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Healing Line

Healing Line

Effectiveness of Prayer Confirmed Through Recent Research

by Francis MacNutt
Fall 1996

By the time you read this, CHM will have participated in a pioneering research study by praying with 30 rheumatoid arthritis patients, collaborating with Dr. Dale Matthews from the National Institute of Health Research and Dr. Sally Marlowe, who directs an arthritis clinic in Clearwater, Florida. The research is being funded by The Templeton Foundation. Naturally we are very excited about the wonderful opportunity to aid Drs. Matthews and Marlowe in their study, and in preparation I have read some of the scientific studies that have already been done on the connection between health and religion.

My reading in this area has been very revealing, and I would like to share with you a little of what I have learned. For example, I have been reading two popular books by Dr. Larry Dossey, Healing Words and Prayer is Good Medicine (both published by Harper–Collins).

Following are some of the important findings that medical researchers have discovered about the faith and healing connection. It is affirming to find that these studies on the results of prayer agree with what we have discovered over the years in our study of Scripture and in our experience of praying for healing.

Results of Studies on Prayer

  • More than 250 studies show that religious people are generally healthier than those who are not.
  • 130 studies support the fact that prayer is effective — it works!
  • Distant prayer works as well as prayer in the recipient's presence. (We often get questions about whether we can effectively pray in proxy for someone not present. Remember Jesus praying for the Centurion's servant.)
  • When you pray at a distance, the recipient doesn't even have to know that you are praying for it to be effective. However, if you enlist the faith of the person being prayed for, it does increase the prayer's effectiveness.
  • It does make a difference who prays (just as Paul, in I Cor. 12, indicates when he talks about some being given special gifts of healing). Some individuals achieve greater results when they pray than others. These are people who have the charism of healing.
  • A significant factor in healing is the love and compassion of the person praying. Love is meant to grow throughout our lives, so ministers of prayer who have more experience (of prayer and life) should, in general, prove to be more compassionate and more effective in prayer.
  • Research shows that faith, a belief in what we are doing ( or rather, what God is doing) does greatly affect the results. If you don't believe, nothing much is going to happen.
  • Nevertheless, everyone can and should pray, and if the prayer is heart–felt, a first–time prayer can result in an astonishing healing. God is no respecter of persons.
  • If you pray and meditate quietly every day for a period of time (such as twice a day for 15 minutes), you will increase your own health, because prayer causes the "Relaxation Response" (popularized by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard), which results in lower blood–pressure, fewer strokes, and fewer heart attacks.

Dr. Dossey also shares this inspiring example which should encourage us to offer prayers of intercession. A Methodist minister in Guttenberg, Iowa concerned about the hard times on Iowa farms, enlisted intercessors to pray for 12,000 farm families in his county. He came up with this idea after blessing corn seeds and finding that these seeds yielded better crops. Alarmed by the number of farm closures, he expanded his prayer sights to include all the farms in his county (the 100,000 farms in all of Iowa was a bit much for his intercessors!). Their prayers were aimed at bountiful harvests and a reduction in farm accidents. Since the inception of the prayer support, the farmers have reported better crops and accidents have happened "that could have been disasters but weren't."

One last insight from Dr. Dossey, he believes that a time may come when medical malpractice can be charged against a doctor because he doesn't prescribe prayer to a patient, since it can be shown that prayer is an effective therapy. Therefore, withholding prayer would be medically unethical! If this is true for medical professionals, how much more is it true for Christians, especially ministers and priests, if we neglect to pray with the sick!


Francis MacNutt Francis MacNutt is a Founding Director and Executive Committee member of CHM. Fall 1996 Issue