One of the questions the Orthodox Baha'is have been discussing lately is the power and efficacy of prayer and supplication. In light of the pending court action by the sans-Guardian Bahais against the Orthodox Bahá'ís, it raises the spectacle of Orthodox Bahá'ís praying for victory while the sans-Guardian Bahais presumably are also supplicating Baha'u'llah for victory. It certainly cannot be that the prayers of either side would persuade God to take one side or another in the court action. Certainly God knows where He stands without us telling Him what to do or believe.
Since God already knows what we and others need, what is the purpose of supplicating to Him to fufill those needs?
This question was posed to `Abdu'l-Bahá and both the question and His answer was published in Dr. J.E. Esslemont's Bahá'u'lláh and the New Era, at pp. 92-93:
"Another correspondent asked: 'Why pray? What is the wisdom thereof, for God has established everything and executes all affairs after the best order -- therefore, what is the wisdom in beseeching and supplicating and in stating one's wants and seeking help?'
"'Abdu'l-Bahá replied: --
"Know thou, verily it is becoming in a weak one to supplicate to the Strong One, and it behooveth a seeker of bounty to beseech the Glorious Bountiful One. When one supplicates to his Lord, turns to Him and seeks bounty from His Ocean, this supplication brings light to his heart, illumination to his sight, life to his soul and exaltation to his being. During thy supplications to God and thy reciting, "Thy Name is my healing," consider how thine heart is cheered, thy soul delighted by the spirit of the love of God, and thy mind attracted to the Kingdom of God! By these attractions one's ability and capacity increase. When the vessel is enlarged the water increases, and when the thirst grows the bounty of the cloud becomes agreeable to the taste of man. This is the mystery of supplication and the wisdom of stating one's wants. (from a tablet to an American believer, translated by Ali Kuli Khan, October 1908)."
Supplication is not a process whereby we convince God to give us help. It is God's nature to give us what we need without our asking. Supplication does not operate on God, it operates on the person who is supplicating. It is the process by which we prepare ourselves to accept His gifts. To have humble faith.
By supplicating, we come to understand the error of relying upon ourselves for any of our needs, and instead we humbly turn in total reliance upon God:
"O thou who art turning thy face towards God! Close thine eyes to all things else, and open them to the realm of the All-Glorious. Ask whatsoever thou wishest of Him alone; seek whatsoever thou seekest from Him alone. With a look He granteth a hundred thousand hopes, with a glance He healeth a hundred thousand incurable ills, with a nod He layeth balm on every wound, with a glimpse He freeth the hearts from the shackles of grief. He doeth as He doeth, and what recourse have we? He carrieth out His Will, He ordaineth what He pleaseth. Then better for thee to bow down thy head in submission, and put thy trust in the All-Merciful Lord." Selections from the Writings of `Abdu'l-Bahá, p. 51.
God does not answer the prayer of one person, and not others. The reason why some prayers are answered and some are not, is that the persons praying in faith become capable of receiving the gifts that God freely bestows upon them. Those who refuse God's help, confused with doubt and fear, block themselves from receiving the good they are entitled to receive. We have a choice whether to accept God's blessings, in total reliance upon Him, or to turn away from Him and to take on life's challenge on one's own. By praying and supplicating, we choose reliance upon God. This faith gives us the capacity to accept God's bestowals.
(1) As ye have faith so shall your powers and blessings be, Abdu'l-Baha, quoted in Star of the West, Volume 12, No. 16, page 250