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.