Someone once asked me: If it is shown that prayer really does have an effect, what is the mechanism involved? Is it truly a miracle, or is there some kind of psychic or quantum effect which we do not yet understand?
Let’s see if we can find an answer in the Baha’i Writings!
What is Prayer?
Prayer is conversation with God:
In His talks ‘Abdu’l-Bahá describes prayer as ‘Conversation with God‘, and concerning meditation He says that ‘while you meditate you are speaking with your own spirit. In that state of mind you put certain questions to your spirit and the spirit answers: the light breaks forth and the reality is revealed. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
Prayer is a 2-way relationship – God bestows His boundless favours and grace upon His creation, but man must by his own volition turn to Him in adoration and praise in order to receive them:
Turning to God in prayer for the sole purpose of glorifying His Name and extolling His Attributes is the most natural move that man can make towards his Creator. It is like a plant which turns towards the sun. Although the sun pours out its energies regardless, yet, by its very nature, the tree cannot help but stretch its boughs and branches in the direction of the sun. For it to remain insensible to the life-giving rays of the sun is a sign that it is dead. To use another analogy, we see in nature that a babe cries for food and his mother feeds him. But if he does not hunger for food, he is not healthy even though the mother may feed him by force. This two-way relationship is the basis for growth. Similarly, God bestows His boundless favours and grace upon His creation, but man must by his own volition turn to Him in adoration and praise in order to receive them. If he fails to do this, he becomes deprived and spiritually starved. In The Hidden Words Bahá’u’lláh confirms this when He says: O Son of Being! Love Me, that I may love thee. If thou lovest Me not, My love can in no wise reach thee. Know this, O servant. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232-233)
Prayer is an act in which people turn to God in need or in praise:
‘Abdu’l-Bahá taught man much about prayer, that act in which people turn to God in need or praise. (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 146)
Service is prayer:
This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer. A physician ministering to the sick, gently, tenderly, free from prejudice and believing in the solidarity of the human race, he is giving praise. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Paris Talks, p. 176)
The acquisition of sciences and the perfection of arts is considered as prayer:
Strive as much as possible to become proficient in the science of agriculture for in accordance with the Divine Teachings, the acquisition of sciences and the perfection of arts is considered as acts of worship. If a man engages with all his power in the acquisition of a science or in the perfection of an art, it is as if he has been worshipping God in the churches and temples. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 377)
Work performed in the spirit of service is prayer:
Every individual, no matter how handicapped and limited he may be, is under the obligation of engaging in some work or profession, for work, especially when performed in the spirit of service, is according to Bahá’u’lláh a form of worship. (Baha’u’llah, The Kitab-i-Aqdas, p. 192)
When do we Pray?
We recite the verses of God every morning and evening:
Recite ye the verses of God every morn and eventide. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 73)
We pray at midnight, morn and eve:
Neglect not praying and communing in the gloomy midnights and morn and eve, and offer glory unto thy Lord, the Supreme. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v2, p. 413)
Morning is a perfect time to say our prayers:
Nighttime is for sleeping, and daytime is for being happy, working, playing, serving, helping others and remembering our Creator. When the sun rises the world is very beautiful, it is fresh and quiet, only the birds can be heard singing; it is a perfect time to say our prayers. To rise with the sun, to wash our hands and face and say our prayers is something very special. It is much easier to pray first thing in the morning, before we become busy with other things. Sleeping in late is being lazy, and when we wake up, much time has been wasted. Don’t you think it is a beautiful idea to show our respect and love of God by thinking of Him first, before we do anything else? By doing this we prepare ourselves for a long happy and productive day. (Dr. Furutan, Bahá’í Education for Children, Book 2)
We pray when we’re sad:
When I am sad, I always pray. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Philosophy, p. 73-74)
Is there ever a time when we should not pray?
When our hearts aren’t attuned to the Focal Point of Communion:
Let not thy tongue pay lip service in praise of God while thy heart be not attuned to the exalted summit of Glory, and the Focal Point of communion. Thus if haply thou dost live in the Day of Resurrection, the mirror of thy heart will be set towards Him Who is the Day-Star of Truth; and no sooner will His light shine forth than the splendour thereof shall forthwith be reflected in thy heart. For He is the Source of all goodness, and unto Him revert all things. But if He appeareth while thou hast turned unto thyself in meditation, this shall not profit thee, unless thou shalt mention His Name by words He hath revealed. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, pp. 93-94)
When our hearts are lifeless or defiled with worldly desires and cravings:
Approach Me not with lifeless hearts, defiled with worldly desires and cravings. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 19)
Where Do We Pray?
