Enos Envy

Shawn Larsenbook of mormon, Mormon, prayer 16 Comments

Over my lifetime, I have offered all manner of prayers.  These range from earnest, well-intended pleas on behalf of others (“please comfort my sister as she deals with her MS diagnosis”) to mundane requests for undeserved assistance (“please help me pass my Spanish pop quiz”) to the downright inappropriate (“oh Lord, please let me be able to hold it until I get off this bus!”)*

But now, after 36 years of practice, I’m rethinking prayer.  In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I’m not a “lose the keys, pray for keys, find the keys” sort of guy by nature.  When I hear those sorts of stories, I am more likely to roll my eyes than dab with a Kleenex.  Nevertheless, I have a confession to make:  I suffer from Enos Envy (E.E., for short).

You all know the story:  Enos was a young man who, while raisedenos_praying with a knowledge of the truth, found himself having strayed from it.  Then, while out hunting, he had epiphany of sorts, which left him with a heart full of joy and a soul that “hungered.”  Overwhelmed with these rushing emotions, Enos prayed.  And prayed.  And prayed.

The zenith of this day-long supplication was a conversation with God, in which God basically agreed to a long list of requests presented by Enos.  Not only did God forgive Enos’s sins, he agreed to, among other things:  (i) visit the Lamanites according to their faith, and (ii) preserve the records that would eventually become the Book of Mormon.  Pretty good for a day’s work, right?

We use this scriptural account to teach one another about the power of prayer.   In most recountings, however, Enos’s powerful experience is reduced down to a simple formula to be followed (the Enos Equation):

Earnest Prayer = Tangible Results (i.e., blessings)

This is the model of prayer I hear lauded consistently as the ideal.   A quick example:  Just this past Sunday, our EQ lesson dealt with temple worship.  The instructor spoke at great length about the revelations that await us in the Celestial Room.  His lesson culminated with his promise that if we want those revelations and/or spiritual manifestations, “all we need to do is pray.”  Citing Christ’s words in Matthew 7:7, he said:  “‘Ask, and it shall be given you.’  That’s the promise; it’s a guarantee from God.”

This used to be a great source of consternation for me.  So often I felt as if my prayers simply went unheard — I did poorly on tests, both my sisters ended up with MS, and I often was plagued with doubt.  That’s where the Enos Envy kicked in.  I was praying with real intent:  why wasn’t I getting the same results?

As I have thought about prayer, I have come to see the Enos Equation as missing the point of the story.  It has all of the right elements — faith, prayer and blessings certainly are wonderful things and belong together in the same sentence — but the emphasis is wrong.  In the traditional telling, the Enos Equation focuses on ends of prayer, rather than the means by which we communicate our desires to God.  In my example above, the well-intentioned EQ teacher taught prayer as the direct method to by which to obtain revelation, with nary a word about how we should approach God with our requests.


Taken to its extreme, this view of prayer smacks of the Prosperity Theology (or “Health and Wealth Gospel”) preached in Evangelical mega-churches.  In a nutshell, these churches teach that God wants us to be financially prosperous; if we want a new Mercedes, all we need do is ask for it and, if God deems us “godly” enough, we’ll get it.  And the secular version of this approach is wildly popular, as well.  After reading “The Secret,” some folks I know have taken to “sending” their requests “out to the Universe.”  Want a new a new and bigger home, get the Universe on the horn and you’ll moving in sooner than you think.

In short, the Enos Equation reduces God (or the Universe, for you atheists out there) into a spectral Santa Claus, just waiting to grant even the most materialistic wishes of our hearts.  To be clear, I am not suggesting that those who adopt this approach pray only with selfish intent.  But focus on self is inherent in the model.

This strikes me as backwards.  For me, the important part of Enos’s account is his “wrestle” with God which preceded his experience.  To that end, I propose a Revised Enos Equation:

Faith + Humility + Prayer = Communion w/God

In this formulation, the emphasis is on our relationship with God, not on what he can do for us.  Said another way, the point of prayer is put ourselves on a spiritual and emotional plane (i.e., the “wrestle”) where we can communicate openly with God.  This “wrestle” is no easy feat — it requires faith, humility, patience, sacrifice, etc. — characteristics Enos had in spades.  For example, think about how we teach our kids to pray:  kneeling with eyes closed, arms folded, and head bowed.  Simple gestures, but they bespeak a reverence for the act of communicating with God.   I don’t imagine God cares one whit about the position of limbs during prayer, or that he conditions his blessings on our ability to pray in ritualistic form.  But these gestures can help us to focus ourselves such that we God can speak with us.  The means by we speak with God matter far more than whether we obtain the end we seek.

