Can you imagine anything that could help us all overcome our challenges better than this?
Talk by Kevin Crenshaw in Venice Florida, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2/28/2016
The transcript below is an unabridged version with a complete list of lessons learned.
The Savior said: “In the world, ye shall have tribulation.” (John 16:33, emphasis mine.)
Challenges in life can sometimes seem overwhelming, even impossible to overcome. They include chronic illness, weaknesses, emotional pain, uncertainty, anxiety, physical pain, depression, fear, temptation, sin, addiction, loneliness, unrelenting demands, emotional or physical mistreatment, abuse, broken hearts, hopelessness, grief, crushing guilt, doubt, and other challenges you may face right now.
The Lord also said: “But be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33.)
Smallest, Simplest, Spiritual Help
An ancient Book of Mormon prophet taught: “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass.” (Alma 37:6.) And a modern prophet, James E. Faust, said: “Problems will yield to a spiritual solution…. We will [do better] if our guiding stars are revealed principles rather than specified activities.” (James E. Faust, Strengthening the Inner Self.)
This is how the Lord usually works. He reveals small means, in simple ways, with astonishing impact. He speaks by a still, small voice. He calls the weak and simple to do his great work. His powerful simplicity shows that he understands all things best.
So in preparing for this talk I asked: what is the smallest, simplest, spiritual, revealed thing we can do to get the greatest possible help with our challenges?
I think I can now answer that question. The answer came as I prayed about and prepared this talk, and it has been life-changing.
Nearly three weeks ago, after a chaotic day, facing a day-late, Tuesday night family home evening, an impression came for a simple lesson: read all the scriptures about one specific principle, and listen for the Lord’s promises.
As I obeyed, I realized that the Lord was also answering–with the same impression–my request for guidance on this talk.
I’ll share some of those scriptures now. These are the words of the Lord through ancient prophets in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Pearl of Great Price, and also through modern prophets in the Doctrine and Covenants.
Watch for the principle, the promises, and the warnings.
How many promises and implied promises can you count for this one simple act of obedience?
(Some) Scriptures about Praying Always
Doctrine and Covenants 19:38
38 Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof.
Doctrine and Covenants 33:17
17 Wherefore, be faithful, praying always, having your lamps trimmed and burning, and oil with you, that you may be ready at the coming of the Bridegroom—
Doctrine and Covenants 75:11
10 [Let my servants go forth…]
11 Praying always that they faint not; and inasmuch as they do this, I will be with them even unto the end.
Doctrine and Covenants 31:12
12 Pray always, lest you enter into temptation and lose your reward.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:49
49 What I say unto one I say unto all; pray always lest that wicked one have power in you, and remove you out of your place.
Doctrine and Covenants 10:5
5 Pray always, that you may come off conqueror; yea, that you may conquer Satan, and that you may escape the hands of the servants of Satan that do uphold his work.
Doctrine and Covenants 20:33
33 Therefore let the church take heed and pray always, lest they fall into temptation;
3 Nephi 18:19
18 Behold, verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.
19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
20 And whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you.
21 Pray in your families unto the Father, always in my name, that your [families] may be blessed.
Doctrine and Covenants 61:39
39 Pray always that you enter not into temptation, that you may abide the day of his coming, whether in life or in death. Even so. Amen.
36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
Doctrine and Covenants 90:24
24 Search diligently, pray always, and be believing, and all things shall work together for your good.
Doctrine and Covenants 88:126
126 Pray always, that ye may not faint, until I come. Behold, and lo, I will come quickly, and receive you unto myself. Amen.
2 Nephi 32:9
9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul.
Doctrine and Covenants 93:50
50 My servant Newel K. Whitney also, a bishop of my church, hath need to be chastened, and set in order his family, and see that they are more diligent and concerned at home, and pray always, or they shall be removed out of their place.
2 Thessalonians 1:11
11 Wherefore also we pray always for you …
12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him.
2 Nephi 9:52
52 Behold, my beloved brethren, remember the words of your God; pray unto him continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night. Let your hearts rejoice.
51 And they did pray unto the Lord their God continually, insomuch that the Lord did bless them, according to his word, so that they did wax strong and prosper in the land.
2 Nephi 33:3
3 But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people. For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry.
