Not long ago, a friend told me about a conversation he'd had with a relative. The relative had been given discouraging news about his health.
My friend told him, "I'll pray for you and I'll make sure our congregation does too." The relative laughed and asked, "And you think that's going to accomplish something?"
Thirty years ago, I might have asked the same question. I considered myself an atheist then. I thought that prayer was like talking to yourself.
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 after prayer. Coincidence? Maybe. But paraphrasing one observer, I’ve found that the more I pray, the more coincidences happen.
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 scientific 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.
My own observations over the years, admittedly not scientific, 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 when people pray for them. 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 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.