“After This Manner … Pray Ye,” Ensign, Jan. 1996, 34
During his three-day ministry among the Nephites at the temple in the land of Bountiful, the Lord Jesus Christ gave many important teachings and instructions regarding prayer. Verbally and by example, he taught the proper posture of prayer, the usage of divine names during prayer, the frequency of prayer, the places of prayer, the benefits of prayer, what to pray for, and how to pray. In addition, he provided the precise wording for the sacrament and baptismal prayers.
When we examine his teachings, instructions, and commandments during this period, we can understand how important they are for us today. We come to realize that we Latter-day Saints are required, by our covenants that we make with the Lord, to apply his teachings on prayer in our own lives, and we see that great blessings are promised to all who learn to pray as Jesus prayed.
The Book of Mormon has been called “a unique record of a praying people,” and it has been said that “perhaps none of our scriptures are so full of instructions to mankind regarding prayer as is the Book of Mormon. The first page relates a prayer of the Prophet Lehi for his people, and the last chapter contains the admonition of the Prophet Moroni to test the truthfulness of the book by prayer.”1
Within that “record of a praying people,” we find one section where prayer is taught and emphasized in a very concentrated fashion—3 Nephi 11–20. The resurrected Savior’s teachings highlight a number of key doctrines and concepts. Consider, for example, the lessons in the following events.
1. Certain basic instructions on prayer were an integral part of Jesus Christ’s sermon at the temple in Bountiful, as in his very similar Sermon on the Mount in the Old World. He commanded his disciples to “pray for them who despitefully use you and persecute you” (3 Ne. 12:44; compare Matt. 5:44); he gave detailed instructions on where and how to pray (see 3 Ne. 13:5–8; Matt. 6:5–8); he provided a model for prayer (see 3 Ne. 13:9–13; Matt. 6:9–13); and gave additional encouragement for prayer (see 3 Ne. 14:7–11; JST, Matt. 7:12–17).
3. After he had delivered many important teachings to the Nephites, he told them, “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time” (3 Ne. 17:2). He commanded them to return home to ponder what they had heard and to pray to the Father for understanding (see 3 Ne. 17:3).
4. Gathering little children around him, Jesus commanded those present to kneel. Then he knelt and offered words of prayer that mortals are unable to speak or even conceive. He prayed for the children and blessed them one by one (see 3 Ne. 17:13–21).
6. Afterward, he instructed his twelve chosen disciples that “ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil,” adding, “And as I have prayed among you even so shall ye pray in my church” (3 Ne. 18:15, 16). He urged them to pray for those who were unworthy to partake of the sacrament (see 3 Ne. 18:29–30).
8. On the day following the Savior’s first appearance among the Nephites, the Twelve taught his words to the multitude that had gathered in anticipation of his next visit. Then the Twelve had those present “kneel down upon the face of the earth, and … pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus” (3 Ne. 19:6), reinforcing the example he had given them.
9. The Twelve were baptized, “the Holy Ghost did fall upon them,” and angels came from heaven and “did minister unto them” (3 Ne. 19:13, 14). Once again Jesus appeared among them. He commanded the Twelve and the multitude to kneel upon the earth, and he commanded the Twelve to pray. “And they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God” (3 Ne. 19:18).
10. Jesus prayed for them “and also for all those who shall believe on their words” (3 Ne. 19:23). It is recorded that the “light of his countenance” shone upon them, “and behold they were as white as the countenance and also the garments of Jesus” (3 Ne. 19:25). He moved away to pray once more for his twelve chosen disciples and those who would believe them, “that they may be purified in me” (3 Ne. 19:28). And yet a third time he retired to pray for them, uttering words that the “tongue cannot speak … , neither can be written by man” (3 Ne. 19:32).
11. After administering the sacrament again, the Savior taught of the future fulfillment of the prophecies of Isaiah, when the gospel would be preached to his people. “And they shall believe in me, that I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and shall pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Ne. 20:31).
Our posture in prayer is important, as shown by the emphasis placed on it in the scriptures. Jesus provided both instruction and examples during his visits to the Nephite Saints at Bountiful. As we have seen, he commanded them to kneel in prayer, and he also knelt to pray to the Father. The Twelve followed his admonition to kneel when praying, and they taught others to do likewise.
Kneeling evidences humility, submission, and meekness. Elder Bruce R. McConkie, a former member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, explained that “our Father is glorified and exalted; he is an omnipotent being. … And yet we … his children [have] access, through prayer, to his presence. …
“Almost by instinct, therefore, we do such things as bow our heads and close our eyes; fold our arms, or kneel, or fall on our faces.”2
The descendants of Lehi had prayed to the Father and worshipped him in the name of Jesus Christ long before the resurrected Savior came among them (see, for example, 2 Ne. 33:12; Jacob 4:5). But Jesus reinforced this practice during his three-day visit. His repeated command to pray unto the Father was explicit (see 3 Ne. 17:3; 3 Ne. 18:19, 21, 23, 30). Remembering whom we are addressing in prayer is very important. The Twelve followed his admonition and also taught it to the multitude. Significantly, the sacrament prayers that Christ dictated serve as a “testimony” and “witness” to the Father (3 Ne. 18:7, 11) that the partakers will always remember his Son.
