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.