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Prayer, Plain and Simple

Prayer, Plain and Simple

For Prayer Skeptics: Studies that Show the Health Benefits of Prayer

posted by Mark Herringshaw

There is overwhelming evidence – enough to say without hesitation: Prayer is healthy for those who practice it. Aside from the question of whether or not prayer generates responses from God, we do know from scientific studies on the question that prayer does generate response within the one who prayers. Back as far as 1990, over 250 studies have shown that religion plays a significant outcome in physical health. Since then the number has grown considerably.

Dale Matthew’s book “The Faith Factor” and William Backus’ “The Healing Power of a Healthy Mind” offer reviews of some of these studies. Herbert Benson, an associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and founder of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Boston’s Deaconess Hospital has also written extensively on this subject. Benson in fact was one of the first to connect meditation and religious faith with healing and openly contends that prayer itself can sometimes aid the healing process.

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Here are a few of best known studies linking prayer with health:

Poloma. M. M., Pendleton, B. F. (1991). The effects of prayer and prayer experiences on measures of general well-being. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 1, 71-83. This study demonstrated that prayer and prayer experiences have a positive effect on the general health of those who practice it. 

Laird, S. P., (1991). A preliminary investigation into the role of prayer as a coping technique for adult patients with arthritis (arthritis patients). (Doctoral dissertation, University of Kansas, 1991). Laird found that in arthritis patients 1) having faith in prayer was positively related to better emotional adjustment, 2) praying more days per week was positively related to fewer health concerns, 3) engaging in confessional prayer was positively related to having more health concerns, 4) engaging in receptive prayer was positively related to greater social involvement with friends and relatives. 

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Highfield, M. (1992).  Spiritual health of oncology patients: Nurse and patient perspectives.  Cancer Nursing, 10, 1-8. Highfield demonstrates that faith is a significant aid for patients dealing with chronic pain. 

Levin, J. (1994). Religion and health: Is there an association?  Is it valid?  Is it causal?  Social Science and Medicine, v.38, n.11, 1475-82. This study documents how religious practice lessens the effects of sickle-cell anemia. 

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Backus, W. (1997). The healing power of a healthy mind. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers.  Backus recounts studies showing how faith strengthens the immune system and gives bolstering weapons for patients battling AIDS.

Gardner, J., & Lyon, J. (1982).  Cancer in Utah Mormon men by lay priesthood level. American Journal of Epidermiology, 116, 243-57.  These researchers identified a correlation between regular public worship and lower cancer rates. 

Enstrom, J. E. (1989). Health practices and cancer mortality among active California Mormons.  Journal of National Cancer Institute, 81, 1807-14. This study discovered that for those who do contract cancer, faith is a significant factor in recovery.

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Graham, T, B., Kaplan, J., Cornoni-Huntley, S., James, C., Becker, C., Hames, S., & Heydon, S. (1978).  Frequency of church attendance and blood pressure elevation.  Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1, 37-43. They found that participation in some form of public worship is an effective deterrent against high blood pressure. 

Comstock, G. & Partridge, K. (1972).  Church attendance and health. Journal of Chronic Diseases, 25, 665-72. This study of 91,909 individuals in Maryland found that those who attended church once or more per week had significantly lower death rate from heart disease (50% reduction), emphysema (56% reduction), and cirrhosis of the liver (74% reduction). 

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Cerrato, Paul L. (1998). Spirituality and healing. RN, 2, 49. Cerrato found that faith elevated the general health of patients.

Berkel, J. & de Waard, F.(1983). Mortality pattern and life expectancy of Seventh-Day Adventists in the Netherlands.   International Journal of Epidermiology 4, 455-59.  This study showed that church attendance, meditation, religious study, and worship quite literally invigorate the body.

Granted: These studies do not prove that God works in prayer. They do demonstrate a clear connection between spirituality and a corresponding physical and emotional health. That, at least is something that theists and naturalists can agree upon.

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Praying For “Situational Awareness”

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Yesterday a Northwest Airlines A320 flying from San Diego to Minneapolis with more than 100 passengers on board overflew the runway – by 150 miles! According to the first official reports the pilots “lost situational awareness.” I’ll say. Rumors are flying explaining the lapse as everything from a heated argument that distracted them to the more likely explanation that both pilot and co-pilot took a long winter’s nap. Whatever the reasons, the fact remains a spooky situation.

Truth is, I’ve had experience losing “situational awareness.” The world is complicated and I’ve both argued and slept my way through my own assigned responsibilities. When I’m weary or irritable or both or more I’m prone to zone out and fly right by my target. This is why in days of stress and tension I MUST walk in a zone of prayer. God, my true auto-pilot can keep me and get them where I need to be!

