Sat | Nov 17, 2018

Clone of Is prayer a waste of time?

Published:Sunday | November 23, 2014 | 12:00 AM
File Afghan policemen pray at a checkpoint outside of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, Afghanistan.

"As names have power, words have power. Words can light fires in the minds of men. Words can wring tears from the hardest hearts"

- Patrick Rothfuss

"True prayer is measured by weight not by length. A single groan before God may have more fullness of prayer in it than a fine oration of great length"

- C.H. Spurgeon

Weighty questions surround the power of prayer. This is a

complex issue with overwhelming implications. If prayers work as many attest, why do babies die from illnesses despite the unending supplications of parents? Why do

devotees returning from pilgrimages suffer ill-fated accidents? Why have pogroms, slavery, and countless tragedies beset God-fearing people?

Many attribute this to God's will, but it is an affront to our intelligence if we defer to blind faith. Further, blind faith gives fodder to atheists and agnostics, who view religionists as delusional.

While life holds many mysteries, we can at least attempt to fathom the underlying forces at work when prayers are both effective and seemingly useless.

Prayer is the bringing together of a number of words, some of which are imbued with an innate power. "In the beginning was the Word" is recorded in the Bible.

Socrates once said that the beginning of wisdom is the

definition of terms. Surely, words carry an energy that can effect change. When used repeatedly, over centuries, with faith, that power magnifies and assumes an

archetypal quality that affects the lives of believers.

Psychiatrist and pioneer in consciousness studies Carl Jung advanced this thesis after decades of research. Faith in divine words is the cornerstone of all miracles. In his seminal work, An Ounce of Prevention, Dr Anthony Vendryes cited a 1988 study at the San Francisco General Hospital to support his case that prayer and meditation are vital tools in the convalescing process.

He also refers to a 1999 study in distance healing conducted on coronary patients at St Luke's Hospital in Kansas City. The results were startling. Dr Vendryes writes, "The study found that those who were prayed for fared better than those who got conventional care alone. It is important to note that these patients did not know they were being prayed for, and therefore, their recovery could not be explained away as a placebo effect."

catalyst for change

He cements his position with the endorsement of Dr Larry Dossey's Prayer is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer.

Dr Vendryes subsequently echoes the words of Dr Jullian Whitaker: "If you are very ill (or a family member is), pray for recovery and encourage others to do likewise".

For sure, words, when intoned with intent, affect our psycho-emotional state and can be the catalyst for change. Religions have always used words, sometimes called mantras, to bring about a desired result.

From a Christian perspective the word, or name, 'Jesus', has been used in exorcism and various forms of deliverance with almost magical effect. The Bible explicitly exhorts us to use that name when praying, and examples abound.

Philippians 2:9-11 - "Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name."

Matthew 18:20 - "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them."

Acts 4:12 - "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved."

James 5:14 - "Is any sick among you? Let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

Acts 10:43 - "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins."

Luke 10:17 - : "And the seventy returned again with joy, saying, Lord, even the devils are subject unto us through thy name."

Mark 16:17 - "And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;"

Notably, the Bible is not the only scripture with instructive counsel on using holy names when in distress. Words take on a mystical quality in other cultures.

In Islam, God beckons His believers to call on Him, using multiple names. In Sura al-Isra: 110 (of the Quran), we find: "Call upon Allah or call upon al-Rahman; by whichever name you call upon Him, to Him belong the most excellent names".

Similar examples exist in the Hindu Bhagavad-Gita, where the name Krishna is exalted. Krishna says: "All paths lead to me. So men seek God, they come to me, and so I accept them." Reciting that name is said to "elevate one's mood and (increase) overall joy".

And it is said in one of the Buddhist scriptures, the Tripitaka, that "Amitabha (Buddha) positions himself constantly above the heads of those who recite his name and protects them day and night. He does not let their enemies approach them easily. Recite (his name) and enjoy peace and security in the present life. Upon death, they are reborn as a matter of course in the Pure Land".

But many who pray are often disappointed, their prayers seeming to fall on deaf ears in the most exigent of times. Why? The answer is multi-layered. First, we must accept our mortality. To every man is appointed once to die. Further, life's lessons are to be learned in the most gruelling of ways. Sickness, death, and hardship are unavoidable and help us to understand life's purpose.

Our life is cyclical, requiring patience and gratitude during trying periods. Some have argued that life is a school where the most difficult lessons are learned and that only forbearance can strengthen the human will. As such, prayer should be used for guidance, wisdom, and resilience and not as a magical wand to rid ourselves of every test that confronts us.

There are profound lessons to be learned daily, but in the long run, we are better of for it. We are only asked to accept and strive to surmount challenges. God requires that much.


In a recent article, 'Falun Gong: A religion facing imprisonment and Torture' I mistakenly attributed the statement, "Religion is the opium of the people" to Mao Tse Zung. It is Karl Marx who is said to have first made that statement.

n Dr Glenville Ashby is a social critic and president of Global Interfaith Council, NYC. Feedback: or follow him on Twitter@glenvilleashby