Answers to Our Prayers

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Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

May 13, 2004
Bill Hsu
Professor of Hotel and Tourism Management

Aloha! "Is your life so busy you hardly have time to take a time-out?"  The year 1993. The event: NCAA men's basketball final. The Wolverines of University of Michigan vs. the Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina.

(start powerpoint 1) -The Wolverines were featuring their five freshman players: Christ Webber, Jelan Rose, Juwan Howard, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson; better known as the Fab Five.

4th quarter, final 11 seconds. Game tied. Christ Weber, the star of the University of Michigan, took an inbound pass, dribbled up the court; bending over, Chris Weber covered up the ball, bringing his hands together perpendicular to each other, signaling to the officials for a time out.(powerpoint 1 ends) 

He wanted to take time to talk to his coach, AND set up for one LAST and FINAL play. 

Shockingly, the referee slapped Chris Webber with a technical foul! You see, University of Michigan has used up all their time-outs and there weren't any left.

By signaling a time-out when there was none, constitute a technical foul:One shot and give away the possession of the ball.

The University of Michigan lost the game and the NCAA championship.

Well, what's that got to do with you and me?

Life, as you know, is a little bit like "the big game." There are times when you and I need to call time-out.

Have you ever experience of 4th Quarter, with one point down and ten seconds left to go? The pressure, the stress...?

Or in life's game, do you have a challenge in controlling your temper or your language? Are the school subjects pulling you down? And most important of all, are YOU trying to do it alone? Or are you smart enough to call time-out AND ask the coach for help?

It IS interesting to note that a team ALWAYS calls time-out when they are in trouble, WHEN they need to re-group.

How often in our lives when we feel so overwhelmed with things, so stressed out that we feel like throwing in the towel and said, "Uncle, you win, I've had it!"

Sometimes you just wish you can simply STOP; call a time-out, take a deep breath, get over to the sidelines and talk things over with your Heavenly Father.

History is laced with great leaders calling time-outs to seek divine guidance: (powerpoint 2 starts) George Washington at the Valley Forge (powerpoint 2 ends); (powerpoint 3 starts) Abraham Lincoln seeking answers at the Civil War (powerpoint 3 ends); (powerpoint 4 starts) young Joseph Smith in the sacred grove. (powerpoint 4 ends)

The Lord said in the scriptures, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest..." (Matt. 11:28). I bear testimony that He's always here to listen. He listens to our pleas and he is there to bless our lives.

And there is never a technical foul nor will there be a penalty for seeking his divine guidance, through supplication and prayer. For He has said in James, (powerpoint 5 starts) "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..." (James 1:5) (Powerpoint 5 ends)

Prayer is the means by which the children of God address their Heavenly Father; and in return, He communicates with us in a variety of ways.

The scriptures are full of instances and recordings of such communication: the first one being a commandment that God gave to Adam and Eve that "they should worship the Lord their God." And later on, "an angel of the Lord appeared unto Adam, saying..." Thou shalt do all that thou doest in the name of the Son, and thou shalt repent and call upon God in the name of the Son forevermore (Moses 5:5-6, 8).

(Powerpoint 6 begins) In Nephi we learned that "...For if ye hearken unto the Spirit which teacheth a man to pray, ye would know that ye must pray, for the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray..." (2 Nephi 32:8) (powerpoint 6 ends)

In the latter-days, the Lord said to Emma Smith, "My soul delighteth in the song of the heart, yea, the song of the righteous is a prayer unto me." (D&C 25:12)We have heard that special musical number and it was indeed a sweet prayer.

In addition to an expression of our love and gratitude, often, our prayers seek advises and confirmation as well as requests for specific blessings.

Before we examine the answers to our prayers, let us first look at the ways of our supplication.

In the 1993 May issue of the Ensign, Elder Dalin Oaks has taught us the correct way to use the proper pronounces: Thee, Thou, Thy and Thine, when addressing deity in prayer, instead of the more common pronouns - you, your and yours.

