During the first day of the Savior’s visit to the American continent, He taught the people to pray to Heavenly Father in His name (3 Nephi 18:19-21, 23, 30). This is consistent with His instructions to the twelve apostles at the Last Supper (John 14:13-14, John 15:16, John 16:23-26). The following morning, as they gathered in anticipation of His return, they did just that (3 Nephi 19:6-8). And as Mormon tells us, they followed that pattern in the days and years that followed (3 Nephi 27:2, 3 Nephi 28:30, Moroni 3:2).
But there was an exception to this pattern. When the Savior appeared on the second day, He had the people kneel down, and then He invited the twelve disciples whom He had chosen to kneel and pray. Instead of following the pattern which they had been taught (and which they had followed just a short time earlier), Mormon tells us that on this occasion, “they did pray unto Jesus, calling him their Lord and their God” (3 Nephi 19:18).
Why did they pray directly to Him? The Savior explained the reason as He prayed to the Father:
Thou seest that they believe in me because thou hearest them, and they pray unto me; and they pray unto me because I am with them (3 Nephi 19:22).
How did the disciples know that this variation was acceptable on this occasion?
The Bible Dictionary entry for “prayer” tells us, “As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God,… then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part.” We must never forget what we are actually doing when we pray: communicating with God. The disciples had prayed to the Father earlier that day “for that which they most desired,” which was “that the Holy Ghost should be given unto them” (3 Nephi 19:9). Now, as they prayed to Jesus, they had received the Holy Ghost, and inspiration was an essential element of their prayers:
They 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).
These prayers were not monologues. They were interactive experiences: talking, listening, and sincerely expressing the deepest feelings of their hearts.
The purpose of prayer is communion with God:
We pray in Christ’s name when our mind is the mind of Christ, and our wishes the wishes of Christ–when His words abide in us. (Bible Dictionary).
So it was acceptable for the disciples to pray to Jesus instead of to the Father in His name on this occasion because He was in their presence. And they knew that their prayer was acceptable because they were genuinely communicating with God, and expressing the sincere desires of their hearts and receiving revelation from His Spirit as they prayed.
Today, I will strive to pray with the sincerity of these disciples. I will strive to listen to the guidance of the Spirit as I pray. I will remember that praying in the name of Christ is more than simply saying His name during the prayer. It is aligning my will with His and striving to pray for things which are consistent with His purposes.