Do you pray? Do you know why?
A study was released in 2006 that seemingly proved that prayers for healing were ineffective. This is the largest study of its kind and to many it seemed to prove that prayer was a useless escapade and that if there is a God, he doesn’t seem to be listening. My first reaction was depression. I thought “God! – Why didn’t you show up?” and for a little while I let it affect my faith, but then I did some of my own research both in the scriptures and elsewhere and I realized that this study doesn’t change anything because that’s not why I pray.
So how do we as Christians react to this study? Well, we could point out that most of the studies before this one seemed to show the opposite to be true – such as a similar study in 1988 which showed that people who were prayed for anonymously needed fewer meds than those in the control group. Or we could point to the fact that statistically those who are involved in church are more likely to heal from diseases. But I really don’t think any of these prove anything. I’m not saying I don’t believe that the most recent study is conclusive; I think none of them are, and I don’t think any of them ever will be.
If someone asked a wise and generous millionaire for $100 randomly, he might say yes, he might say no – he could have good reasons for both. Perhaps he knows that the person in question is just going to waste that money or perhaps he knows that if he doesn’t give his money to that person, they’ll have the opportunity earn it themselves and in the process learn something. He might even say no and then offer them a job and in the long run, give them way more that $100. He also might give to people who didn’t even ask for it. If someone with whom he’s close asks him for $1 wouldn’t he be more likely to give them the money? Even more so if they were asking for that money so they could use it to help someone else in need? Obviously this analogy has its limits, but I think it changes things we you stop thinking of God as a giant slot machine and start thinking of him as a person. You can measure the statistical likelihood of a slot machine giving you a jackpot and it will not change over time. God is dynamic and while his character is unchanging, in scripture it’s clear that he’s not a slot machine.
So is it useless to Pray?
Medically prayer is shown to be effective for the person praying in that it promotes healthy blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and lowers heart rate. So regardless of what you believe, it is not useless to pray.
But do all of the effects of prayer have to be measurable by numbers? Think of your best friend, your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend – do you find a conversation with that person to be ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’? Do you only consider it a ‘success’ if you received something from them? Do you quantify all of your relationships in statistics – saying that the relationship isn’t ‘effective’ if you’re not receiving what you ask for? I hope not – most people wouldn’t stand for that. Why do we expect a relationship with a living God to be any different?
The Real Authority
A few years ago there was a distinct drop in pretty much every car’s estimated miles per gallon. Why was this? Did every car actually get less efficient? No, It was because the testing standards became more realistic – the auto industry realized that their mode of testing wasn’t really testing anything real – instead it was just measuring what the MPG would be if a professional driver on a closed course were driving their car. They had to actually study what they were trying to study. I’d suggest that in addition to the fact that prayer isn’t quantifiable, these studies are much the same as the original MPG test; the conditions didn’t actually consider what real prayer looks like – what its purpose is or even simply, how to do it. That brings us to the question, “What then should prayer look like?” For the answer to that question we have to go to where we should have started: Scripture.