Why Are Our Prayers Sometimes Not Answered?
Loving Sai Ram and greetings from Prashanti Nilayam.
Today we would like to turn your attention to the subject of prayer. Many people have potent experiences through the avenue of prayer, while others seem to get no positive outcome. What might be the mysterious mechanism behind prayer, and how can we explain such contradictory results? Many religions and wisdom traditions over the ages have declared that all prayers are answered; Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba likewise says this is so. But how can this be, one protests, when so many boons we fervently pray for do not seem to be granted?
First of all, to be effective, a prayer must be sincere. Consulting a dictionary, we find sincere defined as “genuine, real” and “free from hypocrisy.” Sathya Sai Baba has noted that sometimes our prayers are no more than play acting. Perhaps he means that though we may be crying out to the Creator to help us, in our heart of hearts – our core convictions about life – we’re not convinced that God loves us and that we are worthy of His grace. Sathya Sai Baba also states that the universe always says, “Yes, yes, yes,” to us, so if within ourselves we are holding to a deep subconscious belief that contradicts our pleas, how can we expect our prayer to be effective? In that scenario, we are living in a state of hypocrisy, saying one thing while secretly believing another. The great Masters and Avatars who come to Earth as vehicles for divine energy do not force their will on us. Opening up to God’s love is our job, so if due to low self-esteem or other psychological conditions we cannot free our hearts and accept the love they offer, the circuit doesn’t get completed. In this case, it is not God turning a deaf ear to us, but we ourselves who are blocking the blessings we are yearning for. Our part in the process was pointed out by Jesus Christ thousands of years ago. When people praised him for the miraculous healings they received, he declared it was by their own faith that they were healed, meaning that they were ready to receive so their prayers for health could be fulfilled.
Another point to consider is that serious illness and other trials may be karmic in nature, meaning we ourselves have created the circumstances we are facing and they can teach us lessons which are crucial to our spiritual growth. In such cases, our ultimate good is better served by going through the karmic process and reaping the insights it will bring us. Since the true goal of life is self-realization and liberation, why would God interfere in that process?
The factor of time must also be added to the mix. It’s easy to recognize this when a child whines for something it is not ready for, like the five-year-old who wants to drive the car. Like big children, we don’t always know what’s best for us or when we should have it. Sathya Sai Baba has stated sometimes we don’t get what we ask for because something better is being held for us. In one account, Bhagawan Baba told a woman He would heal her just like that, and then snapped His fingers three times. Twenty years later He came in a dream, snapped His fingers three times and she was healed.
Then there is dharma. We are born into this world to play a specific role in the Lord’s play. In the Gita, Krishna discusses swa-dharma, the individual’s path of right action and says it is better to fail at our swa-dharma than to succeed at another’s. If a prayer is misguided in that we are pursuing something not suited for us, it may be best it is not fulfilled as we wish, as doing so might delay the day we awaken to our true dharmic role. For example, the ego might crave a certain job because of the pay and prestige, while on a soul level we are seeking work in harmony with our inner nature and a way to serve others as well as support ourselves. We humans are complex beings, and life is about getting to know oneself on every level.
An article in New Realities magazine in May of 1990 entitled The Power of Prayer; Old Approach, New Wonders, written by Larry Dossey, MD, described some fascinating experiments conducted by an organization called Spindrift. They used sprouting seeds as a biological medium to measure the effects of prayer. When two groups of identical seeds were placed side by side and one was prayed over and the other was not, the prayed for group always yielded more shoots. The results were reproducible and consistent. When the seeds were stressed by adding saltwater, simulating a health crisis, the difference between the two groups was even more striking. Different types of seeds and different types of stress produced the same results: prayer became more effective the worse the situation got. When different control groups were prayed over for varied amounts of time, the germination count was proportional: more prayer equaled more sprouts. They also found those experienced at prayer could produce greater results than a novice. This suggests prayer is something you can learn and get better at.
There are two basic types of prayer: directed and nondirected. Directed prayer is when you have a clear image in mind – that good paying job for instance – or use visualization techniques to produce a specific outcome, such as healing an illness. Nondirected prayer is when you release your personal agenda and ask for the highest good in the situation or use the classic Thy Will Be Done approach. When the Spindrift researchers compared them, both worked, but the nondirected technique was more powerful and often twice as effective. This would seem to indicate that when we step out of the way, more can come through. Trying to control the results through our concept of what’s best merely places a limit on what can happen.
Lastly, in a conversation with Dr. John S. Hislop, Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba explained prayer should not be equated with begging, and though the divine is aware of our needs, it is still our duty to approach God and ask for those needs to be met. He used the analogy of a mother who knows her child must have milk to survive but only gives it when the baby cries. We should never feel ashamed to pray, for it is not only OK to ask, it is required. And should we find ourselves to be so fortunate as to have no pressing needs or difficulties in our lives, then Sathya Sai Baba says we should pray for peace.
We hope this small piece cleared a lot of doubts in your mind about Prayer.
Jai Sai Ram.
With Love and Regards,
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