Logo

Theological Editions - Indepth daily religious news, views, reviews & key theological resources
Features

In-depth religious news, views, reviews, features & resources for the thinking person
 

Resources

Bible
Sermons

Liturgy & Prayer

News & Magazines

Journals

Texts & Resources

Home

More people pray than go to church: but how effective is prayer?
by Graeme Davidson, 3 Nov 2007

[See also: Anyone can pray: a guide to Christian ways of praying by Graeme Davidson, SPCK London 2008 http://www.spck.org.uk/cat/show.php?9780281060313]

Undoubtedly, the most powerful effect of prayer is that described by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who wrote, “Prayer doesn’t change God, but it does change the one who prays”.

... In the Fortnightly Review of 1 August 1872, a leading intellectual of the time, Francis Galton, caused a stir in Victorian society when he reported one of the earliest tests on the effectiveness of prayer. Every Sunday British churchgoers prayed for the Queen, so Galton checked on whether royals lived longer than other groups in the general population. His statistical analysis revealed they didn’t.
... Had he shown prayer is a waste of time? Or, at best, that it acts only as a placebo to boost morale and make those who pray feel good?
... Anyone who’s prayed to win at Lotto – motivated, of course, by pure altruism to do great charitable works with the winnings – knows how effective prayer is: “Not a winning ticket. Better luck next time.”
...
Of course, God may say no – in fact, God says no to nearly all who pray for a Lotto win. And many who win haven’t uttered a prayer. The results are pure chance.
... Is all prayer like that? Prayer experts tell us that prayer isn’t like rubbing an Aladdin’s Lamp so God will act like a super genie who answers our requests on command. Nor should we pray for selfish things that are not God’s will. And most of us need a tad more faith than the French philosopher Ernst Renan, who prayed “Oh God, if there is a God, save my soul if I have a soul”, if we are to move mountains through the power of prayer.
... The experts also remind us that God sometimes puts us to the test – like those unreliable trades folk who always promise to answer your calls for help and repeatedly fail to show, so that you’re pathetically grateful when they finally appear.
... But what about the unselfish prayers of the very devout of different faiths who constantly pray for justice, peace, the environment, an end to poverty and for positive outcomes for people suffering from disasters, accidents and disease? Their prayers, like those to win at Lotto, don’t seem to make a scrap of difference. Sometimes, religious faith and belief about how God wants prayer answered may even be part of the problem – like the way the Vatican dogmatically refuses to support the use of condoms to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.
... The American Cancer Society website states: “Available scientific evidence does not support claims that faith healing can cure cancer or any other disease. Even the ‘miraculous’ cures at the French shrine of Lourdes, after careful study by the Catholic Church, do not outnumber the historical percentage of spontaneous remissions seen among people with cancer. However, faith healing may promote peace of mind, reduce stress, relieve pain and anxiety, and strengthen the will to live.”
... Undeterred by questions about its effectiveness, over 80 percent of adults in the USA say they pray regularly. And many who pray aren’t the types who usually go to church, mosque or synagogue. Internet sites that offer spiritual guidance and help on prayer have huge hit rates. Books on prayer are on the bestseller lists with some reaching sales figures in the millions.
... So, why do people continue to pray? Are their incantations a superstitious hangover from an earlier time, producing the same placebo effect as clinging to a rabbit’s foot for good luck?
... When devout people pray, they don’t expect to manipulate God into producing a miraculous result. Rather, they pray to get in touch with God, to gain strength from God’s love, to put their concerns into the context of their faith and to be open to divine direction so that they can help bring about a positive outcome. That can produce a personal struggle, as most devout people recognise how the effectiveness of their prayers depends on their loyalty to God and that often clashes with their own desires.
... Undoubtedly, the most powerful effect of prayer is that described by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard who wrote, “Prayer doesn’t change God, but it does change the one who prays”.

