Your Friday Firestorm #45

So, in accordance with this, my determination to ask of God, I retired to the woods to make the attempt. It was on the morning of a beautiful, clear day, early in the spring of eighteen hundred and twenty. It was the first time in my life that I had made such an attempt, for amidst all my anxieties I had never as yet made the attempt to pray vocally.

(Joseph Smith: History 1:14)

Discuss. (warning: language!)


  1. sister blah 2 says:

    Ok, I’ll go ahead and make the comment that seems inevitable in this thread, “There’s no firestorm in these verses.”

    Video is hilarious though.

  2. Mark IV says:

    I’ve always wondered why he emphasizes praying vocally. When we are alone, isn’t a silent prayer just a good as one which is vocalized?

  3. You’ve got to start somewhere.

  4. I’ve often felt a little more focused when I pray vocally. Perhaps the formality creates the increased focus, which helps increase faith. Formality can have its uses.

    Interestingly, though, I’ve always thought that if one is worried about making sure that Satan is not the answerer of the prayer, it seems best to pray silently:

    Yea, I tell thee, that thou mayest know that there is none else save God that knowest thy thoughts and the intents of thy heart. (D&C 6:16).

    That is, if this is to be taken literally.

  5. Kevin Barney says:

    I’ve only visited the sacred grove once, a long time ago. The sun was high in the sky and came down filtered through the leaves of the large trees. I could almost imagine a pillar of light descending upon me in that location.

  6. (Meaning if the wording in D&C 6:16 is meant to be taken literally, not the First Vision, which I understand Joseph Smith to mean literally)

  7. Mark IV says:

    Kevin, same here. It is a beautiful place.

    I was once visiting there with a ten year old boy to whom I am closely related. As we walked among the trees, I talked a lot, because I was anxious for him to feel some kind of a spiritual witness that this is a sacred place. Eventually, he said he wished that JS had kept a better record so we could know exactly where it happened. I was thrilled and said that, yes, it would be good to know the precise location where JS saw God. He replied “No, I mean the place where the devil came.”

    So much for my attempts at spiritual pedagogy!

  8. If you read the first vision in the context of evangelical conversion narratives, the attempting for the first time to pray aloud makes more sense. These early American evangelicals, in their attempt to experience conversion through diligently seeking the Lord and confessing their sins, often would try praying in a manner previously not tried by them. For young Joseph, among others, this meant praying aloud.

  9. Steve Evans says:

    ‘Twas the boy’s first uttered prayer! Really?

  10. I thought he meant his first out loud prayer when no one else was around.

  11. Ardis Parshall says:

    Enos seems to have been hollering his prayer (“I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens,” Enos 1:4). Try to put that to music.

  12. Well, maybe he doesn’t mean literally, because with a religious family like his, I can’t imagine that they haven’t all uttered prayers at the dinner table or some kind of evening prayer thing. And wouldn’t he have prayed vocally as a little child learning to say a prayer?

    I take this as the first serious, attempted conversation with Heavenly Father aloud.

    Also, I have had the same thoughts as JT. I prefer to keep my prayers silent because I don’t want the devil hearin’ my pleas! Praying aloud makes me feel a little vulnerable to the universe.

    But that’s probably just me!

  13. I have the same feeling about prayer as meems. I always pray silently so I can’t give Satan any more ammo in his game plan against me. Maybe that’s just naive. Last year in Gen. Conference Richard G. Scott said:

    I wonder if we can ever really fathom the immense power of prayer until we encounter an overpowering, urgent problem and realize that we are powerless to resolve it. Then we will turn to our Father in humble recognition of our total dependence on Him. It helps to find a secluded place where our feelings can be vocally expressed as long and as intensely as necessary.

    So that confused me a bit. Does it have more effect if it’s vocal?

