Chapter 2: Pray Always
Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson, (2014), 46–57
During 2015, LDS members will be studying the latest manual published by their church, Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Ezra Taft Benson. We will evaluate this book regularly, chapter by chapter, by showing interesting quotes and providing an Evangelical Christian take on this manual. The text that is underlined is from the manual, with our comments following.
“If we would advance in holiness—increase in favor with God—nothing can take the place of prayer.”
Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson
Jesus Christ has taught that we should pray always.
I’m not going to look at all the past chapters of previous “Teachings of Presidents of the Church,” but off the top of my head, I don’t remember an entire chapter in this series that was dedicated to prayer. I believe in prayer. It is the strength of the Christian’s arsenal. Whenever possible, I have learned that prayer to the foundation to a Christian’s faith.
If we would advance in holiness—increase in favor with God—nothing can take the place of prayer. And so I adjure you to give prayer—daily prayer—secret prayer—a foremost place in your lives. Let no day pass without it. Communion with the Almighty has been a source of strength, inspiration, and enlightenment to men and women through the world’s history who have shaped the destinies of individuals and nations for good.
The Bible encourages the believer to pray without ceasing. May this be a part of who I am.
God is mindful of us and ready to respond to our prayers when we place our trust in Him and do that which is right.
There is power in prayer. All things are possible through prayer. It was through prayer that the heavens were opened in this dispensation. The prayer of a boy fourteen years of age, in the Sacred Grove, opened a new gospel dispensation, and brought forth a vision of the Father and the Son, as they appeared as glorified heavenly beings before the boy, Joseph [see Joseph Smith—History 1:11–17].15
Here comes the problem (and I’ll complete my review this way). Using Joseph Smith’s example when he was supposedly a 14-year-old boy, many Latter-day Saints believe that praying about the Book of Mormon and, in general, Mormonism is what God commands. There are several passages Mormons reference, but most prominent is James 1:5 in the New Testament. This was a pivotal verse for Mormonism’s founder Joseph Smith, who claimed that he prayed to God for wisdom when he was fourteen years old. 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.”
The rules in Mormonism have been rigged since a person asking God for confirmation of the prayer (is this Book of Mormon from God?) really only has 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 to pray about the Book of Mormon. 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 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.
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.