“I’m going in for an operation; pray for me.” "My mother is sick and they are not sure if she’s going to pull through. Would you please pray for her?”
What could be more natural than to ask for help from a loving God when we or someone we care for is in need, and especially when we we’d like to have some reassurance that we are not alone? It is frightening to face a threat to our health, and perhaps even more so to watch someone we love slide slowly downhill. So people reach out to the Lord, the one who can make a difference when no one else can. And we ask others to do so.
But does it do any good? It may make you feel better, but is it really a pain killer that simply numbs you to reality? Surely the Lord is doing all that can possibly be done for that person. How would the prayers of one human being sway the God of the universe to give someone more healing power, or more courage to pull through a hard healing process?
I’m going to assume that you believe that praying for others is a good idea. After all, in the Lord’s prayer we ask for all of us to receive blessings – “give us this day our daily bread … lead us not into temptation.” And the Lord tells us to pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us (Matt 5:44). In New Church teaching that prayer means that we should “intercede” for them, meaning that we should seek to stand between them and the harm that is coming to them. (Apocalypse Explained # 644:23). Imagine a parent willing to stand in harm’s way to protect a child and you are picturing what interceding means. That’s a pretty clear message to pray for others, especially in their times of need.
But what can we pray for? We know we can pray for spiritual well being; that’s obvious, and should be the main thing we pray for. The Lord is interested in things that last. Can we also pray for a new car? For a solution to a health crisis?
I would say that a prayer is as good as the intention of the person asking it. If you have a sincere desire for something good, your spirit will be open to the Lord’s purposes.
One way to ensure that we are open to the Lord’s way of doing things is to do what He did while on earth. When He was in the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “Father if it is possible let this cup pass from Me. Nevertheless, not as I will but as You will” (Matthew 26:39). This, for me is the best answer. Pray for almost anything, but when you are done, turn it over to the Lord, telling Him, in so many words, that you trust His leading and providence.
Here’s a good reason to pray for people when they are in need: it works. Look at this famous study about prayer for others done by Randy Byrd: “In 1988, as a cardiologist at the UCSF Medical Center, his double-blind study of 393 cardiac patients showed that those prayed for by Christian prayer groups used in the study were five times less likely to require antibiotics, three times less likely to develop pulmonary edema, and, compared with the control group, fewer prayed-for patients died.”
The Christians in this study were simply given the first name and initial of the last name. They did not know the people, nor did any of the hospital workers know that the study was occurring. A similar study was carried out by Zvi Bentwich at Kaplan Hospital in Rehovor, Israel. In this study patients were not prayed for, but were given “healing intention” (meaning well-wishes) by volunteers.
One interesting aspect of the research done of the effectiveness of prayer is that non-directed prayer – prayer that is simply opening ourselves up to the Lord without any goal in mind – seems to be somewhat more effective than directed prayer. That is one of the reasons why it is so important to end our prayers, as the Lord did, with “nevertheless, not as I will but as You will.”
People in the medical profession sometimes say, “God heals; the doctor sends the bill.” This is obviously true. Think about it this way: If you think of someone with love, your spirit is touching that person’s. If you pray, your spirit is open to the Lord’s presence in an unusually heightened way. If you pray for someone else, you share a bit of that connection with the Lord with that other person. If in some small way that presence of the Lord could help, it would be worth doing.
Prayer, in the end, is speaking with God. Its real aim is to change ourselves. It is turning to the source of life and hope. Whenever something that we value is threatened, we will benefit from turning to Him. His purposes are higher than ours and He will not always answer us in ways that we might like, but He will answer us. Our job it to turn to Him daily and especially when we are in need. And if we cultivate patterns of asking for His help we open ourselves up to the best chance of receiving the gifts He has to offer.