By so doing, we show greater respect to our Heavenly Father.

When we pray, are we asking in faith? Oliver Cowdery was told: "That assuredly as the Lord liveth...even so surely shall you receive a knowledge of whatsoever things you shall ask in faith, with an honest heart, believing that you shall receive...(D&C 8:1-2)

And again, he was reminded: "Remember that without faith you can do nothing; therefore ask in faith. Trifle not with these things, do not ask for that which you ought not..." and "According to your faith shall it be done unto you." (D&C 8:10-11)

What about the intent of our prayers? Are we praying mechanically memorizing the prayers like unto the Zoramites and the Pharisees?

Or do we find hunger in our souls and pray like Enos and wrestle with the Spirit like Alma? I testify that we must follow the words of the Savior as he administered to the Nephites and instructed his disciples: "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 shift you as wheat. Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name."

In our prayers, we are told to "Be still and know that I am the Lord..." (Psalm 46:10).

It was the third time before the Nephites finally understood the voice of our Heavenly Father as he introduced his Beloved son, our Savior Jesus Christ.(3 Nephi 11:2-6) How well do we listen and learn to recognize that still small voice?

Are we prepared to respond to faith; obedience and the proper use of agency in order understand and recognize the Master's voice?

You've heard of the phase "in tune with the spirit". Here is a classic story told by President Harold B Lee 31 years ago.

He was serving as a stake president and there was a grievous case that had to come before the high council and the stake presidency, that resulted in the excommunication of a man. The brother of this man came to see President Lee and said,

"I want to tell you that my brother was NOT guilty of that thing you charged him with!"

President Lee asked, "How do you know he was not guilty?"

"Because I prayed, and the Lord told me he was innocent," the man answered.

President Lee invited him to sit down and said, "Do you mind if I ask you a few personal questions?"

The man said, "Of course not."

"How old are you?" "Forty-seven."

"What priesthood do you hold?" "I'm a teacher".

"Do you keep the Word of Wisdom?" He answered. "Well, no."

The man had smoked before he came in, which was obvious.

"Do you pay your tithing?" He said, "No, and I don't intend to as long as that blankety-blank-blank man was the bishop of the ward!"

"Do you attend your priesthood meetings?" "No, sir! And I don't want to as long as that man is the bishop"

"You don't attend your sacrament meetings either? Do you?" "No, sir"

Do you have your family prayer?" "No"

"Do you read the scriptures? "My eyes are bad and couldn't read much"

Then President Lee said, "In my home I have a beautiful instrument called the radio (powerpoint 7 start). When everything is in good working condition, we can dial it to a certain station and pick up a speaker or the voice all the way across the continent. Or sometimes clear from the other side of the world. (powerpoint 7 ends)

After we have used the radio for a long time, there are some instruments inside called radio tubes that begin to wear out.(show powerpoint 8)

When one of them wears out, we get a static noise " it isn't so clear any more. Another one wears out and we don't get the station anymore. And if we don't get those tubes fixed, the radio will sit there and we don't hear anything." (powerpoint 8 ends)

"Now, you and I have within our souls something that might be similar to those tubes.

We have what we call a "Go-to-Sacrament-Meeting" tube,

a "Keep-the-Word-of-Wisdom" tube,

a "Pay-your-tithing" tube,

a "Have-your-Family-Prayers" tube,

a "Read-the-Scriptures" tube AND (powerpoint 9 begins)

As one of the most important MASTER tube:

a "Keep-Yourselves-Morally-Clean" tube.

If one of these becomes worn-out, NOT being used, or IS NOT active. Meaning if we fail to keep the commandments of God " it has the same effect upon our spiritual selves like those worn-out tubes in the radio. (powerpoint 9 ends)

Last night, fifteen of the best-living men in the stake heard the evidence, and prayed. Every man was united in saying that your brother was guilty.

NOW, my dear brother, you don't do any of these things, you say you prayed, and you got an opposite answer. How would you explain that?"

