Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The great Nephite prayer party of 3 Nephi 19

I think we remember pretty well what the events of 3 Nephi 19 are. The news is spread abroad that Jesus has been seen and there are many who work very hard all night to get there where He will appear again. One of the main features of the chapter is an account of the disciples praying continuously and the prayers of Jesus for them, then their glowing white, and Jesus’s prayers in words that can’t be written. At the end of the chapter are these words:
35 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
36 Verily I say unto you, there are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard. (3 Nephi 19:35-36)
The first question I asked myself was, how did the people show their faith? As I searched the chapter, I saw a number of ways they showed faith.
  • They spread the news abroad that they had seen Jesus and Jesus would return the next day.
  • Those who heard the news worked very hard to be where Jesus would be.
  • The twelve caused all the people to pray to the Father in the name of Jesus, which created great unity.
  • The twelve prayed (all of them)
  • The twelve taught all the words of Jesus.
  • The twelve prayed for the Holy Ghost to be given.
  • The twelve were baptized.
  • The twelve continued to pray.
I think it is notable that the twelve did not sit around doing nothing while they waited for Jesus to come; they seem to have determined that they needed to help the people become spiritual prepared, so they taught the people all the things Jesus had taught (bringing them up to speed), they prayed for the Holy Ghost, and they began to obey the teachings of Jesus about baptism. They did a lot in this short period of time. This reminds me of the importance of being quick to obey and do all I can to prepare myself spiritually.
…they did cause that the multitude should kneel down upon the face of the earth, and should pray unto the Father in the name of Jesus. (3 Nephi 19:6)
I can’t help but wonder what it must have been like to be there as the whole crowd was praying. Did they pray out loud? Or did they pray silently? What would it feel like to be with so many people, praying, knowing they were all praying too? Stop a minute and really think about that. What would it be like if we did this today? What if we united our own prayers with those who pray in our meetings, instead of simply listening? What a way of building unity and acquiring an eye single to the glory of God!
13 And it came to pass when they [the disciples]were all baptized and had come up out of the water, the Holy Ghost did fall upon them, and they were filled with the Holy Ghost and with fire.
14 And behold, they were encircled about as if it were by fire; and it came down from heaven, and the multitude did witness it, and did bear record; and angels did come down out of heaven and did minister unto them.
15 And it came to pass that while the angels were ministering unto the disciples, behold, Jesus came and stood in the midst and ministered unto them. (3 Nephi 19:13-15)

Joseph Smith said, “If you live up to your privileges, the angels cannot be restrained from being your associates." (History of the Church 4:605) Joseph Smith said this about the Relief Society, as it was organized, but perhaps it applies to all who live up to their privileges, and maybe this is a case when these people, particularly the disciples, had lived up to their privileges.
16 And it came to pass that he [Jesus] spake unto the multitude, and commanded them that they should kneel down again upon the earth, and also that his disciples should kneel down upon the earth.
17 And it came to pass that when they had all knelt down upon the earth, he commanded his disciples that they should pray. (3 Nephi 19:16-17)
Why does Jesus have the disciples pray? Why not the multitude too?
Why does He have the multitude kneel too, especially if they weren’t specifically asked to pray?)

It seems that Jesus meant to make the disciples and what they did into examples for the rest of the people to follow, and He knew that the manifestations that resulted from their faith and prayers would become a precedent that would be remembered for ages. Rather than preach a long sermon about the blessings of prayer, He did something better—He created an environment of prayer that would bring the blessings that He wanted to them all to realize. He put them into a position to learn about the blessings of prayer from experience. Further, He put the whole multitude into a position that if they wanted to pray too, they could. Commanding them to kneel was an unspoken invitation for them to participate, a suggestion that they could experience the same thing as the disciples.

Why did the disciples pray to Jesus?

