In this day and age, far too many people seem to think of God and science as mutually exclusive, unable to coexist. Everyone- including some who profess to be followers of Christ- seems to be grasping at straws, looking for any evidence to ‘disprove’ the existence of God and consequently, the power of prayer.
With our society, the power of prayer does not require an explanation as much as it does a ‘yes’ or ‘no’. That makes exploring the efficacy of prayer through science a touchy and dangerous undertaking.
The truth is that supernatural benefits of prayer go far beyond what science can prove. But while it definitely takes a little faith to see the efficacy of prayer, there is no shortage of scientific evidence to back it up as well. In this article, I’ll discuss mainly the benefits that science has been able to prove in the materialistic world.
What is prayer?
There are people who try to downplay the power of prayer, dismissing it as some religious hobby. And there are people who overcomplicate prayer, adding rules and regulations until the purpose of prayer is barely recognizable.
By definition, prayer is our connection to our Creator- nothing more or less than that. In Mark 11:24, Jesus says, “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”
Prayer is a means by which we strengthen our relationship with the God who wants so desperately to know us. It’s a beautiful thing that simply can’t be confined to human logic; and so in order to begin to explore its real-life effects, you have to understand its foundation.
Intercessory prayer is prayer for the needs of others. It’s something that people have started to doubt even more than prayer for oneself.
No matter how farfetched it may seem that your conversation with God can make a real difference in someone else’s life, there is solid proof of it. The Word commands us to pray for others on several occasions, and as shown by several studies, there’s a reason for it.
Scientific Studies & Neurotheology.
Neurotheology is a relatively new field that focuses on studying what happens in the brain and body during spiritual experiences. It goes without saying that scientists have found the minds of those who spend time in prayer to be different from the ones of those who don’t.
New research by Andrew Newberg, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania found that people who spent time praying had greater focused attention and brain activity. Other similar studies on prayer or meditation produced even greater results.
For example, subjects who meditated were shown to develop more antibodies to a flu virus than did their colleagues who did not meditate. The shaping of the mind caused by prayer also reaps physical benefits.
One of the most popular studies done on prayer was published in 1988. Over the course of ten months, 393 patients admitted to the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) were randomized in a double-blind study into two groups: those who received intercessory prayer and those who didn’t (the control group).
The first group received prayer from Christians outside the hospital. The results were that the intercessory prayer group had statistically significant (therapeutic effect) lower severity scores then those who did not. This meant that they required less ventilation assistance, antibiotics, and diuretics. There have been several criticisms of this study, however, such as suspicions regarding how the variables may have been affecting each other.
Another similar study was conducted in randomized trials. Despite the methodological limitations, it pointed to the general merits of ‘distant healing’- or intercessory prayer.
Due to these implications that prayer seems to be of clinical help, prayer may be integrated more into the medical field, especially in nursing. The efficacy of prayer isn’t completely scientifically verifiable, though. Several studies actually yield results that are either inconclusive or even negative. In a 2006 study, no significant impact of prayer could be measured scientifically.
Despite this, we must keep in mind that God is not confined to lab samples or systematic tests. And that leads us to our next point of discussion.
Should we be testing God through science?
It’s important to keep in mind that even though we might get inconsistent results, it doesn’t mean prayer doesn’t work. Putting God into a test tube and provoking him to heal whatever we ask is a cheap substitute for faith. It’s similar to how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness.
Satan tempted him to abuse his power and divinity in order to fulfill selfish desires. But Jesus responded with the Word of His father: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” -Deuteronomy 6:16.
God isn’t like a dog that will perform tricks on command for our amusement. God is sovereign, and He’s not going to take a detour from His perfect plan to indulge our earthly wants. Sometimes God heals, and sometimes He doesn’t. It’s not our place to ask why.
The question we should be asking is not, Does prayer work? but rather, Am I prepared for the answer?
If you’re a Christian who seeks to help someone who is losing faith in prayer…
Pray for them. The best remedy for lost faith is faith from afar. Show love to them, and do all that you can to help restore their faith. Share scripture, discuss hard topics, and just be someone that they can confide in and lean on. Make sure they know that even if God doesn’t always answer the way we want Him to, He is still sovereign. He knows what’s best for our lives.
If you’re a Christian who is losing faith in prayer…
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” If we want our prayers to be answered, we have to have faith that they will. And we tend miss the answers in our search for them. More often than not, they don’t come down from heaven with a trumpet call. They’re subtler than we realize, and sometimes look very different from what we’re expecting. Losing faith in prayer isn’t going to give you what you need; even when the answers are nowhere in sight, they can be made plain by faith.
What do you think of the studies?