To Pray or Not to Pray
Irrespective of what religion or belief we followed, most of us grew up with some form of prayer as our means of communication with God. We may not be able to conceptualize God, but we believe in his omniscience and power. It is this belief that moves us to pray, as prayer creates an inner yearning and longing to be in touch with him. Prayer is a great comfort to us.
Actually, there are countless reasons that motivate us to pray. We would like to think that the most obvious would be our longing to be in touch with God, but is this really the reason? Perhaps the most pressing reason is that we find ourselves unable to cope with the daily complexities and emotional strain of life, and we find ourselves compelled to ask for his help and guidance.
Do we feel that the urgency of our prayers somehow mobilizes God into answering them? Like dialing a ‘help-line’? The minute we call him, we expect God to spring into action to solve our personal problems. In the Gospel of Jesus the author writes that verbal prayers imply that God must be reminded of his duties and of each individual’s needs or that perhaps he is about to make a mistake and requires correction. And what do we imagine happens when our prayers are over? Do we think that we can simply dismiss God, relegating him to a state of hibernation until we need to call out to him again?
If indeed we pray, we should carefully consider the nature of our prayers. Are they offered with wisdom and awareness, or do they simply arise from the emergency and emotion of the moment? In which case, are they really worth saying?
The karmic situations we find ourselves in are our destiny, and as Maharaj Charan Singh so often told us, the Lord does not adjust destiny. If we are earnest and sincere in our meditation, then we will get the inner strength to face that destiny. Even so, we may often feel inadequately equipped to face the challenges destiny throws our way, and we frequently dial the help-line and churn out little prayers, asking God for one thing or another in an attempt to maintain the status quo in our lives.
Kahlil Gibran writes in The Prophet:
You pray in your distress and in your need;
would that you might pray also in the fullness of your joy
and in your days of abundance.
Prayer may often take the form of a repetitive recitation such as when we thank God for the blessings we receive from his abundant store of love and mercy, along with the inevitable request for his protection and help for our family and friends. Yet Saint Matthew, speaking on prayer clearly states that this form of prayer is wrong. In the Bible (Matthew 6:7-8) he says:
But when you pray, use not vain repetitions,
as the heathen do: for they think
that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
Fear is by far one of the greatest motivators to prayer. We may be afraid that if we don’t ask for an outcome to a problem or say our prayers, some calamity will disrupt our lives and cause us distress and pain. So, when we find ourselves in a stressful situation, we dial the help-line and call on God to fulfill our requests. However, we not only want to ask for his help; we also want to dictate what the outcome should be. We coast along happily in life, but the moment we run into any serious difficulty we quickly turn to prayer for help, and common sense is often sacrificed when our fear overrules logic and reason.
In The Prayer of the Frog Father Anthony de Mello illustrates this attitude with a few humorous lines:
Grandmother: “Do you say your prayers every night?”
Grandson: “Oh, yes!”
“And every morning?”
“No. I’m not scared in the daytime.”
Perhaps this epitomizes most of us. When our need is compelling, our prayers are earnest.
Time and again we have been told that verbal requests to God are futile, yet our anxiousness for a particular resolution to our problems is so great that we cannot help ourselves. The sincerity, earnestness and nature of our prayers is an indication that we trust in the love and mercy of that higher power to help us through difficult situations. The problem is that we want his help and guidance, but on our own terms. From moment to moment in our daily lives we take decisions and we appear to be in control, but when we are racked with emotion or fear, it is almost impossible to surrender that control – to eliminate the ‘I’ and to submit entirely to his will.
We are moved to pray to him as we continue in our efforts to direct our destiny by requesting his help, in the hope that it will prevent chaos erupting in our lives. This form of desperate prayer is so deeply engrained in us that even after many years of meditation we may still find that we frequently make the Master the recipient of our prayers and requests. The Great Master says:
We have our Master to pray to, and a disciple should ask him for his aid at every step. There should be full faith in his powers, and full love, confidence and humility. … There should be no doubt or disbelief. Such a prayer made in humility does not go in vain.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III
All too often we find that once we feel our prayers have been answered, or the immediate crisis has passed, our feelings of urgency fall away and we forget all about God − our need has been satisfied and we merrily go on our way until our next crisis. But what happens when our prayers do not appear to have been answered? We cannot challenge God. We have no option but to accept the outcome as God’s will. Perhaps we simply resign ourselves to the fact that destiny must take its course. Why then, did we find it necessary to pray in the first place?
Millions of people around the world believe in the power of prayer to help them or heal them. Numerous studies have been documented, especially in healing, where prayer has been used to achieve beneficial outcomes.
But the million dollar question is: does prayer work? Mikhail Naimy writes in The Book of Mirdad:
You pray in vain when you address yourselves to any other gods but your very selves. For in you is the power to attract, as in you is the power to repel.
And in you are the things you would attract, as in you are the things you would repel.
Is it possible that we pray for what is already in our destiny? Does something deep within us know what is coming our way? Is it that knowledge that drives us to pray for it – either to attract it to us or to repel it − so that when it occurs we believe it was the power of prayer which helped us, when actually it was our karmic destiny that guided us in the first place? To those who believe in prayer, it works – whether they believe it to be their destiny or not.
In The Gospel of Jesus, the author writes:
Verbal prayers, mental or spoken, make no difference to a person’s destiny. If something appears to happen as a result of prayer it only means that it was in the destiny of the individual for it to happen in that way. Desires or prayers certainly seem to make things happen, but that is only a part of the outworking of the law of karma.
Maharaj Charan Singh was asked, when we pray for something and receive it, is it God who answers our prayer and satisfies our request? The Master replied:
I think that even otherwise you would have received them. The Lord does not want us to be asking and begging him to fulfil our wishes, nor does he want us to think that our wishes have been fulfilled because we have asked him. … Our karmas bring us all these things that we are wanting.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
When we learn to set aside our requests and our fears, which is to set aside our mind and our ego; when we simply open our hearts to God, we will learn humility and love – and this should be the reason for our prayers. True prayer creates humility. This is what is acceptable to the Lord – our devotion and humility, and this is the context in which we should use prayer.
Language is the form of human communication, but of what use is language to God? God’s language is simply the silent transfer of love -from heart to heart. Surely this transfer is more powerful and honest than language? The Great Master tells us that no particular language is necessary for praying. He says:
If, while one is praying, he considers himself bound by some formula, the inner flow of love is not continuous. One is thus deprived of full spiritual benefit. Long and learned phrases are not necessary. A prayer should be replete with inner feelings. Although long words and phrases may satisfy our intellect, they lead to one becoming subject to the disease of ostentation. By becoming involved in the structure and recitation of the words, we become far removed from the true feeling of the heart. Our prayers then do not correctly represent the state of our heart and conduct.
Philosophy of the Masters, Vol. III
True prayer is meditation and the real language of prayer is the language of the heart. As Maharaj Charan Singh so beautifully said: ‘When the heart speaks, he hears, he gives.’
Pray as though everything depended on God.
Work as though everything depended on you.