Well, the man then gave an answer that I think was a classic.

He said, "President, I think I must have gotten my answer from the wrong source." (New Era, March 1973)

What great truth! We get our answer from the source of power we obey. If you're not getting the sweet and beautiful sound from the radio station KGOD, what station are you getting it from?

I testify that as we keep the commandments of God, we will be in tune with the spirit. They are like "sound waves" -- they're always there, And we will hear from the right source and not be "past feeling".

There are instances where prayers were answered by events unfolding. Think of the positive attitude that Nephi showed during the seeking of the plates from Labon.

Nephi was told: "Thou shall be favored of the Lord, because thou hast not murmured." (1 Nephi 3:6) And Nephi followed with his great attitude: "I will go and do...," Such commitment and confidence led him to the house of Laban without answers: "I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do," AH, but he added, "Nevertheless I went forth."

How many of us, when we pray for guidance, is willing to put forth our very best efforts even though we know not the results?

In Nephi, he has confidence in God, he exercised in faith, he acted so he could receive help, step by step.

To help us recognize our prayers being answered, the Lord said, "If you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the mater?" (D&C 6:22-23)

Again, (powerpoint 10 starts) He counseled us: "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 true. But if it be not right, you shall have no such FEELINGS, but you shall have a stupor of thought". (D&C9:8-9) (powerpoint 10 ends)

When our prayers are answered, it gives us confidence. When the answer is no, it could mean that Heavenly Father prevents us in getting into trouble.

What happened if there is no answer? Is it not time for us to take up our accountability and ACT upon it? We need to ACT.

My favorite example of prayer being answered OR not answered is the Brother of Jared.

Remember the story in the 2nd and 3rd chapters of the Book of Ether:

The Lord went before the Jaredites and gave instructions to them. For a while, the brother of Jared forgot to pray unto the Lord and the scripture said, "...And for the space of three hours did the Lord talk with the Brother of Jared and chastened him because he remember not to call upon the name of the Lord." (Ether 2: 14) Talk about the intensity of a celestial chastisement...

Let's continue: "...the brother of Jared repented of the evil which he had done, and did call upon the name of the Lord..." (Ether 2:15)From then on, he followed the Lord's instructions to the TILT and began building those dish-like barges, all eight of them. And he also made holes in the top and the bottom so there would be air. The scripture continues: "And he cried again unto the Lord saying: O Lord, behold, I have done even as thou hast commanded me; and I have prepared the vessels for my people, and behold there is no light in them. O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?"

Here comes the best part: (powerpoint 11 starts) the Lord said, "What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels...?" and two verses later He repeated that verse again, "Therefore, what will ye that I should prepare for you that ye may have light when ye are swallowed up in the depths of the sea?" (Ether 2: 23, 25) (powerpoint 11 ends) 

Here's the lesson: how often do we rely upon the Lord passively and ask: "I am ready to be rich and famous, Wilt thou find me a job!" OR better still, "I am ready to get married, wilt thou find me a spouse!?"

Do you think there's going to be a Donald Trump knocking at your door and say "Bill, please work for me?" or a spouse popped in front of you and say "Here I am, married me!"

It JUST doesn't work that way!

If the Lord would answer your prayers at all, it would be something like this: "What do you want me to do so you can get a job or marry that eternal companion?"

What's He's saying is: "Stop nagging me! Why don't you

get up and do something about it yourself!! What's the matter with you? You think I'm your temp agency? Your matchmaker or something...?" "Why don't you walk the talk?"

It's no wonder that we don't get any answers to those kinds of prayers.

By the way, if we rely on the Lord on everything that we do, what happens when the marriage does not work out? Then what?

Are we going to the Lord and said, "You're my insurance agent, now fix this problem. It was YOU who told me that I should marry this person, now it's not working out, I want a refund..."

It is obvious that prayers don't work that way!

