I find this verse fascinating. Here is a man who is well versed in prayer. Yet even he -- with his familiarity with this form of communication -- in this situation must wrestle in "mighty prayer" for the people of Ammonihah. What is it about wickedness that requires so much effort in prayer to overcome it?
We read later in that same chapter not only were the Ammonihahites very hard hearted (eventually burning women and children), but at that very time they were plotting to take down the liberty of God's people.
In the Bible Dictionary, we can read the following definition of Prayer: "Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings."
One might say that Alma failed to receive what he'd asked for. After all, he was imprisoned, the righteous men were cast out of the city, and women and children were burned. But then again, did he fail?
Here is what Alma responded, speaking of the martyrs:
"The Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and...the judgments which he shall exercise upon [the wicked] in his wrath [will] be just;...the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against [the wicked], yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day." (Alma 14:11)
But I still ponder on why it is some situations require so much labor in prayer. Yet when I think of scriptures such as D&C 38:13-15, 28-29...
"And now I show unto you a mystery, a thing which is had in secret chambers, to bring to pass even your destruction in process of time, and ye knew it not;...I think on the importance of prayer for us today. We may not be able to direct exact outcomes, but the Lord has given us the answers we need for our safety. Very few are asked to be martyrs. Therefore, as we pray, we are also to heed this:
"But now I tell it unto you, and ye are blessed, not because of your iniquity, neither your hearts of unbelief; for verily some of you are guilty before me, but I will be merciful unto your weakness.
"Therefore, be ye strong from henceforth; fear not, for the kingdom is yours....
"And again, I say unto you that the enemy in the secret chambers seeketh your lives.
"Ye hear of wars in far countries, and you say that there will soon be great wars in far countries, but ye know not the hearts of men in your own land." (D&C 38:13-15, 28-29)
"That ye might escape the power of the enemy, and be gathered unto me a righteous people, without spot and blameless--I'm grateful not to be an ancient citizen of Ammonihah. I'm grateful to be living during a different time period of the earth, where we've been promised the gospel will never be taken again from the earth.
"...I will give unto you my law; and there you shall be endowed with power from on high;
"And from thence, whosoever I will shall go forth among all nations, and it shall be told them what they shall do; for I have a great work laid up in store, for Israel shall be saved, and I will lead them whithersoever I will, and no power shall stay my hand." (D&C 38:31, 33)
But I'm also mindful there are destructive forces present on the earth now, as told to the prophet Joseph Smith and such as Elder Oaks' urgent speech this month, warning us that our constitutional liberties are being threatened.
The Lord has shown us what to do: gather as a righteous people, without spot and blameless and go forth unto the nations, sharing the good news of His good gospel. Jesus Christ has shown the way to peace, happiness and liberty through his apostles and prophets...if we will but just listen.
P.S. Here is the link to D&C 38, an amazing and most comforting chapter.