The daily obligatory prayers are said in the privacy of one’s chamber, and meditation on the Teachings is, likewise, a private individual activity, not a form of group therapy:
It is striking how private and personal the most fundamental spiritual exercises of prayer and meditation are in the Faith. Bahá’ís do, of course, have meetings for devotions, as in the Mashriqu’l-Adhkar or at Nineteen Day Feasts, but the daily obligatory prayers are ordained to be said in the privacy of one’s chamber, and meditation on the Teachings is, likewise, a private individual activity, not a form of group therapy. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 540)
The reason we pray in private is to that we can give our best attention to the remembrance of God:
The reason why privacy hath been enjoined in moments of devotion is this, that thou mayest give thy best attention to the remembrance of God, that thy heart may at all times be animated with His Spirit, and not be shut out as by a veil from thy Best Beloved. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, pp. 93-94)
We also pray in Bahá’í temples (also referred to as the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár):
When the Mashriqu’l-Adhkár is accomplished, when the lights are emanating therefrom, the righteous ones are presenting themselves therein, the prayers are performed with supplication towards the mysterious Kingdom, the voice of glorification is raised to the Lord, the Supreme, then the believers shall rejoice, the hearts shall be dilated and overflow with the love of the All-living and Self-existent God. The people shall hasten to worship in that heavenly Temple, the fragrances of God will be elevated, the divine teachings will be established in the hearts like the establishment of the Spirit in mankind; the people will then stand firm in the Cause of your Lord, the Merciful. Praise and greetings be upon you. (Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 414)
And in private homes, during Bahá’í meetings such as the 19 Day Feast, Holy Days, Assembly meetings, Devotional Gatherings; and any other place where Bahá’ís gather.
Who Do We Pray to?
It would be better to turn one’s thoughts to the Manifestation as He continues, in the other world, to be our means of contact with the Almighty:
While praying it would be better to turn one’s thoughts to the Manifestation as He continues, in the other world, to be our means of contact with the Almighty. We can, however, pray directly to God Himself. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 457)
You can pray to God directly, or address your prayer to Bahá’u’lláh as the Door to knowing God:
We cannot know God directly, but only through His Prophets. We can pray to Him, realizing that through His Prophets we know Him, or we can address our prayer in thought to Bahá’u’lláh, not as God but as the Door to our knowing God. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 504)
If we pray to God through Bahá’u’lláh, we should never insert the name Bahá’u’lláh where the word ‘God’ is used:
Under no circumstances, however, we can, while repeating the prayers, insert the name Bahá’u’lláh where the word ‘God’ is used. This would be tantamount to a blasphemy. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 457)
In order to make progress, our hearts should be fixed in the Supreme Concourse so that inspiration may descend from the Kingdom of Bahá and questions of reality be discussed:
Each bosom must be a telegraph station-one terminus of the wire attached to the soul, the other fixed in the Supreme Concourse-so that inspiration may descend from the Kingdom of Bahá and questions of reality be discussed. Then opinions will coincide with truth; day by day there will be progression. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 183)
If you need to visualize someone when you pray, think of the Master:
If you find you need to visualize someone when you pray, think of the Master. Through Him you can address Bahá’u’lláh. Gradually try to think of the qualities of the Manifestation, and in that way a mental form will fade out, for after all the body is not the thing, His Spirit is there and is the essential, everlasting element. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 457)
We can pray to Shoghi Effendi as long as we always bear in mind he is only the Guardian, and do not confuse his station with that of the Prophet or even the Master.
We pray to God, or to Bahá’u’lláh, as we please. But if in our thoughts we desire to turn to the Guardian first and then address our prayer, there is no objection, as long as we always bear in mind he is only the Guardian, and do not confuse his station with that of the Prophet or even the Master. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 457)
As long as you don’t confuse their stations, and make them all equal, it does not matter much how you orient your thoughts:
We must not be rigid about praying; there is not a set of rules governing it; the main thing is we must start out with the right concept of God, the Manifestation, the Master, the Guardian—we can turn, in thought, to any one of them when we pray. For instance you can ask Bahá’u’lláh for some thing, or, thinking of Him, ask God for it. The same is true of the Master or the Guardian. You can turn in thought to either of them and then ask their intercession, or pray direct to God. As long as you don’t confuse their stations, and make them all equal, it does not matter much how you orient your thoughts. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 456)
Those who are near the Divine Court are allowed to intercede in our lives, and this intercession is approved by God:
The wealth of the other world is nearness to God. Consequently, it is certain that those who are near the Divine Court are allowed to intercede, and this intercession is approved by God. But intercession in the other world is not like intercession in this world. It is another thing, another reality, which cannot be expressed in words. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá: Some Answered Questions, p. 231)
How Should We Pray?