  14. hawkgrrrl says:

    JT – I have often wondered this too. So, here’s how it works (in my theory anyway). If you keep things in your heart (like Mary), Satan tries to tempt you with every hook he can throw at you, but once you start blabbing (or emailing), he knows which hooks will be most effective and can be more targeted in his temptations. Not just vocal prayer (which is probably not great fodder for Satan’s data-gathering purposes anyway), but everything we say, do, and blog.

  15. hawkgrrrl says:

    Oh, and “amidst all my anxieties” – nice alliteration. It didn’t strike me before how “anxious” he was. Was JS a nervous, moody child? Lucy Mack Smith says he was very reflective on topics of religion, but anxiety seems like he was worried and upset.

  16. Joseph Smith’s brother William (born 1811) recalled family devotions in which their parents had done the praying:

    “My Fathers religious Customs often become eark some or tiresome to me while in my younger days as I made no profession of Christanity. Still I was Called upon to listen to Prayrs boath night and morning.
    . . . . .
    “My parents[,] Father and Mother[,] pourd out their Souls to God the doner of all Blessings, to keep and gard their children & keep them Sin and from all evil works.” [William Smith, “Notes Written on ‘Chambers’ Life of Joseph Smith,'” ca. 1875; LDS Archives, quoted here from Early Mormon Documents 1:487]

    Given the limited privacy of small family dwellings – and the novelty of revival-like incidents – I expect that many people must have experienced some sense of newness, even discomfort, when uttering their first serious vocal pleas for conversion, justification or sanctification. “I had never as yet attempted to pray . . . ,” recalled Benjamin Putnam of Topsham, Vermont, regarding a distant revival of religion which impressed his family when he was thirteen years of age. But on January 14, 1802, after wasting “the evening at a neighbor’s, in company with a number of youth in vain recreation,” Benjamin returned home overcome with guilt, and opened his heart to his parents. While walking the room “in the keenest anguish,” he relates, “I instantly had a view as I thought, of the Lord Jesus Christ with his arms extended in an inviting posture—and at the same time this passage of scripture came forcibly to my mind as though he spoke it, ‘Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.'” (Benjamin Putnam [b. 1788], A Sketch of the Life of Elder Benj. Putnam, Embracing His Christian Experience, Call to the Ministry, Together with An Account of the Religious Changes Through Which He Has Passed . . . Woodstock, [Vermont]: Printed by David Watson, 1821, pp. 15-19)

    Below are three more selections with some relevance to today’s firestorm. The texts which follow are all quotes, preceded by introductory citations within square brackets:

    [The Christian Almanack, For the year of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 1825 . . . Published at Boston. Re-Published at Rochester, N.Y. by Everard Peck [1824], pp. 33-34:]

    Some of the sons of the forest are every year converted from sin to holiness. The missionary among the Seneca Indians, as he was “walking out in the field at even tide,” saw one of the largest boys retiring, just after the school had closed, into an adjoining thicket. He asked him whither he was going. He pointed his finger, and said he was going yonder to pray. As he stood conversing with him, another came up, who was going on the same errand. Affected with the circumstance, the missionary turned away and sought retirement, where he might give free utterance to his emotions of joy, and beg God to fasten conviction on their tender minds. The evening was marked with that placid stillness which tends insensibly to lead the pious mind to survey the works of God. He could distinctly hear the voice of prayer on several sides around him. As he walked toward the house, he wondered why the little children were not at play as usual. The secret was soon disclosed; for he discovered that they too had collected in a little group on the side of a hill, and stood with clasped hands, and in perfect silence, while one of their number, in an audible voice, was sending forth their petitions to him who said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”

    [“The Morning Vision, Or Philosopher Converted,” an anonymous (male) theophany/conversion poem in twenty-one quatrains; in Peggy Dow, Vicissitudes Exemplified; Or The Journey of Life . . . New-York: Printed by John C. Totten, 1814, p. 123-24:]

    Thus trembling o’er the gulph I lay,
    But dare not move my lips to pray;
    I thought I was for ever curs’d,
    My guilty heart was fit to burst.
    . . . . .
    I thought I saw the burning lake,
    My frighted [sic] soul began to quake:
    I cry’d aloud, Lord must I go,
    To languish in eternal woe.
    . . . . .
    To my amazement and surprise,
    I saw a cloud descend the skies,
    And on the cloud appeared One,
    Who fairer was than chrystal [sic] stone.

