If you haven’t read about the $2.4 million study that was recently conducted by leading scientists regarding the effectiveness of third-party or intercessory prayer, here’s the link, it’s an interesting read. The results don’t surprise me.
Those receiving blinded prayer fared the same as those who were not prayed for … Paradoxically, those who were indeed aware that prayer was being provided to them actually fared worse.
Of course, the fact that those patients who knew they were receiving prayer actually faired worse than the others could have been caused by a number of reasons. One of which was summed up by Bethea,
One line we considered in this study was did the patient think ‘am I so sick that they had to call in the prayer team?’ Thus, the fact that some patients actually faired worse means little to me.
Some religious leaders might be discouraged by this study. Still others might be enraged and start trying to poke holes in the credibility of the study; I will do neither. Instead I would like to propose the study simply points out that we as humans (especially Americans) tend to focus on the wrong thing in our prayer: results.
If prayer were simply an attempt for us as humans to somehow twist God’s arm, making Him do as we please, then I dare say we would be in a sorry position. I think about this oftentimes when someone prays that we won’t have any more rain because they need to mow the lawn. Doesn’t that contradict the prayer of the farmer who wants rain for his crops? Who does God answer? Does He answer at all or does He simply let nature “do its thing?”
Prayer’s main purpose is not to get results out of God; its main purpose is to align ourselves with God’s will. The night before Christ was nailed to the cross he prayed. Did He pray that God might change His mind about things? Yeah, Jesus did pray that. But the over arching theme in Jesus’ prayer in the garden was that God’s will be done. Jesus had a burning desire to align His will with God’s will.
Paul had the same desire. When he was given a “thorn in the flesh” he prayed that God would remove it. God did not, instead He told Paul that His grace was sufficient for him.
Of course, I’m not saying that intercessory prayer never gets results. Indeed sometimes it does. I can attest to that assertion first hand. When I was 4 years old my kidneys failed, I was bleeding internally, blood in my feces and urine, etc. I was in the hospital for three months. The doctors told my parents that since my kidneys had already stopped working the best case scenario was lifetime kidney dialysis. That was the BEST case scenario; you can imagine the worst case. My parents asked the elders of the church we were attending to come and pray over me. They did so, anointing me with oil as per the book of James. A couple weeks later I walked out of the hospital, both kidneys intact, never to have a problem like that again. Some would explain it away as a freak coincidence. Too freak, if you ask me. I truly believe that intercessory prayer worked in that instance.
In conclusion, intercessory prayer, while not intended to give us the results we want 100% of the time is indeed still useful. It helps us align ourselves with the will of God, whatever that may be. And after all, isn’t being on the same page as God more important than getting what we want?