Does Prayer Make a Difference?

A couple of years ago, Christianity Today ran an article entitled, “What Do Prayer Studies Prove?” The article reported on a recent Harvard Medical School study about the connection between prayer and healing. The study was very comprehensive, lasting 10 years and costing $2.4 million.

All 1,800 patients in the study were in the hospital for heart bypass surgery. The patients were divided into three randomized groups. Group One knew that they were being prayed for by committed Christians who had experience praying for the sick. Group Two didn’t know that they were being prayed for by committed Christians who had experience praying for the sick. Group Three was not prayed for at all. The results, based on post-operative complications, went like this:

  • Knew they were prayed for: most complications
  • Didn’t know they were prayed for: next most complications
  • Weren’t prayed for at all: least complications.

As you might well imagine, the fact that being prayed for seemed to have a negative effect on the patient’s health bothered a number of people who were looking for this study to prove the power of prayer! But I have to tell you that I think it’s rather interesting that the study turned out this way. I actually think it’s better than worse! Why? Because it reminds us of what prayer is and of what prayer is not. The study reminds us that the real question is not, Does prayer work? The real question is, What does God want to accomplish through my prayers? And that has to do with the deeper things of God that He wants to accomplish in our lives.

We tend to see prayer as a means for convincing God to give us what we want; the Bible tells us that prayer is a means of opening our lives for God to do what He wants. This does not imply that we are to stop praying for God to help us and others. Jesus begs His disciples to keep on seeking, asking and knocking because our Father in heaven loves to give good gifts to His children (Luke 11:7-11). Sometimes the greatest and most profound gift of God is what He does in we who pray.

We do know from thousands of years of history that when God moves miraculously in this world, it begins with His people being filled and transformed by His Spirit, and God’s people are open and prepared to be filled and transformed when we come to God in transparent, faith-filled prayer.

As our prayer vigil winds down this weekend, our goal is that we will be people who are more open to God than we were when the vigil started, people who are more vulnerable before God than when the vigil started, people who are more ready for God to do whatever He desires to do than before the vigil started. Join me in praying to this end.