Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

RS-MP Lesson Ch. 5: Prayer in D&C 93

Posted by Robert C. on February 21, 2007

Following Karen’s excellent suggestion to study the scriptures cited in the RS-MP manual in order to better understand the prophet’s statements, I noticed that the first scripture cited in Chapter 5’s lesson is D&C 93:49.  Here’s the quote from the SWK manual:

When I used to travel throughout the stakes and missions of the Church in earlier years, I often met people who were in trouble or who had great need. My first question to them was, “What about your prayers? How often? How deeply involved are you when you pray?” I have observed that sin generally comes when communication lines are down. For this reason the Lord said to the Prophet Joseph Smith, “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you.” (D&C 93:49.)

If I had to pick one passage of scripture that I fear and tremble the most before, it would have to be D&C 93.  It is so dense, and rich, and confusing, and wonderful!

 The first verse of section 93 starts out with prayer as a central topic:

1 Verily, thus saith the Lord: It shall come to pass that every soul who aforsaketh his bsins and cometh unto me, and ccalleth on my name, and dobeyeth my voice, and keepeth my commandments, shall esee my fface and gknow that I am.

 First, I think the order of things in this verse is interesting.  I’m used to thinking about repentance as that principle that comes after faith in the 4th article of faith.  But here, faith precedes prayer, or at least calling upon the Lord’s name.  In fact, maybe this suggests a possible distinction between different kinds of prayer (the SWK lesson mentions several different kinds of prayer), and here what is in mind is a specific kind of prayer, calling upon the Lord’s name (why is it calling on the Lord’s name rather than simply calling on the Lord?).  Lest I get too distracted with the richness of this single verse and never get to the verse cited in the lesson, let me just say briefly that I think it is interesting that before giving the fabulous vision on the nature of God, the promise is given that everyone who calls on the Lord’s name (and repents, keeps commandments, etc.), shall know YHWH (“know that I am”).

 Skipping down to verse 38, I think it is important to note that the idea of man’s original innocece is mentioned:

38 Every aspirit of man was binnocent in the beginning; and God having credeemed man from the dfall, men became again, in their infant state, einnocent before God.

The subsequent calls to repentance are introduced by alluding to the fall of man.  Praying, then, is fundamentally a necessity because of our fallen state.  Also, building on this idea of innocence in the infant state, there is an allusion to families:

39 And that awicked one cometh and btaketh away light and truth, through cdisobedience, from the children of men, and because of the dtradition of their fathers.  40 But I have commanded you to bring up your achildren in blight and truth.

Families seem the central focus in the rebuke given to Frederick Williams (vv. 41-43), Sydney Rigdon (v. 44), and Joseph Smith (vv. 45-48).  In each case, the rebuke is a call to repent, what might be thought of as a special kind of prayer.

Also, notice that right after verse 49, prayer becomes explicitly a family matter:

50 My servant Newel K. Whitney also, a bishop of my church, hath need to be achastened, and set in border his family, and see that they are more cdiligent and concerned at home, and pray always, or they shall be removed out of their dplace.

I’ll try to resist the temptation to tie this in to the servant-friend distinction raised in verse 46 (and others), and instead just say that I think that an important context for this call to pray is the responsibility parents have to “set in order” their families, implicitly–perhaps–a call to family prayer, a call to pray together in order to over the effects of the fall and to be reunited with the family of God.

Now, your turn: How does all of this help us understand the quote from President Kimball given above?

[Feel free to use this post to discuss other topics related to Ch. 5 of the RS-MP manual, at least until someone else starts another post on this lesson.] 

17 Responses to “RS-MP Lesson Ch. 5: Prayer in D&C 93”

  1. Cheryl said

    I just wanted to let you know I appreciated this post. I found it thoughful and insightful.


  2. m&m said

    Can I threadjack, or should I do that some other time, in some other place? :)

  3. Robert C. said

    Jack-away. I’m going to be quite busy the rest of this week though, so I probably won’t have time to respond much (this lesson won’t be taught in our ward for a couple more weeks yet, so I do plan to do some follow-up on this before then).

  4. Robert C. said

    Also, while I’ve got a few minutes, here are a couple of my thoughts on this SWK quote: First, I think the way he phrases his question is striking, “How deeply involved are you when you pray?” In context of D&C 93, I think the depth of our involvement should be deeply rooted in our keen awareness of our fallen state (cf. our discussion about our own nothingness on this thread). Furthermore, the depth of our involvement seems intimately related to our relationships with our families. SWK’s mention of “communication” seems a bit vague which seems to me to leave open the possibility that he’s referring not only to our communication lines with God, but with our families also.