Elder BruceR. McConkie said, “Jesus was present before them as the symbol of the Father. Seeing him, it was as though they saw the Father; praying to him, it was as though they prayed to the Father. It was a special and unique situation that as far as we know has taken place only once on earth during all the long ages of the Lord’s hand-dealings with his children” ( The Promised Messiah: The First Coming of Christ [1978], 561). Part of me finds it very odd that the disciples prayed to Jesus, but I can imagine that if I was with Jesus and I would find it very convenient to ask Jesus directly, rather than Heavenly Father.

Another thing that caused me to marvel was that as they prayed to Jesus, He walked a little ways away and began His own prayer. Now, when I talk to someone, if they were to walk a little ways off and start praying, I would be inclined to stop talking to them because I would assume that they were no longer paying any attention to what I was saying to them. (Not to mention not wanting to interrupt their prayer..) If I had been one of the disciples, I think I might have felt a little bit hurt by Jesus walking away and saying His own prayer. It would have tested my faith a bit. Maybe it DID test their faith. Still, they kept praying determinedly along.

What made the disciples decide to KEEP praying?
Perhaps they remembered His words from the previous day when He said “Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always…” (3 Nephi 18:15)

I notice that there seems to be a progression in what Jesus prays for his disciples. First, He prays that they will believe in Him that they can be one in Him. The second time, He prays for those who will believe in their words, that they can be purified in Him as the disciples had been and be one with Him like Jesus is one with the Father. The third time, He prays words that can’t be uttered, they are so great. This causes me to think that this prayer process describes a process of ascension to greater and greater stages of holiness and that at each stage, Jesus’s prayers were answered.

It is interesting that the disciples’ prayers are not recorded. The only thing we are given to know is at the beginning they pray for the Holy Ghost to be given them. Later, when Jesus prays, He thanks the Father for giving the disciples the Holy Ghost. This makes me think that perhaps Jesus’s later prayers similarly reflected the disciple’s prayers, so when He thanked the Father for purifying the disciples, that may be an indication that the disciples had prayed to be purified. However, even if we can’t say for sure what the disciples prayed for, we are given to know four wonderful things:
  • “they did still continue, without ceasing, to pray”
  • “they did not multiply many words”
  • “it was given unto them what they should pray”
  • “they were filled with desire”
It is amazing that they keep their prayers going so long, especially since they weren’t wordy about it. I’ve heard some pretty wordy prayers; a prayer can go on forever if you think of a million fancy ways to say one thing. But if you say one thing as simply as you can and say it only once, you have to find more to pray about. With simple words and no repetition, prayers can cover a huge amount of ground.

How did they not run out of things to pray? “it was given unto them what they should pray.” Somehow the Spirit prompted them as to the next thing they should pray for. And being filled with desire, they wanted to keep praying, so they allowed the Spirit to guide them. Maybe this is something I can do. Maybe if I pray for a desire to pray like those disciples, maybe I can have that experience too. Maybe the Spirit will prompt me what to pray when I’ve come to the end of my ideas and still want to keep praying.

Yet another thing I observe is that when Jesus came back from praying the first time for His disciples, He blessed them as they prayed to Him. This causes me to marvel on several levels. Were all the disciples praying at once? Different prayers? Out loud? Or were they praying in unison, with one person speaking and the others repeating? Or were they praying silently? I think they had to have been praying out loud and in unison, otherwise there would have been much confusion of voices. How did Jesus bless them as they were praying? Was it a pat-on-the-back-you’re-doing-well blessing, or was it a priesthood blessing? I think it had to be a priesthood blessing, else how are we to understand the earlier account of Jesus blessing the children? But how would He bless a priesthood blessing while they were praying, especially if they were praying out loud? It would be hard to focus on either praying or the blessing. Unless… He was blessing them to have the very things they were praying for because they were so unified..

