When I was growing up years ago, we constantly heard and trusted in the slogan, motto, faith statement, “Prayer Changes Things.” It was one of the central mantras of Christianity, repeatedly emphasized and practiced. Even when things didn't change, everyone was sermonized to pray harder, to wait patiently longer, and repeatedly promised that change would come eventually and dramatically.
“Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up.
“And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit.” James 5:13-18 ESV
But 60 years later, and nothing has changed. No answers have come. No miracles. Not once in 60 years of my limited life—and not once for many other Christians, (or Jews, Muslims, Baha'i, etc. for that matter). Disappointed, even devastated, Christians earnestly believing—yet never once did prayer ever change anything.
No miracles, no dramatic solutions, no answers to sincerely sought needs, desperate hurts, with death hungry at the door. Of course, there are plenty of Christian leaders who claim differently--they tout millions of miracles, healings, and supernatural answers--but when these assertions are researched and studied by Christian scholars these “claims” turn out to be placebos, false diagnoses,'urban legends,' lots of hearsay, and even fraud and deception.
But Christianity's answer to this is always, pray more. If your prayers weren't answered, it wasn't God’s timing or you prayed wrongly, or there was something else wrong with your prayers or with you. Yes, probably you...
Even though your central prayers were for others, often for people you hardly knew, so many in need, often at death's door.
It wasn't like you were praying to be rich or even for your own health.
But now fairly decisive scientific studies have been completed and the answer comes out the same—prayers didn't change anything. Prayer doesn't change things.
In fact, in one study (organized by a respectable Christian organization), those prayed for fared worse than those not prayed for at all.
How could this be?!
So where’s the beef (belief)?
“Are there demonstrable effects of distant intercessory prayer? A meta-analytic review.
Masters KS1, Spielmans GI, Goodson JT.
The use of alternative treatments for illness is common in the United States. Practitioners of these interventions find them compatible with personal philosophies. Consequently, distant intercessory prayer (IP) for healing is one of the most commonly practiced alternative interventions and has recently become the topic of scientific scrutiny.
This study was designed to provide a current meta-analytic review of the effects of IP and to assess the impact of potential moderator variables.
A random effects model was adopted. Outcomes across dependent measures within each study were pooled to arrive at one omnibus effect size. These were combined to generate the overall effect size. A test of homogeneity and examination of several potential moderator variables was conducted.
Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis yielding an overall effect size of g = .100 that did not differ from zero. When one controversial study was removed, the effect size reduced to g = .012. No moderator variables significantly influenced results.
There is no scientifically discernible effect for IP as assessed in controlled studies. Given that the IP literature lacks a theoretical or theological base and has failed to produce significant findings in controlled trials, we recommend that further resources not be allocated to this line of research.”
Annals of Behavioral Medicine August 2006
Largest Study of Third-Party Prayer Suggests Such Prayer
Not Effective In Reducing Complications Following Heart Surgery
“STEP investigators enrolled 1,802 bypass surgery patients from six hospitals and
randomly assigned each to one of three groups: 604 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayers (Group 1); 597 patients did not receive prayer after being informed they may or may not receive prayer (Group 2); and 601 patients received intercessory prayer after being informed they would receive it
Caregivers and independent auditors comparing case reports to medical records were unaware of the patients’ assignments throughout the study. The study enlisted members of three Christian groups, two Catholic and one Protestant, to provide prayer throughout the multi-year study. The researchers approached other denominations, but none were able to make the time commitments that the study required.
Some patients were told they may or may not receive intercessory prayer:
complications occurred in 52 percent of those who received prayer (Group 1) versus
51 percent of those who did not receive prayer (Group 2). Complications occurred in
59 percent of patients who were told they would receive prayer (Group 3) versus
52 percent, who also received prayer, but were uncertain of receiving it (Group 1).
Major complications and thirty-day mortality were similar across the three groups.”
What can we conclude from this shocker, from all the heart-ached traumas over a life time of devout prayers for others not answered?
After the disillusionment settles, one thought does come to mind:
Maybe prayer doesn't change things, but prayer does change people who can change things ( a new motto I heard some time back but haven’t been able to locate its source or authorship).
I can vouch for such a different angle on prayer. And there are verified cases taking place in current events and in history. But that is for next post…
In the Light,