28 … humble yourselves before the Lord, and call on his holy name, and watch and pray continually, that ye may not be tempted above that which ye can bear, and thus be led by the Holy Spirit, becoming humble, meek, submissive, patient, full of love and all long-suffering;
29 Having faith on the Lord; having a hope that ye shall receive eternal life; having the love of God always in your hearts, that ye may be lifted up at the last day and enter into his rest.
17 Therefore … the people were checked as to the pride of their hearts, and began to humble themselves before God … watching and praying continually, that they might be delivered from Satan, and from death, and from destruction—
1 Thessalonians 5:17
17 Pray without ceasing.
18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you….
3 Nephi 19:30
30 And when Jesus had spoken these words he came again unto his disciples; and behold they did pray steadfastly, without ceasing, unto him; and he did smile upon them again; and behold they were white [purified, glowing], even as Jesus.
3 Nephi 19:24
24 And it came to pass that when Jesus had thus prayed unto the Father, he came unto his disciples, and behold, they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray unto him; and they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.
3 Nephi 20:1
1 And it came to pass that he commanded the multitude that they should cease to pray, and also his disciples. And he commanded them that they should not cease to pray in their hearts.
1 Samuel 12:23
23 Moreover as for me, God forbid that I should sin against the Lord in ceasing to pray for you: but I will teach you the good and the right way:
39 And they did admonish their brethren … being commanded of God to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all things.
Doctrine and Covenants 6:36
36 Look unto me in every thought; doubt not, fear not.
37 Behold the wounds which pierced my side, and also the prints of the nails in my hands and feet.
18 And again Moses said: I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan.
16 And Adam and Eve, his wife, ceased not to call upon God.
48 Wherefore … pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons [and daughters] of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him….
I found at least 47 verses in all, and I’m certain I’m missing some.
How important must it be for the Lord to repeat it 47+ times?
Testifying with Authenticity
When I read these scriptures in family home evening, they impressed me and I wanted these blessings. I wanted to be able to testify about them today, in this talk, with authenticity.
So I resolved to live the commandment for the past three weeks to the best of ability. I felt that I should try to live this commandment literally, “praying always” not as a metaphor or a nice thought, but in actual deed.
During this time, I did face some challenges:
- I had a dear friend that was jailed and threatened on unfair charges with no clear way out.
- I was struggling intensely with post concussion syndrome, which made it hard to work or concentrate or think or even read.
- I had ongoing chronic fatigue syndrome, which has been a struggle since age 30.
- Faced contention and chaos, noise and clamor in multiple settings–not just at home.
- Faced intense business concerns in a key role without a clear path forward.
- Deep concerns about multiple extended family members and friends who were under great pressure, or struggling with depression, or sin, or maybe even addictions, or who had difficulty finding the desire to do good things they at least partly wanted to do.
- I received this assignment, which was an additional challenge even though it was a blessing and an opportunity I was grateful for.
- I felt tremendous time pressures, inability to get done all that seemed clearly important–a pressure I had been unable to resolve for a couple of months.
- I was concerned for ward members that I care about who are struggling with illness and other needs.
And I felt all of this within the first 4 days of receiving the assignment–the first 96 hours.
What I Experienced
Image by Carlos Perez Couto (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
As I tried my best to “pray continually,” “without ceasing,” in just the first 72 hours this is what I experienced:
- My ability to pray increased easily and naturally.
- Every situation that was a challenge became an instant reminder to pray continually, making constant prayer easier.
- Happiness, spiritual joy, and peace began to fill my heart, regardless of what I faced.
- Fear ceased, and actual testimony (heavenly assurance) increased.
- I felt a greater, closer sense of the reality that God is my loving parent and deepest friend.
- When tempted to lose my patience, that temptation reminded me to pray, and patience became far easier.
- I found I could not be faced with other temptations like angry words, unchristlike or judgemental thoughts, or impure thoughts without an instant, counterbalancing reminder that I was holding a conversation with God, and that yielding to those impulses would hurt or offend him. And so those temptations lost most if not all of their power.
- Other things I needed to repent of naturally and peacefully ceased in my life, and I felt and expressed a profound desire to be forgiven of all my sins–even those far in the past I might have forgotten. (Just like Hannah expressed earlier.)
