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Cry unto the Lord

The inspiration for this article came from an observation I made today during an Elders quorum lesson on prayer.

We read the following portion of the sermon from Amulek in Alma 34:

17 Therefore may God grant unto you, my brethren, that ye may begin to exercise your faith unto repentance, that ye begin to call upon his holy name, that he would have mercy upon you;

18 Yea, cry unto him for mercy; for he is mighty to save.

19 Yea, humble yourselves, and continue in prayer unto him.

20 Cry unto him when ye are in your fields, yea, over all your flocks.

21 Cry unto him in your houses, yea, over all your household, both morning, mid-day, and evening.

22 Yea, cry unto him against the power of your enemies.

23 Yea, cry unto him against the devil, who is an enemy to all righteousness.

24 Cry unto him over the crops of your fields, that ye may prosper in them.

25 Cry over the flocks of your fields, that they may increase.

The word “cry” is mentioned seven times but what does it mean? The first definition for cry in the Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines it this way:

1. To utter a loud voice; to speak, call or exclaim with vehemence;

The word vehemence is defined as:

1. Violence; great force; properly, force derived from velocity; as the vehemence of wind. But it is applied to any kind of forcible action; as, to speak with vehemence

One might think that violence implies something bad, but violence is simply defined as:

1. Physical force; strength of action or motion

How might one pray in a manner that expresses these characteristics? The word “cry” seems to imply a loud, vocal prayer delivered with great force that seems to almost border on physical force. But how can a prayer be a physical force, isn’t it just words?

Prayer as work

This is the kind of stuff that I just love, we have encountered a paradox, a mystery! Something hidden that perhaps only deep and ponderous thoughts can truly reveal.

The LDS Bible Dictionary has this to say about Prayer:

Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings.

Ok so now we have a second witness concerning prayer being connected with effort on our part, but here is a third witness from Lecture 7:

Let us here offer some explanation in relation to faith that our meaning may be clearly comprehended: We ask, then, what are we to understand by a man’s working by faith? We answer: We understand that when a man works by faith he works by mental exertion instead of physical force: it is by words instead of exerting his physical powers, with which every being works when he works by faith—God said, Let there be light, and there was light—Joshua spake and the great lights which God had created stood still—Elijah commanded and the heavens were stayed for the space of three years and six months, so that it did not rain: He again commanded, and the heavens gave forth rain,—all this was done by faith; and the Savior says, If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, say to this mountain, remove, and it will remove; or say to that sycamine tree, Be ye plucked up and planted in the midst of the sea, and it shall obey you. Faith, then, works by words; and with these its mightiest works have been, and will be performed.

Before the words comes the mental exertion. It is the exercising, the working of the mind that sends out words that can receive power. All God does is by speech, he talks and that which is obedient responds, he never forces because he is the ultimate champion of agency.

The significance of intent

In Amulek’s sermon he talks about crying unto the Lord in your fields, your homes, places that seems somewhat public or where others could potentially overhear; is this in conflict with the Savior’s teachings?

“And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.” (Matthew 6:5-6)

I’m aware that the next few verses speak concerning praying in secret and in your “closets,” I’ll get to that later, but I want to point something out first. These teachings appear to be well-known in the cultural memory of the Latter-day Saints. In Jesus’ teachings the idea of praying secretly appears to be more a virtue than public prayer, and I don’t mean they kinds of public prayers we offer in worship services.

There’s a very unique account of a public prayer that wasn’t necessarily meant to be public, it just poured out of the soul of a righteous man and others happened to overhear.

Now this great iniquity had come upon the Nephites, in the space of not many years; and when Nephi saw it, his heart was swollen with sorrow within his breast; and he did exclaim in the agony of his soul:

Oh, that I could have had my days in the days when my father Nephi first came out of the land of Jerusalem, that I could have joyed with him in the promised land; then were his people easy to be entreated, firm to keep the commandments of God, and slow to be led to do iniquity; and they were quick to hearken unto the words of the Lord—

Yea, if my days could have been in those days, then would my soul have had joy in the righteousness of my brethren.