Even with this new perspective, I still suffer from occasional bouts of Enos Envy.  But now, I’m less concerned about my abilities to call forth the tangible blessings of heaven, than I am jealous of Enos’s ability to find peace with God, to reach a state of mind where God can communicate with him directly.  So what if I haven’t moved a mountain or cured anyone’s cancer?  If I can, even on an occasional basis, reach that state of Enos-like zen, then I consider my prayer a success.  Blessings will follow according to God’s will.  I  no longer feel I have the authority/right to demand such blessings at will.  God is God, and that’s good enough for me.

So, do you suffer from Enos Envy?  What are your thoughts on, and expectations regarding, prayer?  (I would have created a poll, but I am far too lazy for such an endeavor.  Perhaps I should throw that out to the Universe — check back in a day or two to see if my wish has been granted 🙂 )

*Anyone who served a mission South of the border offered this prayer more than once, guaranteed! Unfortunately for some, God is sometimes cruel, even to his beloved servants.

Comments 16

  1. One of my favorite meditations:
    “God is not a vending machine.”

    One of my best friends (non-LDS, Evangelical Christian) is a big believer in prosperity theology. When she was about to have her first child she wanted to be able to stay home with her baby, but financially it looked like it wasn’t going to be possible. She was absolutely confident that something would happen to enable her to stay home, because she had prayed for it – in her words she had “spoken her desire” and because she was a believer, God would create the results. Well, her baby is now 2, and she’s still working full time. In my opinion, her belief that a miracle would occur actually made her a passive observer of her own life – she didn’t try to achieve her goal using her own faculties, she simply waited for God to make it happen.

    I see a similar belief in the LDS community when it comes to the concept of obedience to commandments leading to blessings. I filter this idea out of Primary lessons all the time because I believe that it is a truly harmful thing to teach that we will always be blessed for keeping the commandments. It’s just not true, and when people find this out it can cause a huge (and IMO unnecessary) faith crisis.

  2. Shawn–

    I enjoyed reading your post on prayer. It’s great to see basic “gospel” topics discussed in the Bloggernacle.

    A few thoughts on the Book of Enos:

    1. He tells us that he received a remission of his sins (verse 2) after a wrestle with the Lord.
    In other words, he fulfilled his baptism covenant by being baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost. This put him on a new standing with the Lord, meaning, he now had greater access to the Lord than before.

    2. He wasn’t planning on praying when he went hunting, but it appears the Lord’s Spirit entered into his heart based on verse 3. I suggest this means the Lord gave him an invitation, as well as the ability to pray as he did–all day and into the night. D&C 50:30 tells us that “true” prayer occurs when the Spirit teaches us what to say.

    3. Those who think they can duplicate the Enos experience by forcing long sessions of prayer will be disappointed unless the Spirit prompts and enables them.

    4. I’ve wondered if Enos 1:4-12 took place all in the same prayer. I don’t think it did, I think it happened over extended periods of time. There are a few indication of this in the wording. For example, verse 11 says that he prayed “with many long strugglings”. That could mean many prayers over many days, months, or even years.

    5. Enos asked the Lord, “how is it done?” and the Lord said because of his faith in Christ. In my opinion, this is loaded with meaning. “Faith” as the Lord uses it here could mean that Enos’s faith was not just an attitude or a state of mind that existed at a moment in time, but was an accumulation of faithful decisions Enos had made in this life, in the pre-mortal world, and observed by the Lord.

    I hope you don’t mind if I suggest my own prayer equation based on my understanding of the message the Book of Enos is intended to give to those who are seeking to “come unto Christ”.

    covenants (baptism and etc) + invitation by the Lord + diligence + faith + remission of sins = conversing with the Lord (not impressions and feelings).

    The equation you’ve provided is for those who haven’t received a remission of sins. The Book of Enos is teaching us that there are various levels we can attain to as we follow Christ. When we have fulfilled our baptism covenant by being baptized by fire and the Holy Ghost we will have greater access to the Lord than before.

    Once we have the first comforter then we can cast our gaze towards receiving the second comforter.

  3. Shawn, excellently written and beautifully insightful post. You need to post more often!

    Perhaps praying with the Enos Equation in mind, followed by a lack of results, is what often makes people stop praying. When we think there’s a promise of results, and the results don’t come, we might think God has broken his promise. I’ve experienced that myself, and I know others who have felt that way as well.

