“Patterns of Prayer: Humility or Pride,” Ensign, Aug. 1992, 8
Toward the end of his life, the prophet-general Mormon abridged the records of the Nephites. He began this effort in response to a command from the Lord to preserve the records of his people. (See Morm. 6:6.) Mormon seemed awed by the task, recognizing his mortal weaknesses. (See W of M 1:4–5, 7.) Nevertheless, he rose to the challenge and produced not only a powerful commentary on his civilization but also a volume of scripture monumental in its testimony of the Savior and in its explanation of the plan of salvation.
Of course, Mormon was not the only Nephite to abridge the records, but he was the compiler of most of the book. Except for the pages added by his son Moroni, this volume of scripture is essentially what the title says it is—the Book of Mormon, selected, abridged, and edited by him.
The challenge of selecting the right material was enormous. More than once Mormon lamented that only a small portion of the available material could be included. (See W of M 1:5; Hel. 3:13–16; 3 Ne. 5:8; 3 Ne. 26:6.) But despite the necessary omissions, Mormon seemed satisfied that his selections fulfilled the book’s sacred mission—to bring its readers to Christ. (See W of M 1:6–9; 3 Ne. 5:12–26.)
Selecting the right material, however, was only part of Mormon’s task. He also had to organize this material in such a way as to reinforce the records’ focus. One of the best illustrations of how well Mormon succeeded is his abridgment of the records of the Zoramite mission. The result of his efforts, as revealed in Alma 31, sensitively and skillfully teaches one of the most powerful lessons on prayer found in all scripture.
Mormon sets the stage for his lesson on prayer by introducing the Zoramites, identifying Alma’s motivations for undertaking his mission, and detailing the Zoramites’ apostate worship.
Mormon introduces the Zoramites in the conclusion to his narrative about the anti-Christ, Korihor. The abridgment records that after Korihor had confessed his sins and after his followers had reconverted to the gospel, he went begging among the Zoramites. While going from house to house, he was “run upon and trodden down, even until he was dead.” (Alma 30:59.) By this narrative bridge, Mormon introduces the Zoramites through an action that signals the ignoble end of an individual apostate as well as the reprehensible conduct of a dangerous apostate group.
Alma thus organized a mission to the Zoramites. Mormon identifies Alma’s three motivations for undertaking this mission. The first was spiritual. The Zoramites had left the Church and had become idolatrous, and Alma was concerned for the welfare of their souls. (See Alma 31:1–2; all references hereafter are to this chapter, except as noted.)
The second concern was tactical. The Zoramites had physically separated themselves from the believers in Christ. (See Alma 31:2–3.) Therefore, their reconversion could result only from direct contact with believers.
The third motivation was political. “The Nephites greatly feared that the Zoramites would enter into a correspondence with the Lamanites.” (Alma 31:4.) Alma’s mission was undertaken partly to prevent this dangerous alliance.
Motivated by these concerns, Alma concluded that “the preaching of the word [of God] … had had more powerful effect upon the minds of the people than the sword, or anything else, which had happened unto them—therefore Alma thought it was expedient that they should try the virtue of the word of God.” (Alma 31:5.)
Mormon next details the points of Zoramite apostasy that are central to his narrative. Although he mentions that they “would not observe to keep the commandments of God” (Alma 31:9) and that “they did pervert the ways of the Lord in very many instances” (Alma 31:11), the apostate practice Mormon specifically addresses is that the Zoramites did not “continue in prayer and supplication to God daily, that they might not enter into temptation” (Alma 31:10.) This suggests that “prayer and supplication” will be the focus of his abridgment.
Possibly to teach his lesson on prayer, Mormon contrasts the prayer of the Zoramites with that of Alma. He quotes both prayers verbatim and offers simple, direct, and systematic commentary about both.
Mormon emphasizes the static and elitist nature of Zoramite worship. It occurred only at a specified time and place and only on one day a week. (See Alma 31:12–14, 23.) The practice was further restrictive in that only one person could worship at a time, the worshipper was physically separated from the main body of believers, and only one fixed prayer was offered. (See Alma 31:13–14, 20.)
The prayer was fixed in both its delivery and its content. The worshipper would mount the holy stand alone, “stretch forth his hands towards heaven, and cry with a loud voice.” (Alma 31:14.) The petitioner would then express two principal beliefs: that the Zoramites were “chosen,” to the condemnation of all other people (Alma 31:16–18), and that “their hearts were not stolen away to believe in things to come” (Alma 31:22), specifically the coming of Christ (see Alma 31:17).
