When Prayer Becomes Worship

Quite inadvertently I realised this week that we only apply our minds and our hearts to those things from which we hope to acquire good. At first I thought it was just another superfluous thought, but it seemed to resonate in most things I did that day, especially prayer. Being a Muslim, there is never a shortage of emphasis by others on my need to comply with religious injunctions, especially those related to prayer.

I’ve always taken exception to people who do things for the sake of compliance, because that is rarely sustainable and almost never fulfilling, with prayer being at the top of that list. Compliance and its promised rewards cannot be the only good that can be obtained through such submission, and this is not limited to religious submission only. In everything that we do in our lives, those things that have little or no identifiable reward often results in half-hearted attempts to do something with the intention of pleasing others, or to avoid ridicule or reprimand or worse, to avoid punishment. That just seems like such a waste of life.

When I observe others, I find that the ones that do things with the most conviction are those that realise the benefits or the impact of what it is that they’re doing. For the same reason, you would find a janitor that would take more pride in their work than a qualified surgeon. It’s not the prestige of the job that drives that passion for detail and excellence, it’s the realisation of the contribution of what you’re doing relative to the greater good that drives us to want to do more than the bare minimum to accomplish the task at hand. For this reason you will find that two identically skilled and qualified individuals will produce a very different quality of result simply because of the personal perspectives and convictions that drive their actions.

Complacency is only subscribed to when we lose sight of the true purpose of our servitude. In everything that we do, be it spiritual or physical, there must be a benefit for ourselves first before there can be a benefit for others in order for us to apply ourselves sufficiently to the task at hand. That personal benefit is often not material in nature and could take the form of fulfilling deeply held needs that we’re rarely consciously aware of. However, in serving others, we fulfil our need to be significant and to matter in a reality beyond just our own. In the spiritual realm this translates into finding personal benefit in our submission to the object of our worship.

When prayer becomes a grounding point, a point of reflection, and a means towards attaining a clarity of thought and purpose let alone appreciation for what we have, that is when prayer becomes more than just a ritual. Understanding how that moment of submission balances the clutter with the sublime that leads to a more wholesome life is what turns it into an act of worship, rather than an act of obedience, or need. When all these realisations come together in our minds when we set ourselves down to pray, that moment becomes a cherished moment that cannot be rushed or compromised, but instead it will demand a level of mindfulness and conviction that will reflect in everything else that we do. It’s no wonder then that we are taught that if the prayer is sound, then everything else will be sound as well.

Even if a ritualised form of prayer is not something that you subscribe to, the reality of being human will drive you to points of deep reflection on the purpose of life, creation, and what lies beyond. Perhaps that is the moments of true prayer on your part, regardless of your religious persuasion, and perhaps the conviction with which we meet those moments has a far greater bearing on the rest of our lives than we could ever imagine.

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