A few weeks ago my husband prepared our family home evening lesson on prayer. It was a really wonderful lesson and he shared a conference talk that was given in April of 2004 entitled But If Not by Dennis E. Simmons. I have reflected on this talk again and again since that family home evening. It was a talk that spoke directly to my heart and helped me understand prayer more fully.
One of my main questions about prayer is how do I make sure my will and desires are aligned with God’s will for me? We are taught to ask of God who giveth to all men liberally. In church we learn that God wants us to ask for His help. So I have often asked for help from God in a very specific manner, but I have always wanted to convey my openness to God’s plan and that I want what He knows is best for me, even if I can’t understand it myself.
I have wanted to express my true faith in God that He can accomplish anything I ask of Him, while being humble enough to recognize that He may or may not grant me my specific wants or needs in the time that I ask for them, or even in this life.
In his talk, Elder Simmons relates the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego and how they would not worship the golden idol. Nebuchadnezzar was furious and commanded they be thrown into a fiery furnace and posed the question “And who is that God that shall deliver you out of my hands?”
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego responded “Our God whom we served is able to deliver us, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.” And then, in true faith they added “But if not… we will not serve thy gods, or worship the golden images thou has set up.”
I loved Elder Simmons full commentary on this scriptures story, so it is definitely worth reading or listening to, but I especially loved the phrase “But if not.” I feel like it is the piece I have been missing in my prayers in order to more fully communicate my desires to God. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego had full faith that God could and would deliver them, but they also had full faith in God that if he did not, they still refused to do what they knew was wrong.
I often feel like I have full faith that God can and will help me in the ways I stand in need, but the real question is will I continue to have true faith in Him if he does not.
I don’t think God gives us trials to see if we will turn to Him so He can immediately take them away. If He did this we might learn that God is there for us, but how else would we grow and develop? I think the purpose of some trials in our life is to see if we can walk through them, ever having faith in God until the day and time he allows that trial to be lifted.
This is hard, especially when we have righteous desires. Marriage, having children, having good health, finding a good job, all seem to be really righteous endeavors, things we pray continually for God’s help to accomplish, and yet sometimes we are not granted those things, at least immediately.
I know for me it is difficult standing in the present moment looking forward, wondering if in five years I will be blessed with my current righteous desires. I have complete faith that God can grant me all the blessing I seek, but do I have the true faith that is required for the “but if not.” It’s something I am still developing.
I do however have a profound experience in my life where I have had righteous desires and waited (sometimes not very patiently) for those blessings to come, and they did come. The amazing thing about it is that I was able to experience my own personal miracle, I was able to see for myself and in my own life that God is a God of miracles, and now I hold onto that experience. If God had just granted me all I ever wanted, whenever I wanted, I would not have been able to participate in that miracle, and it has become a huge source of strength in my life.
I love one phrase in particular in Elder Simmons talk. He says “We don’t seek tribulation, but if we respond in faith, the Lord strengthens us. The but if nots become remarkable blessings.”
I know that is true.