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“God, keep me focused today on the things that need my attention. Keep me in a state of peace and alert awareness. And then you take care of the rest!”

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The Science of Prayer

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Earlier this week “Dr. Marshall” who describes himself as a retired M.D. & an atheist suggested in a comment on this blog that since science has failed to prove that prayer has no measurable effect on the sick, as a society we need to carefully consider the implications of certain elements of religious freedom – in particular how parents’ faith in prayer as a treatment can hinder a child’s chances to receive proven medical help.

Before taking up his broader, social values/policies question I’d like to tackle Dr. Marshall’s underlying assumption – that his “review of the medical literature on the benefit of prayer convinces me that it has no effect (other than one study in which cardiac patients who were prayed for, without their knowledge, did worse than those without prayer).” Is this true? Are there no validated studies that support the power of prayer?

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I challenge this assertion. In the last 25 years a series of well-designed empirical studies have repeatedly validated the physiological value of prayer and spiritual belief.  It seems a person’s faith can heal, or at least affect the health of their body. (See Backus, William Backus’ The Healing Power of a Healthy Mind, 1997). More remarkable still, and contrary to Dr. Marshall’s contention, other studies do suggest that a person’s prayer may be able to heal another person’s body, even when the other has no certain knowledge of having been the object of such intercession. (See Dale Matthew’s The Faith Factor, 1998). I suggest we discuss a few of these studies and the implications they offer.

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I acknowledge that “testing prayer” or even more, “testing God” does seem to challenge both established scientific as well as theological assumption. But I do believe there is good cause to pursue these studies and their results. Larry Dossey, a medical doctor and prayer researcher responds to the objections that transcendent “causes” can’t be measured by suggesting that science in general is still adjusting to Einstein’s theories that matter and energy are interchangeable and to the quirky world of quantum science. Measuring anything accurately is now a tricky business. Dossey dares scientists to look at measuring prayer the same way we now have to measure subatomic particles. There has to be an acceptance of randomness. “You can’t really see it,” says Dossey. “You just know that under certain conditions it manifests itself” (See Larry Dossey’s, Healing words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine, 1993).  

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So are the effects of prayer measurable? What do you think?

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Prayer for the Drug War in Juarez

posted by Mark Herringshaw

Drug violence in Juarez, Mexico, just across the border from El Paso, Texas, is exploding into a war. So far this month, nearly 100 people have been killed. The death toll for 2009 stands at 2,000, more than 200 per month. Juarez now holds the pitiable title, “deadliest city in the world.”

I know Juarez. Our church has a strategic alliance with a Christian ministry that runs an orphanage, school and church in the heart of the city. In years past we have sent youth and young adult teams to work there. Our family spent a Spring break in Juarez with a few of the children who have become victims in the wake of the tumultuous living conditions of this border metropolis. We received far more than we gave!

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Now Juarez is in chaos. Streets are eerily empty at night and the corridors are filled with Mexican troops trying in vain to keep the peace. Eight thousand soldiers have flooded the city, to no avail. Every night victims have been found hanging from bridges, gunned down in vehicles, and left on street corners, bound and gagged with their throats slashed. Many victims are bystanders in the wrong place. But most are low level operators of the two feuding drug cartels: the Juarez Cartel and the El Chapo Guzman Cartel.

Let’s pray for the peace of Juarez. Prayer matters. God cares. Let’s join this war for peace and an end to the violence and the sources of violence there with the best and most effective weapon there is!

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“God, you are a God of peace. You hate violence and injustice. We ask you now to intervene in this horrible drug war in Juarez. We ask you to embolden the Mexican and U.S. officials dealing with this crisis. Give them miraculous insight to deploy their resources in the right places at the right times. Protect soldiers and police officers in this battle. Protect the innocent as well. We pray for the young men and women pulled – often by threats to their own families – into joining these gangs. Give them ways to escape. Give them hope and protection. God, bring judgment on the greed driven leaders of the Juarez Cartel and the El Chap Guzman Cartel. Help officials to find and arrest them soon. And God, forgive us as Americans for fostering an environment that drives the demand for these drugs. Break the grip of drug addiction in our nation. Give strength to those working with those addicted to chemicals. Deliver us from this evil and in the course and deliver cities like Juarez from the plight of the violence driven by our demand to find ways – other than dependence on you – to escape the pain of our lives. We pray this in Jesus…” 

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