    Along these lines I’ve been wondering about the nature of sin in terms of relationships, and it seems to me that sin is better viewed as an affront to a particular relationship (with God or my neighbor) than as a purely individual act. And so the last phrase of the D&C 93:49 seems all the more significant: “pray always lest that wicked one have power in you.” If God is not in us, and if we are not one with our families and neighbors, then we leave the door to our soul open to “that wicked one” and we effectively become one with him. Prayer, then, seems to be an opening to the divine, a way to “be filled” and to implement a “hunger and thirst after righteousness” in Beatitude terms.

  5. Robert C. said

    OK, this is turning into a very self-indulgent thread, but my main purpose was in fact to motivate me to study from the RS/MP manual and at least I’m accomplishing that.

    I was reading in the TDNT about the Greek word for prayer. This part about the Stoics caught my attention (I’ll discuss it below, so feel free to skip the quote):

    . The first great religious and philosophical stream in Hellenism is the popular philosophical enlightenment as this may be clearly seen in the Stoic-Cynic diatribe. Here the ancient belief in the gods is a thing of the past, and a practical monotheism has been attained which is strengthened rather than obscured by the continuing existence of many local cults, since the one supreme God is everywhere worshipped in the many deities. Prayer is certainly offered to various gods, but these represent God and are in no way differentiated. The prayer of philosophers is addressed to this one deity. The nature of the thought of God lays its impress upon prayer. Since the conception of God is basically impersonal, we do not find in prayer those features which presuppose a personal being to whom it is offered. Above all, there can be no true petition in Stoic prayer. It is true that requests for health of soul, for liberation from desires, for “divine gifts which have nothing to do with carnal and earthly lusts,” have the appearance of petitions. But they are not really subjects of prayer; they simply reflect the ideal which man should seek. He is to become one whose request is only for blessings of this kind. That this is not true petition may be seen from a statement of Seneca: It is foolish to pray for a right disposition when one can attain it of oneself. What need is there to lift up one’s hand to heaven or to approach the statues of the gods? “God is near thee, with thee, in thee.” Such statements Justify us in wondering whether prayer is seriously meant.

    [Theological dictionary of the New Testament. 1964-c1976. Vols. 5-9 edited by Gerhard Friedrich. Vol. 10 compiled by Ronald Pitkin. (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley & G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (2:781). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.]

    The reason this caught my attention is (well, besides the fact that I’m a wannabe philosopher…) that it highlights the difference between prayer as communication (SWK’s word) with Deity and prayer as a self-reflective exercise. Thinking about this casts the faith-works issue in an intersting light for me. Oftentimes I think my prayers turn into a task of simply recommitting myself to God which really turns into a task of recommitting myself to doing what I know (or think I know) is right.

    This helps me think about the following from the SWK quote a bit more carefully: “‘How deeply involved are you when you pray?’ I have observed that sin generally comes when communication lines are down.” The mention of communication after the question about how deeply involved we are makes me think about the shallowness of the self-reflective prayers I often offer. It seems to me that a shallow prayer is one that, on the surface is a supplication/request to God, but in reality–below the surface of my words–is just a way of telling myself that I need to do better, not really a petition or request to God at all.

    Here are a couple of more questions I’d like to think about and study (and of course anyone else is welcome to help me with these questions, or any others):

    (1) The word “deeply” is a fascinating one in scripture–in what contexts is it used? what connotations are there? what can I learn from scripture about the process of becoming more deeply involved in prayer?

    (2) How is communication (communion?) actually possible? Solipsism seems to have become a major topic in modern philosophy, how does scripture answer this question about overcoming oneself? Putting this in more common but perhaps better terms: how can keep my prayers from bouncing off the ceiling? What do I have to do to make communication with Deity really possible? How might this be related to my relationships with others, as the context of D&C 93:49 seems to suggest? What part of communication is “my own works” vs. how much is dependent on the grace of God? How is it possible to receive God’s grace? God’s word? How do I know if I’m not just talking to myself self-deceptively?

    (3) “Deeply involved” also makes me think about “vain repition” in prayer as a potential opposite. What does scripture have to say about vain repition? What has my own experience been regarding “deeply involved” prayer and “vainly repititious” prayer? How can I catch myself in the latter kind of praying and make sure I am doing the former kind of praying?

  6. Cheryl said

    And to add to your questions: what role does meditation and reflection play in actual prayer? I do not think we are a meditative people, but to me, meditation and quiet reflection open the mind to communication/prayer with God. As LDS, is this a goal? If so, how is it accomplished? Re “Deeply involved,” . . . can we be deeply involved on a day to day basis without reflection?

