Why Do You Pray? Is It Fear, Hope or Love?
[Just to let you know, the text below is a transcription of what I've said in this video. So please excuse any words or phrases that don't quite look right.]
I'm going to share with you a way that you can evaluate the quality of any of your relationships.
This is how you're going to do it.
Imagine anybody in your life and think about a time when they asked you to do something for them and you've done it.
The way in which you know how good or not so good your relationship is with them is not on the basis of whether or not you did what they asked you. It's more on the motivation that you had to do what they asked you.
Obviously, if someone has asked you to do something—and you can do it and you don't do it—there's kind of no relationship anyway. But if someone's asked you to do something and you do it, ask yourself, why did you do it?
Did you do it because you are afraid? Afraid of them, perhaps, or afraid of the consequence if you didn't do it, so you just obeyed out of fear? Or did you do it because you are hoping for something out of it? "If I do it, then, well, maybe they'll like me more. Or maybe I can get some reward out of it."
Or did you do it because there was a relationship of love? It might be love between a spouse or spouses, or it might be love between children and parents, or the kind of love that you would have with friends. But it goes a bit beyond the sort of transactional kind of relationship to a genuine relationship.
Whether you listen to others, engage with others, do what others say on the basis of fear, hope, or love determines the quality—and the reality—of that relationship.
Guess what? It's absolutely no difference when it comes to you and your Lord. We know that the first obligation upon the believer is to pray, and perhaps you do pray.
But if you pray, why do you pray? What's really the motivation?
Understanding Your Motivations For Prayer
What is it that gets you to get up and actually turn up and stand in front of your Lord whenever you stand in front of Him?
Is it fear? Is it the fact that you know that if you don't, there may be negative consequences? There may be punishment around the corner?
Is it hope? Is it simply the fact that, "I know that if I turn up and pray and I stick with this and I'm consistent throughout my life, I'm going to get something out of it. I'm going to be rewarded. I want to get to paradise, and I know that the first thing I've got to worry about is the consistency of my prayer"—and that's why?
Or is it because you love your Lord—because you have a kind of relationship, a kind of engagement—because your Lord asked you to do something. You trust that it's for your benefit. You appreciate who He is. You appreciate His magnitude, His grandeur. Then, as a result, you go for it.
You turn up not because you are afraid, not because you're hopeful, but because it's a relationship of love.
Imagine There Was No Paradise or Hell
Another way to really evaluate this issue about whether or not you pray out of love is to imagine for a moment if there was no paradise or hell.
If there was no paradise or hell. If there was simply the fact that you could have the acceptance and the pleasure of God and to be in His company. If there was no paradise or hell with all of its particular rewards and punishments as we know it—would our motivation change much? Or not?
It's an interesting thing to think about.
Of course, hell is there as a potential punishment, and paradise is there as a potential reward for all of us depending on how we do. That's part and parcel of the wisdom of the Almighty.
It's very useful for us to think about what our relationship would be like were these things not to exist. Would we still pray? What would our motivation be? Would we need to actually dig deeper to find a new level of motivation?
The Bird Of Fear, Hope, and Love
Past scholars often commented on this issue of hope, fear, and love as the levels at which we can function with our Lord. Famously, scholars explained fear and hope as being two wings of a bird.
This means there is a place in all of our lives for fear. We all have those moments of laziness or apathy, where fear is a healthy, useful, and necessary motivator. On the other hand, hope and the idea of reward and of actually gaining something material is a motivator.
These are the two wings of the bird, but what's the head of the bird?
The head of the bird is love. It's that "head" that governs in the direction that is the prime indicator of the nature of the relationship and the nature of the relationship that you want to build.
You see, hope and fear are not enough for a sustainable journey.
You don't see any headless birds flying around in the sky. Hope and fear as the wings are not sufficient. You need the head of love, too.
Ask yourself and consider, "Do I love, my Lord?"
If it's not easy for you to answer that question with a "Yes," then you need to think about, "Well, why not?"
What Makes Us Love Our Lord?
It's useful just to think back to any other relationship in your life. If there are people that you love, why do you love them? What is it about the relationship of love that you have that you would describe them as a true relationship of love?
Typically, it's because of the extent to which you appreciate the other, not just in relation to what they do for you. You appreciate them as they are for who they are. There are things and aspects about them that really inspire you, motivate you, or find pleasing.
But is our Lord not like that?
Aren't the attributes—aren't the qualities and the actions—of our Lord so amazing, so wonderful, so awe-inspiring that they should generate feelings of love? Bring these to mind next time when you come to pray.
How do you implement all this? Practically speaking, this is how:
When you know that the time to pray has come—and if you discern, you find, or discover within yourself a feeling of resistance, and it's actually just to avoid the punishment that you're turning up, or it's only because I hope to get something out of this: "I know if I pray one, I'll get tenfold kind of reward"—remember, these are not wrong as motivators, but they're not sufficient, they're not complete.
The way you can raise your level—the way you can turn up and have a much better quality of prayer and a better relationship with your Lord—is if you bring to mind the blessings that you enjoy. If you bring to mind the aspects of creation (that you know of) that you relate back to Him and His Majesty, His Creativity, His Power, and His Wisdom.
Bring those thoughts, ideas, and connections into your prayer. Then the words and the statements that you say in your prayer will be reflective of the fact that you feel like you're in this personal conversation with the one that you love.
May Al Wadud make us people who don't only pray out of hope or fear, but pray out of genuine love for our Lord. That's what makes a real salat.