But behold, I am consigned that these are my days, and that my soul shall be filled with sorrow because of this the wickedness of my brethren.

And behold, now it came to pass that it was upon a tower, which was in the garden of Nephi, which was by the highway which led to the chief market, which was in the city of Zarahemla; therefore, Nephi had bowed himself upon the tower which was in his garden, which tower was also near unto the garden gate by which led the highway.

And it came to pass that there were certain men passing by and saw Nephi as he was pouring out his soul unto God upon the tower; and they ran and told the people what they had seen, and the people came together in multitudes that they might know the cause of so great mourning for the wickedness of the people.

And now, when Nephi arose he beheld the multitudes of people who had gathered together.

And it came to pass that he opened his mouth and said unto them: Behold, why have ye gathered yourselves together? That I may tell you of your iniquities?

Yea, because I have got upon my tower that I might pour out my soul unto my God, because of the exceeding sorrow of my heart, which is because of your iniquities! (Helaman 7:6-14)

It seems odd that Nephi would climb a tower and then pray loudly upon it, but that’s what he did. Maybe he didn’t climb up there to be seen of men but to be closer to God. Perhaps he didn’t really care if people heard him or not, he didn’t care what people thought, he just let it all pour out of him.

How often do we “cry” out to the Lord? Think about it, you are in your home or at work and you feel so overcome that you desire to cry out to the Lord but you don’t because you are afraid of what people will think of you. It’s one thing to pray to be seen of men, it’s another to not pray for fear of men. Where’s the balance? I don’t know, I suppose that we will each have to answer that for ourselves in our own situations.

And when you do not cry

Amulek does address other forms of prayer. He suggests that we cry unto the lord “but this is not all”:

26 But this is not all; ye must pour out your souls in your closets, and your secret places, and in your wilderness.

There are times for deliberately being alone, I believe that one of the reasons for this has to do with visions, dreams and revelation. It is rare that these things happen in public, you’ve got the experience of Stephen surrounded by the Sanhedrin before he was stoned, along with Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon’s dual vision in front of a small group.

But it seems that there are times we should seek to be alone with the Lord. I suppose we will only truly know why when we make this effort on our own. Amulek continues:

27 Yea, and 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.

Amulek says that when you are not crying, e.g., loudly, vocally praying (indicating that this should be a regular practice rather than the exception), that our hearts should be full, drawn out in prayer continually.

How is it possible to pray continually? There is a way and it might not be what you would initially think. I’ll direct you to two articles that I believe can point you in the right direction, or at least be the start of a valuable journey.

Karate Kid Perspective on Ordinances

“Events in daily life can be interpreted as a dialogue with God”

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    I appreciate that you are touching upon a subject that many don’t fully understand completely (including myself). Sometimes as humans we want to fit prayer into a “one-size-fits-all” type of practice because this makes sense to us. However, if we look at the scriptures, it isn’t long before we find out that prayer has many forms and varieties.

    I have always interpreted the scripture to “pray always” to also mean “pray all ways.” How many ways are there to pray? That’s a subject for a dissertation. I think the questions we should be asking need to be centered around what prayer actually is, what is the intent of the one engaged in prayer, and who is benefited therefrom.

    When one begins to realize that prayer is a true uniting of wills between us and our Father in Heaven, we can realize that prayer can indeed take many forms, including worshiping God and the Lamb through music, dance, chant, and anything else you can imagine that is wholesome and praiseworthy.

    It is not so much the outward action as it is our inward thoughts and feelings as we pray. However, I do believe there are times, just as you have mentioned, where one’s inward thoughts, feelings, and actions need to be expressed outwardly to teach, bless, inspire, motivate, etc… Let me tell you what I mean.

