Friday, March 31, 2006

Prayer Is Unhelpful

According to a study led by Dr. Herbert Benson, people who were prayed for by strangers did not fare any better than people who were not prayed for. The study took place over 10 years and involved over 1800 patients. In the study, 1/3 of the patients were told that strangers were praying for them, 1/3 of the patients were not told that strangers were praying for them and 1/3 of the patients were told that strangers may or may not be praying for them. Researchers then gave the patient's first name and first initial of their last name to people in three different Christian prayer communities and asked those people to pray for the strangers. After doing this study for ten years, those who were prayed for did not fare any better than those who were not prayed for, and those who knew they were being prayed for actually had 9% more complications after surgery.

The study said nothing about people who are receiving prayers from relatives or friends, and said nothing about the power of individual prayer. The only thing this study evaluated was the power of intercessory prayer between strangers. The faith basis of the patients was not divulged.

All in all, I find this study very interesting. What does this tell me about prayer? If I, as a committed Christian examine these results and see that they contradict with what I would like them to say, will that do me any good? No, instead, I look at these results and I see what they are telling me. Maybe this is not the truth about the conclusions that this test draws, but the results of this test seem to conclude some things for me:

1. It appears as though there are a lot of people offering a lot of prayer that falls on deaf ears. The question is, does God refuse to listen to so many prayers, and if so, why?

2. Praying for people because you want to prove that prayer is effective won't work.

3. Let's be honest. Attempting to scientifically study the effects of prayer will always prove inconclusive because the power of prayer is based on immeasurable factors. Either Scripture is right, and the power of prayer is based on the authenticity of faith, something that is impossible to measure imperically, or Scripture is wrong, and prayer is useless. Even after an exhaustinve test, we still don't know much.


joeldaniel said...

the beauty of a mystery is in its....mystery.

and so follows prayer. its magnificence is its mystery. i surely don't understand. i have, within the past year, questioned its significance. but while still a mini-man in prayer, i see goodness dwells in it, and it calls me onward.

by the way, i recently joined your ranks. officially associate staff with the CCO. : ) i look forward to the cavorting with you and your (now our) kind in the future.

Joshua said...


Interesting to say that you are a mini-man in prayer. I might challenge you to think about that one. I know it sounds like a matter of semantics, but I'm a guy who finds semantics very important. Seeing ourselves as mini-men or mini-women in prayer is either collosally bad, or perfectly fitting. Collosally bad because it implies that some of us are mega-men in prayer... which is simply not the case. Or perfect because it implies that all of us are mini-men and mini-women in prayer... which, considering who does the real work in prayer, should be our more constant attitude.

Ugh... I'm on a soap box eighty percent of the time. Sorry.