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Regardless of what faith, spiritual, or religious background people come from, souls who love God want to become closer to Him. People around the world converse and connect with God through prayer.
There is nothing sweeter in the world of existence than prayer. Man must live in a state of prayer. The most blessed condition is the condition of prayer and supplication.
After a careful analysis of the world religions, a Baha’i author named Ruth Moffett identified the following motives and urges that inspire people to enter into a state of prayer. Here are nine reasons why we pray:
1. We Pray to Supplicate to God
In her book, “Do’a: The Call to Prayer,” Ruth defined supplication as a “humble, earnest entreaty, with a sense of dependence upon what is greater than ourselves.”
The Baha’i writings say:
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, 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.
Through prayer and supplication, we ask for God’s help in overcoming obstacles and achieving our goals.
2. We Pray to Alleviate Our Compunction
Compunction “is an uneasiness of mind arising from wrong doing. It is the sting of conscience, or a sense of remorsefulness,” wrote Ruth.
When people who love God feel guilty, they often ask for forgiveness in prayer. One of the prayers for forgiveness that was revealed by the Bab — the forerunner and herald of Baha’u’llah, the prophet and founder of the Baha’i Faith — states:
I beg Thee to forgive me, O my Lord, for every mention but the mention of Thee, and for every praise but the praise of Thee, and for every delight but delight in Thy nearness, and for every pleasure but the pleasure of communion with Thee, and for every joy but the joy of Thy love and of Thy good-pleasure, and for all things pertaining unto me which bear no relationship unto Thee, O Thou Who art the Lord of lords, He Who provideth the means and unlocketh the doors.
As the Buddha said, “When thy impurities are blown away, and thou art free from guilt, thou wilt enter into the heavenly world…”
3. We Pray Because We Aspire to Be More Spiritual
Ruth wrote that aspiration “is the longing, usually unexpressed, for what is above one’s present attainment, a somewhat vague longing for what is pure, noble and spiritual.”
Noble have I created thee, yet thou hast abased thyself. Rise then unto that for which thou wast created.
We are spiritual beings who are having a physical experience in this earthly realm. So, aspiring to grow spiritually and become closer to God is an essential first step in achieving spiritual happiness in this world and the next.
4. We Pray to Intercede on Someone’s Behalf
Baha’is are especially encouraged to pray for their parents every day. The following prayer for fathers was revealed by Abdu’l-Baha, the son of Baha’u’llah and the authorized interpreter of the Baha’i writings:
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 of 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!
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.
5. We Pray to Express Our Gratitude
We can always find something to be grateful for. When we adopt an attitude of gratitude, we live happier and more positive lives.
“Gratitude is also, we know, the cause of lifting the Soul upward,” wrote Ruth. “It is the sense of appreciation for favors or bounties received. Gratefulness wells up in the heart and finds expression in prayer…”
As it is stated in the Psalms, “Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms.”
The following lines from a Baha’i prayer beautifully express this thanksgiving:
My God, my Adored One, my King, my Desire! What tongue can voice my thanks to Thee? I was heedless, Thou didst awaken me. I had turned back from Thee, Thou didst graciously aid me to turn towards Thee. I was as one dead, Thou didst quicken me with the water of life. I was withered, Thou didst revive me with the heavenly stream of Thine utterance which hath flowed forth from the Pen of the All-Merciful.
Of course, our prayers must always result in action. And, Abdu’l-Baha said that “the best way to thank God is to love one another.”
6. We Pray to Meditate
We ask God questions in our prayers and receive answers in our meditations. Ruth wrote, “Meditation begins with continued reason, we are told, merging into a state of calm reflection and devotional pondering on statements of thoughts, ideas and principles about God.”
The Baha’i writings say:
The spirit of man is itself informed and strengthened during meditation; through it affairs of which man knew nothing are unfolded before his view. Through it he receives Divine inspiration, through it he receives heavenly food.
When we withdraw ourselves from our physical environment and engage our spiritual power of insight to meditate on the word of God, we unlock “the doors of mysteries” and “can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves.” Baha’u’llah wrote:
Knowledge is a light which God casteth into the heart of whomsoever He willeth.
And, the Buddha said, “Without knowledge there is no meditation, without meditation there is no knowledge: he who has knowledge and meditation is near unto Nirvāṇa.”
7. We Pray to Inspire Our Oblations
Ruth defined oblation as “the act of offering something as a sacrifice in worship.” Throughout history, ideas of oblation have changed from sacrificing humans and animals to giving up physical pleasures like food and/or water for a period of time.
For example, many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, Jewish people abstain from food, drink, and sex on Yom Kippur, Muslims do not eat or drink from dawn to sunset during Ramadan, and Baha’is do not eat or drink from sunrise to sunset for 19 days in March. Of course, in the Baha’i Faith, the physical fast is merely symbolic and a “reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires.”
In this day and age, we Baha’is are also asked to sacrifice our lives by devoting our time, energy, and resources to contributing to the betterment of the world and serving humanity.
8. We Pray Because We Adore God
“And make mention of the name of thy Lord at morn, at even, And at night. Adore him, and praise him the livelong night,” said the prophet Muhammad.
Ruth described adoration as an “act of rendering divine Homage, of expressing veneration and reverence to the Divine Being. It is a joyful, spontaneous uplift of deep feelings of love, admiration, awe and devotion.” When you adore and fall in love with God, you want to communicate with Him as much as you can. There are so many Baha’i prayers for praise and gratitude that beautifully express this awe and admiration.
In addition to adoring God and the central figures of the Baha’i Faith, Baha’is adore the prophets from all of the other world religions as well. Baha’is believe that there is one God that has sent different messengers, or Manifestations of God, to share his revelation to humanity throughout history. These Manifestations include Abraham, Zoroaster, Moses, the Buddha, Krishna, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, the Bab, and Baha‘u’llah. The Baha’i writings say:
Truth may be likened to the sun! The sun is the luminous body that disperses all shadows; in the same way does truth scatter the shadows of our imagination.
…We must adore the sun itself and not merely the place of its appearance. In the same way men of enlightened heart worship truth on whatever horizon it appears. They are not bound by personality, but they follow the truth, and are able to recognize it no matter from whence it may come. It is this same truth which helps humanity to progress, which gives life to all created beings, for it is the Tree of Life!
9. We Pray to Commune With God
The last reason why people pray that Ruth identified is to commune with God. Communion involves an exchange of intimate thoughts and feelings on a spiritual level.
Ruth explained, “There is the longing of the soul, to receive wisdom, guidance, light and the opening of the soul. Not to receive the answer to that minor question, but to receive illumination from the Christos, or Logos, or Divine Spirit.”
The obligatory prayers that Baha’is must say each day are, Abdu’l-Baha wrote, “binding inasmuch as they are conducive to humility and submissiveness, to setting one’s face towards God and expressing devotion to Him. Through such prayer man holdeth communion with God, seeketh to draw near unto Him, converseth with the true Beloved of one’s heart, and attaineth spiritual stations.”
These are the nine urges, motives, and reasons why people pray. Ruth added, “Some religious groups emphasize and practice one or two to the exclusion of the others. Each urge is important and all are essential, though all would not be used at the same time. Any one step without all the other steps is incomplete. The expression of each urge indicates the progress the soul is making on the path to God.”