Sunday, October 10, 2021

What Does It Mean To Pray Always?


"Verily, verily, I say unto you, ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him." (3 Nephi 18:15)

For years we have heard the admonition to "watch and pray always".  At first glance, it would seem that we are being told to "be on the lookout and pray always" so that you enter not into temptation.  On the surface level, the admonition sounds simple enough, but then arises the question, "How do I watch and pray always?"  I mean, I have to go to work.  Life is busy, and I have things to do. I have children to take care of etc., etc. 

To better understand the admonition and how to "watch and pray always," it is helpful to understand what the words mean from an Israelite perspective.  The word 'watch' is often translated from the Hebrew word shamar .  In context, the word shamar means to guard or observe something and is the same word wherein we get the admonition of "Keep (shamar-guard/observe my commandments).   In the Hebrew Gospel of Matthew, we find that this is the word used by the Messiah in his admonition as found in Matthew 26:41, "Watch (shamar-guard/observe) and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."

So the question then comes, "How do I Guard/Observe and Pray Always"?  In a cultural context, not only is the phrase connected with the concept of the respective "watches" when guards were placed around strategic areas of the city or temple to alert the city should an enemy approach, but it also became culturally connected with practices of walking with God and "how" we are to pray always:

Practicing The Presence:

One of the first principles of "the watch" was the idea that we are practicing our duties as a "watcher" in the presence of God.  The responsibilities of a watcher entailed not only being physically and mentally prepared but also ever vigilant in their duties to guard the people of God and to be ever ready to carry out the commands of the King. Thus, one of the disciplines taught came to be known in later Jewish circles as "practicing the presence." The Prophets of Israel walked in the discipline of living/practicing the presence of God.  This discipline was taught to their students. In doing so, they began to come out from their spiritual hiding places, experience their nakedness before God, and walk in the path of his presence in this world.  Their acknowledgment of God's presence in their heart (thoughts) and in the world around them was an essential discipline by which they lived. It governed their lives and, in doing so, unleashed a real power of transformation and the utter destruction of doubt/unbelief.

The idea is that God is in all things and through all things-both good and bad. Therefore, it was not sufficient that we simply believe in God.  We must learn to see him and his presence in all things on this earth- both the good and the bad.  In doing so, we begin to come out from our hiding places.  In doing so, we begin to know God.  This is why both in ancient Israel and even in the history of the restoration, men would mark their homes, their tools, their door frames, etc. with the outward phrase, "Holiness To The Lord (YHVH)" or other instruments containing scriptures (i.e., mezuzah) because whether in life or death, sin or obedience, the acknowledgment of the presence of God in all things brought the person out from under the power and shame produced by our adversary and back into the presence of God and the path of true healing and redemption.  By putting up signposts (whether physical or spiritual), we open ourselves to the divine presence- we begin both outwardly and inwardly acknowledge his living presence or eye.  It was not the question of "Why bad things happen to good people" or the declaration that "Prosperity follows the Righteous," but that the presence of God fills the whole earth in the here and now.  In fact, we walk in it daily, and with every breath, we breathe.

In other words, we wake up in the presence of God each morning even as we lie down in his arms each night.  We go to work or school each day as if the presence of God is with us.  We administer to our loved ones and to the stranger on the street as if before the presence of God.  We change diapers, clean toilets, nurse our babies, take out the garbage, etc., etc., all as if we are continually as if God is present in all our thoughts, words, and deeds. In doing so, the spiritual heart of man is revealed even as the carnal man begins to fall away before his all-searching eye.

This discipline of practicing or acknowledging that we live continually in the presence of God is also demonstrated by the teaching of the "eye" of God.  The Prophet Jacob declares:

"O, my beloved brethren, remember my words. Behold, I take off my garments, and I shake them before you; I pray the God of my salvation that he view me with his all-searching eye; wherefore, ye shall know at the last day, when all men shall be judged of their works, that the God of Israel did witness that I shook your iniquities from my soul, and that I stand with brightness before him, and am rid of your blood." (2 Nephi 9:44)


"But, notwithstanding the greatness of the task, I must do according to the strict commands of God, and tell you concerning your wickedness and abominations, in the presence of the pure in heart, and the broken heart, and under the glance of the piercing eye of the Almighty God." (Jacob 2:10)

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