The Incredible Power of Being Specific in Prayer

A few years ago, Brett and I learned an interesting lesson about being intentional and specific in our prayers. He was working at a job that he’d had for a few years and I had just started my marketing studio, but despite living in a town with a relatively low cost of living, we were struggling to make ends meet. Brett also had plans to return to school that fall, but we knew there was no way we’d be able to afford it if we continued on our current trajectory. 

We had come to the conclusion that Brett needed to find a new job, and he had the inspired idea to make a list of the specific things that job needed to provide. He felt like we needed to be as detailed as possible, and nothing was off the table—even if it seemed like too big of an ask. We listed minimum pay, specific benefits, social atmosphere, schedule details, even things like tuition assistance and opportunities for him to thrive. 

And then we prayed for those things. We’d hold the list as we prayed and read it so that we didn’t miss any details. We also prayed to know if there was anything we should add to or remove from the list, and occasionally, we did make updates. 

After about six months of offering these specific prayers, Brett was offered a job that ticked off every item on our list. Not just some of them. All of them—plus a few bonuses we hadn’t even considered. We knew that the Lord had heard and answered our prayers, and we have tried to follow that same pattern any time we have a need or a challenge in our lives. 

Ask and Ye Shall Receive

I love this description of prayer: 

Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

I don’t want to suggest that I believe we can pray for anything and God will give us whatever we want. He’s certainly not going to grant us unrighteous desires, and as an Omnipotent God, He knows when a “no” will do us much more good than a “yes.” 

But as we followed the inspiration Brett had received, we learned that being specific in our prayers allowed the Lord to grant us those blessings that He had already prepared for us, but that were “conditional on our asking for them.” 

This week in Come, Follow Me, we have been studying the Jaredites’ journey to the promised land (Ether 1-5). This story might be my very favorite story in all of scripture (in fact, I’ve written about it before). As I read through it this time, I realized that there is much we can learn from this account about saying specific prayers. 

Ask the Lord What to Pray For

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve said a prayer that went something like, “I just… I can’t… ugh… HELLLLLPPPPP.” When life gets overwhelming, it can be hard to know what you need, much less how to articulate that in a prayer. Thankfully, we can turn to the Lord for that, too. He has plenty of experience answering prayers that started with, “Dear God, I don’t know where to start…” Even our friends Jared and his brother asked for a few more details to point them in the right direction. 

And it came to pass that Jared spake again unto his brother, saying: Go and inquire of the Lord whether he will drive us out of the land, and if he will drive us out of the land, cry unto him whither we shall go. And who knoweth but the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth? And if it so be, let us be faithful unto the Lord, that we may receive it for our inheritance.

Ether 1:38

Something else I love about that verse is their optimism and trust in God: “Who knoweth but that the Lord will carry us forth into a land which is choice above all the earth?” Instead of looking at the turmoil their community was undoubtedly struggling through and adopting a “wo is us” mentality, they approached it as an opportunity for great blessings. When we face challenges and uncertain futures, do we wring our hands and fret, or do we say, “The Lord is going to make something good out of this. I just know it.” 

The Lord is going to make something good out of it. He always does. Remember, He wants to bless us, and He delights in giving good gifts

As we put aside our human tendency to worry, we can trust the Lord to guide us toward something great. Part of that will include helping you know how to pray. Not only did the Lord inspire Brett to make the list, but we could also feel the Lord guiding us to adjustments that needed to be made to bring our desires in line with His plan for us. 

Be Patient

Brett and I had to pray for a few months before we received the answer we had been seeking. Likewise, Jared and his brother had to wait a while before they received word that they were, in fact, going to be led to “a land which is choice above all the lands of the earth.” Notice what the Lord says unto them: 

 

And there will I bless thee and thy seed, and raise up unto me of thy seed, and of the seed of thy brother, and they who shall go with thee, a great nation. And there shall be none greater than the nation which I will raise up unto me of thy seed, upon all the face of the earth. And thus I will do unto thee because this long time ye have cried unto me.

Ether 1:43

I think many of us who are familiar with this story think of it as a quick succession of events. They prayed for their families, their language was protected, and then the Lord led them out of Shinar and toward a promised land. Check. Check. Check.

But that’s probably not how it actually worked. Sounds to me like the Brother of Jared prayed for a long time before they were told to gather their families, friends, livestock, and provisions and head toward the promised land.

