good is not essential (e.g. you are saved by grace, not works).

Some have a concept of Christ that is so confusing (three in one, one in three, where we have to distinguish between the person, the nature, the incarnation, the substance...) that they have trouble persuading people to believe in Christ. Certainly, all traditional Christians believe in the name of Christ, but relatively few Christians can tell you clearly who Christ is.

For an attempt at understanding the traditional concept of the trinity, I recommend "Cyber Ministries." This Protestant web site contains many pages that attempt to distinguish between the traditional view and tri-theism, monotheism, polytheism, monarchism, etc. It begins:

"If you are like so many people maybe you struggle to understand the Trinity.

  • Three Persons in one Nature can be a hard concept to grasp. And then add to it the fact that Jesus Christ is fully God and yet fully man and you have one of the most difficult doctrines of the Christian faith."
  • And after finally nailing down an interpretation that reconciles the Bible with tradition, the author still gives us no authority for believing this view, other than he is very clever with the scriptures. (Incidentally, after a long and tortuous argument, the author comes extremely close to the LDS view. He only differs in that he does not know about the Biblical doctrine of pre-existence, which greatly simplifies everything.)

    The truth of course is extremely simple. Jesus is the son of God. He is one with God in the same way that we can be one with God (see John chapter 17). We can follow his example. That is all there is to it.

    Hence, when it comes to inviting people to do good, and helping people believe in Christ, some churches are better than others.

    Example 2: should I marry this person?

    I know someone who prayed about whether she should marry someone who had asked her. She felt good around him, but did not get a particularly strong burning feeling - he was not her idea of "the only one," her knight in shining armor. So what should she have done? Well, she had done the right thing:

    Were the feelings sufficient to act upon?

    So, according to the scriptures quoted above, she could marry, with a perfect knowledge that this was the right thing to do.

    That was several years ago. Since then, as far as I can tell, this lady has been happy. She did not get the millionaire she wanted, and she still does not have her own horse, but she has a good house, pets, freedom to do what she wants, and a family that loves her. I would say that she made the right decision. Wouldn't you?

    Example 3: should I take a particular business risk?

    This is a particularly interesting case because it illustrates that the Lord will support us if we do our best, even if we make mistakes.

    A man I know well was having financial problems, and wondered if he should start his own business in order to make more money. He researched the possibilities, and it seemed like he had a good chance of success (as well as an equally good chance of failure). He prayed about it, and got pretty much the same answer - "it's up to you." So how did the decision measure up to the key tests?

    So, the decision was a good one. He knew with a perfect knowledge that it was the right thing to do.

    And what happened? Well, the business made money, but not quite enough. (He made more money than most comparable businesses, but that is a different story). So he had to finally go back into full time employment. He later discovered that he had done things that had been specifically counseled against by modern prophets (e.g. founding a business on debt). Hence it was only reasonable to expect the business to fail.

    Did this mean that the decision was actually a wrong one? After all, if he had known more about what the prophets had said, he would not have started it. No, he knew "with a perfect knowledge" that the decision was correct at the time, according to the rules given in scripture. Looking back, he could see how this business experience led to doors opening that would not have opened otherwise. It allowed him to start a completely new career, which would provide far more money in the long term and also allow more time and freedom to do the important things.

    Conclusion

    The scriptures tell us plainly and clearly how to recognize an answer to our prayers.

    Then, after we have acted on the answer - often years later - we know it was right, from experience.

    Are you ready for your answer?

    The implications are really quite scary. You have real freedom and responsibility - to a large extent, you make the choice, and as long as it is consistent with the guidelines given, and you continue to keep in touch with God, he will approve, and bless you for it.

    We have the gift of knowledge of good and evil. We have independent thought. This is what the whole plan of salvation - the fall and the atonement - is about!

    You get a lot more revelation from God than you may realize. Whenever things are not going how you think they should be, you can ask God, and then you can know with a certainty that what you have been taught is true. Not because you have had an angel come down and visit you, but because you have learned when to trust quiet feelings and when to ignore them. The decision is always yours. You cannot blame anyone else. You have to take responsibility.


    Questions and answers

    Note: as with the rest of this web site, this is not "official," it is simply my understanding and my experience. For the official church web site, visit http://www.lds.org .

    Why aren't prayers answered in instant, dramatic ways?

    That would teach us nothing. There would be no understanding on our part. No struggle, no appreciation, no thought. A good teacher knows that a student is more likely to remember something if they work it out for themself.

    Also, subtle answers give us more choices in how to respond. God is training us to become like him - able to make intelligent decisions - not to become blind robots.

    Why must I want to obey God in order to get an answer?

    If someone understands the basics about God (he knows everything, he loves you), they will naturally want to follow what he says. If they do not want to follow him, it shows they do not really understand him. If so, they will probably not benefit from any answer to a prayer.

    "What if I make a mistake when I decide if I have been answered?"

    Of course you will sometimes, but God understood that when he gave you these rules. He is the one who said you can act with certainty.

    What if I follow this answer, and things still go wrong?

    It could be God testing you.

    It could be that this is the result of another issue that you did not ask about (e.g. you might choose the right person to marry, but that alone is not enough to guarantee a happy marriage).

    Or it could be time to learn some more. There is always another decision to be made! The purpose of this life is not to have everything go right. There is plenty of time for that in the eternities. No, the purpose of this life is for us to be tested (see Alma 12:24).

    Why was the Holy Ghost not used when Jesus was present?

    .John 16:7
    "Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you."

    Why?

    The Holy Spirit was present in Old Testament times. (Hence the "still, small voice" mentioned earlier, and the countless examples of inspiration. Are we really to accept that when David wrote the Psalms, he did not feel the Spirit? If we say that the Holy Spirit was not present, we must say that most of the Old Testament is not inspired, apart from the occasional chapter where an angel appears and speaks in person.)

    The Holy Spirit was active both before and after Christ. So, why was it not active when Jesus was present?

    Almost certainly because, to receive answers, a person must decide many things for himself or herself. How could the disciples be expected to struggle with difficult questions when Jesus was present? The only sensible thing is to just ask him. So, no answers could rely on the Holy Spirit until Jesus had gone. (The Holy Spirit was present, but just not used - see the example in Luke 24, referred to earlier.)

    What about the gift of the Holy Ghost?

    Everybody can receive the Holy Ghost when God chooses to give it, so what is the significance of the apostles laying on their hands to give the Holy Ghost as a gift? Probably because, in order to benefit from the Holy Ghost, we need to understand the gospel (in order to make our own decisions, as above). Without church membership, we do not learn how to benefit from the Holy Ghost, so it soon leaves us.

    And it is not enough to just understand the gospel but not join the church. This does not allow us to benefit from the Holy Ghost. If we understand the gospel, we know why we must join. If we know we should do something, and do not do it, that is sin.

    James 4:17: "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin."

    It is difficult to feel the Holy Ghost while we consciously sin.

    "I prayed, and did not receive an answer"

    Every time I hear this, it turns out that the person either DID receive an answer but did not recognize it, or they did not pray as directed:

     

    The bottom line:

    "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God... And it shall be given him."

     

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