Prayer doesn’t mean much, the Baha’i teachings say, unless it results in action.
Our prayerful actions are the implementation of our prayerful words. Everything we do is seen by God. Eventually our prayerfulness is reflected in our daily lives. When looking for indications of our own spiritual growth, good deeds are always more convincing than good words. They are the proof of our sincerity and progress.
Ultimately others evaluate us, and we judge ourselves, by what we do—not by what we say we will do. In the minds of others our deeds will be remembered long after our words dissipate into nothingness. Prayerful actions are our legacy to the world. The Baha’i teachings say:
Prayer need not be in words, but rather in thought and attitude. But if this love and this desire are lacking, it is useless to try to force them. Words without love mean nothing. – Abdu’l-Baha, quoted by J.E. Esselmont in Baha’u’llah and the New Era, p. 94.
There is no better legacy than selfless acts of loving-kindness; they uplift the spiritual condition of humankind, and no prayer for the world could be more powerful than this. The effects of our loving-kindness endure well beyond the days of our own lives:
The most acceptable prayer is the one offered with the utmost spirituality and radiance; its prolongation hath not been and is not beloved by God. The more detached and the purer the prayer, the more acceptable is it in the presence of God. – The Bab, Selections from the Writings of the Bab, p. 78.
The prayerful condition is the best of all conditions, for man in such a state communeth with God. … Indeed, prayer imparteth life. – Abdu’l-Baha, Prayer, Meditation and the Devotional Attitude, p. 32.
Our prayerful thoughts are our inner voices ascending to a higher realm. They are the whispered prayers of the heart to which God is always listening. Our inner thoughts, in addition to what we say and what we do, are part of our personal identity because they express the condition of our soul and influence its development. This is why we pray and meditate—to help us develop a deep sense of love and reverence for our Creator in our thoughts, and to make such thoughts the foundation of who we are. Prayer and the remembrance of God are the most effective ways of doing this. Reverence is an attitude that manifests itself in the heart long before it can be heard in our voices or seen in our behavior.
When all three of these aspects of prayerfulness—our thoughts, our words, and our actions—are brought together and harmonized, we begin to reflect the true reality of our inner, spiritual being. When we have sincerely turned to God, prayerfulness becomes our state of being. The entirety of our lives can be seen as one seamless and enduring prayer:
Pray to God that He may strengthen you in divine virtue, so that you may be as angels in the world, and beacons of light to disclose the mysteries of the Kingdom to those with understanding hearts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 62.
Through the faculty of meditation man attains to eternal life; through it he receives the breath of the Holy Spirit—the bestowal of the Spirit is given in reflection and meditation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 175.
Our prayers sometimes focus on the external circumstances of our lives and the things we desire. It seems only natural to request of God the things we lack. However, there may be a difference between what we want and what we need. We may think that these are the same, but often they are not. The difficulty is that we may have some idea of what we want, but we probably have no idea of what we really need. Only God knows this. We can wish for something that, in the end, is detrimental to us. Because of this, our Creator should not be viewed in the same light as a fairy godmother. God is not in the business of wish fulfillment. Baha’i scripture explains:
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. – An extract from a letter written on behalf of Shoghi Effendi, 26 October 1938 to an individual believer.
It will be far better for us if, when we pray, we strive to remember that it is our duty to align our will to God’s and not God’s to ours. If we are humble in our requests and condition them upon their conformity to the will of God, this will be most conducive to our spiritual growth. There are many things to pray for, but the most beneficial things are those which awaken our spiritual being and advance us along on our spiritual journey.