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Discovering Answers to Your Prayers

Brothers and Sisters, Aloha!

I am so grateful you made the decision to be here today! This tells me that you understand the mission of BYU–Hawaii. The mission statement of any organization is essentially an explanation of WHY it exists and what it is trying to accomplish.

“The mission of BYU–Hawaii is to prepare students of Oceania and the Asian Rim to be lifelong disciples of Jesus Christ and leaders in their families, communities, chosen fields, and in building the kingdom of God.” [1]

Notice that a core piece of our mission statement (in other words, why BYU–Hawaii exists) is to prepare you to be a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ.

This means that even if you get a 4.0 GPA, graduate with honors, get your dream job with an impressive salary, meet lots of new friends, and have a ton of fun, if you don’t also grow as a disciple of Jesus Christ, BYU–Hawaii will have failed!

And frankly, you will have failed too. You will have failed because you will leave here without the very thing that BYU–Hawaii exists to offer to you.

Our weekly devotionals are designed to help you to become a lifelong disciple of Jesus Christ by exposing you to truth so the Holy Ghost can teach and testify to you. I hope you will decide today that you will never miss a devotional while here on this campus.

Decisions Determine Destiny

Speaking of decisions, most of you in this congregation are young adults, living in what many have called the “decade of decision.” That is because there are many important decisions you will have to make in the next few years. These decisions will literally determine the trajectory and quality of your lives.

President Thomas S. Monson was fond of saying: “Decisions determine destiny.” [2]

When faced with weighty, life-altering decisions, we naturally want direction from God. If you are like me, when you are praying about an important, meaningful decision and you feel like God is not giving you any guidance, you have probably felt frustrated or confused. You may spend significant time fasting, praying, pondering, and attending the temple, but the heavens seem closed and no answer comes.

Today I would like to share some suggestions about what to do when you feel God is not responding to your prayers – especially when they include urgent and desperate pleas for guidance.

1. Exercise faith that God is hearing AND answering your prayer.
If you are making an honest effort to stay on the covenant path, but feel you are not getting the answers you seek, the worst thing you can do is to conclude that God is not listening, or that He doesn’t love you, or worse, that He must not exist. These thoughts come from the adversary and are categorically false. They are designed to discourage you from seeking God’s help.

In Hebrews 11:6 we read: “... he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” [3]

When we pray, we MUST believe that HE IS and that He will “REWARD” us -- or in other words, answer us.

And remember what President Russell M. Nelson taught: “... all those who have made a covenant with God have access to a special kind of love and mercy ... Once you and I have made a covenant with God, our relationship with Him becomes much closer than before our covenant. Now we are bound together. Because of our covenant with God, He will never tire in His efforts to help us, and we will never exhaust His merciful patience with us.” [4]

God wants to answer our prayers because He is our loving Father. And because of His covenant relationship with us, He wants to help us. If we can believe this, we can then trust His motives, His methods, and His timing.

So, don’t give up! Exercise faith that God is hearing AND answering your prayer. This sounds very basic, but it is critically important. Because if you never stop believing there is an answer, you will eventually discover it.

2. Don’t limit the way you allow God to answer your prayers.
We may sometimes think that God is not listening to our prayers. More often, the problem is that we are not listening to the answers. One of the reasons for this is because we tend to predefine how those answers should come. If we look for answers only in the way we expect to receive them, we may miss an answer when it doesn’t come in that specific way.

Laurie’s Answer

While Laurie and I were engaged, her older sister gave her some wonderful counsel. She encouraged Laurie to make sure she received an answer from God that He approved of me as her marriage choice. I don’t know her exact words, but the essence of her message was this: “If you have a sure answer, when you hit some rough times and things are not going well in your relationship, you will not have to waste any time wondering if you have made the wrong choice. You can instead focus on resolving the issues.”

Laurie and I lived in different states during our courtship. To apply this advice, Laurie asked me not to write or call so that she could have the space to receive this answer without distraction. It was really hard, but I agreed. Three agonizing days later, she finally called.
“Did you get your answer?” I eagerly asked.
“Not yet ... I just missed you.” She ended our call that night with “I will just die if I can’t marry you!”