Close our eyes to everything and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious:
O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 51)
Turn our faces to the Kingdom on high and ask aid from the Realm of Glory:
They must, when coming together, turn their faces to the Kingdom on high and ask aid from the Realm of Glory. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 87-88)
Stop looking for answers anywhere else but God:
Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 51)
We pray in in the language of heaven:
We should speak in the language of heaven-in the language of the spirit-for there is a language of the spirit and the heart. It is as different from our language as our own language is different from that of the animals…It is the language of the spirit which speaks to God.When in prayer, we are freed from all outward things and turn to God, then it is as if in our hearts we hear the voice of God. Without words we speak, we communicate, we converse with God and hear the answer…All of us, when we attain to a truly spiritual condition, can hear the Voice of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá in Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 88)
Bahá’ís are generally encouraged to those prayers and Tablets revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which have been authenticated:
Bahá’ís are generally encouraged to use the Creative Word, including those prayers and Tablets revealed by Bahá’u’lláh, the Báb and ‘Abdu’l-Bahá which are authenticated and published in our Bahá’í literature. (The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Sep 19, Definition and Scope of ‘Devotional Meetings‘)
We recite specific prayers we’re told have a special potency:
Similarly, we are assured by the Guardian that the Tablet of Ahmad, the Healing Prayer and the Fire Tablet each have a special potency, and you will doubtless wish to avail yourself of them, if you are not already doing so. It is interesting to note as well that Shoghi Effendi encouraged the believers to study the Dawn-Breakers, which he described as an “unfailing instrument to allay distress”. In a letter dated 20 July 1933 written on his behalf, he outlined a method by which the individual might approach this task: He wishes you to read it with deepest care and to picture for yourself the wonderful scenes of heroism, of devotion and of self-sacrifice so vividly expressed by Nabil in his immortal narrative. (The Universal House of Justice, 1985 Dec 02, Child Abuse, Psychology and Knowledge of Self)
While spontaneous prayer is permitted, the revealed verses are preferred because the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own:
A letter dated 8 August 1942, written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi to a National Spiritual Assembly, indicates that while spontaneous prayer is permitted, the revealed verses are preferred because “the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own”. The friends, therefore, must use them in their own supplications with radiant joy. This does not mean, however, that in addition to such prayers, they may not, in private, use their own words whenever they feel the inclination to do so. (The Universal House of Justice, 2001 Sep 19, Definition and Scope of ‘Devotional Meetings‘)
Even children should be exposed to excerpts from the Sacred Words rather than spontaneous prayer:
The Guardian feels that it would be better for either the mothers of Bahá’í children—or some Committee your Assembly might delegate the task to—to choose excerpts from the Sacred Words to be used by the child rather than just something made up. Of course prayer can be purely spontaneous, but many of the sentences and thoughts combined in Bahá’í writings of a devotional nature are easy to grasp, and the revealed Word is endowed with a power of its own. (Shoghi Effendi, Bahá’í Education: A Compilation, p. 68)
The reading of prayers or selections from the Sacred Writings of other religions is permissible:
As to the reading of prayers or selections from the Sacred Writings of other religions such readings are permissible, and indeed from time to time are included in the devotional programmes of Bahá’í Houses of Worship, demonstrating thereby the universality of our Faith. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 456)
It’s not enough to pray for guidance, we must then meditate on the best method of action; and then take action:
It is not sufficient to pray diligently for guidance, but this prayer must be followed by meditation as to the best methods of action and then action itself. Even if the action should not immediately produce results, or perhaps not be entirely correct, that does not make so much difference, because prayers can only be answered through action and if someone’s action is wrong, God can use that method of showing the pathway which is right. (Shoghi Effendi, Guidelines for Teaching, p. 325)
Shoghi Effendi has given us 5 Steps of Prayer for Solving Problems:
The below five steps were suggested by the beloved Guardian Shoghi Effendi to a believer as a means of finding a solution through the use of prayer. This statement belongs to the category of statements known as “pilgrims notes”, and as such has no authority, but since it seems to be particularly helpful and clear it was felt that believers should not be deprived of it.
1st Step: Pray and meditate about it. Use the prayers of the Manifestations as they have the greatest power. Then remain in the silence of contemplation for a few minutes.
2nd Step: Arrive at a decision and hold this. This decision is usually born during the contemplation. It may seem almost impossible of accomplishment but if it seems to be as answer to a prayer or a way of solving the problem, then immediately take the next step.
3rd Step: Have determination to carry the decision through. Many fail here.
The decision, budding into determination, is blighted and instead becomes a wish or a vague longing. When determination is born, immediately take the next step.
4th Step: Have faith and confidence that the power will flow through you, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. Have confidence and the right thing will come to your need. Then, as you rise from prayer, take at once the 5th step.
5th Step: Act as though it had all been answered. Then act with tireless, ceaseless energy. And as you act, you, yourself, will become a magnet, which will attract more power to your being, until you become an unobstructed channel for the Divine power to flow through you.
Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need.
But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out. (Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Bahá’í Administration, p. 91)
Regarding the five steps of prayer outlined by the Guardian, and recorded by Mrs. Moffett in her booklet the ‘Call to Prayer‘: these, he wishes me to explain, are merely personal suggestions and need not, therefore, be adopted strictly and universally by the believers. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 461)
Nearer access to God comes from reciting the verses of God in such a way that we aren’t overtaken by fatigue or boredom:
Recite ye the verses of God in such measure that ye be not overtaken with fatigue or boredom. Burden not your souls so as to cause exhaustion and weigh them down, but rather endeavour to lighten them, that they may soar on the wings of revealed Verses unto the dawning-place of His signs. This is conducive to nearer access unto God, were ye to comprehend. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 225)
Reading a single verse from the Holy Writings in a spirit of joy and radiance is better than reciting wearily all the Scriptures of God:
Should a person recite but a single verse from the Holy Writings in a spirit of joy and radiance, this would be better for him than reciting wearily all the Scriptures of God, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 225)
We read the prayers as printed without changing a single word:
Regarding your question as to the changing of pronouns in Bahá’í prayers: The Guardian does not approve of such changes, either in the specific prayers on in any others. They should be read as printed without changing a single word. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 458)
We pray with trust in God and submission to His will as this story illustrates:
One day a despondent little Jewish girl, all in black, was brought into the Master’s presence. With tears flowing, she told Him her tale of woes: her brother had been unjustly imprisoned three years before – he had four more years to serve; her parents were constantly depressed; her brother-in-law, who was their support, had just died. She claimed the most she trusted in God the worse matters became. She complained, ‘… my mother reads the Psalms all the time; she doesn’t deserve that God should desert her so. I read the Psalms myself,—the ninety-first Psalm and the twenty-third Psalm every night before I go to bed. I pray too.’
Comforting and advising her, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá replied, ‘To pray is not to read Psalms. To pray is to trust in God, and to be submissive in all things to Him. Be submissive, then things will change for you. Put your family in God’s hands. Love God’s will. Strong ships are not conquered by the sea,—they ride the waves. Now be a strong ship, not a battered one.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 132)
Other spiritual qualities which are the true basis of prayer include:
- pray with a detached spirit
- concentrated attention
- unconditional surrender of the will to God
- spiritual passion.’
- hold in one’s mind some object
- turn our thoughts and face to the Blessed Perfection
He spoke of the spiritual qualities which are the true basis of prayer: ‘The worshipper must pray with a detached spirit, concentrated attention, in unconditional surrender of the will to God, and spiritual passion.’ The Master stated that ‘At the time of prayer one must hold in one’s mind some object.’ Later He continued, ‘When I pray I turn My thoughts and My face to the Blessed Perfection.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 146)
After each prayer we should supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents:
It is seemly that the servant should, after each prayer, supplicate God to bestow mercy and forgiveness upon his parents. Thereupon God’s call will be raised: ‘Thousand upon thousand of what thou hast asked for thy parents shall be thy recompense!’ Blessed is he who remembereth his parents when communing with God. There is, verily, no God but Him, the Mighty, the well-Beloved. (The Bab: Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 94)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá has given us a prayer we can use:
O Lord! In this Most Great Dispensation Thou dost accept the intercession of children in behalf of their parents. This is one of the special infinite bestowals this dispensation. Therefore, O Thou kind Lord, accept the request of this Thy servant at the threshold of Thy singleness and submerge his father in the ocean of Thy grace, because this son hath arisen to render Thee service and is exerting effort at all times in the pathway of Thy love. Verily, Thou art the Giver, the Forgiver and the Kind! (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Lights of Guidance, p. 230)
Is Congregational Prayer Ever Used?
Only in the case of the Prayer for the Dead has Bahá’u’lláh commanded congregational prayer:
The prayers which Bahá’u’lláh has ordained as a daily obligation for Bahá’ís are to be said privately. Only in the case of the Prayer for the Dead has Bahá’u’lláh commanded congregational prayer, and the only requirement is that the believer who reads it aloud, and all others present, should stand. This differs from the Islamic practice of congregational prayer in which the believers stand in rows behind an imam, who leads the prayer, which is prohibited in the Bahá’í Faith. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 93)
There is a difference between chanting a prayer collectively and congregational prayer:
You have asked whether it is permissible for the friends to chant a prayer collectively. There is a difference between chanting a prayer collectively and congregational prayer. The latter is a formal prayer usually led by an individual using a prescribed ritual. Congregational prayer in this form is forbidden in the Faith except in the case of the Prayer for the Dead. While reciting prayers in unison and spontaneously joining in the recitation of the Words of God is not forbidden, the friends should bear in mind the advice of the beloved Guardian on this subject when he stated that: although the friends are thus left free to follow their own inclination, … they should take the utmost care that any manner they practice should not acquire too rigid a character, and thus develop into an institution. This is a point which the friends should always bear in mind, lest they deviate from the clear path indicated in the Teachings. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 12-13)
Is there ever a time when Bahá’ís gather to pray together?
