Calling on the Great Physician

A woman named Beatrice heard what none of us want to hear. She was dying of cancer. Her doctors gave her six months to live and advised her to put her affairs in order. But today, seven years later, Beatrice is completely free of any symptoms. Her doctor called her remission truly extraordinary. Beatrice's healing was not the result of some new experimental drug or medical procedure. The doctor credited her recovery to her strong religious faith and to the fact that Beatrice's church prayed for her. Was this just coincidence? Or can prayer actually have a positive effect on our physical health? That's the question researchers at universities across the nation are seeking to answer. The interest in the power of prayer began almost a decade ago when a cardiologist, Dr. Randolph Byrd, conducted a study at a California hospital. He divided coronary patients into two groups. One served as the control group.The other group of patients was prayed for by volunteers recruited from local churches. The results were dramatic. The prayed-for patients experienced far fewer incidents of congestive heart failure, cardiopulmonary arrests, and pneumonia than the control group. The results impressed Jeffrey Levin, an epidemiologist at Eastern Virginia Medical School, who concludes that Byrd's work was "a very credible study." Levin notes that Byrd's study was conducted as rigorously as that for any drug. In examining the healing effects of prayer, scientists are finally catching up with what many people have long believed and practiced. Three years ago the New England Journal of Medicine published a survey that showed a third of Americans use so-called "unconventional" medical treatments and prayer was at the top of the list. Dr. Larry Dossey, former Chief of Staff at Humana Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, reviewed over 130 studies on prayer. He concluded: "Experiments with people showed that prayer positively affected high blood pressure, asthma, heart attacks, headaches, and anxiety." Now I'm not suggesting that people abandon proper medical care. Someone experiencing a heart attack needs to get to the hospital. But prayer can be a powerful resource along with a physician's care. The book of James tells us: "Is any one of you sick? He should call the elders of the church to pray . . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective." (James 5:13,14,16) We as Christians need to take verses like these seriously and avail ourselves of the power of prayer. Get involved in your church's prayer chain and help it become an effective force for interceding in people's lives. You may also want to share this BreakPoint with your neighbors so they can see that prayer has real and measurable results in the everyday world. And don't be shy to offer to pray for your neighbors if they become sick. After all, as Dr. Dossey concludes: "Studies show that people . . . can pray for themselves and others and achieve effects that are scientifically provable." Now that's good news for what ails us and our cynical culture.  


Chuck Colson


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