Prayer, Science Discovers

Prayer, Science Discovers

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Jan. 3, 1996)

Science Discovers Prayer

"Praying can heal, researcher says" was the headline for an article that appeared in our afternoon newspaper recently.

The piece reports the work of Dr. Herbert Benson, a Harvard Medical School professor, who teaches doctors the healing value of prayer. He began his research about 25 years ago. Now he heads the Mind/Body Medical Institute at Deaconess Hospital in Boston and claims to receive about five or six calls per week from HMOs looking to incorporate his work into their treatment programs.

Before you get too excited, though, you need to know more. Dr. Bensonís research essentially has to do with the psychological effect of human beliefs. He assigns the same value to Transcendental Meditation, chanting mantras, and prayer. He studies all these as "relaxation techniques" for people with high blood pressure or infertility.

Dr. Benson claims to be able to demonstrate that praying, chanting, and meditating can lower oneís breathing rate, brain wave activity, or other physiological functions. These changes will sometimes avert a patientís need for surgery or medication.

All these results relate to the subjective effect of prayer. As a Christian, I will admit that praying has an effect on the person praying. So does Bible reading, church attendance, or believe in a personal God. It should come as no surprise for anyone to learn, for example, that people who believe their lives are being lived under the oversight of a personal God who loves them react to stress more positively than those who see themselves adrift in a cosmos without purpose.

What Dr. Bensonís seminar on "The Relaxation Response" appears not to affirm is what Christians know about the objective effect of prayer. Because there is a God in heaven who hears, weighs, and responds to the prayers of his human creatures, things happen when we pray beyond relaxation and stress reduction.

When believers pray, sins are pardoned. While there is a subjective benefit to such knowledge, the really powerful truth lies in the fact that God removes guilt from human souls when we ask him to pardon our sins; those misdeeds will not have to be faced at the Judgment.

People who pray in faith receive objective help in making right decisions ó not just psychological comfort. We receive spiritual strength. God intervenes in our health, families, and careers. The things we request that are consistent with his purpose to save us will be granted from his generous power.

Iím glad that a research scientist has been able to document the smaller part of prayerís benefits. I hope you know its fuller and more powerful effects.

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