Yes,where many are gathered together their force is greater:
These ordinances, which are in accordance with Bahá’u’lláh’s abolition of professional clergy, do not mean that He attached no value to meetings for worship. Regarding the value of gathering for prayer, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá spoke as follows:
Man may say: “I can pray to God whenever I wish, when the feelings of my heart are drawn to God; when I am in the wilderness, when I am in the city, or wherever I may be. Why should I go where others are gathered upon a special day, at a certain hour, to unite my prayers with theirs, when I may not be in a frame of mind for praying?” To think in this way is useless imagination, for where many are gathered together their force is greater. Separate soldier fighting alone and individually have not the force of a united army. If all the soldier in this spiritual war gather together, then their united spiritual feelings help each other, and their prayers become acceptable. (Dr. J.E. Esslemont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 93)
What Do We Pray For?
We pray for our many needs; when in difficulty, pain or grief:
Nevertheless, human beings have many needs in this life and when in difficulty, pain or grief, they turn to God for assistance. The Báb and Bahá’u’lláh have both revealed special prayers for various occasions to be said when one is in need. If a man must have a desire—and it is quite natural for him to do so—his prayer should be that in the end he may attain the good-pleasure of his Lord. For any other desire, even service to the Cause, meritorious though it is, will not necessarily result in his salvation. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232)
We pray for physical and spiritual healing:
The prayers which were revealed to ask for healing apply both to physical and spiritual healing. Recite them, then, to heal both the soul and the body. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.161-162)
We pray for the removal of difficulties:
Bid them recite: “Is there any Remover of difficulties save God? Say: Praised be God! He is God! All are His servants, and all abide by His bidding!” Tell them to repeat it five hundred times, nay, a thousand times, by day and by night, sleeping and waking, that haply the Countenance of Glory may be unveiled to their eyes, and tiers of light descend upon them.’ (Bahá’u’lláh, God Passes By, p. 118)
We pray for divine guidance, wisdom and strength to do what is pleasing to God:
He should pray fervently for divine guidance, wisdom and strength to do what is pleasing to God, and to serve Him at all times and to the best of his ability. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 359)
All these wishes are worthy of asking:
- forgiveness of sins
- great unity and peace
- nearness to the Threshold of God
- detached from thine own will
- seeking the will of God
- rescue from self-love (or selfishness
- progress in the station of knowledge
- desire to serve God
- that thy honorable husband and children may be set aglow with the fire of the love of God and may manifest light on their brows through the radiance of the knowledge of God.
Thy letter was understood. Thou hast asked, very humbly, for certain things and all were worthy to be coveted. Thou desirest forgiveness of sins; didst ask for great unity and peace; sought nearness to the Threshold of God; hoped to be detached from thine own will, seeking the will of God; prayed for rescue from self-love (or selfishness); hoped for progress in the station of knowledge; desired to serve God; and prayed that thy honorable husband and thy children may be set aglow with the fire of the love of God and may manifest light on their brows through the radiance of the knowledge of God. All these wishes are well worthy of asking. Especially the rescue from self-love. This is a strange trait and the means of the destruction of many important souls in the world. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 135-136)
We pray to overcome the failings in our own characters, and to exert our own will power in mastering ourselves:
We must supplicate Bahá’u’lláh to assist us to overcome the failings in our own characters, and also exert our own will power in mastering ourselves. However, unfortunately, not everyone achieves easily and rapidly the victory over self. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
We pray in times of natural disasters which cause fear, such as earthquakes:
In Islam a special prayer was ordained to be said in times of natural phenomena which cause fear, such as earthquakes. This has been annulled, and in its place a Bahá’í may say “Dominion is God’s, the Lord of the seen and the unseen, the Lord of creation”. (Bahá’u’lláh, Synopsis and Codification of the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 58)
We pray for those in the next world:
In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
They may even be the mediators of God’s power to us:
