"Prayer is a priceless privilege," said Elder Bruce D. Porter of the Seventy during a campus devotional at BYU on Nov. 4.
"Prayer is the ordained means by which men and women, and even little children, come to know God. It is our channel of communication with heaven."
Drawing from the hymn that asks, "Ere you left your room this morning," Elder Porter spoke of the importance of sincere, heartfelt prayer.
"All too easily our prayers can become repetitive and perfunctory, a mere check on a checklist of duties and tasks in a given day," he said. "'I said my prayers' can be a phrase as routine and ordinary as 'I did my homework' or 'I did the grocery shopping.' But prayer was never meant to be ordinary: it can be among the most exalted privileges we enjoy in this mortal sphere."
Heartfelt prayer comes from the depths of an individuals' souls as they direct their minds and hearts toward God with full and complete attention, he said.
"When we pray from the heart, we're not just saying words or 'going through the motions'; we are seeking to draw nearer to our Father in Heaven, to commune with Him in a personal and intimate manner," he said. "Heartfelt prayer is the furthest thing from a memorized recitation. We do not simply talk at God; rather we talk with Him."
The Lord desires that all speak with Him openly, honestly and in plain, simple words.
"Heartfelt prayer is not just a list of things to give thanks for and things to ask for. It entails coming to know God. It means seeking understanding of divine truths, seeking to better understand the purposes of one's life and how to best please God; it means talking with the Lord about things that matter most, what Nephi called, 'the things of my soul.' Such experiences in prayer are sacred and will be cherished throughout our lives."
When individuals truly pray from the heart, they open their innermost feelings to their Father in Heaven, sharing with Him their challenges, feelings of inadequacy, emotions, trials, adversity and weaknesses.
"Now it is true that God knows our innermost thoughts and feelings even better than we do; but as we learn to share them with Him, we make it possible for His Spirit to enter our soul and teach us more about own self and about the nature of God. By making ourselves totally honest, open and vulnerable before God, our hearts become more receptive to His counsel and His will."
What should we ask for when we pray?
"Prayer should never be a matter of trying to change God's mind, to persuade Him of the rightness of our request, or counsel Him as to what is best," Elder Porter said. "God's will is perfect. He knows all things and sees the end from the beginning. He knows far better than we do what is best for us. Sometimes we fervently plead for the Lord to give us certain things that He knows are not ultimately in our best interest or that of a loved one; for example, to receive a certain job offer in a specific city, or to prolong the life of a terminally-ill or aged family member. The first order of prayer should be to learn the will of God and be given the strength to accept it."
When seeking an answer about a question or decision, how does one distinguish between the voice of the Spirit and one's own feelings and desires?
"We begin by learning all that we can about our decision or problem, and then we carefully ponder and weigh what course may be right, seeking counsel as appropriate from parents, family members and friends," he said. "Then, after we have made a decision, and only then, we go to the Lord with the proposed answer or solution. Normally, He will not give us revelation regarding specific questions until we have taken this step and are prepared to ask if it be right."
Receiving answers to prayer requires both the mind and heart be in tune.
"Both the feelings of the heart and the understanding of the mind come together to give us an answer. If we have a good feeling, but our mind is unsettled, we should continue to study and pray. On the other hand, if in our mind we have developed a plan of action that makes sense, but doesn't feel right, we may not yet have the answer. Only when heart and mind are in accord can we be confident that we have reached the right conclusion."
It is important to understand that feelings that come with personal revelation are not excited, agitated or highly emotional. Individuals must realize that sometimes, when wanting a particular answer badly enough, feelings of excitement or artificial enthusiasm can be mistaken for an answer.
"But this is only a form of self-deception," Elder Porter said. "The voice of the Lord comes as 'a still, small voice' and we must silence our own prejudices and emotions to hear it."
Another feeling associated with revelation is a sense of correctness or rightness, where the answer will feel right, rather than leaving a sense of discomfort or wrongness.
"One great obstacle to receiving answers from God is fear, for fear is the opposite of faith," he said.
Individuals should not take counsel from their fears. Rather, as individuals learn to move forward in faith as the Spirit guides, they will make progress in life and grow in the principle of revelation, he said.
"Now, brothers and sisters, sometimes circumstances arise in our lives when we face an urgent need for divine guidance and have neither the time to study it out, nor any possible way of learning more about what course we should take," he said. "In such circumstances, the Lord will surely guide us if we are open to the prompting and impressions of the Spirit."