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Prayer is one of the most beautiful and mystical experiences we can have in this world. Through prayer, we converse and commune with the creator of our universe.
And yet, according to the Pew Research Center’s 2014 Religious Landscape Study, 23% of adults seldom or never pray. Even many people who believe in God go through periods where it’s difficult for them to pray.
Ruth Moffett, a Baha’i author who studied world religions and wrote extensively about the dynamics of prayer after meeting Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, listed nine hindrances to prayer. She explained that if we can overcome these hindrances, we can enter into the “Presence of God” and experience the state that Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith, described when he revealed the following words from God:
Turn thy sight unto thyself, that thou mayest find Me standing within thee, mighty, powerful and self-subsisting.
In her book, “Do’a: The Call to Prayer,” Ruth wrote, “The first hindrance [to prayer] is indifference towards the things of eternal value.” This would be the Kingdom of God and all habits that lead to our spiritual growth. When we lose interest in communing with God and become more concerned with fleeting material indulgences, we hinder our spiritual happiness in this world and the next.
As Baha’u’llah wrote:
To the eternal I call thee, yet thou dost seek that which perisheth. What hath made thee turn away from Our desire and seek thine own?
He asked us to:
Abandon not the everlasting beauty for a beauty that must die, and set not your affections on this mortal world of dust.
This indifference must be transformed into love — love for God, all His creations, and everything that leads to our spiritual progress.
Happy is the lover that hath inhaled the divine fragrance of his Best-Beloved from these words, laden with the perfume of a grace which no tongue can describe.
The second hindrance to prayer is doubt. Ruth explained, “It is that state of mind in which we hesitate and either wilfully reject the Truth, or remain in a state of unbelief, hesitancy or lack of conviction.”
It is difficult to arrive at a decision and achieve any goals in life when we hesitate and have doubts lingering in our minds. How much more difficult is it to read verses of God if you are not sure you believe in Him and the power of prayer? So, this hindrance to prayer must be overcome by faith.
The Baha’i writings say:
And now I give you a commandment that shall be for a covenant between you and me – that ye have faith; that your faith be steadfast as a rock that no earthly storms can move, that nothing can disturb, and that it endure through all things even to the end … As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be.
The more faith we have, the more results we will witness from our prayers.
Merriam-Webster defines “wayward” as “following one’s own capricious, wanton, or depraved inclinations.”
Ruth elaborated, “It [waywardness] is the wilful wandering away from a right course of conduct. It is a disobedient, a wavering or vacillating consciousness which arrives nowhere. …With steadfastness of purpose and aim, one has a strong and stable foundation upon which he can build to great heights.”
Steadfastness makes us firm in our belief and strengthens our determination to live a spiritually meaningful life. In a Baha’i prayer for steadfastness that was revealed by Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’u’llah’s son and the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i writings, it says:
O Lord my God! Assist Thy loved ones to be firm in Thy Faith, to walk in Thy ways, to be steadfast in Thy Cause. Give them Thy grace to withstand the onslaught of self and passion, to follow the light of divine guidance.
When you are restless, your body, mind, or soul is uneasy. This agitated feeling makes it difficult to quiet your mind for prayer and concentrate on the word of God.
Ruth wrote, “This inner Uneasiness must be changed to Tranquility of soul, which gives us poise, peace and freedom from all disturbing influences until we attain that ‘Peace that passeth all understanding,’ even in the midst of calamities.”
At a talk in Paris in 1911, Abdu’l-Baha said:
A man living with his thoughts in this Kingdom knows perpetual joy. The ills all flesh is heir to do not pass him by, but they only touch the surface of his life, the depths are calm and serene.
…When our thoughts are filled with the bitterness of this world, let us turn our eyes to the sweetness of God’s compassion and He will send us heavenly calm! If we are imprisoned in the material world, our spirit can soar into the Heavens and we shall be free indeed!
Often people become impatient when they haven’t received what they want, forgetting that only God knows what is best for them. Ruth advised everyone to be careful that their temporary impatience doesn’t become fretfulness and “peevishness over petty things.”
Patience is needed to heighten our spiritual perception and understanding. Baha’u’llah wrote:
Await ye till God will have changed His favor unto you. Nothing whatsoever escapeth Him. He knoweth the secrets both of the heavens and of the earth. His knowledge embraceth all things.
…He, verily, shall increase the reward of them that endure with patience.
Discontent is another obstacle in a person’s path to higher consciousness. Similar to impatience, discontent is characterized by dissatisfaction with your current circumstances. To combat discontent, we need to become more acquiescent. Baha’u’llah wrote:
All these stainless hearts and sanctified souls have, with absolute resignation, responded to the summons of His decree. Instead of complaining, they rendered thanks unto God, and amidst the darkness of their anguish they revealed naught but radiant acquiescence to His will.
Another negative quality that hinders us from prayer is irresolution. Merriam-Webster defines “irresolute” as “uncertain how to act or proceed.”
Ruth added, “Indecision denotes a lack of intellectual conviction. Irresolution indicates a weakness of will.” To overcome this, we need to strengthen our decisiveness. As Shoghi Effendi told her, after we pray and meditate about a problem, we need to “arrive at a decision” and “have determination to carry the decision through.”
“The Egotist is selfish and self-full,” wrote Ruth. “It is only by gradually becoming more and more forgetful of self that we gain that quality that all the Messengers of God have endeavored to teach us — Selflessness.”
Let all be set free from the multiple identities that were born of passion and desire, and in the oneness of their love for God find a new way of life.
…Until a being setteth his foot in the plane of sacrifice, he is bereft of every favor and grace; and this plane of sacrifice is the realm of dying to the self, that the radiance of the living God may then shine forth.
Ignorance is one of the greatest hindrances to prayer and our spiritual progress.
“We are ignorant of many necessary truths and facts, but to remain in ignorance of them is the greatest sin,” wrote Ruth. “Ignorance is the cause of most of the other hindrances on our pathway to attainment…”
That’s why we must gain knowledge of God. Baha’u’llah wrote:
The supreme cause for creating the world and all that is therein is for man to know God. In this Day whosoever is guided by the fragrance of the raiment of His mercy to gain admittance into the pristine Abode, which is the station of recognizing the Source of divine commandments and the Dayspring of His Revelation, hath everlastingly attained unto all good.
…For man’s knowledge of God cannot develop fully and adequately save by observing whatsoever hath been ordained by Him and is set forth in His heavenly Book.
All of these nine hindrances to prayer halt our spiritual development and prevent us from receiving divine guidance, bounties, and inspiration. Thankfully, we all know what virtues are needed to overcome these obstacles and enter into the sweetest state that exists in our world.