How Prayers Can Help Us Solve Problems: A Personal Reflection

View of the head of a man looking up with eyes closed.There’s a well-documented scientific study1 that’s been all the rage in the past few years about something that happened in the Israeli Defence Force. Before entering the Defence Force, all the cadets had to sit pre-entry exams testing intellectual capacities like cognition and problem-solving, to physical capacities like fitness, endurance and the like. The cadets were then assigned to their training officers accordingly.

In this particular year, a couple of the training officers were told that they had tested and found the best of the best, ‘the mother-shawarma’ of all cadet groups, showing great promise for future leadership roles in the Defence Force. Other training officers were then assigned ‘regular’ cadets, and everybody started training.

Fast-forward a year and lo and behold the group that showed remarkable signs of promise did indeed deliver, and significantly out-performed all other groups of cadets in both intellectually and physically-based exams.

There was just one catch: all the cadets were just randomly assigned to their training groups. There were no ‘gifted’ cadets, or ‘regular’ cadets, they were just a randomly selected mix of all-sorts.

When the researchers went back and investigated what made all the difference, it was because the training officers believed that they were working with gifted cadets, and that belief changed everything.

As soon as I read about this study, I immediately thought about the Junior Youth Spiritual Empowerment Programme (JYSEP), and about the differences between the long-term results of one group compared with another. Could it be the beliefs that the animators held regarding the latent capacity of their participants is what determined their success (or lack thereof) in transforming their lives?

I then started researching about other implications of belief. For example, many of you may have heard of or read the ’5 Steps of Prayer’ article2 attributed to Shoghi Effendi, where he offered advice to a pilgrim wanting to know how to use prayer to solve problems. The Guardian advised that we:

1. Pray and meditate about the problem.

2. Come to a decision, and hold onto it.

3. Be determined to see it through.

4. Have faith and confidence that the means of it’s realisation will be made manifest.

…and then there’s the fifth step…

I find the fifth step the most intriguing:

5. Act as though it had already been answered.

Let’s pause and think about what that might look like. Imagine you have an issue that you want to resolve, a habit you want to change, or a new one you want to create. Imagine then that you pray about it, and you have faith that it will be answered in the affirmative (particularly if you’ve read the Writings and it seems to align with His will for us – think: confirmation).  Then you go on living your life assured that that test, shortcoming, habit, whatever it may be, is now behind you. Your actions become imbued with something liberating: faith and belief.

Could this be an implication of the celebrated passage of Baha’u’llah where He says:

The essence of faith is fewness of words and abundance of deeds…3

Deeds carried out with the confident assurance that the past is behind us? Could the fruit of true faith be to act with the confidence that God does indeed answer our prayers? To act as if yesterdays shortcomings are behind us, and that we are indeed protected from whatever manifestation of our lower self that has haunted us for years? What are the implications of Abdu’l-Baha’s injunction that…

…as ye have faith, so shall your powers and blessings be…4

or that…

…prayer verily bestoweth life…5

I’m reminded of one of the first practice elements of the Ruhi Institute, when in Reflections on the Life of the Spirit, we are encouraged to study prayers with friends and acquaintances. I think there is so much wisdom in this exercise, as we learn to focus on the words and phrases of prayers pertaining to different aspects of life. We try and discover their meaning and implications. For example, if we study one line in a prayer for protection by The Master, we say:

Make Thy protection my armor, Thy preservation my shield, humbleness before the door of Thy oneness my guard, and Thy custody and defense my fortress and my abode.6

Do we believe that we then have His protection as our armor? Do we believe that we are safeguarded in His fortress? Or do we think they are simply some beautiful and poetic lines, but essentially we are on our own?

I should state here that I don’t think this approach to prayer can work in all aspects of supplication. These thoughts pertain to the use prescribed by Shoghi Effendi, namely, for solving problems. Prayer is of course used for other means, such as to humbly ask certain things from God, or that He may aid us in a certain endeavour. Some people pray for a specific result they seek, others pray so that they can realise what His will is, and that they then have the strength to follow that guidance. Oftentimes matters related to these subjects are not so clear-cut. For example, if you’re praying to discover what your future profession should be, this is not something you can find an explicit answer to in the Holy Writings; however if you’re praying to resolve a problem you have, like, for example, the tendency to tell lies, and you can clearly see that it is not in accordance with the Will of God to be a liar, then you can use the above method to resolve such problems.

Let’s continue with the method at hand: My point is, if we can’t have faith in the efficacy of prayer, what can we have faith in? Ourselves?

Well, let me share my understanding of how I think this works. The nature of all life on Earth seems to be cyclical and repetitive. Many of the spiritual teachings in all religions therefore also teach about laws that need daily replenishment – Obligatory Prayer, imbibing the Sacred Word, self-reflection, and so on… So I think of these prayers as having a ‘spiritual expiration date’ of sorts. For example, say you have a bad character flaw that has been plaguing you for years. You decide to pray, and ask Baha’u’llah to get rid of it through His Power. So you beseech divine assistance, cognisant that it aligns with His Will that you do not, for example, dwell on the faults of others, and then you act with the complete confidence that this has been answered in the affirmative. You believe it’s already worked. And you live your day happy and un-chained from this old nemesis, able to move on to new spiritual battlefields.

