In A Tale of Two Cities, Jerry Cruncher, the despicable grave robber and spouse abuser, is constantly harassing his poor wife, trying to prevent her from praying because he is convinced in his mind that she intends ill against him with her prayers. The author, Charles Dickens, remarks in his wry narration: "The devoutest person could have rendered no greater homage to the efficacy of an honest prayer than he did in this distrust of his wife. It was as if a professed unbeliever in ghosts should be frightened by a ghost story."
The Cruncher character in Dickens' novel is reminiscent of King Darius, who, heeding his wicked advisers, issued a decree that prevented his subjects from praying to God (see Daniel 6:4-9), and of Amulon, the Lamanite king's wicked and oppressive appointee, who imposed death upon any of Alma's people who were found calling upon God (see Mosiah 24:11). Such tyranny has had its modern-day counterpart in the acts of despots and dictators who have prohibited the free exercise of religion.
Dickens was a genius at employing characterization to comment upon contemptible circumstances and tendencies he observed in society. In fact, can we not see in Cruncher a symbolic personification, in at least one respect, of evil? Nephi, in saying that the Holy Spirit
"teacheth a man to pray," warned that "the evil spirit teacheth not a man to pray, but teacheth him that he must not pray" (2 Nephi 32:8).
Like Dickens' character, Satan well knows "the efficacy of an honest prayer." Every sincere petition to God uttered by one of the earth's inhabitants works against the devil's nefarious objectives. He will do what he can to hinder us from engaging in prayer, whether it be through brute force, false teaching or merely by exploiting the inherent indolence of the natural man. For as an entry in our Bible Dictionary points out, "Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings."
Prayer is a defense against the devil's temptation, as Christ told three of His apostles in the Garden of Gethsemane (see Matthew 26:40-41) and as He reiterated to the Nephite multitude, warning them, "Ye must watch and pray always, lest ye be tempted by the devil, and ye be led away captive by him" (3 Nephi 18:13).
Our prayers promote and safeguard the welfare of ourselves and others (see Alma 34:18-27). And they are the means of obtaining gifts of the Spirit, including the greatest of all, charity (see 1 Corinthians 12 and 13; Moroni 10; Doctrine and Covenants 46).
As every missionary in the Church knows, one of the greatest blessings that comes through prayer is a manifestation of gospel truths by the power of the Holy Ghost, as taught in Moroni 10:3-5. Inexplicably, some would deny this teaching, arguing that one should not pray for such a spiritual witness because one is apt to be deceived thereby, that it is offensive to God and that all the religious truth we need is already contained in the Bible. Unwittingly fulfilling prophecy (see 2 Nephi 29:3), they contradict the very Bible they profess to uphold, for it counsels, "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).
This, of course, is consistent with the Savior's own discourse, wherein He said, "Ask, and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you" (Matthew 7:7) and then reasoned, "What man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread will he give him a stone? Or if he ask fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" (Matthew 7:8-11).
From the version of this passage in the Joseph Smith Translation, we gain added insight, for there we read that Christ's disciples on that occasion said to Him, "They will say unto us, We ourselves are righteous, and need not that any man should teach us. God, we know, heard Moses and some of the prophets; but us he will not hear. And they will say, We have the law for our salvation, and that is sufficient for us" (JST Matthew 7:14-16). This is analogous to objections raised by some in latter days who say, in effect, "We, ourselves are saved; we have the Bible, and that is sufficient for us." The Savior's bread-stone analogy counters the false thinking that resists the exhortation to ask God for a witness of the truths of the Restoration.
Within the text of the Moroni passage is encouragement to any sincere truth seeker, for there the reader is admonished to remember "how merciful the Lord hath been to the children of men, from the creation of Adam" until today (Moroni 10:3). With a promise of such mercy, we should never be hesitant or neglectful in approaching our Father in prayer.