There are so many stories throughout scripture and history of people having to wait for the fulfillment of long-awaited blessings and answers to prayers. Sarah. Rebecca. Hannah. Elisabeth. Alma’s people waiting to be freed from bondage. Joseph suffering in Liberty Jail. Israel laboring in Egypt and then wandering in the desert for 40 years. If you feel like you’re having to wait a long time, you are in good company.

It can be tempting to think that if the Lord was going to answer your prayer, He would have done so by now. But like all of those people who had to wait for their promised blessings, you can trust that the Lord will answer your prayer when the timing is just right.

Don’t Be Content with “Close Enough”

In the midst of our efforts to find Brett a new job, we found one that we thought might be the answer. However, it didn’t quite tick all the boxes—most, but not all. Brett applied anyways, but ultimately was not offered the job.

In our story of the Jaredites, the people find themselves in a really lovely place: they’re still in the wilderness, but they’re safe, they’ve got plenty of game to feed them all, and they don’t have any noisy neighbors. As far as they were concerned, this may have been the promised land they were seeking. 

But the Lord knew better. 

And the Lord would not suffer that they should stop beyond the sea in the wilderness, but he would that they should come forth even unto the land of promise, which was choice above all other lands, which the Lord God had preserved for a righteous people.

Ether 2:7

If the Jaredites had stopped there, they never would have reached the land the Lord had prepared for them. Likewise, if Brett had gotten that first job, he never would have found the job he has now—a job that does check all the boxes and has been an incredible blessing for us. And when Brett did find the right job, we knew it. There was no “well, maaaaaybe” feeling. It felt like the Lord had handed him the job on a platter.

It was more than good enough. It was perfect.

In our lives, how often do we settle for “close enough”? My dear friend Jenny once said, “God is a dreamer, and His dreams are bigger than yours.” God wants what is truly best for us. He wants to give us good gifts. He doesn’t want us to settle or be content with less than we could potentially have. We shouldn’t be content with terrestrial blessings when celestial blessings await us.

Asking For Help is Part of the Plan

The Lord tells the Jaredites to build barges to cross the ocean. He even tells them how to build them, and by following those instructions, the people build barges that are so watertight, they’re compared to dishes.[1]

But there’s a problem. Because they’re so watertight, they’re also airtight and dark. The brother of Jared goes to the Lord with this specific prayer: 

O Lord, I have performed the work which thou hast commanded me, and I have made the barges according as thou hast directed me.

And behold, O Lord, in them there is no light; whither shall we steer? And also we shall perish, for in them we cannot breathe, save it is the air which is in them; therefore we shall perish.

Ether 2:18-19

It would be oh, so easy to look at the barges they had built and determine that there was a flaw in God’s plan because they would not sustain life. But what if asking for help was part of the plan all along? What if the Lord gave directions that would require the brother of Jared to come to Him in prayer, seeking further instructions? Later in the Book of Ether, we learn that the Lord gives us weaknesses to encourage us to come to Him for strength rather than relying on our own.[2]

Running into challenges is the perfect time to practice praying specific prayers. Take your problems to the Lord, and He will help you find solutions.

Don’t Wait Until You Have All the Answers to Act

In answer to the brother of Jared’s prayer, the Lord tells him how to fix the issue with the air.

And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: Behold, thou shalt make a hole in the top, and also in the bottom; and when thou shalt suffer for air thou shalt unstop the hole and receive air. And if it be so that the water come in upon thee, behold, ye shall stop the hole, that ye may not perish in the flood.

And it came to pass that the brother of Jared did so, according as the Lord had commanded.

Ether 2:20-21

What I love about this part is that although the Lord has not yet given the Brother of Jared all of the answers he prayed for, he still got to work doing what the Lord had told him to do. The Lord often uses a “line upon line, precept upon precept” pattern of teaching.[3] He gives us a little bit of knowledge, waits for us to act on the new knowledge we have received, then gives us a little more.

As you wait patiently for the answer to your specific prayers, don’t just sit there. As the Lord tells the brother of Jared in Ether 2:16, “Go to work.” Look for that job. Apply to that college. Go to the doctor. In Moroni’s impassioned letter to Pahoran, he asks, “Do ye suppose that the Lord will still deliver us, while we sit upon our thrones and do not make use of the means which the Lord has provided for us?” The Lord will guide us and give us strength and provide opportunities, but it’s up to us to act on the understanding we have until He gives us more light.

His WIll Be Done

After the Brother of Jared does as the Lord instructed in regards to adding an air hole to the top and bottom of each barge, he comes back to repeat his question about the light. He asks, “Wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness?”

What if the answer had been yes? What if that really is what the Lord had needed them to do? 

