One of the things that we can be confident of is that God hears and answers our prayers. This truth is perfectly illustrated with the Restoration of Jesus Christ’s gospel to the earth in this dispensation.
As a youth, Joseph Smith was confused by the competing claims of Christian churches during the time of the Second Great Awakening in upstate New York. He did not know where to locate his faith until one day he read from the Bible in James 1:5, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.”
After some time, trusting God’s word, Joseph sought out a secluded spot in the grove behind his home and knelt in prayer. His prayer was miraculously answered by the appearance of the Father and the Son and thus began the restoration of Christ’s gospel to the earth with attendant priesthood power, keys and authority to act in God’s name.
Every book of scripture attests to the truth that God hears and answers our prayers. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He will answer in his own time — as is best for us and for the situation at hand. He will not always answer as we desire. Then we are left to exercise our agency and decide if we will obey God and follow his counsel. None of these principles with regards to prayer are surprising to faithful members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
There is, however, one facet of prayer that we perhaps sometimes fail to understand. An event in LDS Church history illustrates this point. In 1834, the Prophet Joseph Smith, in Kirtland, Ohio, was commissioned by the Lord to gather a group of Saints and lead them to the Independence, Mo., area, to rescue fellow members who had been mercilessly persecuted and driven from their lands. The Lord promised Joseph, those who would accompany him and those in Jackson County, Mo., “after your tribulations your redemption, and the redemption of your brethren, even their restoration to the land of Zion, to be established, no more to be thrown down” (Doctrine and Covenants 103:13).
I imagine many were “itching for a fight” to right the wrongs perpetrated against them and with this revelation anticipated a great and glorious battle, avenging themselves against their enemies, much like the Israelites who destroyed the wicked as they entered the “promised land.”
After traveling more than 800 miles, on foot, in heat and humidity, poorly equipped and poorly fed, amidst some contention and complaining, sickness and death, the Prophet Joseph Smith addressed them. He knew the Lord had directed him to gather and arm men and lead them to Independence to “redeem (their) brethren.” He knew what they anticipated.
At that point, he shared with them the Lord’s command, “I do not require at their hands to fight the battles of Zion; for, as I said in a former commandment, even so will I fulfill — I will fight your battles” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:14). The group was disbanded and told to return home. The Saints were not to fight, rather they were to “sue for peace, not only to the people that have smitten you, but also to all people; And lift up an ensign of peace, and make a proclamation of peace unto the ends of the earth according to the voice of the Spirit which is in you, and all things shall work together for your good” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:38-40).
Some of the brethren were upset — to put it mildly. Others were disquieted, many were trusting and obeyed.
Were the men misguided in their march to redeem Zion?
And this story illustrates a great truth regarding prayer. We sometimes think the Lord has not answered our prayers. However, at times, it is not that our prayers are not answered, but rather they are not answered in the way we expected.
Often, we follow counsel given us in prayer, anticipating a certain outcome in keeping with the thoughts of our own, very finite human mind. In reality, as we see from Zion’s Camp, and as the great prophet Isaiah testified, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8).
The flaw is that we sometimes feel the Lord has failed us because we do not realize the goal we foresaw. Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. At times God’s objective is not what we supposed, but — I would suggest — something far better for us and for realizing God’s purposes. How sad if we miss blessings because we inappropriately feel aggrieved or discouraged or pouty, because we did not realize the objective we anticipated.
After the Lord commands the Saints in Zion’s Camp to seek peace, disband and return home he explains his purpose, “I have heard their prayers .(I)t is expedient in me that they should be brought thus far for a trial of their faith” (Doctrine and Covenants 105:19).
Shortly after Zion’s Camp, the quorums of the Twelve and the Seventy were organized. The Lord needed men who had proven themselves worthy of that call. Most of those chosen to these holy offices had participated in Zion’s Camp. The Lord did not send them to fight, but to increase their faith, devotion and dependence on him. He wanted those men, who would be witnesses of his name, to know him better.
When Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery sought God in prayer regarding the practice of baptism, they were instructed, then they baptized and ordained each other to the priesthood — certainly not what they anticipated, yet something far greater and more glorious. Oliver testified then, “The Lord, who is rich in mercy, and ever willing to answer the consistent prayer of the humble, after we had called upon him in a fervent manner condescended to manifest to us his will” (see Joseph Smith-History, footnote, Oliver Cowdery).
The Lord does and will answer our prayers. He does so on his timetable and as is good to us. As we honor and are obedient to his counsel and guidance, we will realize not necessarily what we anticipate but the great and glorious blessings he designs to bestow upon us.
Kristine Frederickson writes on issue-oriented topics that affect members of the LDS Church worldwide in her column “LDS World." She teaches part-time at BYU. Her views do not necessarily represent those of BYU.