3 Nephi 13:5-13 — LeGrand Baker — prayers that are always answered

3 Nephi 13:5-13

5 And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, 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.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly.
7 But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen, for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
8 Be not ye therefore like unto them, for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him.
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.
10 Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
11 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
12 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
13 For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, forever. Amen.

Those instructions were given by the Savior to the entire congregation. Later when Jesus was speaking only to his twelve disciples he told them:

19 Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name;
20 And 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 Nephi 18:18-21).

The conditional “which is right” is explained by the words of King Benjamin. Even though the Savior’s promise was directed specifically to the Twelve, King Benjamin’s words were addressed to the entire congregation:

21 And now, if God, who has created you, on whom you are dependent for your lives and for all that ye have and are, doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive, O then, how ye ought to impart of the substance that ye have one to another (Mosiah 4:21).

The operative phrase here is “in faith.” But the word “faith” in our everyday language has a different meaning from the word “faith” in the scriptures. At the beginning of the Christian apostasy “faith” lost its scriptural meaning and came to mean simply “belief” or “belief without evidence.” As the distinguished Bible scholar David Noel Freedman explained:

Faith is a peculiarly Christian concept. While other religious traditions have aspects of what the churches have come to name “faith,” none has the specific quality of intellectual assent that distinguishes faith from fidelity. The problem of faith and the central discussion of it arises in the context of the medieval attempts to codify and integrate the Christian experience into the emerging philosophical language of the scholastics. {1}

In the New Testament, the word translated as faith is pistis. Pistis is not about wishing hard or unconditional belief. On the contrary, every time “faith” appears in the New Testament, translated from the Greek word pistis, it denotes an arrangement where both parties to a covenant are bound by a legal contract.{2} It was not until some time around the end of the first century A.D., when the Christians had lost the terms of the covenants (and also the authority to perform the ordinances associated with them) that “faith” came to mean belief without evidence, or sometimes naïvely wishing really, really hard.

The problem is this, as Freedman observed, many Christians (including some preachers behind Mormon pulpits) assume that believing is independently sufficient to get one’s prayers answered exactly the way one wants them to be answered – and thus his phrase, “distinguishes faith from fidelity.” But in the scriptures faith (pistis) and “covenantal fidelity” mean precisely the same thing, and that kind of fidelity evinces pure power.

When we understand “faith” as a contract between God and man, then it is easier to understand how King Benjamin’s words might be actualized. If there is a prior covenant between God and men, and the person offers a prayer in which he feels and then repeats what the Spirit has confirmed to be the terms of the contract, then the words, “God…doth grant unto you whatsoever ye ask that is right, in faith, believing that ye shall receive,” become absolutely true, and the prayer will most assuredly answered in the affirmative.

The Savior’s statement (quoted above) “your Father knoweth what things ye have need of before ye ask him” affirms that the Father has a full understanding of our needs, but it may also express the covenant relationship that makes the prayers valid. That is the same idea we find in Nephi’s instructions to his “beloved brethren” when he wrote:

9 But behold, I say unto you that ye must pray always, and not faint; that ye must not perform any thing unto the Lord save in the first place ye shall pray unto the Father in the name of Christ, that he will consecrate thy performance unto thee, that thy performance may be for the welfare of thy soul (2 Nephi 32:7-9).

Nephi further expresses the covenantal (pistis) understanding of “faith” when he writes:

3 But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people. For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I cry unto my God in faith, and I know that he will hear my cry (2 Nephi 33:3).

In the following brief story about the brother of Jared we see two uses of “faith” meaning the uses of “covenant.” In the second instance “faith” is making the covenant. The words, “wherefore thou workest after men have faith” say that nothing is in place until a covenant with God has been affirmed.

In the first instance of the use of the word “faith” we see the brother of Jared either listening to the directions of the Spirit and repeating what he is told to say, or else he is simply reciting the terms of the covenant as he had already received it. The difference would depend on whether the original covenant included all the specific instructions, or was only the promise that the mountain would be removed and there would be a passable road in its place. Moroni writes

30 For the brother of Jared said unto the mountain Zerin, Remove—and it was removed. And if he had not had faith [evoked the tokens and terms of the covenant] it would not have moved; wherefore thou [God] workest after men have faith [have received the covenant] (Ether 12:30).

The Savior’s instructions to the Apostles included that same promise. While the word pistis is not found in these two passages, the instructions that they must follow the Savior’s directions are very explicit:

12 Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.
13 And whatsoever ye shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
14 If ye shall ask any thing in my name, I will do it.
15 If ye love me, keep my commandments.
16 And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever (John 14:12-16).

15 Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you.
16 Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you (John 15:15-19).

