PPRAYER IS MAN'S GREATEST FORCE.
It can move mountains and shift the seas.
But how well the prayer is answered
depends on how well we pray.
In this article on prayer, we will see
how one should pray.
Step One: Faith
Faith means: God listens, God answers. Somebody has aptly said, "When we bend our knees to pray, God bends His ear to listen."
In 1994, youths asked Pramukh Swami a question during a retreat in the Poconos Mountains, USA.
"How can we solve our problems ? By dhyan (meditation) or prayer ?"
Swamishri replied, "It depends upon our faith. If we have firm faith and do either, we will surely find a solution. We should think, 'The prayer, I am offering is sincere. The God I am praying to is true.'"
Faith is all-important in a prayer. In the Mahabharat, we can see that Draupadi was rescued by Lord Krishna because of her faith. In the time of Lord Swaminarayan, a devotee by the name of Naja Jogia prayed with all his might and the Lord came to his rescue. In more recent times, Yogiji Maharaj went unscathed after a vicious cobra bite because of Shastriji Maharaj's faith in the Akshar Deri (a shrine in Gondal dedicated to Gunatitanand Swami). Science has shown that prayer does work. Why it works on the other hand remains a mystery to science. But from the examples we have seen, the mechanism through which prayer works is clear: faith in God. Faith is the common denominator of all successful prayers. During 1985 Gujarat was facing a severe drought. Many people inside and outside of Satsang were suggesting a curtailment of the Gunatitanand Swami Bicentenary Festival which was scheduled to last for 59 days in Amdavad. Such a decision was, in fact, made in an important meeting of the Sanstha's trustees, senior sadhus and Pramukh Swami. However, before the meeting concluded, Swamishri gave his final word, "I have firm faith in God that it will rain. I am praying to God everyday." There was an unshakeable power and conviction in Swamishri's statement that stunned everyone. Soon the monsoon months came and all eyes turned to the sky. July, no rain; August, still no rain. September was dry too. Things were getting rather desperate. The festival was scheduled to commence on October 22. On October 1, there was still no sign of rain. But something miraculous happened on October 5. There was a downpour that the residents of Amdavad would remember for years to come. Everyone was left saluting Swamishri's faith. The festival went on as planned. It was a huge success.
It is written, "A wish is when you hope someone will help. Faith is when you know God will help." Swamishri's prayers are so full of profound faith that God listens and God answers. Sometimes our own prayer goes unanswered because we lack faith. A farmer was once praying hard for the rains. But there was little success. He approached a spiritual master for advice. The spiritual master told him, "Why don't you get an umbrella first before you pray. Your problem is that you lack faith in your own prayer."
Step Two: Understanding
What about prayers that don't work? According to step one, if we have faith in God, our prayer never goes unanswered. In London during the Mandir Mahotsav in 1995, Swamishri said, "It is not possible that your prayer will go unanswered."
Sometimes we are asking the wrong questions. Swamishri frequently says, "God always answers correctly. It is we who ask incorrectly."
Gunatitanand Swami points out in one of his sermons, "Das na dushman Hari kedi hoi nahi, Jem karshe tem sukhaj thashe." (God is not the enemy of his devotee. Whatever He does will work in the devotee's favour). Thus, when we don't get something that we pray for, it is for our own good.
A child, dazzled by the bright light of fire may want to touch it. The child will cry when his mother stops him. But if the mother had let him touch the fire, the child would have been injured. Similarly, we are mere children before God and we do not always understand what is best for us. So in asking for something, not in our best interest, God may withhold our request.
This is vividly illustrated through the following poem:
I asked God for strength, that I might achieve;
I was made weak, that I might learn to humbly obey.
I asked for riches, that I might be happy;
I was given poverty, that I might be wise.
I asked for power, that I might have the praise of men;
I was given weakness, that I might feel the need of God.
I asked for all things, so that I might enjoy life;
I was given life, that I might enjoy all things.
I got nothing I asked for - but everything that I had hoped for.
Almost despite myself, my unspoken prayers were answered.
I am, among men, most richly blessed!
This is the type of understanding we should keep in prayer. Whatever God does is for our betterment.
To attempt is our job, to grant success is God's choice.
With such an understanding we will not feel depressed or dejected when our prayers seem to fail. God answers all our prayers - but in His own mysterious way.
Step Three: Honesty
Honesty is still the best policy. Our prayer must be genuine. An honest prayer flows from the heart, not from the mind.
A five year old child used to come alone daily to the mandir, sit in front of the idols and bow his head in a concentrated and fiercely sincere prayer. The mandir priest was surprised at the small child's regularity and asked, "How do you know how to pray? You are still a small child."
The kid replied, "I say my A, B, C's. Then I ask God to arrange all those letters in the way that would please him. That is my prayer."
The priest was shocked, "You know son, I have been praying for over 30 years. But I feel that your prayer will reach God before mine." Prayers from the heart and not from the mind always work. Pramukh Swami often says, "In prayer, it is not how well you arrange the words but how well you arrange the heart that counts."
An honest and sincere prayer is bound to reach God. Moreover, it will have a great impact on others. Gunatitanand Swami and a group of sadhus were severely attacked by the local ruler, Uga Khuman, and his men, when they visited his village in Saurashtra. Gunatitanand Swami blessed his persecutors and prayed for them. He prayed for the childless ruler to be blessed with a son. Several years later, the evil ruler's son became a devotee of God and warmly invited the sadhus to his village.
Today, Pramukh Swami prays for the benefit of mankind wherever he goes. A true prayer flowing from a pure heart is bound to have an effect on others. Thousands of people have benefited from Swamishri's honest and sublime prayers and that is why they continue to be blessed by him.
Step Four: Endavour
It is written, "God helps those who help themselves." Aesops also states, "It is vain to expect our prayers to be heard, if we don't strive as well as pray." Pramukh Swami adds, "Prayer only works when we do." So, the underlying message here is that we should pray and work towards it.
Prayer and effort are the two wings of success. The more we understand this fact, the less disappointed we will become if our prayer seems to fail. Students expect to sail through examinations by offering their annual prayer. Despite all their good intentions, success still eludes them due to lack of effort on their part. Pramukh Swami teaches youngsters to put in sincere effort and then pray.