Today’s article is in answer to a question sent by Amitabh (a Bengali name that means “The light that cannot be extinguished”). He writes, “I truly believe in a creator (whether we call him God or Allah, or any other name.) I serve people believing that serving them means serving God. I work as a volunteer, serving humanity, and I think this is the best prayer we can do.
“Now, I have some long cherished wishes. Do you think God will ever listen to me and fulfill my desires? I believe so. With this belief in my heart, I continue serving others more and more. I serve God. God will certainly reward me. Do you think I am on the right path?”
Amitabh, you say that God will reward you by granting your wishes, but if you believed that, you wouldn’t have written. Rather than being filled with trust and faith in God, your heart is filled with doubt. As long as this condition remains, there is little likelihood that you will get your cherished desires.
Here is what is important to understand. God is not a Santa Claus dispensing gifts to all His children. Rather, God is the Creator. He has created all. His creation is held together by laws. His laws govern the universe and humanity. I’m not referring to religious laws, but to natural laws. An example of a physical law would be gravity and an example of a spiritual law would be “You reap what you sow.”
What if I jumped from a plane to commit suicide and then changed my mind as I fell to earth? No amount of praying will spare me! The natural outcome of such an act would be death. Death by the law of gravity. Now, what if I would like to become a great success, but lack faith in God, myself, and others? What if I would like to succeed, but expect to fail? If I expect to fail, I most likely will because of the spiritual law that we get what we expect.
Christ didn’t say “All your prayers will be granted,” but said, “All things, whatsoever you ask in prayer, BELIEVING (expecting), you shall receive (Mat 21:22). So, the first step to receiving your desires is to trust in God and believe in His love. He loves you and wants only what is best for you. So, start expecting to receive His blessings.
These spiritual laws are simple to understand once we take the time to think about them. For example, let’s say I have an interview for a job I want. I am excited by this opportunity, thank God for it, and am confident and expect to land the job. This being so, what impression will I give to the interviewrs? Won’t I be exuding confidence and enthusiasm? Even if I am not the most qualified, I may be chosen because of my great attitude. That’s not surprising, is it?
But what if I don’t get the job? No problem! For I know God will grant whatever I wish, OR SOMETHING BETTER. We want what is best for us, but the problem is we cannot know what that is. All we can do is set our goals and make the best decisions we can. Whenever things appear to be going wrong, it is just God telling us He has better plans for us. That’s why it makes sense to submit to the will of God.
God always answers our prayers. He does this by giving us either what we prayed for or what we SHOULD HAVE prayed for. Plato (c. 428 ~ 348 BCE) realized this, for he prayed, “Grant us what is good whether we prayer for it or not, but keep evil from us even though we prayer for it.” To this, Socrates (469 ~ 399 BCE) adds, “Our prayers should be for blessings in general, for God knows best what is good for us.” As long as we want only what our Creator gives us, we will be free from frustration and always fulfilled.
Muslims should have a good understanding of this idea since the name of their religion, Islam, means submit or surrender. We surrender to the will of God not to be enslaved, but to be set free from making bad decisions. Those who have mastered the art of surrender have only one request they ask of God; mainly, “God, grant that I only try to follow Your will.” Such a prayer is a wise one because the only way we can guarantee that we will always get what is best for us is by following the will of God.
Besides believing that God will grant your wishes, or something better, you need to be patient, Amitabh. After all, it is written in the Koran (Qur’an), “And seek assistance through patience and prayer, and most surely it is a hard thing except for the humble ones” (2.45). And again, even more clearly, it is written, “O you who believe! seek assistance through patience and prayer; surely Allah is with the patient.” (2.153) More than 1,000 years before the Prophet Muhammad (570 ~ 632) said these words, Buddha (563 ~ 483BCE) said something similar, “The greatest prayer is patience.” We not only should be patient, Amitabh, but we should prayer persistently, for as William McGill wisely wrote in 1986, “The value of persistent prayer is not that He will hear us, but that we will finally hear Him.”
Thanking our parents five times a day can keep us focused on them and ever grateful for their support. But if we were not careful, our thanks would be reduced to a mere ritual, empty of any feeling. So it is with our prayers. So, heed the advice of the ancient Jewish sages who taught “Do not make prayer mechanical. Let it be a cry for grace and mercy, that love replace fear in the place in which you stand.” (Pirke Avot, 11:17, c. 250 ~ 275 CE).
The 12th century Muslim mystic Hakim Sanai (Hakim Abu’ L-Majd Majdud Sanai of Ghazna) reminds us also of how important sincerity is, “When you sincerely enter into prayer, you will come forth with all your prayers answered; but a hundred prayers that lack sincerity will leave you still the bungler that you are.” Your requests do not become holy just because you ask God for His favor. But if you first make sure your requests are worthy and aligned with His will, they will surely be granted.
You also ask if you are on the right path. The answer depends on what you mean by “With this belief in my heart (that God will fulfill my wishes), I continue serving others more and more.” If you mean by this that you serve others because God will reward you, you are on the wrong path. Those on the right path do not serve others because of obligations or rewards. No, they serve others because their help is needed and because it is the right thing to do. They wish to become more Godlike by serving others out of love. Their mission is to sow love and peace wherever they go. They look for no reward because their service is their reward. As long as it is done with a pure heart, and not with the hope of any reward, I agree with your statement that serving others is the same as serving God.
I’ll end with a few suggestions. First, remember prayer is not a monologue; it is a conversation. Listen more than you speak. Second, don’t prayer for your present situation to change. Instead, prayer for your thinking to change. Prayer to become trustful, hopeful, and positive. Third, give up self-centered prayers for other-centered prayers. For example, instead of praying to marry the woman you love, prayer to love the woman you marry. Fourth, heed the advice of St. Augustine (354 ~ 430), “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Finally, we end with these words of the Persian poet Sa’di (c. 1184 ~ 1291), “To give pleasure to a single heart by a single kind act is better than a thousand head-bowings in prayer.”
May you always be aware of God watching over you and walking by your side.