Saturday, January 7, 2012

Prayer - There is someone listening

Prayer means very different things to different people. I hadn’t given that concept much thought before today.  I mean, prayer is prayer, right? To me, it is many things, including but not limited to:
1.       A way to communicate with God, my Heavenly Father, about whatever
2.       A way to build a relationship with my Heavenly Father
3.       A source of comfort (from my Heavenly Father), which I can access whenever I need it
4.       A means of expressing gratitude, needs, desires or aspirations
5.       A starting (and ending) point for inspiration and understanding, questions and answers

Today, while on the way to a date with Gillian (or already on it, I guess), we were listening to the CBC Radio program, Definitely Not The Opera (D.N.T.O.). Today, their subject was the “Power of Prayer”.  They featured a number of interviews and perspectives with different individuals, including celebrities, authors, random people on the street, as well as the main program host. It prompted some intense thinking and a lively discussion.

As each interviews unfolded, the people explained their views on what prayer was and what it did or didn’t do for them or what it had or hadn’t done. They related experiences where they (or someone near them) had prayed for them or someone else. Then they explained (or perhaps they rationalized) the outcome. It was frustrating to listen to people come so close to grasping the true power of prayer and its purpose, only to hear them explain away what happened, cast aside the experience or make light of the relationship and the source of the power.

On the program, most of the people made a first or second step towards what I would consider to be a grasp of what prayer is, or at least what it can be. Here is what I heard and what I think about the principle of prayer that they took missed. It isn’t exhaustive, but it is a start.

1.       Where is prayer directed? People didn’t make the connection with the end point or who receives prayer. Most did not acknowledge that it was directed at God. Some of them sort of figured that prayer was simply focused thought(s).
  • Prayer is communication with a loving Heavenly Father. It isn’t (or shouldn’t be) empty words. There is someone listening. By ignoring or dismissing that there is someone on the other end, we undermine the ability of our Heavenly Father participate in our lives and blind ourselves to the blessings and miracles that occur.

2.      A Prayerful Heart? People made a big deal about saying prayer in unusual places or seemed to think that prayer could only be done at certain times and places.
  • We need to grasp the concept of “a prayerful heart” and that we can pray always. I have always felt that I can offer a simple, silent prayer as it is needed, whether before a test, a random or routine job task or to express my gratitude for the help that I have had from my Heavenly Father. I have also prayed at more regular occasions. Prayer is personal and doesn’t have to be a public show, but should be used often.

3.       Is Prayer a Recipe? I think that people get hung up on the words or think that prayer is a recipe that will only turn out right if you do it just so. People seem to think that prayer is something that is laid out for you to recite and then it is done. Some of the interviewees thought that prayer was some sort of repetitive expression.
  • Prayer is, in basic terms, communication or a conversation with our Heavenly Father. As such, while there is a basic format, we have the opportunity to speak freely, expressing our gratitude and thankfulness, as well as asking for help, answers to questions, etc. I feel that prayer is personal and should be used to communicate and draw closer to God; something that I think is restricted or inhibited when we use rote prayers. When I pray, I express myself and there is the ability to create a dialogue back and forth, with inspiration the result.

4.       The Purposes and Potential for Prayer? People missed the many potential purposes of prayer and the blessings that it can bring to their lives. On the program, people recounted that they hadn’t prayed in 20+ years or seemed to make light of what had happened and didn’t continue.
  • Prayer can be for help, comfort, questions, to express gratitude or to build a relationship with our Heavenly Father. People didn’t recognize that prayer is powerful. I have been greatly blessed by prayer, but through my own application of it and through the support of others.

5.       Prayer + Faith + Action? People didn’t link prayer, faith and action. It is an empty process for them.
  • Prayer is a process and an active tool, at least to me. We need to have faith that what we ask for can be given and we need to have faith that it will be given in an appropriate way. Some people acknowledged that prayer did change their perspective but they undermined it and attributed the results to themselves or something else.

6.       Results from Prayer? People didn’t acknowledge the feelings or positive impact that they experienced during and after prayer. Some felt more at peace. Some felt better. Some recognized the importance of regular prayer, but didn’t make the connection with the act and the results.
  • Prayer brings tangible results, in the form of feelings, impressions and sometimes very powerful answers and impacts. Prayer draws us closer to God and will be an influence for good in our lives.

I have great faith in prayer. This has come as a result of years of experience, as well as many experiences. I was taught about prayer from an early age, about the application(s) and the power of prayer. I saw the powerful example of my parents. I was encouraged to make prayer a tangible and practical spiritual tool, rather than some sort of inflexible or prescribed recipe or recital. I learned and I experienced how prayer can and should be linked with the actions in our lives. I learned that you can go to your Heavenly Father at any time, about anything. He is there and he will not only listen, but will provide answers to prayers. As life has continued, I’ve continued to pray. I’ve seen the positive influence in my life and the life of my family. I try to teach (and show) the potential power that prayer can have in the lives of my children and family.

Prayer is a powerful gift and a wonderful opportunity for us to use. I am so grateful for my understanding of prayer and that I have been fortunate enough to receive answers to my prayers. I know that when I pray, someone is actively listening and things will happen as a result.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Directed Motivation with Delusions of Improvement (a.k.a. Goals)

The year 2012 was barely 12 hours old and I'd already heard one talk in church and I'd led one discussion on the importance of setting goals. By 36 hours, I'd led a second goal setting discussion with my wife and kids and we'd established some simple goals for myself and my family. I expect that more introspection and internal, mental churning will take place over the coming days and weeks. Let's just say that there is lots to improve on.