 

 

 

 

 

See also
Should we intervene to prevent suicide? >> more
Divorce risk indicator >> more
When you feel like you're sharing a bed with a stranger >> more
Surving the breakup >> more
Suicide terrorism as a desperate weapon of liberation >> more
Ned Flanders — popular face of Christianity >> more
Seven common myths about religion >> more
Moral divide between church leaders and laity >> more
Unholy silence over MPs hypocrisy and greed >> more
Anglican schism over gay clergy inevitable >> more
My agonising path to enlightenment >> more
More than ever, it's a time for generosity >> more
National's ethics smell of political expediency >> more
Pope's trip to Holy Land fraught with potholes >> more
The resurrection may have been superfluous >> more
Rasputin — from sinner and seducer to saint? >> more
Religious delusions and the Jerusalem syndrome >> more
Protest mild compared with Jesus' vandalism >> more
What Castro and Obama have in common >> more
Holidays can revive romance or widen cracks between couples >> more
Dubious scholarship reinterprets Jesus to fit secular creed >> more
Furore over gay marriage echoes the conflict over slavery >> more
If only politics were as certain as dear old granny >> more
You've got to have faith to win the White House >> more
The problem of evil >> more
TV Programmers let lose Roman circus >> more
Prostitutes welcome in the kingdom of God but not in Dannevirke >> more
Church too busy navel-gazing to take lead over crime >> more
Will the Anglican Church split over gay clergy and same-sex unions? >> more
Faith in secular western society >> more
The Vatican's pelvic theology >> more
Abuse and the Beijing Olympics >> more
Would the real Jesus stand up? >> more
Hypersensitivity perverts ethics >> more
God and presidential hopefuls >> more
A three-ghetto church based on politics >> more
Good and bad intentions >> more
Deliver us from exorcists who harm >> more
How effective is prayer? >> more
Masters of non-violence, resistance and kung fu >> more
Was Mother Teresa living a lie? >> more
Double standards over child sex abuse >> more
Soppy inspirational and pseudo-spiritual emails >> more
Caring organisations and pyschopathic bosses >> more
The new anti-religious evangelists >> more
Call for religious education could backfire >> more
Blessing creatures great & small — but what about blowflies? >> more
Does God exist only in the brain? >> more
The Prudes who crucify >> more
tomb raiders and the bones of Jesus and his family? >> more
Jesus loves Osama >> more
Is God more like a matchbox or a number? >> more
Confessions of a failed axe murderer >> more
Bacchanalian festivals and sentimentality >> more
Manners: insignificant social customs? >> more
The 109 fighting boys >> more
Trying to exhume the historical Jesus >> more
Is global violence really on the increase? >> more
Polygamy, circumcision, atheist journalists and religious diversity >> more
The Christian Right stands by Israel out of a misguided theology  >> more 
What a rat taught me >> more
The Church is becoming a retirement hobby for granny clergy >> more 
Is there an anti-Christian conspiracy in Hollywood? >> more
Have church schools sold out on Christianity? >> more
How good a Christian is President George W Bush? >> more

Hitler, Lawyers, Politicians SUV owners and life after death >> more

Were the Christian hostages really idiots for peace? >> more
Infidelity: in hot pursuit of a better organsm or better intimacy? >> more
Skulduggery and controversy over discovery of religious texts >> more
The cartoons aren't about secular freedoms versus intolerance >> more

Christian Zionists hinder justice and peace in the Middle East >> more

Should making more money be your New Year's resolution? >> more
My early life as a black sheep in a nativity scene >> more
Different types of suicide bomber: what makes them tick >> more
Cheating a short cut to sucess in winner-take-all society >> more
Life after death: Is it logically possible? >> more
Is it Anglican to practise apartheid? >> more
Da Vinci Code unlocks controversy>> more
Bishops' statement: pompous, pious, out of touch and verging on the heretical >> more 
Church leaders unconvincing over prostitution law reform >> more
Divorce risk factors >> more
How global are we?  A Christian's view of globalisation >> more
Victims of dirty tricks & friendly fire: Machiavellian tactics in the Church militant >> more
A redundant resurrection >> more
War, violence, ethics, religion and hypocrisy >> more
If St Peter was interviewed for ordination today >> more
13 ways to empty a church without really trying >> more
How tolerant is the Museum of Tolerance? >> more
A church comes out and reconciliation divides >> more
Micah's dream — too much to ask? >> more
Has the revised Anglican Church in New Zealand instigated a benign form of religious apartheid? >> more
The case for St Judas Iscariot >> more
Exorcism: the ministry of deliverance >> more

Top