- Began to sense those things in my life that, while not inherently wrong, were leading me away from or distracting me from being close to the Lord and feeling the Spirit, and I lost the desire for them.
- I felt greater love for others that flowed from me naturally, without effort.
- I felt a greater desire to do small things in the gospel that I had not been doing and partly wanted to do but hadn’t felt a strong enough desire to actually get started.
- A profound answer came to me to the problem of my concussion recovery. Small, simple thoughts came, “sudden strokes of intelligence,” as the prophet Joseph Smith has called them, that led me to answers online. When I applied those answers, I felt rapid, profound relief, and it even let me to help others with similar needs.
- It became easier to focus and accomplish important things at work. I sensed clearly what was most important, without stressing, even in the face of immediate demands.
- It became far easier to remain calm in the face of someone who was upset with me (or who only seemed that way, as it usually turned out).
- I felt assured of help for my dear friend (the one who was arrested) as I prayed for him, and felt led and encouraged by the Spirit to pray with confidence and boldness for him.
- Answers came, subtly, almost unnoticeably, about ways to reduce contention in home and professional settings–small and simple steps I could take on my own to become more of a hidden peacemaker.
- An impression and insight came to my mind as to the true nature of a celestial existence.
- Anxiety greatly decreased or vanished–something I have struggled with from time to time, probably genetically–and it was replaced with peace and assurance.
- I felt a greater sense of true gratitude that naturally flowed from me, which itself created greater happiness.
- A constant comfort and companionship of the Holy Ghost began–something I had once felt in my life and had wanted to reclaim–but I had let it slip away with the distractions of the world.
- Direction began to come, continually, as to things I should do or not do, for maximum benefit of myself and others. As Nephi said: “If ye will enter in by the way, and receive the Holy Ghost, it will show unto you all things what ye should do.” (2 Ne 32:5.)
- Precious insights and inspiration came as I awoke or fell asleep that brought tears of joy to my eyes. Literally, as Nephi said, “mine eyes water[ed] my pillow by night,” but these were tears of spiritual joy rather than sorrow. (2 Ne 33:3.)
All of this was just in the first three days, the first 72 hours, just for striving my best to “pray continually” “without ceasing,” and I wasn’t doing it perfectly, not even doing it well maybe, but I was continually trying.
Can you imagine anything else that could help me, or you, or us as a ward, or us a stake, or us as a Church, or us as a nation, or us as a world, to overcome all our challenges and fulfill our potential better than this?
Is it possible that praying continually, without ceasing, is (or is a major part of) what the scriptures call “walking with God”? (Genesis 5:24, DC 107:49, Moses 6:39.) That is truly what it felt like.
I learned for myself, in just those first three days, that the promises associated with the commandment to “pray continually” “without ceasing” are true, and available to us immediately, notwithstanding our weaknesses.
I learned for myself that God isn’t waiting for us to be perfectly obedient to give us the blessings. I had important things to repent of, to set right. The blessings came anyway, and those blessings actually helped me start to make the changes and enjoy the blessings of full repentance and assurance and peace to my soul.
How to Pray Continually (What I Learned)
The past three weeks I wasn’t fully successful. The second week I had a terrible time focusing. The last week my success was a little better but still poor compared to those first days. But I learned that it was OK, the struggle was part of the learning. It helped me seek help and inspiration to do better, and insights came.
My hope in sharing these insights is that one or two will stand out and help someone else as they helped me. (I’d love to hear your experiences and insights in the comments.)
Can you imagine all of us, as a family/ward/stake/nation/world enjoying these blessings together, every day?
- I found that constant prayer was usually more of a feeling than a sound or words:
- Turning thoughts towards God more than thinking or saying actual words.
- Thinking and pondering with Him rather than at Him.
- Consciously including Him in my conversations with others, thoughts, desires, questions, and concerns.
- Listening and watching for feelings that reassure or direct my words and thoughts.
- I found that “continually” does not mean “continuously.”
- “Continuously,” which the scriptures do NOT say, means 100% of the time without interruption.
- “Continually” means we continue again, right away, if we are interrupted. This is the word the scriptures use.
- We can’t pray when we sleep. But the Book of Mormon prophet Alma taught: “when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day.” (Alma 37:37.)
- I found that “praying always” didn’t mean skipping formal, personal morning prayers.
- Those formal prayers were important to prayer the rest of the day.