So how should it work? Let's continue with the scriptures: the Brother of Jared wised up; went to Mount Shelem and molten sixteen (16) stones out of the rocks. They are white and clear like "transparent glass." And he prayed again, "... do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee..." (Ether 3:2) "...therefore touch these stones, O Lord, with thy finger, and prepare them that they may shine forth in darkness...that we may have light while we shall cross the sea..." (Ether 3:2)

See, the Brother of Jared thought about it, he exercised faith, and he ACTED upon it!!. And now he's seeking the confirmation from the Lord for his actions!

Nobody told him what to do, that was all his idea, and he physically did it all by himself and he followed up with asking the Lord to confirm what he did was right. 

(Powerpoint 12 begins) We all knew what happened next: the Lord reached out and touched those stones with his fingers. And because of his great faith, the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ showed himself unto the Brother of Jared.

That's the key, isn't it?! We need to take ACTION and simply GO DO it! That's how we have faith precede miracles: when we first undertake the task with ourselves. That's why James spoke of "...faith without works is dead" (James 2:20)

"And because of the knowledge of this man he could not be kept from beholding within the veil, and he saw the finger of Jesus...and he had faith no longer, for he knew, nothing doubting." (Ether 3:19) (powerpoint 12 ends)

Jesus said, "If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth" (Mark 9:23)

And so we see, the timing of our prayers being answered is always in "the Lord's way" (Isaiah 55:8) for he said "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither your way, my way" (Isaiah 55:8) and besides, "time is only measured unto men" (Alma 40:8).

Is it any wonder then, if our prayers are not being answered immediately? Is it because our minds were focused in something else and we don't recognize the answers when they come.

Or could it be that "because of the simpleness of the way, or the easiness of it, there many of us..." (1 Nephi 17: 41) failed to take heed of the counsel...? Or simply ignoring it?

A young girl once prayed for guidance in her career, nothing happened.She tried again in everyway she could.

Still nothing.

Finally she broke down and sobbed, "What is the matter, Lord, lovest thou me?"

At which time she was overwhelmed by the warmth of the sweet spirit knowing fully her Heavenly Father loves her.

I testify to you that many-a-times the answers may not come as a lightning bolt. It may come as a little inspiration here and a little inspiration there. "Line upon line, precept upon precept" (D&C 98:12)

Several years ago I was serving as a branch president in Hong Kong that covers the entire Kowloon Peninsula. I got a call from the missionaries that this family from Nepal was investigating the Church and asked if I could meet with them.

The address was clear out of the way in the new territories but I went anyway. I was invited into this small apartment where a father, a mother, and three teenage boys lived. The area is less than 300 square feet and there was no furniture, they slept on the floor.

The father speaks broken English and I could not understand too much of it. With the help of one of the sons interpreting, I found out more about this family: the father worked as a security guard and the mother swept the streets. The two older brothers, both have had one year of college in Nepal studying physics and math, could not afford to go to universities in Hong Kong. They were working as hard labor in construction sites.

Looking at their meager living condition, I asked the father what I could do for the family. I was expecting something like financial aid or something. But, through his son, the father said, "I want to move my family closer to the church, and I want my sons go to university..." Now that was a tall order.

But as I looked into his eyes, I was impressed with the simple faith of this good man. I said, "Can we have a prayer together? I am going to ask you to say the prayer, in your own language..." I knelt down and the father and the family followed.

I do not speak Nepali BUT I knew the father poured out his heart to our Heavenly Father for he was choking up during the prayer and I felt the spirit was there. It was a long prayer. While the father prayed, something came to my mind, what it was I did not know, but I knew that it has something to do with the family's desire. I simply could not blot that out of my mind. And that something was at the back of the Tsuen Wan Chapel. A long distance away.

It was so clear to me that I saw it in my mind again and again.

