“How does a person pray without ceasing?” Ensign, Feb. 1978, 23–24
H. Dean Garrett, instructor, Tempe Arizona Institute Prayer is not restricted to formal, audible petitions: prayer also includes quiet spirituality, a closeness to the Lord. Elder Richard L. Evans indicated that when he spoke of prayer he didn’t refer to polished masterpieces of literature, but rather to “the outcry of the human heart brought face to face with an urgent need; I speak of prayer born of earnest gratitude. I speak of the prayer that petitions in humility for wisdom and guidance—the prayer which though it took not the form of words, would yet be understood and answered by Him who hears all prayers and bestows all blessings.” (Church News, 31 March 1934.)
With these thoughts in mind, it becomes apparent that when the apostle Paul instructed the Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17), and when Alma instructed the church members of his day to “pray without ceasing and to give thanks in all things” (Mosiah 26:39), they were not only advising them to pray formally, but also to feel and react to the presence of God in their lives.
Praying without ceasing could be a condition rather than an act. We must be aware of the Lord’s constant blessings to us. Both Paul and Alma closely linked the idea of praying unceasingly with expression of gratitude to the Lord. “Pray without ceasing,” Paul said; “in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. Quench not the Spirit.” (1 Thes. 5:17–19.) When in our daily lives we are sensitive to our great gifts from our Father in heaven, we are likely to be far closer to the Spirit, and therefore better able to stay in communication with the Lord. Ingratitude to the Lord does quench the Spirit and close us off; to pray unceasingly we must be unendingly aware of our debt to the Lord and his powerful role in our lives.
Yet a constant awareness of our love and need for our Father is not sufficient, for the audible prayers are also necessary. Amulek told his people:
“Cry unto [God] for mercy; for he is mighty to save.
“Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.
“Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.
“Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.
“Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies [and] against the devil. …
“Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.” (Alma 34:18–23, 25.)
Amulek indicates that we should not limit the subjects about which we pray: our work, our households, and our private struggles and endeavors are all areas of our lives in which we should involve the Lord.
Then he said, “When you do not cry unto the Lord, let your hearts be full, drawn out in prayer unto him continually for your welfare, and also for the welfare of those who are around you.” (Alma 34:27.) Amulek is not describing a formal or verbalized prayer here—it would not even be verbalized in thought. He is counseling us what we should do when we “do not cry unto the Lord”: cause our hearts to continually be full of concern for ourselves and others, recognizing that God is the only one who can fully help us. That continual fulness of heart Amulek calls prayer.
That attitude of constant regard for others—and ourselves—in a spiritual sense is reflected in the next aspect of Amulek’s instruction. He indicates that in all our activities we must live the laws of the Lord—obeying him scrupulously, as we trust him to guide and help us—if we hope to have effective prayers. He said, “If ye turn away the needy, and the naked, and visit not the sick and afflicted, and impart [not] of your substance … to those who stand in need—I say unto you, if ye do not any of these things, behold, your prayer is vain.” (Alma 34:28.)
It seems to me, then, that praying unceasingly has at least four elements: First, a constant awareness of and gratitude for the Lord’s great gifts to us. Second, frequent formal prayers about every aspect of our lives. Third, a continual attitude of dependency and trust in the Lord. Fourth, living the gospel constantly, so that we are worthy to be in constant communication with the Lord.
There are times in every person’s life when he does not feel like praying because of depression, weariness, a dullness of mind or spirit. But Brigham Young said that at such a moment a person should say to his knees, “‘Knees, get down there,’ make them bend, and remain there until you obtain the spirit.” (Journal Of Discourses, 2:290.) Perhaps that is the most important part of praying unceasingly: whenever we feel ourselves drawing away from the Spirit, we must work to reverse our direction and come close to the Lord once more.