Here’s how I conceptualise it: In the Baha’i Faith we are taught that faith and reason do indeed go hand-in-hand. So it doesn’t quite seem reasonable to me that a one-off prayer will forever banish a particular test from a creature as powerless as I. If this were God’s method, then eventually we could grow proud or feel self-satisfied, right? So rather I recall the cyclical nature of life, and believe that I am protected from that test for the next 24 hours – no more, no less. And within that period of protection, I must humbly beseech that that protection be granted for another 24 hours. And then again, I go forward confidant and happy, and act with that belief.  Over time, as one commits to this practice, individual imperfections are gradually weeded out, one by one, as belief in the efficacy of prayer fuels the development of new habits.

To me, this is rational. There is nothing scientific about an researcher that tries something for a day or two and then gives up on his pursuits. So to with a student of true religion. Both require acting with belief that there is an order to creation, and that the human mind and soul can gradually discover this order and become its master.

I welcome your reflections and experiences on this topic, and am eager to hear how others understand the treasure of Divine Revelation we have on the dynamics of prayer and belief.

Please leave your comments in the ‘Comments section’ below.


  1. Self-fulfilling Prophesies in Organizations in Organizational Behaviours: State of Science ed J.Greenberg (Mahwah, NJ:Erlbaum, 2003), p.91-122. []
  2. Recalling Health to the Spirit website: http://spirit.recallinghealth.net/Prayer_Meditation_for_Problem_Solving.html []
  3. Baha’u’llah, ASL-I-KULLU’L-KHAYR (Words of Wisdom), p.155 []
  4. Abdu’l-Baha’s final address to the first group of western pilgrims, Haifa, 1898. http://people.ucalgary.ca/~bahai/tablet.html []
  5. Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha. http://reference.bahai.org/en/t/ab/SAB/sab-173.html []
  6. Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i Prayers: A Selection of Prayers Revealed by Baha’u’llah, the Bab, and Abdu’l-Baha, p.268 []

About the Author

Hami enjoys reading books about science, business and psychology, and finding their correlations with the teachings of the Baha'i Faith. He is fascinated by Baha'u'llah's teaching that science and religion go hand-in-hand, and that faith must accord with reason. He and his wife currently reside in Spain.

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Discussion 12 Comments

  1. Thank you, Hami, for these reflections and insights. It is in concord with my thoughts and experiences. In addition, I have found that, in response to prayer, God sometimes very clearly closes doors to leave only one door (option) open (such as in response to a question regarding a career choice). At other times, I have quite literally have had immediate responses in the form of friends and even total strangers supplying my need (in my experience; food, a job) without any request having been made to them. Prayer is powerful and wonderful, Divine in Justice and Grace.

  2. I liked your article very much and found in it a lot to chew on. On a very basic level, I pray in the hope that my prayer (s) will bring about a very simple connection, and that that connection will help me to be spiritually grounded. I pray for the dissipation of fear. I pray for Grace so that I may be able to dissipate the fear myself by using the Grace granted to me to take action because action, positive action is itself a very powerful prayer. And if theres one thing that will stop positive thought or action in its tracks, its fear. Sometimes I find the most positive & powerful actions are quite small but energetically very powerful. Sometimes there are tears and regardless of what brings them on ……… better out than in. I used to say affirmations. I used to turn the prayers into affirmations but I found the affirmations wanting, because they are not prayers and ultimately they were creating contrasts in my outlook and expectations. Why say something that is diluted / watered down when you can say the real thing, straight from the source. I am a musician / writer / singer / performer and if I want to create something I have to pick up or sit down at an instrument and jump into that creative energy and see where it takes me. Its the same for me with prayer. I don’t know if any of this relates in any way to your article but its my reaction. Positive reaction.

  3. I’m a BIG fan of the 5 Steps of Prayer; and use it with my clients all the time. I would like to humbly suggest that it can be used for absolutely everything that’s going on in your life – they can all be seen as “problems”.

    For example, you mentioned:

    humbly ask certain things from God: Let’s say I want some money to take a trip to attend a friend’s wedding: I pray; meditate; sit in the silence of contemplation; arrive at a decision and hold it, no matter how impossible it may seem to accomplish. Then I have the determination to carry the decision through; have the faith and confidence that the power will flow through me, the right way will appear, the door will open, the right thought, the right message, the right principle, or the right book will be given to you. I have confidence and the right thing will come to my need. Then, as I rise from prayer, I immediately act as though it had all been answered.

    or that He may aid us in a certain endeavour: Let’s say I want to change my habit of thought (seeing the negatives in life instead of being grateful for the positives) – I do the same thing . . .

    pray for a specific result they seek: Let’s say I want to live life in the flow, instead of trying to stick to the “to do” list – I do the same thing . . .

    pray so that they can realise what His will is, and that they then have the strength to follow that guidance: Let’s say I’m torn between two courses of action; or I wonder which tomato to buy – I do the same thing . . .

    praying to discover what your future profession should be: Let’s say I’ve found my true calling in life but it’s not what others want me to do – I do the same thing . . .