The command to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus Christ guides Latter-day Saints just as it did Book of Mormon disciples. In 1916 President Joseph F. Smith declared that “we … accept without any question the doctrines we have been taught by the Prophet Joseph Smith and by the Son of God himself that we pray to God, the Eternal Father, in the name of his only begotten Son.”3
Two types of prayers, formal and informal, are identified in 3 Nephi 11–20. Formal prayers are those in which we follow expected forms appropriate to the prayers, such as kneeling, bowing the head, closing the eyes, folding the arms—and these prayers often present our thoughts in an organized, systematic manner. Formal prayers include the baptismal and sacrament prayers; the invocation and benediction at church meetings; family and individual prayers; thanks given at mealtime; and so on. Informal prayers are often pleas or thanks that well up in us at times when formal prayer is not possible, and they may be in our hearts continually.
In the Church, formal prayers are offered in conjunction with certain meetings or occasions and in established places, or at any other time as we are prompted by the Holy Ghost and according to our needs and desires. An exhortation to pray three times daily is found in the Book of Mormon, where Amulek taught, “Cry unto [God] in your houses … morning, mid-day, and evening” (Alma 34:21).
Regarding informal prayers, Jesus taught the righteous Nephites to “pray always” (3 Ne. 18:15, 18). In the latter days, we have been given the same commandment (see D&C 10:5), and our Church leaders have continually reinforced the message. President Joseph F. Smith taught, for example, that “we should carry with us the spirit of prayer throughout every duty that we have to perform in life.”4 More recently, Elder McConkie taught that to “pray always” is to “pray regularly, consistently, day in and day out; and also, live with the spirit of prayer always in your heart, so that your thoughts, words, and acts are always such as will please Him who is Eternal.”5
One way to “pray always” is to have Christ and his teachings influencing our every moment. “Look unto me in every thought” (D&C 6:36) is the divine command. Alma offered additional insights on how we may pray always.
“Cry unto God for all thy support; yea, let all thy doings be unto the Lord, and whithersoever thou goest let it be in the Lord; yea, let all thy thoughts be directed unto the Lord; yea, let the affections of thy heart be placed upon the Lord forever.
“Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings, and he will direct thee for good; yea, when thou liest down at night lie down unto the Lord, that he may watch over you in your sleep; and when thou risest in the morning let thy heart be full of thanks unto God; and if ye do these things, ye shall be lifted up at the last day” (Alma 37:36–37).
Both the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants make clear the reasons for constant prayer. For example: “Watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation” (3 Ne. 18:18); “continually praying … that [the Father], through his infinite goodness and grace, will keep you through the endurance of faith on his name to the end” (Moro. 8:3); “pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you” (D&C 19:38); “praying always that they faint not; and inasmuch as they do this, I will be with them even unto the end” (D&C 75:11).
All who listen to the utterance of public or family prayer can exercise faith and accept a participatory role. During family prayer, for example, when someone “prays aloud, all present, who are old enough to understand, should mentally repeat the words as they fall from his lips; and why so? That all may be one.”6
Family prayers are perhaps as essential to spiritual progress during mortality as are individual prayers. As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in 1975, President Gordon B. Hinckley taught:
“I know of no single practice that will have a more salutary effect upon your lives than the practice of kneeling together as you begin and close each day. Somehow the little storms that seem to afflict every marriage are dissipated when, kneeling before the Lord, you thank him for one another, in the presence of one another, and then together invoke his blessings upon your lives, your home, your loved ones, and your dreams.
“God then will be your partner, and your daily conversations with him will bring peace into your hearts and a joy into your lives that can come from no other source. Your companionship will sweeten through the years; your love will strengthen. Your appreciation for one another will grow.”7
One thing we should constantly pray for is the companionship of the Holy Ghost. We read that the Nephites “did pray for that which they most desired; and they desired that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Ne. 19:9). In our day, we are told that “the Spirit shall be given unto you by the prayer of faith” (D&C 42:14).
It should be noted that praying to receive the Holy Ghost and praying by the power of the Holy Ghost are two separate things. Praying by the power of the Holy Ghost assures that we are in tune with the will of God.
Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, “we know not what we should pray for as we ought” (Rom. 8:26). But we read that the Nephite Twelve, while praying, “did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire” (3 Ne. 19:24). Our most productive prayers will include all three members of the Godhead; we will address our prayers to our Father in Heaven, pray in the name of Jesus Christ, and pray as prompted by the Holy Ghost. Having the Holy Ghost express God’s will for us through our prayers should be the goal of all Latter-day Saints. That way, “the time will come when we shall know the will of God before we ask. Then everything for which we pray will be right. That will be when, as a result of righteous living, we shall so enjoy the companionship of the Spirit that he will dictate to us what we should ask.”8
Individuals who ask for the companionship of the Holy Ghost and pray by the power of the Spirit will discover marvelous things happening in their lives. God will give them temporal and spiritual direction, and at length their lives will be spiritually transformed through Christ. The time will come when these Saints will be “purified and cleansed from all sin,” and then they will “ask whatsoever [they] will in the name of Jesus and it shall be done.
“But know this, it shall be given [them] what [they] shall ask” (D&C 50:29–30).
By way of example, one individual who prayed as prompted by the Holy Ghost played a role in saving his son’s life. Pioneer Church leader George A. Smith responded immediately to a feeling that things were not right with his sons in Provo, forty-five miles to the south of Salt Lake City. Brother Smith hastened to a private place “and prayed to our Heavenly Father that his boys might not be swallowed up in the Provo River.” At approximately the same moment, his son, John H., was struggling for his life in that river, having been thrown from a boat that capsized. Suddenly “there came a great swell in the water without a breeze stirring and went right down under John H. lifting him up out of the water and throwing him up the high straight bank” so that he was saved.9 (John Henry Smith would later serve in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the First Presidency.)
The Book of Mormon shows us that Jesus Christ prayed with great power and emotion; he wept as he prayed unto the Father over the little Nephite children, and his prayer was a prelude to the ministration of angels (see 3 Ne. 17:21–24). We, too, should try to pray with all the spiritual power we possess and with all the feeling of our hearts. It has been said that “prayer is made up of heart throbs and the righteous yearnings of the soul.”10 A prayer is not effective unless the individual prays with “real intent of heart” (Moro. 7:9), with “all the energy of heart” (Moro. 7:48), and “in the sincerity of his heart” (D&C 5:24).
As with all spiritual matters, the prayers of the righteous can also be understood with the heart.
“And tongue cannot speak the words which [Jesus] prayed, neither can be written by man the words which he prayed.
“And the multitude did hear and do bear record; and their hearts were open and they did understand in their hearts the words which he prayed” (3 Ne. 19:31–33).
The Prophet Joseph Smith once said that “it is the first principle of the gospel to know for a certainty the character of God, and to know that we may converse with Him as one man converses with another.”11 While showing proper reverence and using appropriate prayer pronouns—thee, thou, thy, thine12—individuals should converse with Heavenly Father in the same direct, trusting, and sincere manner that they converse with friends and family members. The Prophet Joseph also said: “Be plain and simple and ask for what you want, just like you would go to a neighbor and say, I want to borrow your horse to go to mill.”13
Of particular importance to Latter-day Saints is that Jesus Christ instructed both the Nephite Twelve and the multitude to follow his examples in prayer. He told the Twelve: “As I have prayed among you even so shall ye pray in my church, among my people who do repent and are baptized in my name. Behold I am the light; I have set an example for you” (3 Ne. 18:16). Then he turned to the multitude and provided them with a number of instructions regarding prayer, including: “Hold up your light that it may shine unto the world. Behold I am the light which ye shall hold up—that which ye have seen me do. Behold ye see that I have prayed unto the Father, and ye all have witnessed” (3 Ne. 18:17–24).
There are a number of reasons why Jesus’ instructions to the Nephites on prayer hold special significance to his latter-day church. First and foremost, “the Book of Mormon was written for us today. … It was meant for us,” President Ezra Taft Benson taught.14 That is to say, the Savior’s instructions and examples of prayer among the Nephite community have equal application for present-day followers of Christ. Therefore, we learn from the Book of Mormon the proper posture of prayer. We follow our Savior’s commands to direct our prayers to Heavenly Father, in the name of Jesus Christ. When we are not praying formally, we remember to pray always in our hearts. We are ready, like the Nephite Saints, to pray whenever and wherever there is a need or desire to thank or call upon God.
Following the instruction on prayer in chapters 11 through 20 of 3 Nephi, reinforced by the teachings of our latter-day leaders, makes us eligible for the same blessings promised to the Nephites who gathered at the temple in the land Bountiful. These blessings can include the companionship of the Holy Ghost (see 3 Ne. 18:7, 11), the Father’s blessings upon our families (see 3 Ne. 18:21), and spiritual oneness with Jesus and the Father (see 3 Ne. 19:23).
Finally, we have the promise of the Lord Jesus Christ that if we live in obedience to his commandments and follow his admonitions with regard to prayer, “whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is right, believing that ye shall receive, behold it shall be given unto you” (3 Ne. 18:20).