Someone present asked how it was that in prayer and meditation the heart often turns with instinctive appeal to some friend who has passed into the next life. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá answered: “It is a law of God’s creation that the weak should lean upon the strong. Those to whom you turn may be the mediators of God’s power to you, even as when on earth. But it is the One Holy Spirit that strengthens all men. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in London, p. 96)
We pray to ask God to adjust our wishes and desires so they conform to the Divine Will:
The true worshipper, while praying, should endeavour not so much to ask God to fulfil his wishes and desires, but rather to adjust these and make them conform to the Divine Will. Only through such an attitude can one derive that feeling of inner peace and contentment which the power of prayer alone can confer. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 239)
The purest form of prayer is one which in which we are freed from desire:
The purest form of prayer is one which is freed from desire. Such a prayer will cause the bounties of God to descend upon the soul. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232)
The most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance; detached and pure:
The most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance; its prolongation hath not been and is not beloved of God. The more detached and purer the prayer, the more acceptable it is in the presence of God. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p.77-78)
The most befitting form of prayer is that of praising God:
However, the most befitting form of prayer is that of praising God. Through it the channels of grace are opened up and He bestows His powers and blessing upon the individual. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232-233)
In the highest prayer, we pray only for the love of God:
In the highest prayer, men pray only for the love of God, not because they fear Him or hell, or hope for bounty or heaven…. When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved. How much more difficult is it to keep from mentioning the Name of God when one has come to love Him…. The spiritual man finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 236)
In the end, our prayer should be that we attain the good-pleasure of our Lord:
If a man must have a desire—and it is quite natural for him to do so—his prayer should be that in the end he may attain the good-pleasure of his Lord. For any other desire, even service to the Cause, meritorious though it is, will not necessarily result in his salvation. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá has given us this prayer to use every night and every day, seeking His assistance and help, saying:
O Lord! We are weak; strengthen us. O God! We are ignorant; make us knowing. O Lord! We are poor; make us wealthy. O God! We are dead; quicken us. O Lord! We are humiliation itself; glorify us in Thy Kingdom. If Thou dost assist us, O Lord, we shall become as scintillating stars. If Thou dost not assist us, we shall become lower than the earth. O Lord! Strengthen us. O God! Confer victory upon us. O God! Enable us to conquer self and overcome desire. O Lord! Deliver us from the bondage of the material world. O Lord! Quicken us through the breath of the Holy Spirit in order that we may arise to serve Thee, engage in worshiping Thee and exert ourselves in Thy Kingdom with the utmost sincerity. O Lord, Thou art powerful. O God, Thou art forgiving. O Lord, Thou art compassionate. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 457)
Is There Anything We Shouldn’t Pray For?
Anything which might injure us:
Consider the pettiness of men’s minds. They ask for that which injureth them, and cast away the thing that profiteth them. They are, indeed, of those that are far astray. We find some men desiring liberty, and priding themselves therein. Such men are in the depths of ignorance. (Bahá’u’lláh, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, p. 335)
Anything which might injure others:
He should not wish for others what he doth not wish for himself. (Bahá’í Scriptures, p. 50)
Our will over God’s will:
Prefer not your will to Mine, never desire that which I have not desired for you. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words 19)
Here is a prayer we can use to seek God’s will:
All grace is Thine, O Thou in Whose hand is the kingdom of Divine gifts and the source of every irrevocable decree. Send down, therefore, O my God, upon all that seek Thee that which will entirely strip them of all that pertaineth not unto Thee, and will draw them nigh unto Thy Self. Assist them, by Thy grace, to love Thee and to conform unto that which shall please Thee. Grant, then, that they may go straight on in the path of Thy Cause, the path wherein have slipped the footsteps of the doubters among Thy people and the froward among Thy servants. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 253)
Why should we pray?
If we don’t recite our prayers every morning and evening, we aren’t being faithful to the Covenant of God and will be counted for all of eternity as having turned away from God! YIKES!
