Mahatma Gandhi stated, “Prayer is the very soul and essence of religion, and therefore prayer must be the very core of the life of man.” Almost every major world religion incorporates prayer as a vital component of their belief system. But prayer does not serve the same function in each one.
For Hindus, prayer is a method of earning merit. Hinduism is works-based, so if Hindus want or need something, they will use prayer as one way to appease or manipulate the gods. Prayer becomes an offering for the purpose of attaining what you want.
“Hinduism is works-based, so if Hindus want or need something, they will use prayer as one way to appease or manipulate the gods.”
Hindus’ prayers are impersonal. They pray mantras or repeat memorized prayers (many of which are in Sanskrit—a language the majority of people don’t know). Most of the time, they pray while looking at a statue or picture of a god. Some people use maalaas—prayer beads to help them keep track of the number of times they have said these mantras or prayers.
Hindu Prayer versus Christian Prayer
When Hindus respond in faith to the gospel, they are inclined to bring their former prayer practices into their new life as a Christian. At first, it’s hard for them not to have something to look at and pray to (like a statue or picture). We teach them to view prayer like a conversation between a child and father, with intimacy, love, and care.
Because Hindus pray to appease unknown gods, the concept of a personal relationship with Jesus is new and unfamiliar to those who convert to Christianity. When coming to faith, Hindu background believers (HBBs) will pray like they did as Hindus. We use Matthew 6 to teach them by contrasting how they prayed as Hindus with how they can now pray as Christians. Matthew 6:5–8 gives two examples of how not to pray, which perfectly describes how Hindus typically pray.
Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask him. (CSB, emphasis added)
Even after Hindus come to faith, it’s typical to enter a church and hear people pray by babbling on and repeating phrases over and over. People will stand up to pray and begin the prayers with “Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Praise the Lord, Blood of Jesus, Blood of Jesus, Blood of Jesus . . . .” just like they did as a Hindu repeating mantras.
We use the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6:9–15 to teach new believers how to pray like Jesus. We help them to see how prayer extends from their relationship with Jesus. Prayer is a conversation with the living God.
A New Perspective on Prayer
Of course, there are exceptions to everything. When we share the gospel with a Hindu who decides to accept Christ, we’ll ask them to pray. We only do the “repeat after me” thing if they struggle to pray by themselves. But more times than I can count, I’ve heard some of the most beautiful prayers from people pouring their hearts out to God for the first time. At times, their prayers have brought me to tears. After years of talking to inanimate statues and pictures or to gods that don’t seem to be listening, they are overwhelmed by the ability to talk to God, knowing and feeling that he’s listening.
“God is doing amazing things through Hindu background believers and their prayers. Praise God that many are coming to faith in Jesus Christ because of these prayers.”
Many Hindus come to faith through some sort of answered prayer, especially after they or someone they know is healed or witnesses some other miracle. They see how powerful God is and decide they want to follow him. It’s exciting to witness these conversions but also challenging.
Because the prosperity gospel is so prevalent in our area, we have to teach new believers how to shift from experience-based faith to Word-based faith. Teaching them to pray according to the Word and not their feelings is key. As new believers grow in their newfound faith, we have to help them be excited about prayer, even when they don’t always get the answers they want or witness a miracle. We have to teach them that even when God seems distant or silent, he is always present and listening.
Hindus are very spiritual people, so when a Hindu comes to faith, they don’t usually have any issues making time for prayer. The issue, then, is teaching them how to pray. God is doing amazing things through Hindu background believers and their prayers. Praise God that many are coming to faith in Jesus Christ because of these prayers.
Keelie Rock has been at home in South Asia for thirteen years. She serves with her husband and two girls.