When the father finished his prayer, we got up from the floor. I wanted to leave and asked him if he could take me to the bus stop so I can take the bus to the Chapel. I remembered feeling like Nephi "And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do." (1 Nephi 4:7). But when I get to the back of the chapel, there was a bulletin board with lots of paper ads on it. Most of the ads were about rooms for rent. (powerpoint 13 begins) one of the ad caught my eye, not because of the color or the shape of the ad, but because of the address. It was 100 yards from the chapel! I called the number and it was a rental agency, I asked if it was vacant and it was. To make the long story short, I was able to make arrangement for this family to rent the place. (powerpoint 13 ends)

In answering the earnest prayer of a father, I gain inspiration and became the instrument of the Lord in moving this family from the new territories to only 100 yards to the chapel.

You'll be interested to know the rest of the story; the whole family was baptized, sealed in the temple. They met President Shumway when he was visiting Hong Kong. Both of the sons received their mission calls and one of them served here in Hawaii, completed his mission and is now studying at BYU-Hawaii. He's Brother Hemal Pun who offered the invocation this morning. 

Brothers and Sisters, think of your own self, as a student, as a faculty and staff, does this not remind you of your own personal experience, in affiliating with this BYU-Hawaii campus? Was it not a result of the many prayers uttered, by yourself, or by family members?

Didn't that come to pass - just as you're physically sitting here today?

Wasn't that a miracle by you exercising your faith, putting forth the application and overcome numerous challenges to get here?

(Powerpoint 14 begins), Verily, verily, I say unto you, if you desire a further witness, cast your mind upon the night that you cried unto me in your heart, that you might know concerning the truth of these things. Did I not speak peace to your mind concerning the matter? What greater witness can you have than from God?" (D&C 6:22, 23) (powerpoint 14 ends)

I bear testimony that prayers are answered in the Lord's way as we seek him earnestly, in English, in Nepali, even in our own clumsy expressed feelings. He knows our hearts and hears every prayer and answers in his own way.

(Powerpoint 15 begins) Consider the vision and the dedicatory prayer for the Church College of Hawaii by President David O McKay some 49 years ago.

It was not immediately answered then. It was answered through years of great faith and good works by students graduating from this campus. By wonderful faculty and staff who shared their knowledge and offered their services to you. Those of you who will be graduating next month and those of you who are still studying... you will eventually go and influence the world. You are LITERALLY part of President McKay's prayer answered in reality! (powerpoint 15 ends)

Notwithstanding, answers to our prayers may come from reading the scriptures, from listening to the speakers. And occasionally when it is important, some will come by very direct and powerful circumstances. The promptings will be very clear and unmistakable. Let me share an experience with you:

It was one of those days when the tracking seemed endless with no success and no contact. The days were getting hot. My senior companion and I walked almost mindless in an area called Shaukeiwan, search for something, but did not know what.

All of a sudden we heard sirens and commotion around the corner and decide to find out. There was a gathering of 100 people, along with firefighters working feverishly setting up a safety net, also in search of something up in the air. It seemed to us that all the attention was focused skywards.

(powerpoint 16 begins) We turned our heads upwards and saw a woman sitting on a window edge 12 stories high. (powerpoint 16 ends)

(powerpoint 17 begins) The window edge was about 2 feet long and two feet wide and she could barely sit on it - her feet dangling in the air. Apparently she had locked herself from outside so no one could reach her. She was going to jump and kill herself. Down from her, the noise of the onlookers grew louder and louder and people began to loose patience watching her and started to jeer and laugh at her (powerpoint 17 ends)

Someone noticed us: two white shirt, young missionaries standing in their midst, also looking up. In a mocking tone, one of them said, "Hey, you represent God; why don't you go up and save her?!..."

My companion looked at me and said, "Well, why don't we do just that!"

So we waded through the crowd and went to the 12th floor where this woman lived. Once inside that dinky little apartment of 100 square feet, we found ourselves stood out even more: the room was packed with policemen, firemen, paramedics and the tenants of the apartment. All looking at us with query eyes. We explained that we're from the Church and wanted to know if there was anything we could do...