Whoso faileth to recite them hath not been faithful to the Covenant of God and His Testament, and whoso turneth away from these holy verses in this Day is of those who throughout eternity have turned away from God. Fear ye God, O My servants, one and all. (Bahá’u’lláh, The Kitáb-i-Aqdas, p. 73)
Because we love God:
When a man falls in love with a human being, it is impossible for him to keep from mentioning the name of his beloved. How much more difficult is it to keep from mentioning the Name of God when one has come to love Him…. The spiritual man finds no delight in anything save in commemoration of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 236)
Because nothing benefits us more than prayer and service:
Know that nothing will benefit thee in this life save supplication and invocation unto God, service in His vineyard, and, with a heart full of love, be in constant servitude unto Him. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 374)
Because prayer and meditation are important in deepening our spiritual life:
Prayer and meditation are very important factors in deepening the spiritual life of the individual, but with them must go also action and example, as these are the tangible result of the former. Both are essential. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 456)
Because it’s conducive to joy and spirituality:
Supplication to God at morn and eve is conducive to the joy of hearts, and prayer causes spirituality and fragrance. Thou shouldst necessarily continue therein. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Tablets of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá v1, p. 185)
Because it’s absolutely indispensable to our inner spiritual development:
The believers, particularly the young ones, should therefore fully realize the necessity of praying. For prayer is absolutely indispensable to their inner spiritual development, and this, already stated, is the very foundation and purpose of the Religion of God. (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol. II, p. 238)
Because prayer has the spiritual power to re-create us:
What every believer, new or old, should realize is that the Cause has the spiritual power to re-create us if we make the effort to let that power influence us, and the greatest help in this respect is prayer. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 113)
Because it helps us remain firm in tests, and patient in ordeals:
Prayers and supplications should be offered at the sacred Threshold, so that thou mayest remain firm in tests, and patient in ordeals. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Divine Art of Living, p. 85)
Because the power generated in our hearts is beyond our comprehension:
The power which can be generated in the heart of the believer, when he is freed from all desire and turns to God with songs of praise and glorification, is beyond the comprehension of man. Suffice it to say that many heroes of the Faith have derived their courage and steadfastness from this source. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232)
Because it causes a connection between the servant and the True One:
The wisdom of prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One because in that state man with all heart and soul turneth his face towards His Highness the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and compassion. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 368)
Because the greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing:
The greatest happiness for a lover is to converse with his beloved, and the greatest gift for a seeker is to become familiar with the object of his longing; that is why with every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 368)
Because our greatest hope is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before our Beloved:
His greatest hope is to find an opportunity to entreat and supplicate before his Beloved, appeal for His mercy and grace and be immersed in the ocean of His utterance, goodness and generosity. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í World Faith, p. 368)
Because every supplication for divine assistance has released forces which serve to noise abroad the name and fame of the Faith to the masses of humanity in all continents:
Every supplication for divine assistance offered by the faithful, has released, and will continue mysteriously to release, forces over which no antagonist of the Faith has any control, and which, as marshalled by an All-Watchful Providence, have served to noise abroad the name and fame of the Faith to the masses of humanity in all continents, millions of whom had previously been totally ignorant of the existence of the Faith or had but a superficial, and oft- times erroneous, understanding of its teachings and history. (Universal House of Justice, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 167)
‘Abdu’l-Bahá once sent a Tablet to an American believer in which He wrote:
‘As to thy question, “Why pray? What is the wisdom thereof, for God has established everything and executes all affairs after the best order and He ordains everything according to a becoming measure and puts things in their places with the greatest propriety and perfection – therefore what is the wisdom in beseeching and supplicating and in stating one’s wants and seeking help?”
Know thou, verily, it is becoming of a weak one to supplicate to the strong One and it behoveth a seeker of bounty to beseech the glorious, bountiful One. When one supplicates to his Lord, turns to Him and seeks bounty from His ocean this supplication is by itself a light to his heart, an illumination to his sight, a life to his soul and an exaltation to his being.
‘Therefore during thy supplications to God and thy reciting, “Thy name is my healing,” consider how thy heart is cheered, thy soul delighted by the spirit of the love of God and thy mind attracted to the kingdom of God! By these attractions one’s ability and capacity increase.
When the vessel is widened the water increaseth and when the thirst grows the bounty of the cloud becomes agreeable to the taste of man. This is the mystery of supplication and the wisdom of stating one’s wants.’ One the other hand, the Master also said, ‘God will answer the prayer of every servant if that prayer is urgent.’ (Honnold, Annamarie, Vignettes from the Life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 147)
What Happens When We Pray?
When we intone the verses of God, the sweetness of our melody may kindle our soul, and attract the hearts of all men:
Intone, O My servants, the verses of God that have been received by thee, as intoned by them who have drawn nigh unto Him, that the sweetness of thy melody may kindle thine own soul, and attract the hearts of all men. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. iv)
When we recite prayers in the privacy of our chamber, the scattering angels of the Almighty will scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by our mouths, and cause the heart of every righteous man to throb:
Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. iv)
Though we may at first be unaware of the effect of our prayer, it will sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul:
Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. (Bahá’u’lláh, Baha’i Prayers, p. iv)
Resistance to Saying Prayers:
Many people find it difficult to believing in the efficacy of prayer because they think that this would involve arbitrary interference with the laws of nature:
Many find a difficulty in believing in the efficacy of prayer because they think that answers to prayer would involve arbitrary interference with the laws of nature. An analogy may help to remove this difficulty. If a magnet be held over some iron filings the latter will fly upwards and cling to it, but this involves no interference with the law of gravitation. The force of gravity continues to act on the filings just as before. What has happened is that a superior force has been brought into play—another force whose action is just as regular and calculable as that of gravity.
