Does Prayer Really Work?
WELCOME TO TODAY'S WORSHIP SERVICE
Nov. 30, 2008
First Sunday of Advent
Open your Bible
Light a candle
If you want to light an advent wreath, light the first candle.
sung by Johnny Mathis
From the Bible:
Jesus' Teaching on Prayer
1One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, "Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples."
2He said to them, "When you pray, say:
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come.[b]
3Give us each day our daily bread.
4Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.[c]
And lead us not into temptation.[d]' "
Arcana Coelestia (Potts) n. 6476
6476. Whenever I have been reading the Lord's prayer, I have plainly perceived an elevation toward the Lord which was like an attraction, and at the same time my ideas were open, and from this there was effected a communication with some societies in heaven; and I noticed that there was an influx from the Lord into every detail of the prayer, thus into every idea of my thought that was from the meaning of the things in the prayer. The influx was effected with inexpressible variety, that is, not the same at one time as another; hence also it was made evident how infinite are the things contained in the prayer, and that the Lord is present in every one of them.
My first semester of seminary was at the Boston University School of Theology. I signed up for a course on “prayer,” and figured that I would be doing a lot of reading about prayer. There was some reading, but the primary requirement of the course was to pray! We were divided into pairs, and were to pray for our partner throughout the semester, without sharing what we were praying for, or what the other person wanted in prayer.
At the end of the semester, we shared the prayer experiences with our partner. I had been through an utterly transformational experience that semester. After years of drifting through various New Age theologies, I was rediscovering my Christian roots through my own spiritual experiences. My partner said that she sensed my spirituality was like a balloon drifting in a breeze, so she visualized my balloon tied to a rock! I was absolutely astounded at how much my life had mirrored the prayers I was being given. All of the class members were all amazed at the experience of praying for someone, and of being prayed for, on a regular basis.
Before that class, I’m not sure I really believed that prayer actually was a powerful force for healing and growing in our lives. I have never doubted it since.
Do you ever wonder if prayer can really work? Do you wonder if it matters whether or not you pray for another person or someone prays for you? There are many personal stories like mine about spiritual, emotional, and physical healing from prayer. But what about scientific research? Like Swedenborg, I cherish in my heart my spiritual life; and I want to understand scientific perspectives on my spiritual experiences.
Fortunately, the fields of medicine and prayer are moving closer together in many ways. There are now many research studies about the effects of prayer. I’ll share a few of my favorites here, and also give you links to explore more on your own.
RESEARCH ON PRAYER
ABCNews.com recently did an informal survey of 33,000 people on their attitudes towards prayer. About 90% said they believed prayer could heal.
The Association for Research and Enlightenment says that recent research studies establish that people are helped by prayer whether or not they know they are being prayed for.
A recent study by doctors in North Carolina showed that heart surgery patients recover faster when someone is praying for them and/or offering healing touch. Out of 150 people recovering from heart surgery, there was a 25% reduction in deaths and complications for those receiving prayer or healing touch.
RESEARCH ON DISTANCE HEALING
These studies are confirming that people are able to influence the health and well-being of people being prayed for, even across great distances, and even when those doing the praying do not know the people they are praying for.
Numerous experiments involving prayer and distant healing have also been done involving animals and plants. One such study found that healers can increase the healing rate of wounds in mice.
“Critics often complain that if you see positive results in humans it is because of positive thinking, or the placebo response,” said Dr. Larry Dossey, a retired internist in Santa Fe, N.M., and author of numerous books on spirituality and healing. “Microbes don’t think positively, and are not subject to the placebo response.”
Here is one recent study:
Spiritual healers from around the world – including Jews leaving prayers at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Buddhists praying in monasteries in Nepal and France, Carmelite nuns in Baltimore offering prayers during vespers, and Moravians, Baptists and fundamental Christians praying during church – each simultaneously prayed for one of several designated groups in the study.
All of the groups did better than the standard care group, with those receiving distant prayers doing best.
In another large study, it was found that patients admitted to hospital with heart trouble healed more quickly if someone was praying for them.
None of those involved were told that people were engaging in what is known as "intercessory prayer" on their behalf.
Just over half of these, picked at random, were made the subject of intercessory prayer.
However, on average, the 500 patients prayed for had 11% less complications during their stay in hospital.
Quantum physics is helping us understand distant prayer. For example, Bell’s theorem, indicates that once subatomic particles have been in contact, they always remain connected. A change in one creates a similar change in the other, no matter how far apart they are. Some physicists believe that these events are not just limited to sub-atomic particles but are part of every-day reality -- including prayer.
To help understand a number of inexplicable phenomena, including non-local events, many physicists believe that a fifth form of energy exists (in addition to gravity, electromagnetic energy, and strong and weak nuclear energy) that operates on different principles.
Perhaps the life-force energy referred to by many medical and spiritual traditions throughout history represents this energy. Is it the energy referred to as prana in India and Tibet, mana by the Polynesians, Yesad in the Jewish Kabalistic tradition, qi in oriental medicine, or the Christian Holy Spirit?
Swedenborg's understanding of prayer is similar to what quantum physics is discovering in the laboratory. Prayer involves a real force -- God's inflowing love.
So, here are a few of the hundreds of studies now being reported in scientific journals. I am especially intrigued and encouraged by this research on distance healing. It certainly has a large impact for those of us who are in a web community. Almost all of our connections, including prayer, have to be at a physical distance.
What could this mean for our community if we really give prayer a chance to work in our lives? Would you be interested in having a prayer partner for Advent? If you email me, I will find a prayer partner for you. Then perhaps our partners will share with us on Christmas how the experience has been for them.
The First Noel
Sung by Natalie Cole
Now extinguish your candle [s]
Extinguish the Advent candle
And close the Bible.
Go forth; secure in the knowing that your prayers really do make a difference.
The Advent Wreath -- making one with children.
see also "'Far-off healing"