Someone told us the situation: the women had a big argument with her husband hours ago over family matters. Desponded and confused, she attempted to kill herself. She climbed out of the window, locked herself UP from outside, and had been sitting there on that tiny window edge for hours. Despite all the persuasion from her husband, children and even the servicemen, she remained sitting out there and threatened to jump if people move any closer. It is now an impasse. Meanwhile, she's getting weaker and tired by the minute. And her limbs were turning stiff and blue from the wind sheer and the constant sitting.

I said to my companion: "Why don't we have a prayer?" He agreed. We looked around: there was simply no room to pray in that tiny apartment packed with people and with all the commotion going on. All, except the bathroom: it was not much of a bathroom, simply a smelly wet floor with a hole in the middle of the room that could barely fit two people. We walked in, closed the door behind us and knelt in that wet, soggy unpaved floor and began to pray.

My companion started first, pleading with the Lord if it be His will that this woman's life be spared, then allow her to come back to her love ones. Then it's my turn: we poured out our hearts earnestly pleading with our Heavenly Father for the Spirit to guide this woman in her behavior so she could be saved. We knew the TIME was running out and asked the Lord to intervene with saving this woman's life.

Suddenly, we heard a loud roar and cheer. We finished our prayers and got up from the wet floor and walked out of the bathroom. To our surprise, the cheering came from the servicemen. (powerpoint 18 begins) After all the impasse, the woman had suddenly changed her mind, reached in and handed over the keys to the locked windows and wanted to come back. (powerpoint 18 ends)

It was an emotional scene: the husband hugging and crying with his wife with the children hanging onto the parents. There were similes of content in the faces of the policemen, policewomen, the firemen and the paramedics. Everyone began to pull out from this apartment and my companion and I were amongst some 15 others all jammed into the elevator.

On our way down, one fireman spoke, "I wondered what happened there?

She's was so adamant to kill herself..."

He went on, "I bet it must be the sound of the 'jaws of life' that we're about to pry open the window that changed her mind..."

"Yeah, right..." Everyone else ECHOED and chimed IN their own version of rationale.

Then they discovered us:

two missionaries wearing white shirts and ties standing in their midst.

All eyes focused on us.

All of a sudden, no one spoke and there was dead silence in the elevator.

I turned and looked at my companion, who turned and looked at me, smiled and nodded knowingly.

We knew at that moment it was the Spirit of our Heavenly Father that had touched this woman. It had made her changed her mind and be united with her family once again.

Our prayers were answered. Right there and then.

Finally, to those who called time-out, seeking guidance in their lives through prayer and supplication,

To those who are in despair, thinking the world has turned upside down, with evil and temptations;

To those who felt the hearts of men failing them; when the pressures of the world is bearing down on you,

Consider the lyrics by Michael McClain:

It doesn't seem to matter how I try. These thoughts just keep returning to my mind.

Will He really answer me? Will he see what my heart needs?

Will he have the time for me, who feels so unworthy?

Will He really hear my prayers? Will he let me feel Him there? When He lets me know He cares enough to answer me?

He's never broken his promise, he'll be there

He hears each word, and each heart felt thought in a prayer

He's devoted to you, he'll help you know what's true

That's what He's promised to do

He marked the path that will lead his children home

Don't be afraid of the task, He'll answer you if you ask

That's what He's promised to do

Yes, He really answers me. And He knows what my heart needs

And He has the time for me, and now, I feel worthy

O He really hears my prayers, and He lets me feel Him there

When He lets me know, He cares enough to answer me

 

I bear testimony that as we pray earnestly unto the Father in the name of his beloved son Jesus Christ, keeping all of his commandments, we will feel his spirit.

For you who call a time-out seeking comfort and guidance, be NOT despair. (powerpoint 19 begins) "...know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?" (D&C 122:8) (powerpoint 19 ends)

"For with God, nothing shall be impossible" (Luke 1:37) . May we learn to recognize the answers from our prayers,

Is my testimony, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.