Another few days went by. Still no answer. I started to worry; and to question. I knew she wanted to marry me so why could she not get an answer? Does God not approve of our marriage? Is there something about me that causes God to feel we are not a good match? Am I not worthy of her? It was horrible!

After about a week, she called again. By this time, I was very concerned. I was hoping for the best, but also trying to prepare for the worst.

She began in subdued tones: “Steve, I am really, really sorry but I have decided that I just cannot ... (by this time, my heart was somewhere around my ankles) ... I have decided that I just cannot ... live without you.”

After recovering from this joke that only one of us found amusing, I asked her to tell me about how she received her answer. She replied, “I never really did get an answer. But I kept thinking about my mission and what I would tell my investigators when they were struggling to know whether to be baptized. I would tell them that if they felt good about it, that WAS their answer. And I decided the same probably applied to me.” Laurie was getting an answer, just not in the way she was expecting it to come.

I am grateful Laurie was able to recognize other ways the Lord could answer her prayer. If she had insisted on seeing a burning bush or having a pillar of fire come down out of heaven before she said yes, we would have missed out on 40 wonderful years together.
As President Nelson has encouraged, we need to learn how to “Hear Him.” [5]

3. When no answer comes, consider that God may have already provided the answer or provided you with life experiences necessary to figure out the answer.

In the Doctrine and Covenants we read: “Behold, you have not understood; you have supposed that I would give it unto you, when you took no thought save it was to ask me.” [6] This implies that there can be more to getting answers to prayers than simply asking and having it given.

President M. Russell Ballard taught: “One thing I have learned in life is how frequently the Lord answers our questions and gives us counsel through the scriptures. … [A]nswers will come as we open the scriptures and begin to study them. Sometimes it is as though a passage hundreds or thousands of years old was dictated specifically to answer our question” [7]

If God has already given us an answer, or portions of an answer, in scripture, in the words of the living prophets, in our patriarchal blessing, or in our own life experiences, He may choose not to repeat Himself. Instead, He may prefer that we experience the growth associated with learning and applying our knowledge and life experiences to discover the answer on our own.

The Brother of Jared

You may recall that in the Book of Mormon, the brother of Jared was commanded to build barges to cross the ocean to the promised land. After constructing the barges, he recognized that he had three distinct problems: He didn’t know how to steer, there would be no air to breathe inside the vessels, and he would also need light to see inside of them. [8]

As the brother of Jared pled for help, the Lord responded in this way:

Directions – “The Lord God caused that there should be a furious wind [to] blow ... towards the promised land.” [9]

Air – “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.” [10]

Light – “And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” [11]

Notice how each problem was answered in a different way. For directions, the brother of Jared didn’t have to do anything. The Lord simply solved the problem for him.

For air, the Lord provided a solution, but required the brother of Jared to do the work himself.

For light, the Lord did not provide a solution at all but instead required the brother of Jared to figure out a solution on his own.

In response, the brother of Jared chose to molten sixteen white, clear stones out of rocks and asks the Lord to touch them with his finger to make them shine. [12]

I have to confess that I probably would never have thought of this solution. Have you ever wondered why the brother of Jared did?

Because of the relationship the brother of Jared had with the Lord, it seems likely that he was aware of Noah’s experience with the ark and the record of the great flood described in Genesis. With what lay ahead of him, he was probably very interested in Noah’s experience.

Genesis 6:16 refers to “windows” in the ark. Notice the footnote of that verse associated with the word “windows”: “HEB tsohar; some rabbis believed it was a precious stone that shone in the ark.” [13]

If the brother of Jared was aware of this miracle, it makes complete sense why he made the request of the Lord to touch stones so they would shine and provide light.

Of course, it would have been much easier if the Lord had simply provided the solutions to all three problems as He did in the first instance. But by allowing the brother of Jared to participate to the extent he was able, and by requiring him to rely on his knowledge and life experiences to help solve this problem, God led him to an event that would be life changing. The brother of Jared saw the Lord’s finger touch the stones! And this led to an even more powerful experience with the Lord. This experience likely would not have occurred if God had simply dropped sixteen shining stones into his lap.

