The power of prayer
According to a number of studies and research, the benefits of prayer go beyond spiritual health. While I'm not suggesting prayer solely as a tool for maintaining health; it can certainly be considered a contributing factor to a well-balanced healthy lifestyle.
At the beginning of this year, I decided instead of following a particular eating plan (tho I do enjoy a good diet!) I would put more focus on spiritual food. Feeding my soul.
The first place I turned, of course, was to the Bible, and I'll share some thoughts on what the Bible says about prayer and health in a bit. I also wanted to take a look at what, if any, scientific evidence could be found connecting prayer and health.
Not surprisingly, I found more studies than I had time to read. Some of these studies use the word “meditation” which I believe is a specific type of prayer and therefore carries the same health benefits. With that in mind, here are a few of the benefits attributed to prayer, scientifically.
- Stress reduction
- Improved mood
- Reduced anxiety
- Stabilized blood pressure
- Better heart rate
- Proper levels of melatonin, the sleep hormone, and serotonin, the mood balancing hormone
- Boosts the immune system
- Better relationships
- Shortened duration of illness
- Faster recovery from surgery
- Increased longevity
- Lower suicide risk
Prayer, in sickness and in health
All throughout history, prayer has been closely associated with health, particularly when it comes to praying for those who face illness. “Studies have shown prayer can prevent people from getting sick — and when they do get sick, prayer can help them get better faster,” Duke University’s Harold G. Koenig, M.D., tells Newsmax Health.
Prayer improves our overall sense of well being according to an article on Huffington Post.
“Scientific, not anecdotal, studies now show that prayer works wonders on health. Of the three hundred studies on spirituality in scientific journals, the National Institute of Health Research found that 75 percent showed that religion and prayer have a positive effect on health. ” (source)
Out of 125 studies that looked at the link between health and regular church worship, 85 noted regular churchgoers live longer. In fact, the research demonstrated that there is a seven-year difference in longevity between those who never go to church and those who attend regularly.
“Other studies find that prayer inspires forgiveness and reduces anger and aggression.” (source) Participants who were instructed to pray for a friend were found to be happier, more willing to make sacrifices, less motivated to win arguments and had a stronger connection. Good evidence to pray for your spouse!
Researcher Tom Knox, a one-time atheist who became a “regular worshipper” after doing an in-depth study of the medical benefits of faith, notes: “The proof of the power of prayer is overwhelming. What I discovered astonished me. Over the past 30 years a growing, and largely unnoticed, body of scientific work shows religious belief is medically, socially, and psychologically beneficial.” (source)
Maybe part of the scientific evidence of benefit from prayer is due to relaxation. The heart rate slows, blood pressure drops, breath becomes calmer and more regular during prayer. One researcher suggests that prayer is beneficial for dealing with stress. He goes further to suggest that prayer deactivates the genes that trigger cell death and inflammation.
What does the Bible say about prayer and health
Now, let's set aside the research and evidence and just focus on what the Bible says about prayer and health.
Proverbs 17:22, TLB. “A cheerful heart does good like medicine, but a broken spirit makes one sick.” That's pretty straightforward; when we have a cheerful heart it's simply the best medicine, yet heartache and brokenness will dry up our bones!
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I wrote about how bitterness can destroy the health in this article, but did you know that worrying about your health can also make matters worse? If you've ever “worried yourself sick” then you will know what I mean. Stomach pain, heartburn and other symptoms can be a result of worrying.
Anxiety is often described as a feeling of “impending doom” which causes your hormone levels to rise. These stress hormones can actually be toxic to your nervous system, heart, digestion and immune system leading to serious health issues. Prayer is one way to overcome anxiety and worry.
Prayer for better mental health
Prayer will help us to intentionally seek a mindset of peace. 3 John 1 says, Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospers.” Even when you do get sick, why not flood your cells with the word of God rather than worry and anxiety?
After all, the Bible suggests that we do so in James 5:13, “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.” Further down, verse 16 says the prayer of the righteous person is powerful in what it can achieve!
Jeremiah 17:7-8 says that the person who trusts and puts their hope in the Lord is blessed and shall be like a tree planted by the waters with healthy green leaves and abundant fruit! Who doesn't want to be like a beautiful, fruitful tree planted by the water?
Paul the apostle wrote, “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) Pray all the time, constantly; in your thoughts, out loud, on paper, with singing and poetry, together, alone, in your worship and praise, pray. It's easier than you think, do like my friend Jami: just talk to Him!
If you want to make permanent changes in your life, alter the way you think so that your thoughts honor God.
Make prayer as habitual as talking with your best friend, make it a new way of life. Ephesians 4:22-24 tell us to change the former way of life and renew our thinking, clothing yourself with the new person created according to God's image.
In addition to prayer, forgiveness can also set us free from guilt, anxiety, worry, and stress. If you've ever struggled with forgiveness, watch this two-part video series on the subject to gain a better understanding. Also, listen to our podcast on Forgiveness.
What I'm not saying:
- Prayer itself will heal you. Only God has the power to heal.
- Prayer is the only answer for mental illness. Clinical depression and anxiety are best treated by seeking a mental health professional. *I* see a therapist on a regular basis, *I* take anti-depressants. There's no shame in that and taking a medication does not make you less of a Christian.
- That people who are sick aren’t praying enough or that prayer = immediate wellness. “Sometimes His perfect plan for our lives is to allow us to suffer and experience disease, illness, and hardship…Some of the greatest blessings in this world come from God’s power in the midst of trials. God changes us, molds us, strengthens us, and builds us through hardship. And there is nothing like the experience of being comforted by God alone in that dark hour.” Why Doesn't God Heal Every Sickness and Disease.