I have no doubt that, had that been the case, Jared and his brother and all of their people would have crossed the great water in darkness. Reading this caused me to ponder what I would do in the same situation, and I came to the conclusion that it would have taken a lot of faith to accept the Lord’s will. 

As we pray our specific prayers, we need to be ready to accept His answer, even if it’s not what we want to hear. Elder David A. Bednar tells a moving story of a couple facing a difficult diagnosis with faith and trust in the Lord. Although they prayed for healing, they also expressed a willingness to continue believing and trusting the Lord even if that healing did not come. 

Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in moving mountains—if moving mountains accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Righteousness and faith certainly are instrumental in healing the sick, deaf, and lame—if such healing accomplishes God’s purposes and is in accordance with His will. Thus, even if we have strong faith, many mountains will not be moved. And not all of the sick and infirm will be healed. If all opposition were curtailed, if all maladies were removed, then the primary purposes of the Father’s plan would be frustrated.

Many of the lessons we are to learn in mortality can be received only through the things we experience and sometimes suffer. And God expects and trusts us to face temporary mortal adversity with His help so we can learn what we need to learn and ultimately become what we are to become in eternity.

What Wilt Thou Have Me Do?

Just like the Lord encouraged us to come up with a list of things we hoped to find in Brett‘s new job, the Lord gave the brother of Jared the opportunity to think about what he needed and propose a solution.

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.

Ether 2:23
The Lord told him what wouldn’t work (windows and fire), but nothing else was off the table. After pondering this dilemma, the brother of Jared makes 16 stones of pure glass and asks the Lord to touch them and fill them with His light. It doesn’t get much more specific than that. Was it a crazy idea? Maybe—but he knew the Lord could do it. There are going to be times that the Lord will say to us, “What will ye that I should do?” And provided those desires are righteous and align with His will, He will grant them. If have no doubt that if Brett and I had prayed for a completely different list of job details and followed the same pattern of adjusting the list as prompted by the Spirit, he could have ended up in a different job that still would have been perfect for him.

The Answer

When the Lord grants the brother of Jared’s request, something unexpected happens: his faith is so strong that it pierces the veil and allows him to see the finger of the Lord as He touches the stones. Because of this faith, the Lord reveals himself to the brother of Jared and shows him such marvelous things that Moroni later said, “there never were greater things made manifest than those which were made manifest unto the brother of Jared.” [4]

And here’s the thing: the scriptures aren’t just bedtime stories about people who experienced wonderful things, they’re an instruction manual for how we can experience wonderful things for ourselves. As we offer intentional, specific prayers to the Lord, we, too, can see evidence of His hand in our lives. When Brett found his job, it was undeniably clear to us that the job was a direct answer to our prayers. We continue to see the Lord working in our lives through that job and through the opportunities that it has provided for us. 

I honestly think that we too often hold ourselves back when we pray. We are intentionally vague in our prayers in an effort to not appear demanding or entitled. We don’t completely believe that the Lord will grant our petition. We settle for “close enough” or give up because things are taking longer than we might hope, or we think our prayers are too crazy—or maybe even too simple for the Lord to take notice. 

But if the brother of Jared teaches us anything, it’s that faithful, specific prayers open the door to powerful and lifechanging experiences with the Lord. 

God wants to bless you, and intentional, specific prayer is “an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.” 

Jess
Learn More

This story of the brother of Jared is found in the Book of Mormon. You can read it here

If you’d like to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I highly recommend ComeUntoChrist.org. You can learn about our beliefs, chat with missionaries, and even request a copy of the Bible or the Book of Mormon.

I’m also happy to answer any questions you might have. Feel free to send me an email and I’ll be sure to answer!

If you found this post helpful, please share it! Thanks!

The Incredible Power of Being Specific in Prayer

[1] Ether 2:16-17  (Back)

[2] Ether 2:27 (Back)

[3] D&C 98:12 (Back)

[4] Ether 4:4 (Back)

Featured image by Fizkes/Adobe Stock. 

One Response

  1. Thank you, Jess! I really appreciated reading your blog post today. I’m going to try being more specific in my prayers. I’m so glad that Brett got the job your family needed. You are such a wonderful person, Jess! I love you!

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I’m a quirky Canadian-American who’s always ready for the next adventure. I always return my shopping carts to the cart corral, I fold gum wrappers into origami cranes, and I polish my nerd badge daily. I am passionate about helping women intentionally make space for the things that bring them true joy. Read more about me and my mission here.

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