Does Prayer Work?

It is written:

2 Kings 10:1-6-In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Set your house in order, for you shall die, and not live.’ ” 2  Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed to the LORD, saying, 3  “Remember now, O LORD, I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.” And Hezekiah wept bitterly. 4  And it happened, before Isaiah had gone out into the middle court, that the word of the LORD came to him, saying, 5  “Return and tell Hezekiah the leader of My people, ‘Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father: “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will heal you. On the third day you shall go up to the house of the LORD. 6  And I will add to your days fifteen years. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city for My own sake, and for the sake of My servant David.” ‘ “

The Bible here teaches us that God extended the life of king Hezekiah by fifteen years when the king earnestly prayed to Him.

Is prayer effective? Many claim that it is not. However, what do the facts show?

The Bible teaches that prayer to God has great impact on the world. We see this all throughout the Word of God, but perhaps one of the clearest examples of this is seen in the Book of Revelation:

Revelation 8:1-6-When He opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2  And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. 3  Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4  And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. 5  Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it to the earth. And there were noises, thunderings, lightnings, and an earthquake. 6  So the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

Notice that the text shows us that the prayers of the saints bring forth a reaction from the throne of God. Notice that the prayers elicit “noises, thunder sings, lightnings, and an earthquake.”

“John Phillips writes, “What a potent force is prayer! The saints go into their bedrooms, close the doors, kneel down, and pray. They spread out before God their petitions, and God hears. The prayers are placed in the scales of judgment.”[ 88] How true! In fact, Revelation 8: 5 reveals God’s initial response to the saints’ prayer of 6: 10. Phillips continues: Preliminary rumblings are heard, presaging the great upheavals soon to take place. Voices! Thunderings! Lightnings! Earthquakes! In its essence, this formula, sometimes called a formula for catastrophe, is repeated four times in the Apocalypse (4: 5; 8: 5; 11: 19; 16: 18). Prayer that can precipitate such things truly must be potent indeed! So the silence ends.[ 89]” (Charleston R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15), 3469-3475 (Kindle Edition); Carol Springs, Illinois; Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.)

Some years ago, there was a study that claimed that intercessory prayer on behalf of those who are sick and in need of prayer demonstrated that prayer is ineffective. Investigate journalist Lee Strobel wanted to find out the facts. So, he interviewed Candy Gunther Brown (PhD), an author of several books investigating the efficacy of prayer. Notice these revealing facts:

“I anticipated this to be a rather routine conversation, but frankly I ended up thoroughly surprised—even stunned—by what she disclosed. “Let me start by saying that there have been ‘gold standard’ studies before and after STEP that reached the opposite conclusion: that the group receiving prayer had better outcomes,” she said. “Really?” I asked. “Can you give me some examples?” “One of the first widely publicized studies was by Dr. Randolph Byrd, published in 1988 in the peer-reviewed Southern Medical Journal,” she said. “It was a prospective, randomized, double-blinded, controlled study of four hundred subjects.” She explained that born-again Christians, both Catholics and Protestants, were given the patient’s first name, condition, and diagnosis. They were instructed to pray to the Judeo-Christian God “for a rapid recovery and for prevention of complications and death, in addition to other areas of prayer they believed to be beneficial to patients.” “What were the results?” “Patients in the prayer group had less congestive heart failure, fewer cardiac arrests, fewer episodes of pneumonia, were less often intubated and ventilated, and needed less diuretic and antibiotic therapy,” she said. “That’s very interesting,” I replied. “Do you think this study was scientifically sound?” “I believe it was. Of course, in any study like this, you can’t control for such things as people praying for themselves or other people praying for them outside the study,” she said. “What was the reaction when it came out?” “The journal got flak from readers who didn’t like prayer being studied this way. One doctor wrote in to say the journal had done ‘a disservice to the science of medicine and, therefore, to mankind in general.’” “Well, that’s pretty strong!” I said. She smiled. “I thought so too. The editor wrote back to say Byrd’s article had been subjected to the usual peer-review process and was judged to be a properly designed and executed scientific investigation. Then a decade or so later, a replication study by Dr. William S. Harris and colleagues was published in the Archives of Internal Medicine.” “Were the results similar?” “This was a ‘gold standard’ study of the effects of intercessory prayer on almost a thousand consecutively admitted coronary patients. Half received prayer; the other half didn’t. And again, the group that received prayer had better outcomes than the control group.” “Was there controversy this time as well?” “Even more, probably because this journal has a higher profile and the article was published in a cultural climate that was more hostile to the idea of prayer being studied scientifically. One critic even cited the biblical injunction against putting God to the test.” 8 I looked back over my notes. “So let me get this straight,” I said. “These studies affirmed that the recipients of prayer had better outcomes than those who didn’t receive prayer.” Brown nodded. “That’s right.” Now I was confused. “Then why do you think STEP reached such a different conclusion?” I asked. “Ah,” she said, “that’s where things get very intriguing.” “A Classic New Age Cult” Brown began dissecting the STEP project by asking me an uncontroversial question. “If you’re going to study prayer,” she said, “wouldn’t it be important who was praying, who they were praying to, and how they were praying?” That seemed intuitively obvious. “Of course,” I replied. “In the Byrd study, the intercessors were ‘born again’ Protestants and Catholics, who were active in daily devotional prayer and in fellowship with a local church. They were praying to the ‘Judeo-Christian God.’” That made sense to me. As born-again believers, they would have faith in a personal God who is loving and who possesses the power and inclination to supernaturally intervene in people’s lives. “Yes,” I said, “it seems reasonable that if you’re studying the effects of Christian prayer, you would want people whose theology is mainstream.” “Exactly. Similarly, in the Harris study, the intercessors were required to believe in a personal God who hears and answers prayers made on behalf of the sick.” Again, that seems entirely appropriate. “What about STEP, which found no beneficial effects of prayer?” I asked. She shifted in her chair so she was facing me more squarely. “Here’s where the difference comes in,” she said, as if letting me in on a professional secret. “The only Protestants recruited to participate in the study were from Silent Unity of Lee’s Summit, Missouri.” A red flag shot up in my mind. “What?” I blurted out. Truly, I was taken aback—in fact, I was staggered. “Unity isn’t genuinely Christian,” I said. “They claim to be Christian—the group’s full name is the Unity School of Christianity9—but I agree that many Christian scholars wouldn’t give them that label,” Brown replied. “They trace themselves back to the New Thought movement of the late nineteenth century.” I have studied Christian apologetics, or evidence for the faith, for decades, and I am a professor of Christian thought at a university. Never have I encountered any expert on religious movements who would classify Unity as being traditionally Christian in its theology. With more than three hundred Unity congregations, a thousand licensed ministers, programs on more than a thousand radio and television stations, and thirty-three million pieces of mail dispatched annually, Unity has been described as “one of the largest metaphysical groups in the United States.” 10 The sect’s views on the divinity of Jesus, sin and salvation, the Trinity, the Bible, and just about every cornerstone of Christian doctrine would be unrecognizable to any mainstream Christian. Reading through Unity’s beliefs, I detected a mixture of Hinduism, Spiritism, Theosophy, Rosicrucianism, and Christian Science, blended with an esoteric species of Christianity. Biblical concepts have been emptied of their historical meaning and refilled with ideas more suited to New Age mysticism or pantheism. Indeed, Ruth Tucker, an expert on cults and alternative religions, wrote, “Unity’s acceptance of non-Christian tenets such as reincarnation and its rejection of various biblical tenets have placed the movement outside traditional Christian orthodoxy.” 11 Ron Rhodes, who has a doctorate in systematic theology and has authored sixty books on religious beliefs, wrote, “The Unity School of Christianity may have a Christian sounding name, but it is definitely not Christian.” 12 Probe, a respected apologetics organization, calls Unity “a classic New Age cult [that] is not Christian in any aspect of its doctrine or teaching.” 13 How Not to Study Prayer “What’s particularly relevant is Unity’s attitude toward prayer and the miraculous,” Brown continued. “Unity leaders have long denied that prayer works miracles and have even called petitionary prayers ‘useless.’” 14 Cofounder of the sect, Charles Fillmore, once wrote, “God never performs miracles, if by this is meant a departure from universal law.” 15 The other founder, his wife, Myrtle, said, “We do not promise to say a prayer of words and have the saying work a miracle in another individual. Our work is to call attention to the true way of living and to inspire others to want to live in that true way.” 16 The group practices what it calls “affirmative prayer,” which involves repeating positive statements, such as, “We are imbued with divinity and are physically healthy.” The sect’s website reads, “When most people think of prayer, they think of asking God for something. Not so in Unity. Unity uses ‘affirmative prayer.’ Rather than begging or beseeching God, this method involves connecting with the spirit of God within and asserting positive beliefs about the desired outcome.” 17 Although there is some diversity among those affiliated with Unity, essentially Unity doesn’t believe in miracles, doesn’t believe in a personal God outside of us who intervenes in people’s lives, and doesn’t believe it’s even appropriate to ask for supernatural help. I was still shaking my head in disbelief when Brown spoke up again. “So why do we see different results in STEP?” she asked. “Well, you’ve got different inclusion criteria. Look who’s doing the praying and how they’re doing it. It’s apples and oranges compared to the Byrd and Harris studies.” I mulled the implications, which are clearly enormous. “This means you can’t draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of traditional Christian prayer from STEP,” I said. “That’s right,” she replied. “None.”” (Lee Strobel, The Case For Miracles: A Journalist Investigates Evidence For The Supernatural, 126-131 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

The findings of science back up the teachings of the Bible regarding the power of prayer-when such prayer is offered by the authority of Jesus Christ.

Prayer is one of the blessings afforded to children of God (Matthew 6:9-13).

Are you a child of God?

Galatians 3:26-27-For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27  For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.

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