    I thought the info regarding the STOICs interesting – that many gods is really one god, and that prayer is not really a communication with God but a communication with self. So Christ’s instruction on prayer is germaine to this, and I think there are many today who would still agree with the Stoics.

    My comment would be that self-reflection is a type of prayer, or a type of opening to prayer. And . . . as the gap between us and God becomes narrower and narrower, all prayer is both petition to/communication with God AND self-reflection.

    The prayer instruction in the Sermon on the Mount is all about asking, by the way.

  7. Robert C. said

    A fourth question, I want to think more about for this lesson: What does it mean to pray always?

    Cheryl #6, I agree that as a people Mormons tend not to be meditative (though I’m not sure to what extent Mormons are more this way than, say, typical Americans or Christians…). I personally tend to think a lot, but the lines often become very blury between thinking and meditating, and esp. praying. So for me it’s the distinctions rather than the similarities between praying, meditating, and thinking that I have a harder time seeing.

    Related, I think, is the tension between asking and receiving in prayer. How do we become deeply involved in prayer in a way that is truly sincere in what we are asking and yet simultaneously truly sincere in saying “nevertheless, thy will be done”? It’s far too easy for me to measure the sincerity of my prayer by how bad I want something rather than by by how willing I am to accept God’s will (and yet still be asking for something in my prayer, as I think we must in a deeply involved prayer…).

  8. John said

    You become “involved” in prayer to the extent that the prayer impresses itself upon your senses. Meditation is absolutely necessary. Kneel out of respect, and clear your mind. Ask for guidance to pray for what you ought (Romans 8:26). Do not forge ahead without the accompaniment of the Spirit–to do so is not communication, nor is it effectual.

    Call respectfully upon the name of God to sanctify your heart and mind so that you may enter his presence–ask for forgiveness! Be brutally honest and humble; state your case and wait for a response. Be impetuous, but not impatient. Do not speak when you should be listening.

    Recognize and learn to use your internal voice. The still small voice is very much like it, yet much more eloquent.

    The phrase ‘thy will be done’ is not a loophole, it’s an acquiescence. I try not to use it unless I really know the will of the Lord.

    Neither is ‘amen’ solely for the end of a prayer; it is punctuation.

    Often, my prayers do not end when I climb into bed. I used to curl up in the covers and talk to God in the dark like a friend on a camping trip, but not so much anymore. When I wake between 4 and 5 AM fresh from a dream, I seek out God. I honestly can’t think of a more wonderful time to pray.

    I acknowledge my inadequate and imperfect viewpoint. I ask for guidance, inspiration, and validation before making any decision, especially if my actions directly affect someone else. I always say a silent “thank-you” for any ideas or confirmation I receive.

    How quickly can you offer a prayer? How long does it take you to hear the answer? You should be able to engage God with a moment’s notice, and hear Him in the lull of your conversation.

  9. Cheryl said

    A beautiful post, with the foundation of experience running in and through it.

    And now the question: can this experience be taught? If so, how? I am experimenting with something in the classroom that I have not fully understood until this week, and in fact have apologized for it more than once in the two months I have been teaching (this go-round – I taught GD for approx. 8 years, singly and as a team teacher, in a previous lifetime.) I am bringing music into my GD class. This music takes up to 5-6 minutes of our already very precious limited time, but every time I have thought about not bringing it, I get the internal voice that says: don’t stop. This week I actually argued with that voice, but it became stronger instead of weaker. So until I get a different instruction, I will continue.

    I actually spend some significant time on the net and on I-tunes trying to find music that matches the lesson, that is truly meditative.

    So this week I am bringing in the contemplative piece I mentioned in another post: The Beatitudes, by the Estonian Arvo Part. It is six minutes of reflective singing of the actual KJV of the Beatitudes, word for word. So I’m going to suggest we all read along, slowly and reflectively, as the music unfolds itself.

    What will be the result of this? I believe for some, it may be the only truly reflective six minutes they have all week, if they will open themselves to the experience. Additionally, teacher (me) and class will have the opportunity to reflect and read the text silently, together, and by doing so, invite the Spirit and the Word into our hearts, and into our classroom. So even though I have prepared thoroughly to teach this lesson, this reflective time is perhaps the most valuable experience I can offer. Or at least as valuable as other things I can teach.