    I also know folks who have stopped praying once they’ve accumulated all the “stuff” they need. If prayer is about getting stuff, then once you have the stuff, why pray?

    So I love your Revised Enos Equation because once we take stuff and promises of getting stuff out of the equation, we still have a reason to pray when we don’t get stuff, and we still have a reason to pray after we’ve gotten all the stuff we need.

    Perhaps it’s a topic for another day, but this is another example of how I feel like in order to find an approach that works for me and doesn’t leave me disappointed, I have to ignore scriptures, lessons, and talks I’ve heard over the years (your EQ lesson comment, for example). I think your approach is correct, but that leaves me wondering why we have all those scriptures and talks about: being righteous + asking for stuff through prayer = getting stuff.

  4. The earlier post of religion vs. science pointed out that science focuses on consistently duplicable results. Does religion have a SINGLE equation that, if followed, leads to the same consistent result?

    My experience is that the answer is no. To me, rules of righteous living are more like rules of healthy living. They can increase or decrease the chance of something happening, but don’t guarantee anything (at least in this life). That’s why I think the Enos experience is ultimately unduplicatable. (Likewise, following Joseph Smith’s example won’t yield a “First Vision” experience.) Does anyone think either of these equations (OP and #4) are consistent, reliable equations that produce replicable results?

  5. The biggest issue I see with your post is that the LDS church actually offers “tangible” results to prayer. Missionaries go all over the world telling people that all they have to do is read, have a desire and pray and they can “know” the church is true. What about those of us that did all we could to get an answer from God regarding the truthfulness of the LDS church? Was I doing it wrong? Was my equations somehow off? I was taught my whole life that there is a simple equation that would lead to a “tangible” result and never received that answer…what is the magic number of attempts before calling it quits? How many times/equations do I need try before God would deem my prayer worthy of an answer?

    On another note, what does “Communion w/God” really accomplish if there is no purpose or “end”? To me, I see no reason to communicate with God for the sake of communication – I may as well be talking to a wall. It seems that the whole purpose of communication with God is always to achieve some “tangible” result – comfort, answers, clarity, spirituality, understanding, “peace with God”, etc. These may not be physical results but it certainly seems that even your new equation produces tangible results (i.e., blessings) – as all of the results I just mentioned certainly seem like “blessings” to me (unless i am totally misunderstanding what you mean by “tangible results” or blessings)…

    I guess I am confused as I feel like you are saying that, for decades, I was doing it wrong and that I never should have expected an answer from God to my questions about the LDS church because I was focused on myself and the “result” instead of the “means”. Is God really that small and random that he would ignore my prayers on a technicality while he answers the prayers of others who have the correct equation? What about people that receive conflicting answers to prayers?

    I dont mean to derail and I appreciate your thoughts but I cant wrap my head around the God you describe.

  6. I remember a good friend of mine in high school was trying to forcefully persuade a mutual friend that the church was true. After the non-member friend told him that he was getting an answer that the BofM was NOT true, my member friend told him that he didn’t think he was praying hard enough. This statement really disappointed me, as it served only to reinforce the negative feelings he was already getting from this experience.

    I think of Brigham Young studying the Book of Mormon for two years before he decided to join the church and then look at my own missionary experience of hoping to see an investigator come to a decision to be baptized before “I” got transferred or before “I” returned home. The timing for an investigator to get an answer is not something that can be standardized, although setting goals and teaching the principle of keeping commitments can help prepare an investigator for the possibility of an answer.

    I see a need to communicate to God in my own life, even if it is for the sake of communication. I need to confess that I am powerless to change certain things in my life without His help. That confession gives me strength…whether it be the strength of humbling myself, a daily reminder that I need to work on things, or the peace after the manner of Enos, it is debatable from day to day.

    As to those who never do come to an answer that they perceive as tangible, President Benson gave this interesting quote in a 1972 address. It was the words of Orson F. Whitney from a 1928 general conference address:

    “Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” (Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59.)

  7. “Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along. They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. … Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted … the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. … We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.” (Conference Report, April 1928,

    This, again, leads me to believe that God, as taught by the LDS, is small and shows random, baseless, favoritism. Mormonism claims He is not a “respecter or persons” out of one side of their mouth and then, out of the other they claim “The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time” (or maybe never). How did I end up on that list? So, while I get to sit here becoming more and more bitter toward the church I can take heart that maybe, one day, God will decide to answer me in his own due time? No thanks. That is no God that I respect or would even consider worshiping and Orson Whitney’s opinion just rubs salt in an already open wound…I will proudly remain a “gentile” if that is the God the LDS choose to believe in.

