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November 14, 2013

Question: What are we to think when our prayers aren’t answered?

 Today’s question points to personal prayer, particularly the prayer of petition, not to congregational prayer. The premise of the question is that all religious observe private prayer. This is not a foregone conclusion.

The pernicious effect of rampant secularism has not left religious communities untouched. Some spirituals also prefer meditation to prayer, especially those from certain Hindu, Buddhist or New Age persuasions.

Several reasons could account for unanswered prayer. To be effective, prayer must be fervent and frequent. Tepid prayers are not usually effective prayers. We should pray in such a way that we fully anticipate that our prayer will be answered. To the extent possible, we should also work for the realization of our prayer. We should strive to turn our prayers into action.

Our prayers may also remain unanswered if they do not conform to Lady Wisdom. When we petition the Divine Will, we should do so knowing that God is all-loving and omniscient.

If we firmly believe that we know what is best for us when we pray, we may be fooling ourselves. This misconception is reflected in the popular cautionary saying, “Be careful what you pray for, you may get it.”

If I pray for some benefit for which I am not qualified, or which is neither proper nor timely, I risk being crushed by the answer to my prayer. If I pray, for example, to become the CEO of a transnational corporation when I do not possess either the experience or the constitution for such heavy responsibilities, I may end up paying too heavy a price for my ambition.

‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the authorized interpreter of his father’s teachings, pointed out that if prayers for wealth were universally answered, the order of the world would be deranged. Who would be left to farm, to build, to clean the streets or to run the trains?

Consider this analogy: The patient asks the doctor for a harmful drug, but the doctor refuses because he knows the medicine will harm the patient. Similarly, when we pray for something that will not benefit ourselves or others, the petition may remain unanswered.  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen November 14, 2013
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