Commenting upon this practice, Mormon observes that the Zoramites had become, as a result, wicked, materialistic, vain, and proud. (Alma 31:24–25.) Witnessing this gross state of apostasy, Alma “lifted up his voice to heaven” in prayer. (Alma 31:26.) The prayer that Mormon then quotes provides a powerful contrast to the vain recitations of the Zoramites.
Alma’s prayer was consistent with the “performances of the church,” being a “supplication to God” (Alma 31:10) rather than a rehearsal of platitudes. In it, he sought divine assistance to accomplish a divine purpose: “O Lord, wilt thou grant unto us that we may have success in bringing [the Zoramites] again unto thee in Christ.” (Alma 31:34.)
In contrast to the static and elitist nature of the Zoramite worship, Alma’s prayer occurred in the midst of his brethren and on behalf of both them and the Zoramites. His prayer was focused and specific. He outlined the particular nature of the problem (see Alma 31:27–29) and then made a specific request: that the missionaries be strengthened and comforted in order to accomplish their mission. (See Alma 31:30–33.) He ended with a clear declaration of the mission’s objective: “that we may bring these, our brethren, again unto thee.” (Alma 31:35.)
Alma’s prayer demonstrated his intimate knowledge of and loving relationship with the Lord. Unlike the Zoramites, who sought to deny the reality of Christ, Alma asked that he and his companions be comforted in Christ (see Alma 31:31–32) and that the Zoramites be brought “again unto [God] in Christ” (Alma 31:34). He recognized Christ as the center of all his religious activity and thought. Alma was not concerned with empty eloquence but with divine consequences. He was speaking to be heard of God, not man. As a result, his prayer was far more sublime and profound than any Zoramite oration.
Mormon mentions four consequences of Alma’s prayer in contrast to the wickedness, materialism, vanity, and pride of the Zoramite worship. First, immediately following his prayer, Alma blessed his companions, and “they were filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Alma 31:36.) In his prayer, Alma sought divine blessings for his companions, and his subsequent actions demonstrated the sincerity of his request.
Second, Alma and his companions sought individually to perform their collective mission to restore their brethren to the gospel. (See Alma 31:37; Alma 32:1.) Both the prayer and the mission sought to unify, not to divide, to integrate, not to discriminate.
Third, the missionaries were not concerned with their material sustenance and comfort during their mission, but relied on the Lord, who “provided for them that they should hunger not, neither should they thirst.” (Alma 31:38.)
Finally, Mormon mentions that the Lord strengthened his servants, “that they should suffer no manner of afflictions, save it were swallowed up in the joy of Christ.” (Ibid.) All these blessings were secured because, as Mormon points out, Alma “prayed in faith.” (Ibid.)
In this brief chapter, Mormon demonstrates vividly that our spirituality is directly related to the quality of our worship—specifically the faith we invest in our prayers. The lesson is concise and drawn directly from experience. Alma 31 also serves as an introduction to other lessons Mormon teaches from the rest of Alma’s writings or records. For example, Mormon’s declaration that the efficacy of Alma’s prayer was a product of his faith directly precedes Alma’s powerful discourse on faith in chapter 32. [Alma 32]
Indeed, nearly all the teachings that Mormon includes in his narrative of the Zoramite mission correct apostate beliefs or practices detailed in Alma 31. The Zoramites were informed that they should not restrict their worship to a single time and place (see Alma 32:4–11), that proper worship confirms a belief in the Son of God (see Alma 33:14–23), that the atonement of Jesus Christ provides the only sure hope of salvation (see Alma 34:1–17), that prayers can address a wide variety of concerns and need not be fixed (see Alma 34:17–27), and that true worship includes charity for one’s fellow beings (see Alma 34:28–29).
Mormon’s entire account of the mission to the Zoramites teaches a powerful lesson on true worship, carefully drawn from the historical details of the records and woven around the poignant contrast between Alma’s prayer and the prayers of the Zoramites.
Alma 31 helps to illustrate, in real-life terms, the larger message of the Book of Mormon—that “salvation was, and is, and is to come [only] in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent.” (Mosiah 3:17–18.)