When Mormon spoke to his “beloved brethren” in Moroni 7, he reiterated the promise the Savior had given while he was with the Nephites. Mormon said:

26 And after that he came men also were saved by faith [pistis] in his name; and by faith [pistis], they become the sons of God. And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith [pistis] believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you (Moroni 7:26).

The seriousness of this charge was made clear by Mormon elsewhere in that same sermon:

9 And likewise also is it counted evil unto a man, if he shall pray and not with real intent of heart; yea, and it profiteth him nothing, for God receiveth none such

48 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father with all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love, which he hath bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son, Jesus Christ; that ye may become the sons of God; that when he shall appear we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is; that we may have this hope; that we may be purified even as he is pure. Amen (Moroni 7:48, 9).

Its seriousness was emphasized again by the Lord in a revelation to the Prophet Joseph where he said:

62 And again, verily I say unto you, my friends, I leave these sayings with you to ponder in your hearts, with this commandment which I give unto you, that ye shall call upon me while I am near—
63 Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
64 Whatsoever ye ask the Father in my name it shall be given unto you, that is expedient for you;
65 And if ye ask anything that is not expedient for you, it shall turn unto your condemnation.
66 Behold, that which you hear is as the voice of one crying in the wilderness—in the wilderness, because you cannot see him—my voice, because my voice is Spirit; my Spirit is truth; truth abideth and hath no end; and if it be in you it shall abound (D&C 88:62-66).

As I read that warning in v. 65, my mind turns to the woeful lament spoken by King Claudius when he tried, but then found he was not able to pray:

My words fly up, my thoughts remain below:
Words without thoughts never to heaven go (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 3).

The admonition, so often expressed by both the Savior and his prophets, that we must “pray always” takes on a somewhat different meaning when pistis becomes a part of the meaning of prayer and we recall that true prayer as simply repeating what the Spirit instructs us to pray for. It gives a new understanding to the Savior’s command:

36 Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:35-38).

That sentiment, that one must “pray always,” is echoed throughout the scriptures. The majority of the commands to “pray always” are associated with the promise that such constant prayer is a hedge against temptation (3 Nephi 18:15, 18; D&C 10:5, 20:33, 31:12, 61:39). However, the admonition to “pray always” is also accompanied with the promises of other blessings such as the strength to endure (D&C 88:126, 90:24, 93:49-50); and to understand gospel principles (D&C 32:3-5); and this one:

38 Pray always, and I will pour out my Spirit upon you, and great shall be your blessing—yea, even more than if you should obtain treasures of earth and corruptibleness to the extent thereof (D&C 19:38).

Some time ago I was thinking about Enos words where he wrote,

4 And my soul hungered; and I kneeled down before my Maker, and I cried unto him in mighty prayer and supplication for mine own soul; and all the day long did I cry unto him; yea, and when the night came I did still raise my voice high that it reached the heavens (Enos 1:1-27).

When it occurred to me that Enos did not say he stayed on his knees all the time he was praying, I wondered how such a prayer might be. I do not pretend to know the answer, but during my pondering I wrote the following:

Prayer is like walking in the mountain with a friend. There are times when you see a sunrise so expansive and glorious that it must be shared with your friend to be fully appreciated. There are times you walk with the other in silence, then you stop and your eyes look—alone—as you ponder the perfect beauty of a columbine. Sometimes you talk together—your friend and you—but only briefly—because a smile can say so much more. Sometimes the words flow like the confluence of two great rivers and the ideas reach out to embrace a world as big as the open sea. Sometimes you walk together quietly and say nothing, and the unspoken words are more profound than speech. There is no aloneness in the quiet, just as there was no aloneness when all your conscious world was only the beauty of a single columbine. Friendship is like that. So is prayer.{3}

The understanding that “covenant” and “faith” are virtually synonymous, teaches us a great deal about the meaning and power of the Atonement. This eternal covenant is already in place between the Father and his children, while the Savior’s person and the acts of his Atonement constitute the object, terms, hope, evidence, and fulfillment of that covenant. Moroni explained:

33 And again, if ye by the grace of God are perfect in Christ, and deny not his power, then are ye sanctified in Christ by the grace of God, through the shedding of the blood of Christ, which is in the covenant of the Father unto the remission of your sins, that ye become holy, without spot (Moroni 10:33).

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ENDNOTES

{1}  Article by David Noel Freedman, “Faith,”The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday, New York, 1992, vol. 2 p. 744-745.

{2}  For a discussion of pistis in Moroni 7  see the following chapters of Who Ascend into the Hill of the Lord.
.         Moroni 7: Faith, Hope, and Charity, 696
.         Meaning of “Faith”– pistis, 697
.         A Meaning of “Hope,” 710
.         A Meaning of “Charity,” 714
You can download, free, all or any portion of the book from this website. It is located under “Published Books.”

{3}  I later included it in Who Shall Ascend into the Hill of the Lord, 710-11.

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