1677) Looking for Miracles (part one of three)

     Not long ago I read yet another article about scientific research into the power of prayer in medical treatment.  There are all kinds of Christians, myself included, who will say, “Of course there is healing power in prayer; I’ve seen it myself many times, so I don’t need a scientific study to tell me that.”  But there are also many Christians, again, myself included, who will say, “I do pray, but I’m not sure how it works. Some of my best prayers for some of the best people I’ve known have gone unanswered, and they died.  So, yes, I pray, but I don’t know how or when or why it works.”

     This article took a comprehensive approach to the question, interviewing hospital chaplains whose job it is to pray with patients, doctors who believe in the power of prayer and even pray with their patients, and, doctors who think the whole idea is nonsense.  Along with the interviews, there were the results of various studies that examined the rates of cure among those with similar conditions, some of which prayed and some of which did not.

     The results were clear.  A higher percentage of those who prayed got better than those who did not pray.  Skeptics say that can be explained without reference to God.  They will argue that if people believe in prayer, they maintain a more positive attitude than those who do not have that confidence, and a positive attitude always helps in healing.  So yes, the skeptics will agree, prayer might help, but not because there is a God answering prayer.  Any results, they say, can be explained psychologically and biologically.  However, say others, there have been documented cases of deadly tumors disappearing overnight in a way that has no known medical explanation.  

     This objection to the skeptics’ argument about the power prayer being nothing more than the power of positive thinking has led to other studies.  These studies have divided up patients with similar conditions and prognoses into two groups, group A and group B.  Without telling the patients, a third group of people did the praying, but only for those in group A.  No one was told to pray for those in group B.  

The research showed that more people got better in group A, after being prayed for by many people, than in group B, for whom no one was praying.  In this study, the higher percentage of healings was not the result of positive thinking, because they did not know anyone was praying for them.  But the sample groups were small and the results were inconclusive, and the skeptics were not convinced.  I also would not consider those studies as proof of healing, because there are always so many other variables that it is impossible to get two identical test groups.

     So, even after all that research, we are back where we started from.  Prayer, like everything else in our walk with God, is a matter of faith.  We pray because God invites us to prays commands us to pray and promises to hear us.  But then as we pray, we must leave the results to God, praying as Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy will be done.”  God may have some larger purpose in mind than what we can see from our limited perspectives, and so God may or may not choose to intervene, even if that is what we desperately want.  And then as we pray, we should also pray that other petition Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  As we pray that petition, we remember that God has not just this brief life, but a whole eternity to work things out for our good.  Life may end here sooner than we had hoped, but then God promises that we go on to another life, in a better place, that will never end.  No scientific discovery or medical procedure can offer such a hope as that.  

      I do believe in prayer, and I will keep praying.  But I believe in prayer because I believe in God, so as I pray my main focus will be on God, and I will trust in Him to do what is best.  If God decides to reverse the whole natural order of things in a diseased and ravaged body and grant healing, we can receive such a miracle with gratitude.  But if not, and death comes, we may still look to God with gratitude; though now it will be gratitude for the promise of that final and complete healing of the resurrection.  (continued…)

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Matthew 14:14  —  When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.

Luke 4:40  —  At sunset, the people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them.

Matthew 8:5-8  —  When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.  “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”  Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”  The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof.  But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.”

jesus and centurion

 The Centurion Kneeling at the Feet of Christ, Joseph-Marie Vien, 1752

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Psalm 103:1-4 (changed to first person):

Praise the Lord, O my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, O my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases,
who redeems my life from the pit
    and crowns me with love and compassion.