The Bahá’í view is that prayer brings into action higher forces, as yet comparatively little known; but there seems no reason to believe that these forces are more arbitrary in their action than the physical forces. The difference is that they have not yet been fully studied and experimentally investigated, and their action appears mysterious and incalculable because of our ignorance. (JE Esselmont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)
Others think that prayer is too feeble a force to produce the great results often claimed to it:
Another difficulty which some find perplexing is that prayer seems too feeble a force to produce the great results often claimed to it. Analogy may serve to clear up this difficulty also. A small force, when applied to the sluice gate of a reservoir, may release and regulate an enormous flow of water-power, or, when applied to the steering gear of an ocean liner, may control the course of the huge vessel. In the Bahá’í view, the power that brings about answers to prayer is the inexhaustible Power of God. The part of the suppliant is only to exert the feeble force necessary to release the flow or determine the course of the Divine Bounty, which is ever ready to serve those who have learned how to draw upon it. (JE Esselmont, Bahá’u’lláh and the New Era, p. 96)
How Does God Answer Prayer?
With a look He grants a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He heals a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He lays balm on every wound, with a glimpse He frees the hearts from the shackles of grief.
With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 51)
Prayer goes hand in hand with material means – both must be used together:
Thou hast asked about material means and prayer. Prayer is like the spirit and material means are like the human hand. The spirit operateth through the instrumentality of the hand. Although the one true God is the All-Provider, it is the earth which is the means to supply sustenance. “The heaven hath sustenance for you” but when sustenance is decreed it becometh available, whatever the means may be. When man refuseth to use material means, he is like a thirsty one who seeketh to quench his thirst through means other than water or other liquids. The Almighty Lord is the provider of water, and its maker, and hath decreed that it be used to quench man’s thirst, but its use is dependent upon His Will. If it should not be in conformity with His Will, man is afflicted with a thirst which the oceans cannot quench. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, translated from Persian Tablet, Compilation of Compilations, vol II, p. 23)
Does God answer every prayer?
God hears every prayer we utter:
Who is there that hath cried after Thee, and whose prayer hath remained unanswered? Where is he to be found who hath reached forth towards Thee, and whom Thou hast failed to approach? Who is he that can claim to have fixed his gaze upon Thee, and toward whom the eye of Thy loving-kindness hath not been directed? I bear witness that Thou hadst turned toward Thy servants ere they had turned toward Thee, and hadst remembered them ere they had remembered Thee. (Bahá’u’lláh, Prayers and Meditations by Bahá’u’lláh, p. 253)
Sometimes we might not like the answer!
He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p. 51)
God can grant our prayers faster than we can lower our hands, but the key for attaining this glory lies in detachment:
The Tablet of Ashraf contains a significant statement concerning the power of prayer when freed from desire. He declares that the outpouring of grace in this day is so great, that should an individual raise his hands in supplication to God and ask for the treasures of earth and heaven, his wish will be granted even before he lowers his hands, provided that he is freed from attachment to all created things. Indeed, the key for attaining this glory lies in the word ‘detachment‘. (Adib Taherzadeh, The Revelation of Bahá’u’lláh v 2, p. 232)
Sometimes when our prayers are met with silence, God sees this as praiseworthy:
Verily, be not grieved if a thing ye asked of Him remaineth unanswered, inasmuch as He hath been commanded by God to observe silence, a silence which is in truth praiseworthy. (The Báb, Selections from the Writings of the Báb, p. 48)
Wisdom does not always permit an affirmative answer to the prayer.
If healing is right for the patient, it will certainly be granted; but for some ailing persons, healing would only be the cause of other ills. And therefore wisdom doth not permit an affirmative answer to the prayer. (‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Selections from the Writings of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, p.161-162)
Even when we feel that our prayers have not so far been answered, and do no longer have any hope that our material conditions will ameliorate, we don’t allow such disappointments to undermine our faith in the power of prayer:
Although you seem to feel that your prayers have not so far been answered, and do no longer have any hope that your material conditions will ameliorate, the Guardian wishes you nevertheless not to allow such disappointments to undermine your faith in the power of prayer, but rather to continue entreating the Almighty to enable you to discover the great wisdom which may be hidden behind all these sufferings. For are not our sufferings often blessings in disguise, through which God wishes to test the sincerity and depth of our faith, and thereby make us firmer in His Cause? (Shoghi Effendi, The Compilation of Compilations vol II, p. 239)
When you feel that answers to prayers don’t seem to have come through clearly, you might want to use the 5 Steps of Prayer mentioned above:
You mention that the answers to your prayers never seem to have come through clearly. Mrs Ruth Moffett has published her recollection of five steps of prayer for guidance that she was told by the beloved Guardian. When asked about these notes, Shoghi Effendi replied, in letters written by his secretary on his behalf, that the notes should be regarded as “Personal suggestions,” that he considered them to be “quite sound,” but that the friends need not adopt them ’strictly and universally.” The House of Justice feels that they may be helpful to you and, indeed, you may already be familiar with them. (The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 384-385)
How has this helped you understand prayer better? Post your comments below!