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In each of Paul’s letters to new Christian churches in the New Testament there is a section praying for the congregation. For example, in Colossians 1:9-14 Paul prays the people will have wisdom and understand God’s will, that they will have endurance and patience and be filled with joyful thanksgiving for the salvation, redemption and forgiveness of sins they have received through Jesus Christ. In the Christian faith we call this intercessory prayer, that is, prayer for others.
There are few things more confusing to people who are unfamiliar with prayer than intercessory prayer. The obvious question is why does God care what we ask for if He is all-knowing, all-seeing and all-powerful? My answer is that intercessory prayer is another one of the great mysteries of the Christian faith and we pray because God tells us to do so. There are many scripture verses where God calls us to lift up our prayers to Him, that he wants to hear our requests, and they make a difference in the working out of His plan for our lives and the lives of others. In Matthew 18:18-20 we read, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. “Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” People have often thought that you could explain away positive results from prayer as simply coincidence. People argue if we pray for our favorite aunt to be healed, and she is, it was a coincidence that she got better, it wasn’t because of prayer. In my younger days I was open to this explanation, except that I have been seeing so many miraculous things happen through prayer over the decades of my work in the ministry that I don’t believe in coincidences anymore. I don’t know who wrote this, but these words have come to express best what I believe happens when I pray for others. “Why Pray? We pray because prayer opens up the floodgates of God’s infinite grace and power to flow toward the person in need. God can act without prayer, but He chooses to operate within the boundaries of human will and invitation. He allows us to participate in His work on earth with each prayer.” Can the power of prayer be scientifically proven? Many doctors through the years have set up tests to seek to find out. Mitchell W. Krucoff, MD, director of the Ischemia Monitoring Laboratory at Duke University Medical Center and the Durham Veterans Administration Medical Center in Durham, N.C. did a study of 150 patients with serious heart problems, all scheduled for a procedure called angioplasty, in which doctors thread a catheter up into a clogged heart artery, open it up and insert a little device called a stent to prop it open. His study appears in 2001 issue of the American Heart Journal. Krucoff randomly assigned them to receive one of five complementary therapies: guided imagery, stress relaxation, healing touch, or intercessory ‘off site’ prayer (which meant they were prayed for by others), or to no complementary therapy. All the complementary therapies – except off-site prayer – were performed at the patient’s bedside at least one hour before the cardiac procedures. Seven prayer groups of varying denominations around the world – Buddhists, Catholics, Moravians, Jews, fundamentalist Christians, Baptists, and the Unity School of Christianity – prayed for specific patients during their procedures. Those in the “prayed for” group had fewer complications than any of the patients, including those receiving other complementary therapies, he says. Such prayer studies are done in the medical community regularly. They prove what people who pray already know, prayer has great power because we are praying to a great God. Sometimes we just need to be reminded of our need to pray for others. How is your prayer life today? Do you need to get back on track praying regularly? What barriers have arisen in your life to keep you from regular prayer and what can you do to remove those barriers? Al Earley is the pastor of La Grange Presbyterian Church. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.