I was driving with my daughters on the way to school and we were in a rush and had to pray in the car. My 8 year old offered a prayer and asked, “please bless us to do good in school and to make good grades and to be nice to people.”
I took the moment to point ask her to reflect on what she was asking God to do for her. I told her that is was ultimately up to her if she was nice to people or wanted good grades. God won’t suddenly make you nice or magically give you good grades. I needed to illustrate a different approach. Well, I shared 2 accounts with her that came to mind from the scriptures; the first is from Nephi’s account. I’m not driving so I have the luxury of including the actual text here:
But it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, according to my faith which is in thee, wilt thou deliver me from the hands of my brethren; yea, even give me strength that I may burst these bands with which I am bound. (1 Nephi 7:17)
Nephi expresses his desire for deliverance, but he doesn’t expect it without any effort on his part. He has a plan, he outlines a specific solution, but one that he is incapable of achieving on his own. He then invites the Lord to help him with the part that he cannot do himself.
Mahonri (aka Brother of Jared) has been following a set of instructions from the Lord, he inquires about air and light in the barges, but the Lord only provides a solution for the air. Mahonri asks again about the light but this time, the Lord responds with a question instead of an answer:
What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? … what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea? (Ether 2:23-25)
My girls were noticing the pattern here. We then talked about how Mahonri gets to work on his own solution. He obtains sixteen small, transparent stones and asks God to touch them so that they will give off light.
…touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness; and they shall shine forth unto us in the vessels which we have prepared, that we may have light while we shall cross the sea. Behold, O Lord, thou canst do this. (Ether 3:4-5)
Like Nephi, Mahonri brings something to the table so to speak, something he could only do part of. Then he asks the Lord to help him finish it in ways that are impossible to do without help. We have to be so careful about this when we pray. I notice a tendency for people to say “bless this” and “bless that” for whatever sounds good at the time. It’s an easy and safe way to fill the time during any prayer, public or private, but what does it accomplish? What exactly are we expecting? Are we noting the hand of God in those things, and if so, are we thanking him?
Consider the Bible Dictionary’s entry on prayer:
We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ—when His words abide in us. We then ask for things it is possible for God to grant. Many prayers remain unanswered because they are not in Christ’s name at all; they in no way represent His mind but spring out of the selfishness of man’s heart. (Bible Dictionary: Prayer)
Fine-tuning prayer is really fine-tuning our own intents, desires, and expectations among other things. It’s probably a good idea to throw out the script and really consider who we are speaking to, what we are asking for, and if we have thought out our own part in prayer.