My friend told him, "I'll pray for you and I'll make sure our congregation does too." The relative laughed at my friend and asked, "And you think that's going to accomplish anything?"
Thirty years ago, I might have asked the same question. I considered myself an atheist. I thought that prayer was like talking to yourself, nothing but words ricocheting off the ceiling.
But in the years since I've become a Christ-Follower, I've seen too much confirmation of the power of prayer to think that. I've seen people's lives changed. I've seen what can only be characterized as miracles, whether in people's physical health, their mental outlooks, or relationships, all in response to prayer.
Dr. Larry Dossey, one-time chief of staff at Humana Medical Center in Dallas and a physician who's done work with the National Institutes of Health, has done much to familiarize the public with scientific inquiry into the effects of prayer on people's physical well-being. In literally hundreds of studies, prayer--even prayer offered without a patient's knowledge--has been shown to help in people's recovery from all sorts of physical ailments, including heart disease.
My own observations over the years, admittedly not scientific but anecdotal and experiential, is that even in the cases of people prayed for who suffer from terminal diseases and do not recover, there is nonetheless a qualitative difference in their lives before death comes. These people report to me that they can sense people's prayers, God's presence, and the capacity to cope.
In the New Testament, we find Jesus promising that prayer offered in His Name will be heard and answered. Prayer "in Jesus' Name," quite simply is prayer that's consistent with Jesus' character of compassion and holiness and which, like Him on the night of His betrayal and arrest, trustingly tells God, "Your will be done."
Of course, we can bring more than just health issues to God in prayer. God cares about every facet of our lives and there is no aspect of life that can't be improved by the touch, goodness, and power of God.
Last week, a seven-week old from our congregation was rushed to the hospital. It was feared he might be suffering from spinal meningitis. In hopes that it was meningitis of the viral variety, doctors immediately put him on anitbiotics. I went to the hospital one day and found him sleeping placidly in his mother's arms. We prayed together before I left. Later, I spoke with his mom. "Right after we prayed, he woke up and was so happy," she told me. "I think it's all those prayers." Yes, I'm sure the antibiotics helped. But so, I feel certain, did the prayers.
Later, a member of my congregation approached me with a situation causing him anxiety. "Could we pray about it together, Mark?" he asked. I put my arm on his shoulders and we prayed. Just putting his anxieties in God's hands made him feel better, he reported. "Now," he said, "I know things are going to be all right."
Skeptical? That's understandable. But, I invite you to tell God about your skepticism and then dare to pray about your concerns for others and for yourself.
In his book, Prayer is Good Medicine, Larry Dossey tells an interesting story:
A few years ago I was having dinner with Paulos Mar Gregorios, who was then president of the World Council of Churches. Across the table was a contentious young woman who was intent on picking an argument with him. Deliberately trying to provoke a confrontation, she proclaimed, "I don't believe in God!" Dr. Gregorios responded with a compassionate, loving smile, and said gently, "Don't worry. If you need to, you will!" Prayer is like that. When we need to pray, we will.Or maybe, if we won't, someone will have the same compassion for us that my friend had for his sick relative and they will pray for us.