  8. “Missionaries go all over the world telling people that all they have to do is read, have a desire and pray and they can “know” the church is true.”

    This is one of the biggest problems with the way missionary work has been done. In fact, it is not easy to get answers to these kind of prayers. And every ‘good feeling’ is not an answer to prayer. In fact, because the Spirit is always attempting to move us out of where we are to a higher way of being, we will, in our desire for self-satisfaction, often receive it as a pain. The verses in Moroni offer several states of being that must be present before we can even be considered to be asking. My opinion is that these may take years – of effort – for some folks to develop. They include sincerity, intent and faith. One doesn’t just sit down after reading a couple verses of scripture and then say, well, then, now I think I have intent. In fact, Moroni says one must ponder, and not only that, one must have read enough of the material in the book to consider the mercy of God. Again, not something that happens just because we kneel. Things like sincerity and intent are intended here to be seen as deep states of being that are not accessed out of hand; sometimes a deep crisis is the only situation in which we can find them.

    I love what King Claudius says after his abortive effort at repentance. “My words go up, my thoughts remain below, words without thoughts never to heaven go.” In other words, one’s “thoughts” must at least begin to be divorced from what is “below.” Or, as Moroni has it, one must have some measure of Faith in Christ. Or, as Joseph has it, why are we not chosen?; because are hearts are set so much upon the things of this world… so that we … fail to learn. In other words, praying to know that the Book of Mormon is true, or that the Church is “true”, is not the first step, or even necessarily an early step. For most people, the early steps have to do with desire and small kernels of faith, nourished. And, somewhere along the line, discovering that one’s heart is broken.

    None of this means that God isn’t beaming out answers to us. It is that we are not, at certain points cannot be, tuned in. Things like bitterness, hardness of heart and pride are repeatedly listed in the BoM as things that prohibit us from attaining spiritual knowledge. One must be humble not because God prefers that, but because a heart that is not humble is like a radio that isn’t turned on.

    Shawn, I loved your thoughts!

    I always figure the best I can do is pray from the deepest place I can find access to. Generally, if the information isn’t flowing, I discover that it is because I’m in my own way. ~

  9. I certainly hope there is a God and our prayers are being heard.

    But if it isn’t I think prayer is good anyway in that it makes us desire to do good. When we pray we maybe figuring out ways in our own minds to answer what we prayed for.

  10. I like the “God isn’t a vending machine” idea.

    Reminds me of my mission, when sister missionaries were upset that their prayer and faith in baptizing someone that month was not delivered. They had a righteous desire, they asked, they were 100% obedient. Why, then was it not answered?

    It seems your formula is right in that it includes humility, which I think includes seeking God’s will, not our ways to dictate to God.

    But the church has so many “faith-promoting” stories that you can move mountains if you ask God, for nothing is impossible…and it becomes difficult for people to separate their will from God’s will, I can ask but only ask what I should? How does that work?

    Sometimes faith promoting stories of successful prayers make the unanswered prayers seem unsuccessful…this can be a faith crisis for many.

    If prayer is all about communion with God…your formula works. If we want the formula to be “Desired Results = …” then there is a problem with expectations (speaking from personal experience).

  11. Yes, I suffer from Enos Envy. I think about it fairly regularly, in fact, and am heartened to know that I’m not alone.

    I think the longest I’ve prayed is about 25 minutes.

    Well, and my knees hurt after awhile.

    My heart is almost continually drawn in prayer, though. Sometimes I’m begging, sometimes I’m exhorting, sometimes I’m griping.

    The ones that work best are the ones where I let go. It’s scary as heck, but when I ask Him to carry me, He does.

