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Should we pray with expectation?

There are two types of prayer depending on the intention behind the prayer.

1. Prayer with worldly expectation

To pray with expectation is the commonest variety. This type of prayer is said with the expectation of fulfilment of some worldly requirement. The prayer may or may not be accompanied by any other spiritual practice.

Some examples to pray with expectation would include the followng:

  • Gross material requirements like job, partner, child, etc.
  • Subtle material requirement like recovery from illness, happiness, etc.

Pray with expectation

People pray with expectation in the initial stages of their spiritual journey. Even those whose prayers about some worldly benefit are regularly answered, are generally in the initial stages of their spiritual journey. The reason is because people in later stages of spiritual growth make prayers only for their spiritual growth as explained in the next section.

When we pray with expectation for the worldly benefit of ourselves or others, the prayer may get answered but we end up using our spiritual energy gained through spiritual practice. This spiritual energy could be either from this birth or an earlier birth.

People who continue to pray with expectation lifelong  use prayer as a tool to obtain a little something from God rather than striving to increase spiritual practice to attain the all encompassing continual grace of God. The important disadvantage to pray with expectation is that one tends to remain trapped in worldly desires and needs instead of transcending to surrender to God’s will and being able to rely on Him to provide as per our requirement (and not as per our wish).

2. Prayer without worldly expectation (for spiritual growth)

This type of prayer is said by the seekers of God who are serious about their spiritual journey. In such prayers also there is a pleading to God, but seekers do not pray with expectation. The only expectation is about being able to do better spiritual practice to achieve spiritual progress. Seekers may also pray for removal of obstacles in their spiritual practice, reduction of their ego, etc.

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Seekers who pray without worldly expectations have the double benefit of being graced with spiritual progress as well as their material need being taken care of as per the requirement. Here as the person who is praying surrenders much more than the person who prays with worldly expectations, he is able to access much more grace of God. Also the surrender contributes to dissolution of mind, intellect and ego. Both these factors result in rapid spiritual progress.                                                                                                                           ^ Top

3. Comparison between the two types of prayer

Prayer with worldly expectation

Prayer without worldly
expectation (for spiritual growth)

  • Prayer may get answered if a person’s destiny does not deem it otherwise.
  • Always gets answered depending on the intensity of the prayer and person’s spiritual level.
  • Spiritual energy is used up.
  • Spiritual energy is not used up.
  • Spiritual progress does not occur.
  • Spiritual progress occurs and worldly requirements too are taken care of as per God’s wish.

4. How prayers change as a seeker grows spiritually

Aspect of life

Pray With expectation

Pray Without expectation
(for spiritual growth)

  • Job
Lord, I have just finished the interview, please let me get the job. I really really need it! Lord, I have just finished the interview and I leave the outcome at Your feet. Please grace me with the strength to accept the outcome as per Your wish.
  • Finding a partner
Lord, I love this person. Please make that person love me equally if not more. Lord, You know best whether this person is meant for me. I also know that whether I find a partner or not in this lifetime is as per my destiny. But please protect my spiritual practice either which way.
  • Illness
Lord, I cannot take this illness please cure me. Lord, please give me the strength to bear this illness so that it does not distract me from my spiritual practice.
  • Illness of one’s child
Lord, please save my child. I will do anything. If you save my child I will donate half of my next salary to an orphanage. Lord, my child is seriously ill. We have done all we can – I know You love him much more than I do – I surrender him at Your feet.
  • Painful part of one’s life
Lord, this is the most painful part of my life. Please save me from it. Lord, please give me the strength to bear the pain and let me learn what I need to learn at a spiritual level. Please let my spiritual practice continue without getting obstructed.
  • Happy part of one’s life
Generally absent Lord, please let me remember You continuously in my happiness and that You only have graced me with it. May I yearn for You the same as when I am unhappy.
  • Spiritual practice
Generally absent Lord my gratitude to You for giving me another day to do spiritual practice. Please let me serve You as per Your wish and grace me with the capacity to improve my spiritual practice.

5. Guidance by His Holiness Dr. Athavale in relation to prayer with and without expectations

1. Ordinary individual: The one who wants something in worldly life pray with expectation to God. He does not understand that without devotion, God will not give anything even if he prays. When one does not get anything even after praying many times, his faith in God reduces.

2. Those who perform spiritual practice through Bhaktiyoga (Path of Devotion): Except for those following Bhaktiyoga (Path of Devotion), those who perform spiritual practice through other Paths such as Path of Action (Karmayoga), Path of Knowledge (Dnyanyoga), etc., mostly do not pray.

A. He does not understand that unless there is true devotion and bhav (Spiritual emotion) in the prayers, God does not give what is expected.

B. He does not understand that since everything is happening as per God’s wish, it is meaningless to ask as per one’s own wish. Spiritual practice is actually performed only for destroying one’s own wish.

C. Since many people do not know what to ask for, if what they are asking for is not complementary to spiritual practice, God does not give.

D. The most important benefit of praying is that it helps in reducing our ego.

E. If at all we wish to pray to God, the following would be an appropriate prayer – ‘May I get help in performing spiritual practice’.

F. After progressing spiritually, the devotee does not ask for anything from God; because, he knows that God will give him what is necessary at the appropriate time.’

His Holiness Dr. Athavale

6. In summary

In summary, the following is a rule of thumb that one can keep in mind when making a prayer:

  • If the prayer is about enhancing the five senses, mind and intellect it is a prayer with worldly expectation
  • If the prayer is about making efforts to experience the Soul (i.e. the God within us) it is a prayer without worldly expectation.

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