The chapter begins with the people preparing for the next arrival of Jesus. Christ ascended into heaven and left the people to ponder the things he had taught them. They prepared for his next arrival.
After the people had gathered, the Apostles prayed to God and then assembled the people into several groups and then taught them the same things that Jesus had taught them. The Nephite apostles did just as the modern day apostles do – they teach the same teachings of Christ.
After they ministered, they prayed for the Holy Ghost. After that, they all were baptized as Jesus had commanded them. After all the apostles were baptized, fire came down from heaven and angels ministered to them. Shortly after, Jesus himself came down and was with them. The rest of the chapter is about how Jesus and the multitude prayed. Mostly it was about how Jesus prayed for them.
They Prayed to Christ
A few key things to note – in 3 Nephi 19:22, we learn from Jesus that the people prayed to him rather than God because Christ was in their presence. As was noted earlier in the chapter, the people were praying to God as is normally the case. But we learn from this chapter that it is appropriate to pray to Christ when he is physically present.
In Christ's presence, the people prayed. As 3 Nephi 19:24 notes, "they did not multiply many words, for it was given unto them what they should pray, and they were filled with desire."
The Nephites knew what to pray for because they desired what God desired. So it is with us … we must train our desires so that they are aligned with God's desire. In other words, we must seek and do God's will.
Neal A. Maxwell gave a wonderful talk on desires (Neal A. Maxwell, “‘According to the Desire of [Our] Hearts’,” Ensign, Nov 1996, 21). There are a couple of quotes from this talk that I found insightful.
"The absence of any keen desire—merely being lukewarm—causes a terrible flattening (see Rev. 3:15). William R. May explained such sloth: 'The soul in this state is beyond mere sadness and melancholy. It has removed itself from the rise and fall of feelings; the very root of its feelings in desire is dead. … To be a man is to desire. The good man desires God and other things in God. The sinful man desires things in the place of God, but he is still recognizably human, inasmuch as he has known desire. The slothful man, however, is a dead man, an arid waste. … His desire itself has dried up' (“A Catalogue of Sins,” as quoted in Christian Century, 24 Apr. 1996, 457)."
So firstly, we must have desire … we must at least be active and we must at least be striving. If we are not, then we are apathetic and as the quote states, we are an 'arid waste.' If we are at least moving, then God can do something with us. Saul was active in his persecution of the saints. God was able to use Saul's desires and redirect them for good.
We too must channel our desires towards God's will. If we but have a desire to change - to repent, God will take that desire and help it to grow. The challenge for us, therefore, is to decide to desire righteousness.
The second quote from Neal A. Maxwell says, "It is up to us. Therein lies life’s greatest and most persistent challenge. Thus when people are described as “having lost their desire for sin,” it is they, and they only, who deliberately decided to lose those wrong desires by being willing to “give away all [their] sins” in order to know God (Alma 22:18)."
One With Christ and God
Another thing that is interesting to me, is that Jesus prayed to the father that the people might be one with him (Jesus) as he is one with God. To me, this presents a concrete image of the “chain of command” if you will. If we are to become like God, as he has intended us to be, then we must follow Christ and his example. For Christ knew God and did nothing but the will of the Father. In a very literal sense, his purpose was one and the same with God. And so our lesson from this chapter is that our purpose should be one and the same of Christ’s purpose. How do we accomplish this? We live the teachings of Christ. We do his will. We keep his commandments. As we do his will, in essence we are doing the will of the Father.
The entire chapter is a great example of how a people, in just a few days, came to a oneness with Christ. Christ came into their midst and taught them his teachings. The people loved him and desired to be more like him. After he left, they prayed for the Holy Ghost to guide them and to teach them the will of Christ. When he returned, he continued to teach them through words and example. He showed them how to pray to God and to obtain a knowledge of the will of God. By the end of the chapter, the people had become (perfectly?) one with Christ that they understood what Christ was praying for, yet they could not utter it with words. They understood with their hearts.