Latter-day Saints are a praying people. To say that they pray daily is a big understatement. They are counseled through the scriptures to always pray. One of the Book of Mormon scriptures (3 Nephi 18:20) instructs the Saints to “pray always lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him. . . . pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you. . . . Therefore ye must always pray,” and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints take this very seriously.
Purpose of Prayer
There are many reasons to pray, and Latter-day Saints probably pray for every reason possible.
- To discover God's will
First, from the time Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden and could no longer speak with God face to face, prayer has been the way of conversing with God to find out his will. Without prayer, there would likely be no scriptures, because revelation usually comes through the prayers of the prophets.
- To obtain blessings
Prayer is usually necessary to obtain blessings from God. He requires men to ask for what they need. This dependency on God keeps men humble, attentive, and obedient.
- To express gratitude
God has made it clear that he expects gratitude for the blessings he gives. The scriptures abound in the condemnation of people who forget to give thanks. “Sharper than a serpent's tooth is an ungrateful child” refers to more than to the children of earthly parents. Luke 17:17 shows the dismay of Christ when nine of the ten lepers he cleansed went on their way without thanking him. General Authority W. Eugene Hansen expressed the seriousness of not being thankful this way: “It has been said that the sin of ingratitude is more serious than the sin of revenge. With revenge, we return evil for evil, but with ingratitude, we return evil for good” (Ensign, Nov. 1989, p. 24).
When to Pray and Why or What to Pray For
- During sacrifices
Historically, Jews, as the Bible Dictionary points out, had to at least pray “on two occasions: a confession of sin on the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16:21), and a thanksgiving when offering the firstfruits and tithes (Deuteronomy 26: 3, 13).” However, while Latter-day Saints certainly confess their sins in prayers, there is no one day—except perhaps during sacrament prayers on Sunday—that they do this.
- Before eating
Jewish custom, according to David and Daniel (BD), required believers to pray before they ate. Latter-day Saints follow this custom, sometimes even silently in restaurants if they can pray discreetly. In families or groups in homes or Church, one of the family or guests prays, representing them all, giving thanks for the food and blessing it for their benefit. So members of the Church of Jesus Christ say at least three prayers for meals each day.
- Rising and going to sleep
Latter-day Saints also pray individually in the morning and night. Often these prayers include a review of what they'll need that day or of what they did that day. They'll pray for themselves, their families, their friends, government and Church leaders, the missionaries, and others who may be in need, whether they know them or not. They'll ask for forgiveness, mercy, guidance, patience, blessings, and the presence of the Holy Ghost. This adds another two prayers a day for members of the Church of Jesus Christ.
- Latter-day Saint families also pray as families, each day and night, which for members with families adds another two prayers to their day.
- High school-age Latter-day Saints will likely begin their weekday by attending Seminary, which will add another two prayers to their day. Other adult Latter-day Saints may attend Institute, usually once or twice a week, which will two prayers to their count.
- Latter-day Saints adults will, on the days they attend the temple, participate in many prayers, but definitely at least one more prayer.
- Latter-day Saints pray to begin and end each sacrament meeting. A typical Sunday will include at least three such prayers, plus two Sacrament prayers, for a total of five Sabbath prayers. If they hold a Family Council or family study of Come Follow Me on Sunday, this will add two more prayers.
- Monday nights typical Latter-day Saint families hold Family Home Evening, which adds two prayers to the day.
- Latter-day Saints also pray throughout the day for particular help. They will pray before long trips or when they need to make decisions. If someone is sick, the father or other worthy priesthood holder such as a Home Teacher, will give a health blessing—requiring another prayer.
- ministering sisters and ministering brothers pray for the sisters or brothers they minister to, and sometimes when they visit those members.
- And finally, to this 5-24 prayers each day (an average might be 12), Latter-day Saints are counseled to keep a prayer in their hearts at all times—in other words, to pray always.
Latter-day Saints do not use pre-written prayers, except in the case of the blessing on the sacrament and temple dedicatory prayers.
How to Pray
- Prayers may be done individually or in groups, with a representative being the voice.
- Prayer may be done alone or in public.
- Prayers may be done standing, sitting, or kneeling. In Latter-day Saints meetinghouses, usually the person who prays for the group stands while the others sit. Those who give the sacrament prayers kneel.
- Prayers may be silent or voiced. Group or formal prayers like for the sacrament are voiced.
- Eyes can be closed or open. Usually, especially in Church, Latter-day Saints close their eyes to pray.
- Head can be bowed or raised. Latter-day Saints usually bow their heads.
- Hands can be folded or raised to God. Latter-day Saints usually don't do either, at least in public.
- Prayers which are not emergency prayers for immediate help in distress follow the Lord's Prayer in form:
- Address God in a reverent and correct form such as Heavenly Father. (Latter-day Saints do not pray to Christ or anyone else but only to their Father, as Christ directed in the Lord's Prayer.)
- Thank him for his blessings. (Latter-day Saints believe that it's proper and right to first express gratitude for what God has given before asking for more.)
- Ask for needs such as forgiveness, mercy, and blessings for self and others.
- Ask for these things “in the name of Jesus Christ.” (Latter-day Saints stress Christ as their advocate, who has the right to ask God for things which men don't deserve of themselves.)
- Close with “Amen.”
- Wait and listen for answers. (Latter-day Saint leaders teach that to receive guidance or revelation requires the person praying to listen for the answer—God can be talking but if no one listens, they won't hear what he's saying.)
- Members of the Church of Jesus Christ believe that God will answer if (1) the prayer is sincere, (2) the person praying believes that God exists, loves him, and will answer, (3) the person is righteous and is calling upon Christ's Atonement for his right to petition, and (4) it is expedient for him. They don't believe a strictly ritualistic mumbling will result in anything. The person asking must mean what he says—he must be honest with God. He must be trying to live up to what God has already given him. He must also trust that he will be given what he asks—if it is expedient, i.e., helpful or necessary. God may sometimes answer with a “No” or “Not now—later.” Neal A. Maxwell, an apostle, states it this way: “Petitioning in prayer has taught me, again and again, that the vault of heaven with all its blessings is to be opened only by a combination lock. One tumbler falls when there is faith; a second when there is personal righteousness; the third and final tumbler falls only when what is sought is, in God's judgment—not ours—right for us.”
- Some Latter-day Saints will sometimes have private prayers which, after opening the prayer, be more like conversations with their Heavenly Father. This will be an outpouring of their hearts in which they express their deep-felt concerns or gratitude (Some Latter-day Saints periodically give prayers during which they only express gratitude for everything they can think of). Some of these prayers may be long—a half hour or much more. There may be tears or laughter. This type of prayer attracts the Holy Ghost strongly and often results in the person praying being uplifted, enlightened, and guided with specific answers—revelation.