  10. Robert C. said

    Thank you for these thoughts John and Cheryl. They were esp. helpful in making me more aware of an intereting distinction that I tend to see between meditation and reflection–I tend to think of meditation in terms of emptying one’s mind and waiting to hear God’s will, along the lines of the Eastern religious connotations of the word, whereas I hesitant to use “reflection” like Cheryl is b/c I worry that by “reflecting” I will be more likely to cut myself off from what is beyond my own thoughts (my view is spoiled by having a read a little bit of Jean-Luc Marion who makes a distinction between an idol which is mirror-like, only reflecting the image of the maker of the idol itself, whereas an icon is that which is transparent and is more successful in terms of pointing to the image of God–a poor summary b/c I don’t understand Marion very well, but this is where my baggage on the word “reflection” comes from…). I plan to do more thinking (and meditating!) on this notion of meditation.

  11. Robert #10, remember that the icon is also a reflection: in the icon you become the visible mirror of the invisible, that is, you become a reflection of God Himself. Can we think about reflection that way?

    As for this whole discussion of prayer, thanks everyone. My own thoughts are probably a little unorthodox. I find that prayers mean the most to me when one of two things happens: either (1) they are profoundly ritualistic, that is, charged through and through with the flavor of the sacramental; or (2) they are something I do out loud while walking and keeping my eyes wide open to the world. Neither of those sounds very appealing to the Latter-day Saint, I take it, so let me explain a little.

    When I need to converse with the Lord, that is, when I can’t think straight anymore, and I need to go to the Lord for help in very important things, I tend to have prayer number (2) here. I find that if I am walking, then I am without distraction, whereas if I try to have these prayers at home, there are so many things with which the adversary can take up my attention. As soon as I have left my home walking, I am committed to the conversation, and I know I will continue to struggle through the prayer. The very motion of walking helps me to keep my thoughts moving (walking fills me with the rhythm of the musical world, something I have lived in from my earliest days), and it gives my prayers a passion. That I (have to) keep my eyes open while I walk and pray actually focuses my prayer in a fascinating way. While I pray and walk, I find that it is easier for me at once to see past everything because it is all such an eyesore and it is easier for me to see the glory that is everywhere disrupting the order we have imposed on the world. When I walk and pray, I see the trees I usually ignore, and the clouds I hardly look up to see, etc. And with all of that, it becomes easier to engage the God of Creation, the God who can change things drastically, the God with whom I (we) sat in council to decide how all of this would be. And it is easier to feel as if I’m there. I tend to find that such prayers rapidly turn from the pity party they would be if I offered it in that circumstance in my bedroom into a prayer of praise that strikes the seriousness of my problems down, reducing them to their reality: nothing.

    The other kind of prayer is the one I try to offer on a regular basis, my number (1) above. I find that the more ritually flavored my prayers are, the more profound they are, and the more I sense the power of godliness speaking in them. By ritually flavored, I don’t mean ritualistic, practiced, repetitive, or chanting. I mean that rather than praying for a meal to be strengthening and nourishing, I pray that the life we have implicitly taken in this meal might be a worthy sacrifice, and that the death we have caused might be consecrated in this communion of sorts to bring us further health and life. Rather than praying for a good day, for nice weather, etc., I pray that the time I will have can be improved, that the Spirit will guide me about God’s business, etc. Rather than praying about grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, etc., I pray that God will seal up this little family again and again, and that we will be guided in the bonds of the everlasting covenant. Rather than praying that the war might come to an end or that our leaders will be guided in international affairs, I pray that the Kingdom come, that the Second Coming be soon, that I might be taken up into the work of preparing the world for that day. When I pray in these ways, in the prayers that are more “routine,” I recognize the presence of God in everything, and it changes the world around me.

    Anyway, some thoughts.

    Let me say a quick amen to John’s point: “Neither is ‘amen’ solely for the end of a prayer; it is punctuation.” My “walking” prayers sometimes have twenty-five amens. Many of my prayers of both kinds have “in the name of Jesus Christ” in one form or another several times as well.

  12. Cheryl said

    #10 Robert: re seeing through the icon . . . this is particularly an idea of the orthodox church. I have one of the few true Orthodox basilicas in the US right around the corner from my house and I’ve been a couple of times. Both times a youngish priest took the time to explain LOTS to me and the people I was with . . . and the idea of seeing through the icon to the God beyond (or Mary, or Peter, or Paul) was very prominent.

    #11 Joe, I loved your post and the role of prayer in your life. One small piece of conversation. . . I would find it hard to pray for the second coming SOON . . . so much to do before then, I would almost rather have it postponed so work on earth can continue.