- But by themselves, morning and evening prayer did not unlock these blessings.
- I found that it helped to have a focal point, something specific that particularly weighed on my mind that I could pray and ponder about through the day: a personal need, a friend in need, a national issue of concern that I desired the Lord’s help with, even a talk I needed to prepare. 🙂
- I found that when we face challenges, it can make “praying always” easier.
- Luke said this about the Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane when he took upon himself the pains and sins of the world: “And being in an agony, he prayed more earnestly.” (Luke 22:44.) So it can be with us.
- However, if only the negative things serve as focal points, could that be good? So I found that positive focal points were important: gratitude, praising the Lord, rejoicing, pondering, remembering Him, asking for help in emulating His attributes.
- I found that the right kind of music was an important help.
- At first, sacred music didn’t draw me in strongly. Maybe it even felt a little “boring” after being bombarded by the noise and distractions of the world.
- But once I started listening, it only took a minute or two before I truly loved it, began to feel the Spirit, and my heart turned to the Lord.
- They didn’t need to be formal hymns. The Mormon Music Channel or my Pandora sacred music channel of inspiring Mormon/Christian music led me to pray continually and filled me with joy I didn’t want to end.
- Singing hymns wasn’t sufficient. Even though singing can be a form of prayer, I needed to do more than just sing in order to “pray always.”
- I found I could have an attitude of prayer about almost anything meaningful. As Alma said: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good.” (Alma 37:37)
- I found that prayers for others were important. Amulek said: “let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually … for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:27)
- I found that the more I prayed more for others, the more love I felt for them, which in turn helped me keep praying.
- Then it struck me: we are not supposed to overcome our challenges alone. The Lord brings us together so we can bear one another’s burdens. Praying continually for each other is one way we do this.
- I learned what to do when I found I had stopped praying: I simply started again, as soon as I noticed. No self-criticism, no feeling of condemnation from the Lord, just continuing again, as the word “continually” implies.
- I found that listening continually, not just talking to God, was especially important. Like a game of “Warmer, Colder” the way I felt inside as I prayed led me to pray more effectively, to know what pleased him most to set my thoughts on towards him.
- I found that the Spirit began to guide me in what I should pray for. The Nephites “did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire.” (3 Ne 19:24.)
- I discovered things that interfered, made it harder, including:
- Staying up late (regardless of how late I slept in),
- Binge watching even good, appropriate TV shows,
- Focusing on fears instead of asking for help, and
- Contention, if I contributed to it. (However, when I acted as a prayerful peacemaker, the peace and comfort of the Spirit was powerful and consuming, even in the middle of strong contention.)
- I was stunned to discover that when I wasn’t praying continually, thoughts which I used to think were positive were actually focused on me–but when I prayed continually my thoughts became focused on the Lord and others.
- For example: “Did I do that right?” or “Am I focused on what I should be?” changed to thoughts like: “What do they need?” or “What is best, Lord?”
- And I was happier. Christ said, “he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt. 10:39.) It’s true.
- I found that I had to pray until I began to feel something inside, and then it was easy to continue.
- Insights, peace, spiritual joy, and comfort came, which made me want to continue.
- Impressions came. Revelation.
- I felt a burning spiritual “reward” in my heart that replaced the false (and even damaging) rewards from worldly distractions.
- I was given to understand how Satan wants to use our knowledge of good and evil against us to keep us from praying always.
- If we make a mistake, Satan’s temptation is to withdraw from the Lord, run, hide, and not discuss it with God. (Moses 4, Genesis 3.)
- This is the opposite of what we need to do.
- I learned and felt that the Lord loves us now, in our current state, even if we just barely did something wrong, even something we supposedly knew better than to do. (Ponder that. Why would he continue to love us and reach out to us in that situation instead of withdrawing? There are important principles behind that truth.)
- A modern prophet said: “He is not waiting to love you until after you have overcome your weaknesses and bad habits. He loves you today with a full understanding of your struggles.” (Deiter F. Uchtdorf, Living the Gospel Joyful, October 2014 General Conference.)
- I realized that “pray always” is a commandment! How did I miss that for 55 years? It may be the most widely broken commandment by otherwise faithful Latter-day Saints and other Christians!
- During the second week especially I learned that vocal prayer is particularly important. It gets us started, creates momentum, and then we can continue in our heart.
