During 2017, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The quotes from Hinckley are in bold, with my comments following. If you would like to see the church manual online, go here. Latter-day Saints study this material on the second and third Sundays of each month (thus, chapters 1-2 are January, chapter 3-4 are February, etc.)
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Gordon B. Hinckley, 2016
Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley
God is our Father, and He invites us to pray to Him individually.
Of all the great and wonderful and inspiring promises I have read, the most reassuring to me are the words of the Savior: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” (Matt. 7:7.)
Never forget who you are. … You are in very deed a child of God. … He is your Eternal Father. He loves you. You can go to Him in prayer. He has invited you to do so. … What a wonderful thing this is. He is the Greatest of All. He is the Creator and Governor of the universe. And yet He will listen to your prayer!
As a Christian, I do believe in the power of prayer. Christians are commanded to come to the throne of grace and ask Him for wisdom (James 1:5), guidance (Ps. 119:113), and help (Ps. 46:1). Believers must fully trust in Him and know that His desire is communication with the believers whom He considers children of God. Prayer is both speaking to God and listening as well. And it’s not just something we do at mealtimes or before we go to bed, though those are wonderful times to remember to pray. But the Bible does say we are supposed to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).
I am amazed at the parable told by Jesus in Luke 18:1-8. This is how it reads,
And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
Imagine how Jesus likens God to a judge who feared neither God nor man. The widow is portrayed as a person who didn’t approach the throne in the way that God intended. Some prosperity preachers have taught how you are supposed to pray once and not pray again for the same thing because this would show a lack of faith in God. After all, He heard you the first time, so why show doubt by asking again? But that’s not what this passage teaches. Instead, it says the dedicated believer needs to ask Him day and night. As verse 1 puts it, Jesus wanted us to “always pray and not lose heart.”
Family prayer leads to miracles for individuals, families, and society.
There needs to be a new emphasis on honesty, character, and integrity in our time. Only as we build again into the fiber of our lives the virtues that are the essence of true civilization will the pattern of our times change. The question that confronts us is, Where shall we begin?
I am satisfied that it must begin with recognition of God as our Eternal Father, of our relationship to Him as His children, with communication with Him in recognition of His sovereign position, and with daily supplication for His guidance in our affairs.
With that as a background and showing prayer’s importance, I need to state at this point that prayer to an untrue God—whether He is called Allah, Ahurha Mazda, Vishnu, Zeus, or even Heavenly Father—is not acceptable. While God is omniscient and omnipresent, I don’t believe He is honored when people cry out to an untrue God. As Paul explained to the Greeks in Acts 17:22-23:
So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.
In John 4:24, Jesus taught: “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Jesus prayed in John 17:3, “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”
Look at what Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, taught:
I will go back to the beginning before the world was, to show what kind of being God is. What sort of a being was God in the beginning? Open your ears and hear, all ye ends of the earth, for I am going to prove it to you by the Bible, and to tell you the designs of God in relation to the human race, and why He interferes with the affairs of man. God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens! That is the great secret, if the veil were rent today, and the great God who holds this world in its orbit, and who upholds all worlds and all things by his power, was to make himself visible,—I say, if you were to see him today, you would see him like a man in form—like yourselves in all the person, image, and very form as a man; for Adam was created in the very fashion, image and likeness of God, and received instruction from, and walked, talked and conversed with him, as one man talks and communes with another (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, p. 345. Italics in original. See also Achieving a Celestial Marriage, p. 129).
He also said:
We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and take away the veil, so that you may see. These are incomprehensible ideas to some, but they are simple. It is the first principle of the Gospel to know for a certainty the Character of God, and to know that we may converse with him as one man converses with another, and that he was once a man like us; yea, that God the Father of us all, dwelt on an earth, the same as Jesus Christ himself did, and I will show it from the Bible (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, pp. 345-346. Italics in original. See also Gospel Principles, 1997, p. 305).
This is much different than the God who is described in the Bible. For more on this issue, click here.
Believe in the power and majesty of prayer. The Lord answers our prayers. I know that. I have seen it happen again and again and again. Prayer brings us into partnership with God. It offers us an opportunity to speak with Him, to thank Him for His magnificent blessings, and to ask Him for guidance and protection as we walk the paths of life. This great work, which is spreading over the earth, found its roots in the prayer of a boy. He had read in the family Bible, “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. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed” (James 1:5–6). That is the promise. Is there any greater promise anywhere in the world than that promise?