The Bible Dictionary teaches us that “prayer is a form of work.” [14] We should be willing to do our part to receive the answers we seek.
4. Don’t confuse not getting what you ask for with not getting an answer at all.

Mattie’s Answer

Shortly after our son Matthew graduated from college he was trying to secure his first job. Things were not coming easily and he and his wife Rachel went to the temple often seeking direction about his career. At one of these temple sessions, he received (in his words) “the clearest direction I have ever received in my life.”

The direction was “You should have a baby.” Imagine how this answer must have sounded to Mattie. He was seeking help to find a job to support his family and instead received direction to make his family bigger!

I have always been very proud of Mattie and Rachel for having the faith and courage to follow this direction, especially when his career and ability to support a family were so uncertain. Not only did God bless them with a delightful little boy that our entire family loves, but later Matt had the inspiration to start a company that has enabled him to provide well for this son and the two other children that have since joined their family.

Mattie did not get what he asked for, but he certainly did get an answer. Just because we don’t get the answer we want when we want it, doesn’t mean that God is not answering our prayer.

My Answer

My first job after college graduation was in an office at BYU in Provo. Because I had worked in this office earlier as a student employee, when the director of the office retired, the new director offered me a full-time role. She felt I had skills that complemented hers. I accepted not because I was interested in a career in this field, but because she needed the help and with our second child on the way, I needed health insurance! I committed to remain only one year.

Six years later, I was still trying to secure my next job. I networked like crazy, earned two master's degrees, took people to lunch, and if they didn’t have time for lunch, I took them to breakfast. I was doing everything I could think of, but I couldn’t seem to get a job in a field other than the one I was in – and didn’t want to be in. I remember being so frustrated and discouraged that I thought “this is what it feels like to be without hope – or to feel hopeless.”

And then hope arrived. A friend told me about a position at a software company where he worked. The role seemed like everything I had hoped for and aligned well with my education and experience.

After eight sets of interviews and several weeks, I was informed I would not get an offer. I was extremely disappointed and wondered why God had not answered my desperate pleas. This job had seemed so perfect for our needs. Shortly after this, our fifth child was born.

When Amanda was a month old, we learned that she had a rare kidney disease. She was life-flighted from the hospital in Provo to Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City (an hour’s drive from our home). She spent the next month in the hospital before we were able to bring her home. We did home health care for about a month hoping she could grow enough to receive a kidney transplant.

During Amanda’s time in the hospital, Laurie rarely left her side. Laurie’s parents moved in with us to help with the other children so I could continue to work and spend some time at the hospital as well. Neighbors and friends were extremely kind to us. Anne Schroeder, my boss at BYU, offered her extra car so I could travel between work, home, and the hospital since Laurie was using our only vehicle.

This time with Amanda turned out to be precious as she passed away a couple of months later at the age of three months.

About a year later, I learned that the software company had decided to eliminate the job that I had so desperately wanted. Although the person who was hired had worked hard and spent a lot of extra time and energy to be successful, the company decided to go a different direction organizationally and he was laid off.

As I reflected on this, I realized that the job I had prayed so hard for and thought to be a blessing denied, turned out to be just the opposite. Instead, it was a huge blessing that I had remained employed at BYU.

Not only did I avoid losing my job, but if I had been hired, my need to learn a new job and perform well to prove myself would have demanded a lot of my time and energy. I would not have been able to spend as much time at the hospital and at home as I did and even if I could spare the time off, I would not have accumulated much vacation or sick leave at the new company. I would not have had access to a free second car, making those trips to the hospital even more unlikely. I would not have had the wonderful health insurance that paid for nearly all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars Amanda’s health care required. And BYU was a much more understanding employer than this software company would have been to me as a new, unproven employee.

I thought of Matthew 7:
“Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone?
Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” [15]

In my case, I thought I was asking for bread and God had given me a stone. In reality, I had been pleading for what God knew was a stone, and He was intent on giving me bread. I wanted a different job, but He in His wisdom, knew what was coming and kept me in a place where I had the blessings I needed at the time I needed them. Remaining employed at BYU also opened doors that eventually led to my invitation to come to BYU–Hawaii.