    His curling locks were snowy white,
    His garments were exceeding bright;
    The sun look’d dim before his face,
    His feet were like the burning brass.

    He spake, and lightnings stream’d around,
    He says, “I have a ransom found;
    “I bought your ransom on the tree,
    “And came to set your spirit free.”

    [“The Experience of JACOB LOUCKS taken from his own words, July 27, 1817, who is a man of no learning, and of the nation called High Dutch.” In William Pitts, The Gospel Witness: Containing Evidence that the Holy Ghost is Given to All That Believe . . . Catskill (New York): Published by Junius S. Lewis and Co., for the Author (U. C. Lewis, printer, Newburgh), 1818, pp. 162-63:]

    And one morning, when I awaked up, after I had been praying the night before, my burden was all gone, and I felt as though I had peace with my God. And the inside of the house looked like heaven to me. Then I had calculated to speak to no soul in the house about it. Then I got up, and went out door [sic], and it looked as if the grass and stones and sky, and every thing praised the Lord. And I for the first time gave glory to God for his mercy, that he had pardoned my sins. And it was in me to go to my barn and cry to God for a witness. I went and then I prayed with all my might to God for the witness, and as I was praying, it seemed as though I almost beheld the goodness before it came down, and seemed to come on my head, and descend right down through my body, and it seemed as though flesh and skin, and all opened, and my teeth snapped together, and the tears run, and I cannot tell how I felt, but knew my sins were forgiven, and this was the witness of it. And then this operation went off almost, and I prayed God to send it again more powerful, I was a man of a strong constitution, and as it went through me the second time, I came very near falling. And something said, how do you know but what it came from the devil; and something struck on the barn floor like a man, but I did not see any thing, but I said, satan depart from me, for I know that my sins are forgiven. . . .

  17. sister blah 2 says:

    Hm, well, evidently my prayers don’t involve nearly enough strategizing because it never occurred to me to keep anything contained in them secret from Satan.

    As far as the power of saying things out loud vs silently, to me the distinction is in the vocal prayer being more tangible (ok, ‘audible,’ but technically hearing is touching air molecules), and thus perhaps a stronger evidence of putting yourself on the line. Even though there are no witnesses when you’re alone, there seems to me to be less deniability or wiggle room, or something, when you say it out loud. Like if it’s in your mind, it would be easier to backpedal from it later on.

    It seems similar to me to some of the rationale for baptism–instead of just deciding over time in your heart that you want to become a follower of Christ, you need to do a tangile, witnessable, discrete event where you declare this. Or what they say about writing down a goal–even if only you and God know about it, somehow writing it down makes you more committed to it.

    I’m not trying to imply that those who pray silently have less faith, but it does seem like building the courage to speak aloud can be a demonstration of greater faith and commitment.

  18. Tiny g says:

    So, this is from the 1838 version, correct? What is the similar passage, or is there one, from the previously recorded versions?

    I certainly tell the stories of my youth much differently now (at 35) then I did 10 years ago. I’m sure I understand some of my feelings (“amidst all my anxieties”) better as I understand myself better.

  19. Most of the recent conference talks I’ve heard that mention prayer include the words vocally right next to it. The Richard G. Scott example previously posted is one example. Like others, I thought that praying out loud gave Satan ammunition against me.

    However, I now figure that he remembers the pre-existence and is fully aware of what my weaknesses are. I’m really not hiding much from him.

