by Annette Bridges. © 2007. All rights reserved.

Surveys have stated that millions of Americans pray regularly. And millions believe prayer can have a healing effect.

University medical school studies continue to test the medicinal power of prayer on recovery from illness or injury. And the findings remain varied and inconclusive. Consequently, newspaper headlines also tell an inconsistent story: “Prayer no help to sick” . . . “Prayer works as a cure” . . . “Prayer’s effect on health called nil” . . . “Healing power of prayer revealed”.

I suspect that no university study examining the influence of prayer on health would be considered definitive, even in the academic community. Therefore, the underlying question for me is why should scientists and physicians continue to test prayer?

Perhaps Christ Jesus knew the answer to such a question when he said, “Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will not believe.” Maybe the creators of these studies are unconsciously looking for “signs and wonders.” The very fact that such studies are happening cannot help but admit to the possibility of “wonders”, even if the motivation of some of them at the outset was to dispute such claims.

It’s not unusual to doubt or question when one hears of healings reported as a result of prayer. Even one of Christ Jesus’ closest disciples – Thomas – doubted that his Master could have been resurrected from death. But didn’t Thomas want to believe?

So one might describe studies exploring and probing the effects of prayer as symbolically crying out like the father of a sick son who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe; Help thou mine unbelief.”

I understand this hope-filled cry. My heart has sung that tune many times. Time and again I’ve caught glimpses of the omnipotence and allness of God and my inseparable relationship to God as His beloved daughter. I would be among the 41% of Americans who said they had been cured of illness or had their conditions significantly improve as a result of prayer. (Yankelovich Partners Survey 1999) Even still, moments of doubt, uncertainty and fear have brought me to my knees to reckon with my unbelief.

I can’t imagine a formula for testing prayer that can be effectively implemented, analyzed, measured or evaluated. Surely, prayer is as uniquely spiritual and individual as the individual doing the praying. Lack of healing results in a medical study on prayer would never cause the faith-filled to stop praying.

We read in the Gospel according to St. Matthew of a lunacy case the disciples were unable to heal. Jesus responded, “O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.” Jesus healed him. But his disciples asked why they could not heal him to which Jesus answered, “Because of your unbelief….”

Christ Jesus instructed, “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.” In her writings on prayer in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “The Hebrew verb to believe means also to be firm or to be constant.” She explains the Biblical injunction, “Believe…and thou shalt be saved!” as demanding “self-reliant trustworthiness, which includes spiritual understanding and confides all to God.”

So why do I pray?

Because I believe Christ Jesus’ words are a promise. A promise for all people in all times. And surely for all conditions and situations. I mean Jesus did say “And all things.” I’m praying to understand more fully what this means.