Is Prayer Effective?

Written by Drew on April 6th, 2006

According to a year-long investigation published by the National Institute for Healthcare Research in 1997, hundreds of studies published in mainstream medical journals showed that people who attend religious services, pray, and read scriptures:

  • live longer
  • are less prone to depression, suicide, alcoholism and other addictions
  • have lower rates of cancer, heart disease and other major illnesses
  • recover better from sickness/surgery
  • and cope better with chronic illness (Phyllis McIntosh, Remedy, Nov/Dec 1997, p. 27).

However, last Friday the New York Times published a report on its front page with the headline, “Long-Awaited Medical Study Questions the Power of Prayer.” The study, begun almost a decade ago and involving 1,800 patients, found that prayers offered by strangers had no effect on the recovery of people who were undergoing heart surgery. Furthermore, it revealed that patients who knew they were being prayed for had a higher rate of post-operative complications like abnormal heart rhythms. In a news conference the authors of the controversial report said the results raised questions about how and whether patients should be told that prayers were being offered for them.

One of the authors, Dean Marek, a chaplain at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., did say the study should not reflect on the power of personal prayer or about prayers for family members and friends.

In my opinion Christians should not be alarmed in the least about these findings. Spirituality, by definition, cannot be subjected to the scientific method. This is no exception.

A major flaw afflicting the investigation is that it does not take into account the terms upon which one may come to God in prayer. God does not listen to prayer unconditionally. Rather the Bible teaches:

  • The supplicant must be a Christian (Jn. 14:6).
  • He must pray in faith, doubting nothing (Mt. 21:22; Jas. 1:6).
  • He cannot be living out of step with God’s will (1 Jn. 1:7). This does not preclude the prayers of the occasional sinner (1 Jn. 1:9), but the prayers of a person walking outside the perimeter of God’s laws go no further than the ceiling (Ps. 66:18; Prov. 15:29; 1 Pet. 3:12).

The NY Times article reported that three congregations were asked to pray for the subjects under investigation: St. Paul’s Monastery in St. Paul; the Community of Teresian Carmelites in Worcester, Mass.; and Silent Unity, a Missouri prayer ministry near Kansas City. But how do we know that all of these congregegants conform to the above requisites? Without this knowledge, the study becomes irrelevant.

The bias of the NY Times is striking. While a potentially damaging report on prayer finds its way to the front page, another positive study having to do with spirituality is nowhere to be found. On Tuesday the American Board of Family Medicine released evidence showing that regular churchgoing can increase life expectancy. Evidently the Times didn’t consider this “fit to print.”


1 Comments so far ↓

  1. J-Train says:

    I’ve found that where the media goes, the masses go in the opposite direction. Even our weather reports are so off the mark as to be laughable. So maybe it’s good news that the media is again showing their bias. It just might mean the masses are heading in the right direction. One can hope and pray….


Leave a Comment