The (lack of?) power of intercessory prayer

According to a recently-released study, intercessory prayer doesn’t work. The post title is linked to the Slate.com story because it links to a bunch of other news stories (interesting for their commentary). The study itself is in the April issue of American Heart Journal. (This links to the editorial in the journal. The study itself is not available for free, but if it is worth $30 to you, you can get it here; it is fourth from the bottom.)

It’s an interesting topic to study, but wouldn’t the faith of those praying make a difference? How would you measure that to make sure those praying met the level of faith required? And what would be the level required? It seems there must also be a humility of “thy will be done†involved. In addition, the random prayer (in the sense that random people were assigned to pray for a random, unknown person, if I correctly understand what they did) seems almost pointless. Would you be able to have the faith that such a person would be healed? Would you really care that much?

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About Tanya Spackman

Tanya was born in Provo, Utah, on a warm July day. After escaping childhood with nothing more than a few scrapes and bruises (except for 5 stitches - oh, and that incident with the staple in the thumb), she graduated from BYU with a degree in molecular biology. Before graduation, she served a mission in Chicago. As graduation neared, she decided lab work really wasn't her thing, and she had no interest in research or teaching (but really, molecular biology is interesting), so she decided to attempt the world of technical writing. Thus, she now works as a technical writer/editor for the Navy in Washington, DC. She loves to read and travel.

13 thoughts on “The (lack of?) power of intercessory prayer

  1. How many of the names laying on the altars of the temple do you think you, or any of the patrons present, would recognize?

  2. Good point, LL. For some reason I didn’t think of that. And here I’ll admit… I’ve never been sure if temple roll prayers make a difference (dodging rotting tomatoes now).

  3. I think these kinds of studies are nonsensical because there is much more involved in prayer than 1)praying and 2)getting the result. The first point is that the result may be different than we want but we may understand later why the result is different. The second point is that the we may get the results later than we expected. The third point is that prayer is also about changing the person who is praying into a more humble, charitable and submissive person.

    At one point, the Savior prayed that the cup be taken from Him. Yet it was not. Are we supposed to believe that His prayers weren’t answered?

    As for temple roll prayers, there are many people whose names I have put on the temple rolls. In some cases, things have gotten better for them, in other cases, things have stayed the same or even gotten worse. I am supposed to think, then, that it is not efficacious to put names on the temple rolls? No, I’m supposed to think the opposite: I must have faith that things will eventually work out for the best, and that my small acts of faith will do more good than harm in the long run.

  4. I guess you probably couldn’t produce empirical proof that the temple roll prayer list helps- but it definately doesn’t hurt. I’m currently experiencing a potentially serious health issue, and I’m tempted to ask somebody to put me on that prayer roll. Maybe it’s my faith that makes it work?

    I don’t know about anybody else, but I always make a conscious effort to think about whoever may be on that list at that part of the temple session. Perhaps the generic good will projected by the patrons of each session combined with the faith of the individual person that finds favor with God. Granted, most people on those lists don’t know they’re on them. Perhaps the faith of the person who put them on the list is enough?

  5. but it definately doesn’t hurt

    The interesting thing about the study was that the group of people who knew they were being prayed for actually had more post-sugery complications. I can think of a couple of possible explanations, but it is a curious result.

  6. Tossman,
    You can telephone the temple to add names, even your own :)

    Tanya,
    There is a level of the Lord’s will at play in this. Also, the premise of the study itself is almost meritorious of a divine dodge. We are not meant to have empirical proof; that would be knowledge. We are meant to have faith, which is more sure & steady. So, I can totally see how (in a ‘Theo’-’logical’) it went the way it did.

    As for temple prayer rolls, they do make a difference, if even just for the moment of comfort granted the person who placed their name on the list. The whole C.S. Lewis ‘I don’t pray to change God; I pray to change me’ (forgive the paraphrase) comes in to play. The person offeirng the prayer benefits as much as the person prayed for, if not even more.

    Also, once the prayer is offered we have no way of knowing what ‘might have been’ otherwise. So, there really is no way to measure the efficacy of them.

    I believe there’s a lesson in everything, and that oftentimes the lessons are gonna come, regardless of how hard or how many people pray for us. They come because they are His will for us, that we learn whatever it is. We may never realize consciously, in this life, the ramifications of the lessons, but they are there and they are gifts from Heavenly Father (yes, even those that involve physical pain or disbility, heartache, sorrow, and the like, before anybody jumps on me for being pollyanna).

  7. I have sometimes wondered about the value of groups praying for someone. Our ward has occasionally been asked to fast and pray for someone facing a serious health challenge. But does the Lord assist one person who has 100 people praying for him more than he does another who has no one?(if the two people have equal faith)Is the purpose then more to increase the love between the people praying and unite them rather than to heal the sick?

  8. Unless those names are laying an egg, I would suggest that they are lying on the altars.

  9. Sorry, Mark. I just thought that lying in the temple–a repository of truth, after all–was frowned upon.

  10. In an unrelated study, the same congregations were asked to pray for success in Iraq. At least the results between the two studies are consistent.

  11. I’d like to hear more about the congregations involved in the study. I wonder how they feel about their prayers not being answered?

  12. Funny, I remember reading about a study some years ago that showed intercessory prayer does have a measurable impact. I have little faith in studies that proclaim the benefit or nonbenefit of anything on one’s health anymore. As soon as you turn around, there is a study citing the opposite.

  13. Casual Observer,

    The study you are thinking of wasn’t performed very well and made little effort to check for placeboes. This has been known ever since it was done. This most recent study is the most rigorous one done yet.

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