    As I have expressed to you before, I think one of the most important things we need to do each day is to pray vocally for our children and specifically in their presence so they can hear us pray for them. Then family prayer becomes powerful and meaningful. We can express love to the Father in such a way that will guide our children along like nothing else in the world ever could.

    We need to pray for our wives in their presence. We need to express our love for them, our hope for them, our need for them, in a way that is real and sincere.

    Perhaps there are occasions when we will give such a prayer for a parent, a brother/sister, a close friend.

    When the Savior came to the American Continent, He gave a great example of this principle:

    13 And it came to pass that when they had all been brought, and Jesus stood in the midst, he commanded the multitude that they should kneel down upon the ground.
    14 And it came to pass that when they had knelt upon the ground, Jesus groaned within himself, and said: Father, I am troubled because of the wickedness of the people of the house of Israel.
    15 And when he had said these words, he himself also knelt upon the earth; and behold he prayed unto the Father, and the things which he prayed cannot be written, and the multitude did bear record who heard him.
    16 And after this manner do they bear record: The eye hath never seen, neither hath the ear heard, before, so great and marvelous things as we saw and heard Jesus speak unto the Father;
    17 And no tongue can speak, neither can there be written by any man, neither can the hearts of men conceive so great and marvelous things as we both saw and heard Jesus speak; and no one can conceive of the joy which filled our souls at the time we heard him pray for us unto the Father.

    There are times when a leader has prayed for me. There are times that when a friend has prayed for me. These have been some of the most powerful prayers I have ever heard. Hopefully I can follow their example in my life as I go forth and serve.

    Why do we pray in sacrament meeting as a congregation? Isn’t there something about the unity of being one “body of Christ” that would warrant such a great public prayer?

    It is one of my strongest beliefs that we can learn a great deal about the Kingdom of Heaven through the structure of Christ’s church on the earth. From the structure itself to the callings to the organization to the pattern of what we do in every meeting – has deep, meaningful, and symbolic purpose and may unlock many mysteries to those who have eyes to see.

    • oneclimbs

      Excellent comment worthy of a post all it’s own! I give a hearty amen to your counsel about allowing other people hear you pray for them. I love to pray for my family members individually in our family prayers. Elder Bednar said something about that in one of his recent books. He said something to the effect that if the people you love the most haven’t heard you pray for them, the time to repent is NOW.

      Based on a public example that a temple president gave at a single adult conference long ago before I was married, we will occasionally do a “family prayer circle” during family prayers.

      The temple president had several single adults come up, about ten and had one stand in the center and pray out loud while the others held hands around him and repeated the words of the prayer. It was amazing to me to see him use this to teach us about the principles of prayer.

      So we all hold hands in a circle and one person leads the group in prayer, while everyone else repeats the words of the prayer. Everyone is focused on the words and connected to those around them because they are literally touching those around them. It’s incredibly unifying.

      There’s nothing wrong with holding hands during a prayer or repeating the words of a prayer in unison. It’s not very common culturally, but as you have said, there are many forms of prayer.

  • Richard J. Nobbe III

    Another thing I forgot to say was I noticed the symbolism behind the number, “7” before I even realized that it was a hyperlink! I went to ldssymbols.com and studied what you have listed for the number. As always, I learned a lot and was fascinated by the quotes you listed.

    Consider adding one more word to the list for #7: process. To me, seven is that great mystical number of the process of completion or creation. Seven always seems to function as a process in the scriptures. The seven dispensations, the days of creation, Naaman dipping himself in the Jordan seven times in order to be healed of leprosy, and many others. I understand and fully believe that seven is the sacred number of completion, but we also need to understand that part of the mysteries of God are in the seven separate acts moving toward completion.

    Also, I can’t believe I’ve never told you this, but I thought you’d get a kick out of it: the LDS chapel I attend is on 8th Ave.

    Cheers!

    • oneclimbs

      Good points all around and that’s awesome that your chapel is on 8th avenue ;-) Coincidence? We’ll let the people decide.