Every time we pray, we face a paradox. On the one hand, we know that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). We are imperfect mortals with limited perspective attempting to communicate with a Being who knows infinitely more than we do. On the other hand, He has commanded us to pray to Him and has promised to answer our prayers. “Ye must always pray unto the Father in my name,” the Savior said. (3 Nephi 18:19).
Jesus highlighted this paradox when He advised against grandiloquence in prayer: “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him,” He reminded His listeners in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:8). And the brother of Jared highlighted this paradox when he approached the Lord with a bold request:
O Lord, thou hast said that we must be encompassed about by the floods. Now behold, O Lord, and do not be angry with thy servant because of his weakness before thee; for we know that thou art holy and dwellest in the heavens, and that we are unworthy before thee; because of the fall our natures have become evil continually; nevertheless, O Lord, thou hast given us a commandment that we must call upon thee, that from thee we may receive according to our desires (Ether 3:2).
It’s important to keep that unequal relationship in mind as we pray. We don’t talk with God as we would talk with a friend. The prophet Jacob warned us against a casual attitude in our communications with God: “Seek not to counsel the Lord, but to take counsel from his hand. For behold, ye yourselves know that he counseleth in wisdom, and in justice, and in great mercy, over all his works” (Jacob 4:10).
In this context, we can better understand Alma’s advice to his son Helaman: “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good” (Alma 37:37). To counsel is to consult with someone, to give or to receive advice. If two peers are counseling with each other, there might be a lot of give and take in the conversation. They might bounce ideas off of each other, suggest alternative approaches, and critique one another’s ideas. But counseling with the Lord is different: we are asking advice from the Lord of the Universe. We can count on His guidance being useful.
Elder David A. Bednar has taught that our morning and evening prayers are an appropriate opportunity to counsel with the Lord. Meaningful morning prayers help us visualize our day before it happens and give the Lord an opportunity to provide guidance that will be relevant to us that day. Elder Bednar suggested that we use our morning prayer to “plead for understanding, direction, and help” and that we strive to follow the guidance we receive throughout the day. In the evening, we report back:
We review the events of the day and express heartfelt thanks for the blessings and the help we received. We repent and, with the assistance of the Spirit of the Lord, identify ways we can do and become better tomorrow. Thus our evening prayer builds upon and is a continuation of our morning prayer. And our evening prayer also is a preparation for meaningful morning prayer (“Pray Always,” General Conference, October 2008).
Today, I will counsel with the Lord. I will take the opportunity in the morning to ask God for advice about the decisions I face today. I will strive to follow the advice I receive. Tonight, I will report back and discuss how I have done on following His counsel. I will remember that my prayers are more effective when I not only express gratitude and ask for blessings but also seek advice and counsel from the Lord.