  13. Robert C. said

    Joe #11, thanks for the reminder about Marion’s “reflecting the invisible”–I really need to go back and try to read Marion now that I’ve sat through Jim’s Contemporary French Philosophy class (perhaps we could start a reading club project at lds-herm, and advertise it here, on the wiki, on lds-phil etc.?). I like this thought, and I think it makes for a catchy little phrase to use: instead of self-reflection, our meditation should be a divine reflection. Or something. (Cheryl, my mission was in Russia where I fell in love with Russian Orthodox liturgy and worship; I think Joe also has ties to Eastern Orthodoxy–perhaps we should start a Mormon icon project!) Also, thanks for sharing your personal thoughts about prayer. My grandpa passed along to me a keen fondness for praying while walking, it’s nice to know it’s not a quirk limited to just my family line, and I like your discussion of why it seems to be effective.

    And I like what you expressed about praying ritualistically. I read this as an example of applying ourselves to the word rather than applying the word to ourselves. By putting casting our own prayers in scriptural/ritualistic terms, it seems we are better able to see our own lives in terms of scriptural types (or would it be better to say that we see scriptural types in our own lives?)–that is, praying typologically. I’ll have to think more about this, but I really like the possibilities so far….

  14. Karen Spencer said

    I apologize, because this isn’t in response to the thread’s direction much – sorry!
    I am teaching this lesson a week from tomorrow and I wanted to share some insights I had to help anyone else who is teaching (this isn’t to say Robert’s plan wasn’t insightful too :) )
    While looking at Alma 34, I realized that what we would consider a relatively “simple” passage on prayer is stuck in the middle of “deep” talk about infinitie atonement, etc. That was interesting – and then I went to D&C 93 (since I’d heard that’s what the post was on – so thanks for sending me there!) and found a similar pattern. Here is:
    First, D&C 93 talks about God – profound stuff of the Word, etc by John!!
    Then the Lord says this is here so that we can know what we worship.
    Second, we get lots of talk of “light and truth” – more and more profound stuff.
    Then we find out that the evil one comes and takes this away, so we need to give all the light and truth we can to our kids and teach them to not disobey the commandments.
    Third, he rebukes some families and tells them to order themselves. And what is the common theme in all the families? They need to pray!!!
    Hence, the reason I found, for now anyway, for the verse quoted before: “What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you” was that the families needed more light and truth, and the way to get that is to ask in prayer.

    And who do we pray to? That was the subject of the beginning of D&C 93, and also, interestingly, of Alma 34. So the question I have to ponder still is: How does understanding WHO we are praying to affect our prayers? Or, even, how does understanding the Savior and His atonement as taught in scripture affect how we pray?

    Sorry, I don’t know if this is the right place or not to share other ideas on these lessons. Is there a better place for me to do this?
    Thanks for all the comments above. I’ll definitely study them before teaching next week.

  15. I’m sorry I didn’t see Cheryl’s and Robert’s comments until now (and I always enjoy reading my wife’s comments as well).

    I do have connections to the Orthodox Church. My grandfather’s family came from Serbia, where they were split along the strong divide between the Roman Catholic settlers from Germany (my Neuror line) and the Serbian Orthodox Serbs (my Jovanov and Borshova lines). The split between the East and the West was a large question for my family, my great great grandmother (who brought all the family to Canada) having switched back and forth a few times, settling on Roman Catholicism just before her death because of my grandfather (for whom I was named, in part) who had decided he was going to study philosophy in order to prepare to become a priest (he never did, obviously, because his brother said he needed to study something “real”… I have to laugh at a picture that came down to me from my grandfather, of him standing by a pear tree… that probably only made sense to readers of Augustine’s Confessions). But long before that emphasis on the Roman faith came along, my family was strictly Orthodox, and much of that tradition has passed down through the generations to me. Since I began doing family history, I’ve buried myself in the Orthodox traditions, Orthodox theology, Orthodox liturgy, etc. I have a good friend in Serbia who researches ancient Serbian Christianity, and, since he has an interest in philosophy, and I am fascinated by Orthodoxy, we swap research now and again. Anyway….

    So when are we going to start (1) the bookclub and (2) the LDS iconographers guild?

  16. Cheryl said

    What is LDS-herm?

    Joe, very interesting history. I like the orthodox, a lot. I think the idea of seeing the person through the icon is very like seeing through the veil, actually

    And I like it that the orthodox priests can and do marry.

    and I could *try* for participation in a book club. Maybe. Ah . . . . so little time.

    Joe, also, we have other things in common. My daughter is getting her masters in library science at Wayne State in Detroit. And my husband and daughter and step-daughter have an on-line bookstore.

  17. Robert C. said

    Cheryl, check your email regarding lds-herm and discussion of a possible hermeneutics book club. If anyone else is interested in such a project, please email me (you can use the the blog email which you can find by clicking the “About” tab above). We’ll most likely make an announcement here if/when we actually start such a project, but we should probably make plans privately so as to not distract from this blog’s focus.

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