Can Prayer Heal?

  More than 90 percent of Americans believe in God, and about half of them pray. But modern medicine has largely kept health and healing separate from spirituality. This may be changing, however, as scientists are accumulating empirical evidence that God is truly at work in our world. God's role in today's high-tech medical world is being increasingly explored, and the results have been astounding. A growing number of medical schools are even beginning to include courses on spirituality's role in health and healing. At Duke University Medical Center in North Carolina, cardiologist Dr. Mitch Krucoff is conducting experiments on heart patients. "Is there a measurable incremental benefit [to prayer]?" he asks. The new global study he's conducting, to be completed next year, will attempt to answer that question. Nearly two hundred studies on prayer and healing have already been conducted. One of them, at the Mid- America Heart Institute in Kansas City, was directed by cardiologists William Harris and James O'Keefe. Both men were skeptical. "From a purely scientific standpoint," said O'Keefe, "I thought it was illogical." Harris agreed, "We were even doubtful that the phenomena itself was real, that prayer could do anything." The one thousand heart patients in their study didn't know that half the group was being prayed for by the hospital chaplain and a group of volunteers. The other half weren't prayed for. The results? Patients who were prayed for had 11 percent fewer heart attacks, strokes, and life-threatening complications than those not prayed for. Admitting that he can't explain it, O'Keefe says, "This study offers an interesting insight into the possibility that maybe God is influencing our lives on Earth." No kidding! When Dr. Elizabeth Targ, a psychiatrist at the Pacific College of Medicine in San Francisco, tested prayer on seriously-ill AIDS patients, she found that "ten of the prayed-for patients lived, while four who had not been prayed for died." In a larger follow-up study, Targ found that the people who received prayer "had six times fewer hospitalizations, and those hospitalizations were significantly shorter than the people who received no prayer." "I was sort of shocked," she says. "In a way it's like witnessing a miracle. There was no way to understand this from my experience and from my basic understanding of science." Such studies have plenty of critics, but the new research has left many scratching their heads. Is prayer something that can be put under a microscope and examined? Probably not, but one thing's for sure: prayer works, and prayer is real. Ultimately, answered prayer requires a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It's a mysterious and unexplainable gift that God gives to those who come to him. We don't need scientists or researchers to tell us that. Furthermore, "prayer" doesn't heal AIDS or failing hearts. It's God who heals, by honoring the intervention of prayer. God can always heal through prayer, but He doesn't always choose to do so. Nonetheless, we rejoice when he uses our intercessory prayers to work healing miracles here on Earth, something even the scientific community is now discovering. For further reading: Mayo Clinic Health Letter, June 1999, "Prayer. Worship. Belief in a divine being." Mayo Clinic Women's HealthSource Reports. July 1998. Alan L. Pritz, "Spirituality: A Fresh Breeze in Minnesota Healthcare."


Chuck Colson



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