23 And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels? For behold, ye cannot have windows, for they will be dashed in pieces; neither shall ye take fire with you, for ye shall not go by the light of fire.
24 For behold, ye shall be as a whale in the midst of the sea; for the mountain waves shall dash upon you. Nevertheless, I will bring you up again out of the depths of the sea; for the winds have gone forth out of my mouth, and also the rains and the floods have I sent forth.
25 And behold, I prepare you against these things; for ye cannot cross this great deep save I prepare you against the waves of the sea, and the winds which have gone forth, and the floods which shall come. 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?
When I think about the contents of my prayers, I generally think of the following three categories:
- Expressing gratitude – We have been taught that one of the important purposes of prayer is to thank Heavenly Father for our blessings, and this is definitely an important component of my prayers.
- Asking for blessings – A good portion of my prayers (sometimes too much) is dedicated to asking God for specific blessings for me and for others.
- Asking for guidance – Besides asking for blessings (which does not require me to listen for an answer) I also have specific questions which do require me to listen for an answer. This portion of my prayers is more like a dialogue, in which I present a challenge I face to the Lord, and pay attention to my thoughts and feelings, listening for a response.
In the passage above, we see another form of communication: God can ask us questions. In this circumstance, the brother of Jared was working out the logistical difficulties relating to his group’s upcoming voyage across the sea. One of the issues he had identified was the lack of light in the barges they had built. In the verses prior to this passage, he asks God twice about this apparent deficiency in the design of the vessels:
- “O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer?” (Ether 2:19)
- “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?” (Ether 2:22)
In response, the Lord asks the brother of Jared a question: “What will ye that I should do?” In conjunction with this question, He identifies two constraints—no windows and no fire—and He explains why neither of those answers would be practical. Then, He reiterates the question: “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?”
I love this exchange between the brother of Jared and God. It illustrates the rich communication that is possible in our prayers if we learn to listen. It also demonstrates the love and respect our Heavenly Father has for us. He wants us to be successful as agents, not as mindless automatons. Like any good teacher, He encourages us to think things through, to propose solutions, and to learn from those experiences what works and what doesn’t.
After Oliver Cowdery’s failed attempt to translate a portion of the Book of Mormon, the Lord taught him that we need to be prepared to use our minds when we approach Him in prayer. Oliver failed because “you took no thought save it was to ask me.” Instead, he was instructed to “study it out in your mind, then…ask me if it be right” (D&C 9:7-8).
Today, I will remember that God is not only willing to answer my prayers, but that He is using this communication as a tool to help me grow. When I approach Him in prayer, I will be diligent. I will think things through. I will propose solutions as appropriate. I will be prepared to receive answers from Him in whatever form they might take. I will remember that I am the student, and He is my teacher.