Monday, 19 December 2011

I believe in prayer

I believe in prayer for all kinds of reasons. Personal answers, recurring coincidences after prayer, the testimony of others - saints and people I trust - etc. I also believe because I believe in Jesus and, for me, He is the beginning and end of my faith when it comes to anything as supernatural as prayer.

However there have been lots of scientific studies aimed at proving or disproving the power of prayer. Here is an extract from an article I picked up on the web:

"Does prayer’s power heal the sick, change lives, or fulfill our needs and desires? Should you bury a statue of Saint Joseph, if you want to sell your home, or put Saint Christopher on your dashboard as you travel this holiday season? There’s no definitive way to prove the power of prayer, but it’s not for lack of trying. Humans, including scientists, charlatans, and medical experts, have attempted to prove and disprove the efficacy of prayer since the beginning of intellectual curiosity.

The most surprising thing about these studies is that we’ve learned nothing. Some studies seem to showconcentrated group prayer, whatever that is, has a measurable effect on AIDS patients. A decade ago, Dr. Elisabeth Targ’s famous double-blind research convinced some that AIDS patients who were prayed for lived longer than AIDS patients who were not prayed for by a controlled group of prayer-sayers. How do you control that?

Reading University's studies are interesting, but confusing. Some show cardiac patients who believe in God do better than those who don’t. On the other hand, in a Harvard study, it looks like cardiac patients assured of receiving prayers of intercession didn’t fare as well as others, and Francis Galton, cousin of Charles Darwin, determined that if a king’s subjects prayed for him, the poor guy lived a shorter life than other kings.

Consider this: Studies aside, nearly everyone has stories of friends, family, and acquaintances that lived a miracle brought about by prayer or devotion. A widow accidentally drops her keepsake wedding ring in the ocean. She prays daily that she will find it. Years later, it turns up in the local fisherman’s catch. A missing child is inexplicably recovered when his whole community gathers to pray.

My husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness ten years ago. We prepared ourselves. We prayed a lot. He’s still around, and his medical team is astounded. He should not have had a positive outcome. There are thousands of stories of humans visited by angels – some of them seem inarguable. We can’t get enough of George’s angel in It’s a Wonderful Life, and books about causing change through prayer fill the bookstores’ shelves.

You can drive yourself to distraction Googling for answers on whether prayer has power or can effect change. The Online Surgical Technicians Course has a comprehensive list of formal, rigorous, scientific studies. You can find first-hand prayer testimonials on the Experience Project Web site and, I dare say, all over the Web.

Maybe the most rational conclusion was drawn by Wendy Cadge from the sociology department of Brandeis University, Massachusetts. An expert on how religion and medicine impact each other in today’s American culture, Cage remarked, “With double-blind clinical trials, scientists tried their best to study something that may be beyond their best tools; and [this] reflects more about them and their assumptions than about whether prayer works.”

In other words looking to science to help us with regards to the efficacy of prayer is probably not the best place to start (or finish). The best way to go about testing prayer is to do it, but to do it with a copy of the Bible in your hand and with the advice of a priest or a seasoned Christian ready to guide you. Also it almost goes without saying - and this is where everything unravels for the wannabe pray-er - a relationship with God through Jesus is not only indispensible but pretty fundamental. The disciples quickly discovered this early on and asked Him to teach them how to pray (they had probably been trying and failing or saw in Jesus someone who had the authority to teach them). His response - known as the Lord's Prayer - takes it for granted that prayer is fundamental to their relationship with Him and His Father, and on that basis answers are assumed and expected.

I would also add one other thing which is often inferred but not always explicit. Being part of a Church - or The Church - is very important. Why? It is there that the New Testament assumes all progress in the Christian walk - plus th walk itself - is made. It is there that you can pray and learn with others. THere that you can find advice and encouragement. There you will discover a tradition of prayer and praying that goes back to the beginning. There that you can best keep to the straight and narrow because there is nothing more debilitating to your prayer life than disobedience, pride and sin. Over and over the Israelites discovered that when they disobeyed God His voice would fall silent.

So get into a relationship with Christ, His Church and His cause. Read His book which contains not only His teaching and guidelines but also examples of how prayer works. And you too will discover that prayer really does work. And with not a science textbook or study in sight!

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