- Newton’s First Law of Prayer, if there were such a thing, might be: “prayers in motion tend to remain in motion, and prayers at rest tend to remain at rest unless spoken out loud.”
- I finally understood how to address noise, chaos, and confusion. Once when I served on the High Council, after teaching a lesson a young mother asked: “What do I do when there is so much noise around me?” I wish I had answered better then, but let me try to answer now.
- In Kentucky when we had 8 children at home, we were homeschooling, I was working from home, there was a lot of chaos but also a desire to do right. Then one night, two inspired dreams came:
- I dreamed I saw my wife lay out slices of my favorite dessert for family home evening: strawberry shortcake! They were placed in triangular, glass pie slice holders arranged in a full circle. The children quickly ran and grabbed theirs, leaving just a few behind. I was concerned, and in the dream my wife pointed out there were still more left for me. But on close examination I saw that they were made out of green olives and other unpalatable ingredients, so I was distressed. I awoke with the witness of the Spirit and a sense of importance.
- After writing down the dream, I fell back to sleep and dreamed I was at the BYU Wilkinson Center cafe (which to me was a place of relaxed learning and feasting). I ran up to the entrance, worried I was too late for breakfast. Were they closed? The attendant looked to the wall clock, which read 8:45 am and said: “no, you’re not too late, you can have anything you want.” Then I awoke again with those same feelings.
- I pondered and pondered but the meaning wasn’t clear to me. Then one day as I was driving a van full of children, I prayed (while driving) and silently asked what it meant. Subtly, almost imperceptibly, the thought and image came into my mind: “clock.” Then I realised that the pie slices arranged in a circle represented hours in the day. The wall clock at the cafeteria represented a specific time of the day.
- Then I knew what the Lord was teaching me so memorably: “If you retire early and rise early, you will have the quiet time you need to pray and learn from me. If you don’t, the time will be used up by others.”
- I have heard that this one thing–retiring and rising early–is a personal attribute that the general authorities all have in common.
- I am still working on it, but retiring early and rising early is one way to get ahead of the noise and chaos so we can “pray continually” and feel peace throughout the day.
- On another occasion, a young woman set a vivid example when she traveled with our family. She found herself jammed into in a crowded, noisy, family hotel room as we ended the day. Undaunted, she curled up in corner, burying her head in her arms and knees and said her personal evening prayers. That image stuck with me. We can pray even when it’s noisy, even if it takes more effort, even if, in spite of our best efforts, someone might notice.
- In Kentucky when we had 8 children at home, we were homeschooling, I was working from home, there was a lot of chaos but also a desire to do right. Then one night, two inspired dreams came:
My Newfound Testimony of This Principle
I testify that the Lord wants to help us with our burdens, and a simple, powerful way to receive that help is the small act of praying continually without ceasing.
I experienced it these past three weeks. Now it’s my intention and desire to continue for the rest of my life.
If these blessings come just for starting down that path, what awaits us as we continue for the rest of our lives?
I have seen ward and stake prayers and fasting for a sister with leukemia, a young father of 5 with life-threatening spinal meningitis, and a baby with confirmed spina bifida in the mother’s womb, all of whom received miraculous healing from the Lord.
More importantly, I have personally seen mighty changes in heart, where someone with a strong desire to do wrong quickly became a new creature, having “no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually” (Mosiah 5:2.) as a result of constant, fervent prayer.
“Pray one for another, that ye may he healed,” James said. “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man[, woman, family, ward, or stake] availeth much.” (James 5:16.)
I testify that Christ wants us to “be of good cheer,” and that he has truly “overcome the world.” (John 16:33.) His help, comfort, and power to overcome are readily given to us, rapidly, if we heed his words: “Pray always, that you may come off conqueror.” (DC 10:5.)
Shall we not do this? “Shall we not go on in so great a cause” (DC 128:22) and receive these promised blessings in our lives, right here and now?
This is my prayer, and it will continue to be my prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Every Good Thing Blog
Kevin Crenshaw is a Mormon who teaches and advises Mormon young men and recently served as a 7-year volunteer seminary teacher for LDS youth. Although he makes every effort to be a careful student of LDS theology and history, the opinions expressed are his own. He is not authorized to speak officially in behalf of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.