    I’ve used the 5 Steps for all of these; and more! I keep a prayer journal, where I keep track of all the prayer requests I make, and cross them off when I get an answer. Sometimes, the answer is no – you just have to have courage to stick to the steps.

    As Shoghi Effendi says:

    “Many pray but do not remain for the last half of the first step. Some who meditate arrive at a decision, but fail to hold it. Few have the determination to carry the decision through, still fewer have the confidence that the right thing will come to their need. But how many remember to act as though it had all been answered? How true are these words “Greater than the prayer is the spirit in which it is uttered” and greater than the way it is uttered is the spirit in which it is carried out.”

    The best thing about the 5 Steps, is that it helps us achieve our purpose in life (to know and worship God) by learning to rely on Him for every single aspect of our lives; and to watch how He fulfills His part of the Covenant when we fulfill ours!

    To see the whole passage: http://www.thebahaiprayers.com/quotepage.php?Prayers%2F5+Steps+for+Solving+Problems

  4. Thank you Hami,i m lost for words most time,i just found it as i woke up and read your article.It can only be fuel to carry on this life journey without GPS.thks

  5. Intuitive insight Hami, thank you!

    I do not have the quotes to hand, however some further reflection:-

    Your 24 hour period of effectiveness – Abdul Baha states that something repeated daily for 21 days becomes fixed ( habitual ) in the conscientiousness. Mmmmmmmmm.

    This has recently – last 2 years? been proven scientifically and is now advocated by psychologists.

    Abdul Baha again – All prayers are answered and granted by the Almighty, beware that the granting may not be in the format that is particularly requested and IS for the recipients best interests. ( my words ).

    Shoghi Effendi 5 steps of prayer. Have been following this method, ( there are some warnings ) for the past 40 years and continue to amaze family and friends of my apparent knack of achieving the impossible. When I explain the methodology, they just do not ‘get it’. -” I am living on cloud 9″! Love it! Most appear to be afraid to achieve more.

  6. Thanks everyone for your comments so far. Susan, thank you for sharing the perspective of seeing the 5 steps as a means of using prayer to address a much wider scope of needs. New Blue Sioux, re: affirmations, although I don’t practice this myself, I have previously looked a little into it, and wonder whether there is an element of this in the Faith already? For example, everyday we affirm that ‘God is the Most Glorious’ 95 times, and daily repeat the Names of God in our prayers (‘He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise etc…’), and I wonder how this shapes our reality? Can anyone confirm something I once read that the subconscious mind does not differentiate between affirmative and negative information, and that it takes in all things as essentially true, and that this is the premise behind affirmations? This reminds me of Book 5 (JY) where we discuss the relationship between language and understanding. How does the conscious use of language help us to create new realities? Does repeating daily the Greatest Name 95 times, or the Names and Attributes of God in prayers, help to reinforce the reality of the spiritual dimension to life, as a counter-force to the materialistic propaganda we are immersed in?

  7. Having been around the Baha’i community and its Sacred Texts for over 60 years now, I can recommend William and Madeline Hellaby’s 1985 publication with George Ronald: “Prayer: A Baha’i Approach.” There are many more resources now, nearly 30 years later since this book came out. One of the best passages, at least for me, from this book is: “God always answers our prayers in one of three ways: ‘Yes’, ‘No’, or ‘Wait’.”

  8. I think each person has wisdom to share. I think we are all figuring out what prayer is and does, What God is, what people are supposed to be doing here on earth. Thank you for your thoughts. I think of prayer, specifically the Obligatory prayers, as a daily baptism.

  9. A this moment, I am not in a frame of mind to pray for any specific needs of mine, although I’ve got many ( and I am not going to reel them off here and now.), but I think it’s important to keep a close connection with God thru daily prayer, if only for spiritual enlightenment and strength. But it’s comforting and reassuring to learn about other friends’ spiritual experiences. Actually and sincerely, I am having some difficulty believing that God is concerned over the triffles of my personal life, though I am not really sure about that either, as He sometimes did seem to have interervened in my favor in the past when I resorted to Him for the solution of a special personal problem.

    Cori – Madeira Island – Portugal

  10. This really strikes a chord Susan! I so like the point about the ‘cyclical nature’ and the connection between the ‘requesting ‘prayer’ and then the ‘fake it till you make it’ behaviour we practice – and then ‘calling ourselves to account’ each night to check in our progress and take on another 24 hours,

  11. Thanks Hami and all those who contributed with their comments. Sharing our ideas of what we all hold precious unites us even more in our endeavors to serve.

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