    On the flip side, Am I the only person whose mind sometimes wanders when praying silently? My mind doesn’t wander nearly as much when I am praying vocally. That being the case, I figure that the prompting to pray silently so that “you know who” can’t hear them is most likely inspired by the same “you know who.”

    My focused prayers seem to get a better and quicker response; probably because the more focused I am, the more in-tune with the Spirit I am.

    Just my two cents, your mileage may vary.

  20. Matt Jacobsen says:

    It’s interesting to hear people’s thoughts on vocal/thought prayers.

    Even when I pray in my head, I feel like I am still saying words. Sometimes my mind wanders, but then I’ll sift through all the wanderings and determine what I really wanted to say, like a sanitized summary that I can present to God. Of course, He knows all my thoughts all along, so it’s odd to feel the need to give a final version.

    However, I’ve noticed that when I’ve felt answers to my prayers, it has never been as a voice expressing words. It is just a concept or idea that floods the mind without words, in less time than one could express in words. Taking that as a springboard, I’ve recently tried to make my prayers less vocal. Or perhaps the right term is less serial. Instead of offering up one thought at a time I think of it as offering up all my parallel thoughts at the same time — if thought is even the right word. Sometimes at the end it’s hard to even say what I’ve prayed about.

    This process takes more time and I’m not consistent with it at all, but it has had a very different and richer feel than a monologue or dialogue. A peaceful attempt at contemplative oneness. I’ve never practiced any real meditation, but I get the feeling that’s along the lines of what I’m describing.

  21. Just as a follow up to (4), and to be fair, I should probably mention that I mostly used this explanation (to pray silently if worried about Satan) on my mission to help those people who thought that the answers from their prayers regarding the Book of Mormon and the church were coming from Satan. I.e., not as a recommendation to all, but to those who are concerned (perhaps at the warning of a pastor) that their prayers are being answered by Satan. Personally, I prefer to pray vocally if I am in a private setting, as it helps me focus.

    Would Satan have a pretty good idea, based on the surrounding circumstances, that someone was about to pray silently, and thus try to give a false answer? Perhaps. Does Satan like being around when statements are made in the name of Jesus Christ? Perhaps not (at least certain depictions in the temple would seem point toward this). Can Satan perfectly counterfeit the Spirit? I don’t think so, but it can be confusing to the spiritually untutored. In addition, as has been mentioned in other posts, praying vocally has been emphasized in general conference, and most instances of prayer in the scriptures appear to be vocal.

    So this idea may not hold as much water as I may have originally thought. However, it did seem to help people increase their faith that their prayers would be answered by God. Could a seer stone fall under the same principle (ie, something to increase the faith of the peititioner)? It’s been proposed, but I have no idea.

  22. In the end, I think the prayer has more to do with my feelings and my faith than it has to do with the particular words I use. These words from Joseph F. Smith, when I first read them on my mission, changed the way I viewed prayer:

    I pray that you will know how to approach God in prayer. It is not such a difficult thing to learn how to pray. It is not the words we use particularly that constitute prayer. Prayer does not consist of words, altogether. True, faithful, earnest prayer consists more in the feeling that rises from the heart and from the inward desire of our spirits to supplicate the Lord in humility and in faith, that we may receive his blessings. It matters not how simple the words may be, if our desires are genuine and we come before the Lord with a broken heart and contrite spirit to ask him for that which we need. (Gospel Doctrine, 219)

  23. (As an aside, I think this also relates to “vain repetitions” – words or phrases may be repeated, but as long as they are not “vain” – or meaningless or empty – I don’t think it is a _vain_ repetition. One commonly used phrase can be one person’s vain repetition and another’s sincere, heartfelt testimony or prayer.)

  24. I never, ever though about praying aloud giving Satan a better hold on my fears/desires. Wow.

    All new stuff to think about then. What about when you pray with your spouse??