  12. Even though I was raised in the church by convert parents, had a strong testimony, and went on a mission to Austria, I too have struggled with my testimony at times. Even with my belief in God. I did not marry until I was 25 and I know the pressure there is to get married and have kids in the church. There have been several times that I felt like a misfit in the church and did not belong. My husband, raised as an atheist, and a scientist, had a hard time with faith and religion. He went to Catholic Parochial school as a child but that turned him off to religion. The Mormon faith was the first religion that made any sense to him and he joined on an intellectual testimony hoping the spiritual one would come. When it didn’t, he left the church and I found myself crying my eyes out in a fast and testimony meeting one Sunday. I was begging the Lord to tell me why he had not given a good man like my husband a spiritual witness,
    1. Something very unexpectedly happened then. A clear thought came through my head that said, “Why don’t you go visit that 7th Day Adventist church around the corner?” I thought, “We’re did that come from” and then the thought came to me two more times. I told my husband about it and we decided to follow that prompting. I met with the pastor of that church several times and the things he gave to read answered some important questions I had. You see I had been doing all the right things in the church, (paying tithing, going to the temple, etc. etc) but none of the blessings seemed to be coming. In fact everything had gotten worse. My kids were in trouble and my husband did not get his raise, the car and washer broke down, and now he left the church. Where we all the blasted blessings they kept preaching about from the pulpit. Then I came across some anti-Mormon stuff from the Tanners that quoted out of church history and Journal of Discourses. For the first time I thought that the church might be false.

    This pastor handed me a little book called “The 5 Day Plan to Know God.” As I was reading, it talked about how the Jews were waiting for their Messiah to come save them from all their trials. When he came and told them he came to save them from their sins not their problems they were ticked off. A light bulb went off in me and I realized I was like those early Jews waiting for God to save me from all my problems. Suddenly I realized I had been living the gospel for the wrong reasons. I knew immediately that the only thing I should be concerned about is being saved from my sins and that is why Jesus died for me. When my husband joined the church the missionaries assumed he had the milk of the gospel (faith in Jesus Christ) but he didn’t. Sometimes in the lds church we concentrate so much on the meat we neglect the milk of the gospel. Other churches mostly have the milk so it is often highly concentrated there. We left the church for two years and investigated the 7th Day church, but one day as they were teaching us a class on the signs of a true prophet, my husband and I looked at each other and knew they were talking about Joseph Smith. Then two books called the “Gainsayers” and “Are Mormons Christian” came into my hands and answered my many questions. Plus we met every week for a year with a man in our old ward who had a Masters degree in Church history. I had never prayed so hard to know if the church was true or not. I cried and cried for a while thinking I had been betrayed by the church like a woman who had found out her husband had cheated on her. We finally came back to the church and had a much stronger testimony, but during that time I asked the Lord about the 7th Day Adventist church and Ellen G. White and other churches (my daughter had joined the Baptist church and my daughter in law was Lutheran). The Lord spoke to me and said the following: “Although the lds church has the fullness of the gospel, I work through all the churches and they are all my people. That other churches are like stepping stones to the full truth. Not everyone can handle the fullness right away. You cannot take a junk food junkie and make them a health food nut overnight. Line upon line. So, at times God leads people to good Christian churches that may prepare them for the fullness eventually.

    Remember that when Jesus told Joseph Smith that the other churches had teachings that were an abomination in His eyes, he never said the people or the churches were an abomination just the teachings. Martin Luther, John Calvin, etc, were all reformers and stepping stones towards the truth. I personally prefer to tell people we have the fullness of the gospel instead of saying the ONLY TRUE CHURCH, implying how false they are. My dad was such a wonderful convert to this church. He would meet a Baptist or Lutheran and tell them how wonderful it was that they were Christians and all the things he loved about their faith. Then he would say, “If you can show me that your church has more to offer than mine, I will gladly join your church,” and then a wonderful discussion would pursue.

    My dad joined the Mormon church in Germany when he was 25 trying to show his best friend how false this church was. The first time he stepped into a Mormon church he had prayed for God to let him know what kind of a church this was. Shortly after he stepped into the church he noticed his wallet had been stolen. He thought, “Ok, here’s my answer, they are a den of thieves.” As he was leaving he decided to stop and listen to the branch president that was talking at the time. He said, “If you have come to this church to find perfect people, you will be greatly disappointed, but if you want to know if the teachings are true, you will find the truth. Just like with Joseph Smith, Satan arrived first, then God.

  13. Boy, this is an excellent essay!  We do this with a lot of things — tithing as “fire insurance”, for instance — and miss the real point of the story.

  14. I enjoyed your thoughts. I partially agree with you that sometimes we think an earnest prayer is all it takes. Although those prayers are good for us, they can be selfish. I do think the Lord sets Enos straight and makes it clear that his prayers may not be completely answered as he wishes regardless of an all night prayer. And I think that is an important lesson so many people miss. We are here to serve and to serve as the Lord needs us. It won’t always be ideal and lots of prosperity. Elder Maxwell called it the Wintery doctrine. We grow by having struggles. I think this chapter is a great lesson for all of us.

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