We don’t always get to know the “why” of what we may think is an unanswered prayer or a blessing denied. But I testify that God loves His children and everything He does is calculated for our good.

5. Trust your ability to use your agency.
When we have a major decision to make, we often want God to tell us exactly what to do – partly because of faith – meaning we want to do what He wants us to do with our lives; but partly because of fear – we don’t want to end up in an unhappy job, location, or marriage. We want to remove risk by having God tell us exactly what to do. We cherish our agency, but we also don’t want to have to endure the risks associated with exercising it.
The good news is that while there is risk, God provides a safety net of sorts. Listen to what President Boyd K. Packer taught: “It is not expected that you go through life without making mistakes, but you will not make a major mistake without first being warned by the promptings of the Spirit. This promise applies to all members of the Church.” [16]

It is good to ask God for direction or confirmation, but we should not expect God to allow us to fearfully return the precious gift of our agency back to Him – even temporarily. Let’s not mistake His reluctance to allow us to give up our agency with an unwillingness to answer our prayer.

I have come to love the wise counsel of Elder Richard G. Scott, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, regarding how God typically answers prayers: “First, you can feel the peace, comfort, and assurance that confirm that your decision is right. Or second, you can sense that unsettled feeling, the stupor of thought, indicating that your choice is wrong. Or third—and this is the difficult one—you can feel no response. “What do you do when you have prepared carefully, have prayed fervently, waited a reasonable time for a response, and still do not feel an answer? You may want to express thanks when that occurs, for it is an evidence of His trust.” [17]

Elder Scott continues: “When you are living worthily and your choice is consistent with the Savior’s teachings and you need to act, proceed with trust. As you are sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit, one of two things will certainly occur at the appropriate time: either the stupor of thought will come, indicating an improper choice, or the peace or the burning in the bosom will be felt, confirming that your choice was correct. [18]

I lived this exact experience while deciding whether to accept a job offer here at BYU–Hawaii.

BYU–Hawaii Job Offer

In 2006, I was invited to be the university budget director. Most people think that is a job only an accountant can do. But I am not an accountant! I had a few accounting classes and worked in the BYU Budget Office in Provo for six years, but I am not a trained accountant.

While I loved my experience at BYU in Provo, I had left BYU and the Church Educational System two years earlier to work in private industry as an international sales and marketing manager. Part of the reason I left BYU is because I was regularly being approached with job offers to be the “controller of this” or the “chief financial officer of that” – jobs that typically require accounting expertise. I realized the longer I stayed, the more I would be limited to accounting related roles.

When I received the invitation to work at BYU–Hawaii and return to the Church Educational System I was eager because I love the mission so much, but also concerned what this might do to my career path. Surely anyone looking at my resume would presume that my efforts in sales and marketing had been unsuccessful and I was back where I belonged – in “accounting.”

Laurie and I prayed fervently, fasted often, and went to the temple multiple times trying to receive guidance. None came. The heavens seemed completely sealed.

I agonized over this decision. I was invited to visit the campus with my wife so that we could “feel the spirit of the place” and help us make our decision. This only made things more confusing.

I did feel the spirit of BYU–Hawaii and loved the thought of being here, but I also realized how very far away it was from everyone and everything I was familiar with.

Upon returning home, I had an unusual experience at work and another one at a ward function that I interpreted as God directing me not to accept the job. Absent any other direction from heaven, I decided to decline the offer.

While I was typing the email to announce my decision, a clear message came into my mind: “Don’t worry about your career. Do what is best for your family.” I stopped typing. After some additional thought and discussion with Laurie about what would be best for our family, I deleted what I had typed and replaced it with a message accepting the position.

Our experience at BYU–Hawaii has been life changing and I am so grateful God directed us here. My career has been fulfilling and I have had opportunities and experiences both at work and outside of work that I could not possibly have anticipated. I am so very grateful that God allowed me to exercise my agency, but also provided guidance when I was about to make an unfortunate choice.