  25. I also don’t think I am giving Satan ammunition when I pray. That just doesn’t cut it on any level for me.

    When I pray vocally, it does two things for me:

    1) It forces me to focus on exactly what I *really* want to say. I often think about it during my prayer, then vocalize what I really mean. It makes prayer longer, but it kind of combines both approaches – and has been a wonderful experience for me.

    2) It involves my whole soul – body and spirit. I believe there is a real power when employing both that isn’t quite the same when it’s just one or the other.

  26. I, too, have been surprised by how many are concerned about giving away their secrets to Satan through praying aloud. I have never heard this before.

    I remember experiencing something of a spiritual famine when I became a missionary and was constantly with a companion. I had made it a habit to pour out my soul to God aloud while I was at home and then I was suddenly thrown into a situation where I was with someone all of the time. To pour out my most touching and private feelings to God with someone else sitting in the room felt awfully uncomfortable, so I simply didn’t do it. I began pray silently and was surprised by how difficult it was to reach the same level of concentration and communication with God when my feelings were being poured out in relative silence. Granted that the most intimate feelings expressed are often “groanings” as Paul described, but words, nevertheless offer an extremely powerful means to articulate ourselves to God and to articulate ourselves to ourselves.

    In regards to the fear expressed by many about Satan hearing our vocal prayers: it seems to me a bit naive to think that Satan doesn’t already know our weaknesses much better than we do. Are we to think that Satan can easily plant thoughts in our heads but can’t read or understand what is already there? That, to me, seems rather absurd. As if Satan can write but can’t read, . . . and gets a lot more information from listening.

    Praying aloud is extremely powerful. I feel, if anything, that it weakens Satan, and confirms our own convictions to overcome him. “Satan, get thee hence!”

  27. It would seem to me that the thing Satan would like most is not to hear our prayers, but rather, to observe us not praying at all.

  28. #27 Excellent point, Steve! I think that is at the foundation of the feelings I expressed in #26

  29. I have understood that in Joseph Smith’s day the patriarch of the family always led the family in prayer. Joseph Smith, Sr. would have always been voice to family prayers. In addition, Lucy Mack Smith often went into the woods to pray. Joseph Jr. was combining his parents’ examples by praying vocally in that particular location.

  30. Roger D I wonder if you have ever had a strong spiritual experience where it was so intense that you felt physically effected. I remember an occasion that I actually fainted after such an experience. If you combine fasting to this equation then it is even more the case. You also have completed ignored his struggle before hand with the adversary.
    Your logic is very narrow minded and is like many who use the Bible to prove any point. You are ignoring other biblical stories which actually can equally be used to rufute your position. Broaden you perspective a little brother.

  31. Nora Ray says:

    I think the anxieties referred to were probably about which church to join, not life in general. It sounds like he finally, after much thought and worry, decided to take it to the Lord. If you have been to Palmyra you may have visited the Joseph Smith cabin. There is barely room to turn around in those early dwellings and certainly no place to go for the privacy needed for an uttered prayer.

    Joseph’s words “when I came to myself” sound to me like he was totally overwhelmed by the experience and possibly did even black out for a few moments. Since we have no idea of how the physical manifestation of God and Christ was enabled, who is to say that there wasn’t something in that pillar of light that stole his energy.

    Faith is the key to this as to so many other things. In time we will have knowledge to augment our faith, but not yet.

  32. #30 – I’m trying to figure out who you are addressing. Who is Roger D? To which comment were you responding?

  33. Ray (32)– Not too long ago BCC went through a time warp and old posts were showing up with only portions of the comments showing and all the old comments were showing in the recent comments box. Maybe #30 is trying to respond to one of those long-dead posts. Or maybe Steve has been waving his magic wand again and deleted some heinous comment by Roger D.

  34. I like the magic wand theory, Jami. If that’s not right, Steve, please don’t disabuse me of the visual.

  35. Steve Evans says:

    I deleted it. It’s a recurring anti-mormon spam troll.

  36. sister blah 2 says:

    Oh good. I read that comment and it was pretty heinous.