In a Cochrane reviewed entitled “Intercessory Prayer for the alleviation of ill health” published in 2011, the following conclusion was made:
“These findings are equivocal and, although some of the results of individual studies suggest a positive effect of intercessory prayer, the majority do not and the evidence does not support a recommendation either in favour or against the use of intercessory prayer…” – [Roberts L, Ahmed I, Davison, A. Intercessory prayer for the alleviation of ill health. The Cochrane Collaboration (2011). John Wiley & Sons LTD]
Should there be proof of prayer? I believe the answer is both yes, and no. Yes, prayer has tangible effects that we can experience, recognise and document. Yet no, prayer cannot be “proven” in a legalistic setting.
It is not surprising that the Cochrane review found no significant benefits or harms of prayer in their research. Ten trials were included, lending themselves to the following observations.
- People of different faiths and beliefs were included throughout the trials with the proviso that they believed in a God.
- Instruction on “How to pray” varied from a directive to pray daily, to specific, pre-determined phrases to pray.
- Some trials involved group prayer, and other involved individual prayer.
- Some trials looked at whether there was a difference in health outcome when the patient knew they were being prayed for, compared to when they had no idea.
- Many trials involved patients who were acutely ill, or with life threatening conditions.
So, a few questions arise from these studies.
- How do you quantify someone’s faith? Can that be ascertained from their involvement at church, from what they say?
- Does the “kind” of prayer matter? Ie. if it recited, memorised, or spontaneous?
- Does it matter that someone knows you are praying for them?
- Can the effect of prayer be measured from scientific studies such as these?
Personally, I don’t think so. The Bible tells us some things about the process and purpose of prayer. Consider the following points.
- There is one God, and no other. That is God, who became Jesus, died and rose again to reconcile man to Himself.
- The effects of prayer do not depend on our efforts, but are fully reliant on the will and power of God.
- Prayer is not a stagnant process, but a dynamic relationship.
When Jesus taught His disciples how to pray, He gave an example, but not a limitation.
“In this manner, therefore, pray:
Our Father in heaven,
Hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come,
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread
And forgive us our debts,
As we forgive our debtors.
And do not lead us into temptation,
But deliver us from the evil one.
For Yours is the kingdom and the power
and the glory forever. Amen.”
In His example, Jesus places emphasis on the Father. He says, “Hallowed be Your name”, “Your will be done”, “Yours in the kingdom and the power”. Though we ask God for things, prayer is NOT about what we want. It is about what God wills.
“And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” – [John 14:13]
“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” – [John 15:7]
Again, we can see that emphasis is not on what we want. We ask for things in God’s name, and He does it according to His will, His purpose, and His glory. His Spirit, dwelling within us gives us knowledge of the Father’s desires so that what we ask can be in accordance with what He wants.
How then do we evaluate the proof of prayer?
The Bible shows us that prayer works in the following ways:
It impacts the peace and salvation of the world.
[1 Timothy 2:1-4] – “Therefore I exhort first all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thank be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
It reveals to us the things of God.
[Jeremiah 33:3] – “Call to Me, and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know.”
It protects us from giving in to temptation.
[Matthew 26:41] – “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
It delivers us from all our troubles (though not always in the way we expect).
[Psalm 34:17] – “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears,
And delivers them out of all their troubles.”
[Psalm 145:18-19] – “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him; To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them.”
It helps us to “keep watch”, to discern falsehood, and to recognise opportunity.
[Luke 21:36] – “Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man.”
[Colossians 4:2-3] – “Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving.; meanwhile praying also for us, that God would open to us a door for the word, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in chains.”
It helps us to surrender to, and recognise God’s will, even in times of trial.
[Luke 22:42] – “…Father, if it is Your will, take this cup away from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done.”
[1 Peter 5:6-7] – “Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
It is worship to God and brings us into His presence.
[Psalm 141:2] – “Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.”
It builds us up in faith and character.
[Jude 1:20-21] – “But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life.”
[James 1:5] – “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.”
It unifies the church, the Bride of Christ.
[Acts 1:14]– “These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women
and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.”
If you want to see the effects of prayer, pray to God and watch the “proof” take place.
- Did you discover something new about God?
- Were you able to encourage someone?
- Did you witness reconciliation?
- Was your faith strengthened?
- Did you experience the presence of God?