Watch Out What You Pray For!

Praying for Relief from Drought, then Flooding, then Drought, then Flooding

Utah Drought

In 1978, while I was at BYU, the state was coping with a severe drought.  The saints were asked to pray for rain.  They did, and the Lord answered their prayers.

Sure enough, it started to rain.  And then it rained, and it rained.  “The rain came down and the flood came up.”

State Street “River”

By 1983, five years later, Utah was dealing with severe flooding.  The Great Salt Lake overflowed and flooded I-15.  The state spent $60 million to build pumping stations to lower the lake.

A million sandbags were used to channel runoff down State Street in the middle of Salt Lake City.  Temporary bridges were built so pedestrians could cross the “river.” Businessman in suits caught trout while fishing from the sidewalks.  

Utah Drought — Again

The saints were asked to pray for relief.  They did, and the Lord again answered their prayers. The Lord stopped the rains. 

By 1988, five years later, Utah was once again in the middle of a severe drought.  The Salt Lake pumping stations went off-line, and the lake dropped 18 feet.

Once again, the saints were asked to pray for rain.

“To Pray, or Not to Pray?” That is the Question

When the gods wish to punish us, they answer our prayers.” (Oscar Wilde)

We need to be very careful what we pray for.  Our prayers might be answered, but not in the way we envision.

Praying for Humility

For example, I never pray for “humility” or “patience.” I can imagine all sorts of awful ways those prayers might be answered.

I am afraid to pray for my chronic back pain to go away.  After all, pain lets me know I’m still alive.

Instead, I pray to learn to cope with “wealth” and “riches.”  (My wife is still waiting for that prayer to be answered.)

When You Pray for Something, Be Specific

Utah Rain Damaged Crops

If we are going to pray for something, it might be wise to be specific.

For instance, when someone prays in church, “Bless the sick that they might rise from their beds of affliction,” I have this bizarre image of zombies getting out of bed and running amok. Maybe the prayer should have asked that the sick be healed first.

A classic example of being specific in prayers took place in late 1800’s in a rural Utah ward. The first time they prayed for rain a deluge destroyed their crops. So, when the saints needed to pray for rain again, a Danish brother was very specific.  

 “Heavenly Father, we are drying up down here.  We need rain, and we need it quick.  What’s the use of rain with nothing left to rain on?  Now, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble, we don’t want one of those big thunder and lightning storms, like the one we got in June, which ruined the oats by the east hayfields. What we would appreciate very much is one of those nice long quiet rains, without any hails, that soaks everything up real nice. Amen.” (Leonard Arrington, The Mormon Experience, p. 217-218)

Watch out what you pray for! Your prayers might be answered — but not how you envisioned.

(See: “Drought in Utah 1999-2002,; “The 1983 Flood that Turned State Street into a River,” ABC4 Utah,; “Lake’s Pumps Still High and Dry,” John Hollenhorst, Deseret News, Apr 19, 2011.)

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