And they were white as the countenance and the garments of Jesus and nothing could exceed that whiteness. There’s a footnote for this that simply says, “TG Transfiguration.” What an amazing thing! And Jesus, when He goes to pray again, thanks the Father for having purified those He had chosen. This seems connected to their transfiguration. It makes me wonder whether transfiguration is a sign of purification, or a privilege attached to it, or whether it is a natural result of purification, or whether it was a result of their purification, faith, and continuing prayers.

Something tells me that transfiguration like this is probably not a goal one makes when one starts praying. ("Yes, today I'm going to pray until I am transfigured.. Ready, GO!") It seems like it is probably the result of purification, faith, and continuing prayers, like that of the disciples. Will we ever know if we are transfigured? I have no idea. Could it be something that others are meant to observe as a sign of God’s light?

Another thing I notice is that in the two prayers of Jesus that are recorded in this chapter, both of them contain a request that all those who believed His disciples would have Christ in them as the Father was in Christ so that “we may be one.” Perhaps those requests were finally granted when the record says Christ prayed words that could not be written yet the multitude heard and understood with their hearts the words He said. It was a prayer to be felt more than analyzed, maybe?

I get a sense from this chapter of how strongly Jesus wants to be at one with His people and for them to be at one with the Father. (I think these prayers also inform our understanding of Jesus’s intercessory prayer in John 17.) He prays for all those who the Father has given Him out of the world that they may be purified in Him and have Him in them as the Father is in Him so that all these may be one. This fills me with hope that even today we can experience those great blessings because Jesus prayed that we would.

Finally we come again to the end of this chapter where Jesus makes the observation about their faith.
35 And it came to pass that when Jesus had made an end of praying he came again to the disciples, and said unto them: So great faith have I never seen among all the Jews; wherefore I could not show unto them so great miracles, because of their unbelief.
36 Verily I say unto you, there are none of them that have seen so great things as ye have seen; neither have they heard so great things as ye have heard. (3 Nephi 19:35-36)
At first glance this almost seems like a reason for the Nephites to gloat and take pride. (“Ha! We are better than the Jews!”) However, I don’t think Jesus meant to provoke pride. I think that He meant to reinforce the principle that the greater a person’s belief, the greater their action, and the greater their action, the greater the miracles they will experience. They were not told how long to pray, and they took initiative to continue to act, so the blessing was greater than it would otherwise have been. I think it is true today too; the more effort we put in to our prayers of our own free will and good desires, the greater the blessing that we can experience.

The end of this particular experience is at the beginning of the next chapter. We have to read this, otherwise we miss important information.
And it came to pass that he commanded the multitude that they should cease to pray, and also his disciples. And he commanded them that they should not cease to pray in their hearts. (3 Nephi 20:1)
We learn several important things here. We see that the multitude DID learn the lesson that Jesus wanted them to. Even though He hadn’t asked them to pray at the beginning, by the end, they were all praying too. (I also think that Mormon included this account in his record because he wanted us to learn this lesson too.)

Another interesting thing that we see is that Jesus asks the multitude and His disciples to cease to pray. But to make sure that they don’t lose the lesson they just had, He tells them not to stop praying in their hearts. This is consistent with our knowledge that the Holy Ghost teaches us that we should pray.

As I have studied this chapter over several days, I have been filled with the desire to practice the principle of praying always. I have been praying a lot more and I can testify to the great blessings of continued prayer. I have felt more in tune with what the Lord wants me to do. I have felt much closer to God and sometimes I have felt heavenly beings very near. I had this kind of experience before a few months ago, but somehow I forgot to exercise my faith and continue. I'm trying to maintain it longer than a few days.

Have you ever tried this? If so, will you share what it is like for you? If not, do you want to try it?


LeAnn said...

I really enjoyed reading your thoughts today. My Grandmother told me when I was very young to carry a prayer in my heart. I have found such comfort in prayer regardless of where or when I pray. I have found that I do carry a prayer in my heart. My life is filled with complicated situations and I find such peace in prayer and the knowledge that I can pray anywhere.
Blessings to you! LeAnn

Curls said...

Great post.