There is one important lesson beyond the one Elder Scott described so accurately. Notice the divine directive that came into my mind was not, “Accept the job at BYU–Hawaii.” It was “Don’t worry about your career. Do what is best for your family.” God did not tell me how to respond to the job offer. He required me to exercise my agency to decide what was best for our family. But He also provided additional perspective and the comfort I needed to make the right choice for our family.

President Dallin H. Oaks counseled: “A desire to be led by the Lord is a strength, but it needs to be accompanied by an understanding that our Heavenly Father leaves many decisions for our personal choices. … Persons who try to shift all decision making to the Lord and plead for revelation in every choice will soon find circumstances in which they pray for guidance and don’t receive it. … We should study things out in our minds. … Then we should pray for guidance and act upon it. … [If we do not receive guidance, we should act] upon our best judgment.” [19]

We do not need to fear. God has a divine plan for each of us. If we exercise our agency unwisely and make a poor choice, if we are humble, He can certainly make adjustments to ensure we do not lack the experiences we need to choose to return to Him.

President Russell M. Nelson assured: “God will do everything He can, short of violating your agency, to help you not miss out on the greatest blessings in all eternity.” [20]

I testify that God strikes a perfect balance between guiding us and honoring our agency. We should not mistake His allowing us to stretch and learn by exercising our agency with a lack of divine direction.


In summary, if you ever feel that God is not answering your prayers or giving you the guidance you need, consider the following to discover answers to your prayers:

  1. Exercise faith that God is hearing and answering your prayers.  Having faith that an answer of some kind is certain will help you to patiently continue searching for it when the answer may not be immediately obvious.
  2. Don’t limit the way you allow God to answer your prayers. There are multiple ways God may choose to respond. Be open minded about how you will recognize answers. In other words, learn how to “Hear Him.” [21]
  3. When no answer comes, consider that God may have already provided the answer or provided you with life experiences necessary to figure out the answer.  If God has already provided you with the answers you need in, scripture, words of the living prophets, your patriarchal blessing, or divinely designed life experiences, He may be trusting you to use those to draw your own conclusions. The stretching and refining part of this struggle is designed to help you progress and is designed to help you become more like Him.
  4. Don’t confuse not getting what you ask for with not getting an answer at all. Be willing to accept answers that are different from those you are requesting. You may be requesting a “stone” while God is offering you “bread.”
  5. Trust your ability to use your agency.  Don’t be too eager to give up your agency. Instead, allow God to guide you to use it well — and trust you to use it well.

I testify that God our Father exists, that He loves each of us, and that He is eager to answer our prayers. I testify that He always answers – in His own way, on His own timetable. It is our great challenge and blessing to discover how He is answering our prayers and to learn to recognize how He manifests His love for us in the way He does so.

In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

[1] BYU–Hawaii, “Mission and Vision,”; emphasis added.
[2] President Thomas S. Monson, “Decisions Determine Destiny,” BYU Devotional, 6 November 2005.
[3] Hebrews 11:16; emphasis added.
[4] President Russell M. Nelson, “The Everlasting Covenant,” Liahona, October 2022, emphasis added.
[5] President Russell M. Nelson, “Hear Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2020.
[6] Doctrine & Covenants 9:7
[7] M. Russell Ballard, “Be Strong in the Lord, and in the Power of His Might” [Brigham Young University Devotional, Mar. 3, 2002], 5,
[8] Ether 2:19
[9] Ether 6:5
[10] Ether 2:20
[11] Ether 2:23
[12] Ether 3:1-4
[13] Genesis 6:16
[14] “Prayer,” Bible Dictionary, paragraph 7.
[15] Matthew 7:9-11
[16] President Boyd K. Packer, “Counsel to Youth,” Ensign or Liahona, November 2011, emphasis added.
[17] Elder Richard G. Scott, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007; emphasis added.
[18] Elder Richard G. Scott, “Using the Supernal Gift of Prayer,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2007; emphasis added.
[19] Dallin H. Oaks, “Our Strengths Can Become Our Downfall,” Ensign, Oct. 1994, 13–14.
[20] Russell M. Nelson, “Choices for Eternity,” Worldwide Devotional for Young Adults, 15 May 2022, Gospel Library; emphasis added.
[21] President Russell M. Nelson, “Hear Him,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2020.