According to Mormonism, these verses in James were used by Smith to pray to God regarding which church is true. Latter-day Saints generally believe their ability to discern doctrinal truth comes through a “personal testimony,” which is also known as a “burning in the bosom. James 1:5 says, “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.”
The official First Vision account says that Smith’s prayer was answered in 1820 as he knelt in the woods near his upstate New York home. Located in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon, Moroni 10:4 also is regularly referenced by Mormon missionaries. It says, “And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.” An investigator is told that, through prayer, God will help a person understand that Mormonism really is true.
Doctrine and Covenants 9:8 reads, “But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right.” While Mormon testimonies will vary, they often sound very close to the following: “I testify to you that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, that the Book of Mormon is a true history of ancient America, and that Christ’s restored church is led by a true and living prophet.” Even when confronted with information that is contrary to their belief system, many Mormons remain firm in their faith by clinging to their subjective feelings
As Christians, it is important to be respectful to our Latter-day Saint friends and not minimize their experiences. However, we do need to point out that the rules have been rigged since the prayer’s request really has but one answer. After all, the investigator who declines the invitation to pray may be accused of not believing in prayer. On the other hand, those who agree to pray but don’t receive the “right” answer will probably be thought of as not having a sincere heart, real intent, or adequate faith
There is a psychological edge that the Mormon missionaries have when someone agrees to their challenge. After all, the investigator may eventually get the “right” answer in an attempt to please the missionaries, close family members, or friends who have come to the same conclusion. In the end, one’s good feelings may win the day, even if the object of the prayer is false. It should be noted that Joseph Smith disregarded the immediate context of James 1:5, which speaks of gaining wisdom, not knowledge. Wisdom is the proper application of knowledge. In this verse James tells his Christian audience to ask God for wisdom when they are undergoing trials and temptations, not for testing various truth claims.
First John 4:1 tells believers to “try [test] the spirits.” Why? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were considered noble because they “searched the scriptures daily” and tested Paul’s words against what God had already revealed. In other words, Christians are to test all truth claims with the Bible, not with subjective experiences, even if that experience involves a supernatural “vision.” When a Mormon friend brings up James 1:5 or Moroni 10:4 in a conversation, you might ask your acquaintance whether his or her feelings have always been accurate. At one time or another, all of us have been fooled by our feelings, no matter how sincere we might have been. For example, Mormons believe that marriage is not only for life but also for eternity. Should it be assumed that the many Mormon couples who are divorced did not pray about their relationships beforehand? Surely knowing information about another person that could have exposed potential behavior problems—such as drug addiction, sex addiction, pornography issues, inward apathy to God, or repressed anger—would have helped with making a more informed decision. Yet how many Mormons must have “felt” God’s approval in relationships that were tragically doomed from the beginning?
The Bible makes it very clear that subjective feelings can be deceptive. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Proverbs 14:12 warns, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death,” while Proverbs 28:26 adds that only fools trust in their heart. Because everyone is a fallen and sinful creature, it is possible to be swayed by emotions and desires. To believe something is true merely because one feels it to be true is no guarantee of truth. Jesus commanded His followers in Mark 12:30 to love God “with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” Paul explained in 2 Timothy 2:15 that the believer must make the effort to study in order to correctly understand truth. In the next chapter (3:16– 17), he added that all Scripture given by inspiration of God is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” so that the man or woman of God might be competent and equipped to do good works.
Christians are commanded in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 to “prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” While it is true that faith does involve believing things that can’t be proven, it is foolishness to believe something that has already been disproven. If the Bible disproves a spiritual truth claim, it must be rejected. If praying about the Book of Mormon is the means for finding truth, shouldn’t this test also apply to other religious books? It is curious how very few Mormons have taken the time and effort to read (and pray about) the scriptures of other religions. Using the rationale that people should pray about Mormonism’s scripture, why shouldn’t every religion’s scriptures—such as the Qu’ran (Islam), the Vedas and the Bhagavad Gita (Hinduism), and the Tripitaka (Buddhism)–also be read and contemplated through prayer? How can the Mormon know the accuracy of Mormonism until he or she personally tests all religions in this way? Though we should most certainly use prayer to guide us in our search for truth, it should not be the only litmus test. Hopefully, prayer will lead us to the information we need in order to make an informed and proper decision.