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How Do You Measure the Power of Prayer?

The notion that man's scientific tools can measure the intangible world of the Spirit is woefully simplistic.

A fascinating and long-awaited scientific study on prayer was released in the spring of 2006 in the American Heart Journal. Funded by the Templeton Foundation at a cost of $2.4 million, it was a huge matter of disappointment and controversy. Front page headlines around the world announced that prayer had no measurable effects on the 1800 subjects studied, and in fact some negative consequences for those who knew they were being prayed for. Fortunately most Christians don't take their cues from the Experts"

… there are a number of immeasurable factors the study did not consider.

The notion that man's scientific tools can measure the intangible world of the Spirit only shows how we have become dependent on our own devices. As one who works full-time in a prayer ministry, I am amazed at the simplistic thinking that went into framing this study of prayer.

The authors of the report admit that "the study could not overcome perhaps the largest obstacle to prayer study: the unknown amount of prayer each person received from friends, families, and congregations around the world who pray daily for the sick and dying."

While that surely is a large unknown for their control group, I would suggest there are a number of other immeasurable factors they did not consider.

Our centre, the National House of Prayer in Ottawa, works with prayer teams from every part of the nation and every type of denomination. We see all kinds of approaches to prayer, and we try to introduce some further insight for those who want to learn to pray more effectively.

We don't rely on our own understanding or years of scientific research. We have a spiritual master who actually has a lot to say about the subject. He was asked by His first disciples, "Teach us to pray." Jesus emphasized quite a number of important dynamics in learning to pray if you want to see results.

Jesus taught about levels of faith, about persistence, about desire, and about compassion. More than that, He educated His followers on having a correct perception of God, since a personal relationship with Him was foundational. Jesus also critiqued the prayers of the religious leaders of the day, and explained why their prayers weren't being answered because of their inauthentic nature.

So how does one scientifically measure such things as faith, persistence, desire, compassion, and authenticity? And if one could figure out how to measure such matters, wouldn't one need to set up a control group that had all these elements at some measured level, against those who did not? Sounds a little more complicated than the approach that the Harvard Medical School researchers took.

Then there is the whole idea that prayer is some kind of vending machine that will always spit out an expected result in response to the right currency and pushing the right buttons. To quote one of my favourite contemporary theologians, Bob Dylan, "You think that God is just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires?" One has to know the mind and will of the heavenly Father as they bring their requests before His throne. And it is always in an attitude of humility and submission that we begin our prayers, as Jesus taught: "Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven."

As a friend of mine suggested when reading about this prayer study, even if every Christian on earth, millions of them, at the same time and with the same words, ganged up on God and demanded that He perform an act of healing that He was not willing to do, we could not change His mind. Prayer doesn't change God. It changes us to the point where we pray according to His greater and more loving desires and will.

That's a lesson you learn on your knees, not in a laboratory.

Richard and Terry Long have led a number of prayer initiatives in the Hamilton/Burlington area over the last seven years, and are now on the staff of the National House of Prayer in Ottawa. Richard can be reached at

Originally published in Beacon, July/August 2006.




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