There is something about the dawning of a new year that drives humans to evaluate their lives and to creatively (and sometimes unrealistically) outline a new path or to attempt a self-re-invention or to conduct a specified overhaul of their lives. Personally, I am all for it. I figure, if we aren't taking a serious look at ourselves and our habits, behaviours, qualities and our general progress in life, we are living in a delusional half-life or at least a proverbial "mental cave".

Goals serve several purposes. They:
  1. narrow our focus and attention and direct our efforts (potentially improving our efficiency)
  2. result in an increase in effort (again linked to efficiency)
  3. give us more reason to work through setbacks and obstacles
  4. can lead to change in attitudes and behaviour
During my preparation for my lesson on Sunday, I came across some good points that really highlight the importance of focused and "true" goal setting (as opposed to false/fake goals). During the ensuing discussion, there were some excellent points raised by men I really respect, as well as some of those great mental AH-HA moments that I am always grateful to receive.

The first quotation that I shared with my class was one by O. Leslie Stone (I was informed that he is an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy - good to know).

“We should all constantly evaluate our progress. To live righteous lives and accomplish the purpose of our creation, we must constantly review the past, determine our present status, and set goals for the future. Without this process there is little chance of reaching one’s objectives”

I have to ditto this one. I think that it is absolutely critical for us to constantly assess our progress in life relative to our overall purpose in life. We can't truly tell if we are gaining ground or making headway unless we take an occasional look behind us. Looking backwards occasionally has the added advantage of providing us with the necessary perspective we require to make course adjustments and corrections throughout our lives. That is why experience is in the past.

To clarify, I don't think that you have to spend all of your time "micro-checking" your progress, as this is counter-productive, but you should do periodic checks. These checks can (and probably should) be a part of your goal setting process, with milestones and check stops built into your overall goal(s). Milestones are sort of like micro-goals or stages within your goals, regardless of whether the goals are short, medium or long-term.

Another great quotation that I came across that really resonated with me was one by Elder Dean L. Larsen (an emeritus member of the Quorum of the Seventy of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints). He taught:

“An important distinction must be made between the potentially confining aspects of setting specific goals and the much more encompassing need of having a general purpose in life. This distinction is more than a play upon words. One’s purpose in life has an overriding influence on what he does with his time, energy, and resources...”

“Unless the goals and objectives an individual works toward are harmonious with his general purpose in life, a devastating kind of internal conflict can develop which is destructive to happiness and personal development. Appropriate, useful goals and objectives must be a direct outgrowth of one’s perceived purpose in life. Otherwise they can lead to a random expenditure of effort and resources that may not contribute effectively to long-range progress.”

To me, the take home message from Elder Larsen is how important it is for us to clearly recognize and accept what our overarching priorities and purposes in life are. If we set goals that are out of synch with our priorities, we'll make no progress and I think that we will actually do some damage to ourselves (sort of a disruptive disharmony - if you can wrap your head around that). Focused goals are good. Focused goals that align and mesh with our priorities are better. Honest, appropriate effort towards our goals that align with our priorities is best.

Elder M. Russell Ballard, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has a number of excellent points relating to goal setting. I have to say that I had several of my AH-HA moments while discussing or considering what he taught.

"When you set a goal and commit yourself to the necessary self-discipline to reach that goal, you will eliminate most of the problems in your life. Spend your energies doing those things that will make a difference.”

He also taught:

"I am so thoroughly convinced that if we don’t set goals in our life and learn how to master the technique of living to reach our goals, we can reach a ripe old age and look back on our life only to see that we reached but a small part of our full potential."

Another quotation from Elder Ballard:

"I would suggest that if you want to have success in the goal-setting process, you learn to write your goals down. I would even put them in a prominent place—on your mirror or on the refrigerator door."

What I keyed in on in these quotations were the points suggesting that while setting a goal is important, commitment and self-discipline are required to achieving the goal. It is how we live and what we do towards a goal that matters. The goal is the end, whereas self-discipline, commitment and the expenditure of energy are the means to that end.

I also liked the point of writing down a goal. Somehow moving a thought or a conviction from the mental sphere into the physically tangible realm makes it more real. Posting it, or as the class discussion suggested, sharing it with a loved one (spouse, family member, trusted friend) or by sharing it with God, you put it out there to be remembered. An added advantage would be that you gain the potential for support and encouragement. That is powerful.

Some final, simple quotations on goal setting. Perhaps this'll give you what you need to make some changes in your life. I know that I am going to start the process, soon.

Benjamin N. Woodson said...

“All you need to do is this: Beginning this very day, stop doing some one thing you know you should not do.” After you have written this one thing down, stop doing it! He continues “Start doing each day some one thing you know you should do!”

Elder M. Russell Ballard

"Perfection is a process and not an event, and you will come to appreciate that perfection is an internal matter, not external. It is a process by which you and I learn to eliminate the things in life that are not good, replace them with the things in life that are eternal in nature, with the objective and thought that perfection is obtainable, but it must be earned."

Launch of a Blog

Amidst the wrap up of one year and the launch of another, I find that there is a flurry of thinking, reflecting and general, semi-productive navel gazing that takes place.  Perhaps it is linked to increased turkey intake, combined with general holiday lethargy, euphoria and chocolate.  Also possible, and perhaps more likely, it is due to a subconscious desire to feel like I've contributed something of value to someone or that I have another creative outlet for the "deep" thoughts (or shallow, depending on the topic) that occasionally cross my mind.

Regardless of the cause, I found myself considering creating a blog, and with a few clicks of a button, here it is.  Who knows what the result will be, but I am all a-tingle at the prospects.