When Jesus prayed to the Father for his disciples and for the multitude gathered at Bountiful, they prayed to him directly “without ceasing” (3 Nephi 19:23–32). Only when he asked them to cease praying in order to break bread with them and teach them from the words of Isaiah did they stop: “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). The question arises, what kinds of things did they “pray in their hearts”?
Assuming that praying in one’s heart is similar to praying vocally—as in expressing gratitude for all things, petitioning the Father in the name of Jesus on behalf of ourselves and others—what could praying in our hearts look like? It might help to be aware that when they did pray vocally, the people “did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire” (3 Nephi 19:24). That “desire” part of their prayers undoubtedly facilitated their praying “in the heart,” intensifying all which they felt to express to Jesus.
This kind of prayer appears in sharp contrast to how Isaiah describes God’s end-time people—meaning ourselves: “These people approach me with the mouth and pay me homage with their lips, while their heart remains far from me” (Isaiah 29:13). From Moroni, who declared that “Jesus Christ hath shown you unto me, and I know your doing” (Mormon 8:35), we receive the same warning: “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” (Moroni 7:9).
Instead, this is how Isaiah characterizes the heartfelt feelings of God’s end-time elect: “My soul yearns for you in the night; at daybreak my spirit within me seeks after you” (Isaiah 26:9). Whether vocally or in the heart, such individuals not only pray “without ceasing” day and night, they epitomize those who “come unto him, and offer [their] whole souls as an offering unto him, and continue in fasting and praying” (Omni 1:26). Did not Jacob exhort his people to “pray unto [the Lord] continually by day, and give thanks unto his holy name by night” (2 Nephi 9:52)?
Jesus himself commanded that “ye must watch and pray always lest ye enter into temptation; for Satan desireth to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. Therefore ye must always pray unto the Father in my name” (3 Nephi 18:18–19). Praying for what, however, that is the question. Here too Jesus provides the answer. Just as the people prayed to Jesus, so he prayed to the Father “for them, and also for all those who shall believe on their words, that they may believe in me, that I may be in them as thou, Father, art in me, that we may be one” (3 Nephi 19:23).
Three successive prayers on behalf of those to whom Jesus ministered brought about an amazing transformation in those for whom he prayed when they received the Holy Ghost and Jesus’ glory shone upon in and about them (3 Nephi 19:19–36). In this same pattern of intercessory prayer prayed Nephi: “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. And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people” (2 Nephi 33:3–4).
When praying “in the heart” or “with the heart” (Hebrew balev), clearly not all the intentions for which we pray vocally need be itemized or we would enjoy no peace of mind going about our day. Rather, what we pray for with a heart “filled with desire” would embody a summation of what we had been praying for vocally. In other words, without listing every single intent of our hearts, we can still offer up—with full hearts drawn out in prayer—the essence of our desires in feeling gratitude to God for all things and in supplicating on behalf of ourselves and others.