Few  subjects  related  to  prayer  are  questioned  more  than praying for the sick and praying for personal health issues. In some Christian circles when prayers for the sick or health issues are brought  up  there  is  a  darting  to  disclaim  miraculous  healing,  such  as  we  see  claimed  by  a televangelist.  I  would  lead  the  parade  in  affirming  disbelief  in  such  so-called  healing.  That doesn’t mean, however that there isn’t a need to examine the relationship of prayer to health.

The  Bible  and  research  have  information  on  this  question:  Are  there  any  health  benefit  from prayer? First,  let’s  notice  some  commands  relative  to  praying  for  the  sick:  Is  anyone  among  you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is 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. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sin, He will be forgiven (James 5:13-15).

Whatever interpretation we may place on these verses, one thing is clear and that is God has commanded us to pray for and with the sick. Why would He require this if there are no health benefits given in answer to prayer?

Fourth, King Hezekiah had a health problem. In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: “Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.” Then he turned his face toward the wall, and prayed  to  the  Lord,  saying,  ‘Remember  now,  O  Lord,  I pray, how I have walked before You in truth and with a loyal heart, and have done what was good in Your sight.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly (2 Kings 20:1-3).God answered the King’s prayer and added fifteen years to his life (2 Kings 20:6). Remember, this Old Testament story was  written for our learning  (Romans 15:4). We can pray about health issues and God will answer according to His will for our lives. Fifth, Timothy, the young evangelist mentored  by the apostle Paul, evidently had some kind of  stomach  health  issue,  while  I’m  sure  Paul  must  have  prayed for Timothy, he gave him this health advice:  No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for your frequent infirmities (1 Timothy  5:23).  As  a  side  point  it  is  clear  that  the Apostles  never  used  their  power to perform miracles to arbitrarily heal people. Peter didn’t heal Paul relative to the thorn in the flesh. Sixth, in writing to the Philippians the apostle Paul shares some good news about the faithful servant, Epaphroditus:  [S]ince he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he is sick. For indeed he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have  sorrow upon sorrow (Philippians 2:26, 27). I think it is within reason to believe Paul and the church prayed for Epaphroditus.

The  biblical  evidence  is  clear.  Prayer  is  to  be  offered  for  the  sick;  sometimes “medicine” is offered as a remedy, but it every case God’s will should be prayed for and accepted. There are health benefits in prayer.

SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH RELATIVE TO HEALTH BENEFITS OF PRAYER

It  has  been  amazing  how much attention has been given in recent years by scientist, medical doctors, the government, mental health professional, etc. to the subject of the health benefits of prayer. Few of these have had as the basis of their studies a theological premises; most have been  based  on  the  anatomy  and  physiological  makeup  of  human  beings.  How  does  the  body respond to prayer? has been one of the basic question researchers have been trying to answer. Without  delving  into  the  theological  issues  related to  these  studies,  let’s  just  take  a  moment and note some findings of those who have researched the relationship of prayer to health.

I typed in “Health Benefits of Prayer” into my computer search engine and 13,300.000 results popped up. Evidently there is a lot of interest in  the health benefits of prayer. Here are some research observations on the subject:

  • NewsMax presented a sales pitch for The Mind Health Report which offered an article on 47  Scientific  Benefits  of  Prayer,  by  a  Dr. Newberg.  It referenced the benefits of prayer relative to reducing pain, stress, lowering blood pressure, improving memory, helps one be more optimistic, less fearful, less angry, etc. Prayer obviously has some psychological benefits (cf. Proverbs 23:7; Mark 7:21-26).
  • In a 2010 study reported in the  Social Psychology Quarterly, it was stated  that prayer can  help  manage  and  healthfully  express  emotional  pain  including  illness,  sadness, trauma and anger.
  • In the  Journal of Psychology and Theology (1991, 1, 71-83)a study was referenced that demonstrated that prayer and prayer experiences have a positive effect on the general health of those who practice praying.
  • Researchers  at  the  University  of  Cincinnati  found  that  asthma  urban  adolescents experienced worse symptoms when not using spiritual coping like prayer or relaxation.
  • Concerning  the  health  benefits  of  prayer,  the  popular  television  physician,  Dr.  Oz,  has numerous positive observations about the health benefits of prayer. Here are some of his  observations:  Of those people who said they prayed for health reasons, 70 percent said  that  prayer  was  helpful.  Why?  Seems  like  it  may  work  through  several  different mechanisms: It relaxes…It’s positive…It may be a placebo effect.
  • A Duke University study of a group of 4,000 people  over age 64 found that those who prayed  regularly  had  significantly  lower  blood  pressure  than  those  who  prayed intermittently.  At  Dartmouth  Medical  Center,  one  of the  best  predictors  of  survival among 232 heart patients was the degree to which they drew comfort from prayer. In studies  at  several  medical  centers,  prayer  had  been shown  to  speed  recovery  from depression, stroke, hip surgery, rheumatoid arthritis, heart attacks, bypass surgery, and alcoholism (Dr. Kathleen Hill, www.sharecare.com).
  • In the  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin from Ohio State University it is shown that  persons  provoked  by  insulting  comments  from  a  stranger  show  less  anger  and aggression  soon  afterwards  if  they  take  time  to  pray  for  another  person  after  the account.  This  would  be  a  great  exercise  the  next  time  you  are  cut  off  in  traffic  or tailgated.
  • In  1991,  S.P.  Laird  in  his  doctorate  dissertation,  University  of  Kansas,  reported  that  a preliminary investigation into the role of prayer as a coping technique for adult patients with arthritis revealed several things: 1) having faith in prayer was positively related to better emotional adjustment, 2) praying more days per week was positively related to fewer  health  concerns,  3)  engaging  in  confessional  prayer  was  positively  related  to having more health concerns, 4) engaging in receptive prayer was positively related to greater  social  involvement   with friends and relatives. (blog.beliefnet.com/prayer plain and simple/2009/10).
  • According to a study by Dr. Anne McCaffrey of the Harvard Medical School, one-third of Americans  use  prayer  to  facilitate  physical  healing.  Sixty-nine  percent  of  the  2,000 people surveyed said prayer greatly improved their health.
  • An  Australian  researcher,  R.  D’Souza,  has  affirmed  that  patients  consider  prayer  and spiritual  issues  to  be  important  and  express  the  conviction  that  caregivers  should  be aware of their beliefs.

While research continues to explore the health benefits of prayer from the scientific point of view,  which  is  just  another  way  of  letting  light  shine  on  one  of  the  amazing  power  of  prayer given  by  God.  For  the  Christian  there  is  belief  and trust  in  God  to  answer  prayers  related  to health issues, but always according to His will. No, it is not expecting a miraculous answer such as  Jesus  and  His  Apostles  were  able  to  perform.  It  is  a  simple  and  faithful  obedience  to  the command, Is any among you sick, let him pray.

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