Why Pray? Does it Work?

by Wendy on March 22nd, 2010

For all those who are searching for a personal one-on-one connection to the Divine whether you are in an organized religion or have migrated away from organized religion, this article may be helpful.  I have many friends and clients on both sides of the aisle. Some of you may have thrown out all of your formal teachings and traditions in an attempt to open the space for new resonant information. I actually went through this process as I broke away from the religion of my youth in the late 80’s. It was a huge and painful house cleaning. I “threw the baby out with the bath water!” Everything mental, emotional and spiritual that was tied to that religion was purged, and prayer was one of them. Now, after 20 years experimenting on my spiritual journey, I more thoughtfully consider what is meaningful to me and feels like truth.

Dr. Larry Dossey

Today, there are volumes of research available on the viability of prayer. Larry Dossey, M.D.,the worlds leading authority on prayer, for the past 20 years has made it his priority to carefully study this topic and disseminate his findings. How comforting to know there is a body of scientific proof –if you are one that needs it– that prayer works. Dr. Dossey has written 9 books and numerous articles about his work, with Healing Words, The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine, receiving global acclaim.

An education steeped in traditional Western medicine does not prepare physicians for patients who are blessed with “miracle cures,” remissions that clinical medicine can not explain. The focus of Dr. Dossey’s work is scientific legitimacy, what does the data show that can help explain the basis for these miracles. As a result, his colleagues in medical schools and hospitals all over the country trust him, honor his message, and continually invite him to share his insights with them. He has lectured all over the world, including major medical schools and hospitals in the United States –Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Cornell, the Universities of Pennsylvania, California, Washington, Texas, Florida, Minnesota, and the Mayo Clinic.

Before his book Healing Words was published in 1993, only three U.S. medical schools had courses devoted to exploring the role of religious practice and prayer in health; currently, nearly 80 medical schools have instituted such courses, many of which utilize Dr. Dossey’s cogent works as textbooks. His website at http://www.dosseydossey.com/larry/default.htm is filled with insightful information.

He was not always a believer, and actually the opposite was true until he was sent a copy of a well conducted double blind study on prayer from Korea on women with fertility problems. None of the women knew they were being prayed for. Half the women received prayer the other half did not. The prayers were sent from Canada, Australia and the US. None from Korea. The group that was prayed for had twice the success rate over the group that did not receive prayer. This was the first study he reviewed and it led to his in-depth investigation into numerous studies. His findings have been amazingly significant and the impact of his work has changed how countless people and professionals view the importance of prayer.

The implications are mind bending. None of the prayers were local and none from family or friends and the person being prayed for didn’t need to be aware they were being prayed for, for the prayer to work; no tangible direct connections. Yet, the connections were made and often the results from various studies were astounding on heart attack and cancer victims and even advanced AIDS patients. The scientists claim the reasons prayer works are mysterious. There is much hypothesis, but no one knows for certain how it all works, only that it does.

So what makes for a successful prayer? It has been well documented that mindlessly reciting a memorized prayer is not effective. An important fact coming out of the studies was that it didn’t make any difference how many people were praying. In other words, 10 people praying for the individual wasn’t 10 times more potent. The quantity is not as vital as the quality in these cases. Just one sincere prayer, from the heart, lovingly felt and offered, was really all it took. It is the belief, emotion and love behind the prayer that makes the difference. It is the feeling and emotion that connects you to the Divine, not the actual words.

Dr. Dossey, as he prays for his own patients, always asks for “The best outcome to be done in this instance”, or the “Thy will be done” approach. As humans, our overall vantage point is myopic at best. The infinite God’s eye view or the Divine perspective sees the most appropriate answers for personal growth, fulfillment and happiness. Dr. Dossey has found this prayer formula to be remarkably successful with his patients.

So, what about the pleading and gimme prayers often based on grasping and fear? This is how I prayed in my youth. The focus was on a big “Santa” figure in the sky and if I was found worthy to receive, I would get what I wanted. An acquaintance of mine for years prayed for a red Alfa Romeo sports car. At every gathering, she would talk of her obsession with this car. Year after year she actually prayed for the car. To my knowledge it never materialized. The Divine doesn’t seem to care about the type of car one drives or how you get around as it is not necessary for spiritual growth. The health of mind, body and soul gets the attention.

This isn’t how prayer works. I’m certain anyone reading this has stories to tell of unanswered pleadings and how happy and grateful you were with hindsight that those gimme prayers went unfulfilled! Often we wish for that trouble-free, straight line upward to the happy state we have envisioned. But the straight line isn’t necessarily the best path for learning wisdom. Our visionless desires could well cause great unnecessary suffering we cannot foresee or take one in a wrong direction. There seems to be an important need for overcoming obstacles and adversity for meaningful growth but we don’t want to create it unduly. So, we express gratitude that we were protected from our ignorance, and that we were given the opportunity to learn and grow.

There appears to be a difference in the pattern of prayer if praying for something on a large scale with a group. This is where the quantity of people praying is more potent. In studies conducted by The International Peace Project of the Middle East, which appear in the 1988 journal of Conflict Resolution, groups of people came together and prayed for peace in crime infested areas, and a significant and measurable decline in the crime rate in the area occurred. Not only did the crime rate sharply decline, so did traffic accidents and hospital emergency room visits. In the atmosphere of peaceful energy, it seems all that could happen was peace. When the praying was discontinued, over time the crime and accident rates increased back to normal levels. So we see that connecting with the group mind in prayer is effective. Many more pertinent studies have been done in this area. An informative book on the topic is Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer, by Gregg Braden.

My personal experience with prayer has yielded many truths. The most important being, that the power of belief in the outcome, as though it already exists, sets the actual miracle in motion. The Bible states in St. Matthew 17:20, “If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” The faith is your belief and the mountain is the miracle. So the pattern for prayer that really works are the prayers that focus on the feelings of love and gratitude for what you believe has already occurred; for receiving the fruits of the miracle you set in motion through your faith. The words you use are not important. (Yes, you often need to believe it and see it in your mind as real before you actually see it in this physical dimension).

At a time of seeking early on in my spiritual journey, I desired to have a lovely basket of pine cones to place on my fireplace. I visualized them in the beautiful basket I had waiting for them to occupy. I actually love pine cones and so there was much emotion associated with this desire for me. When I removed myself from my religion, I also left behind much of my stuff! I had pared down to bare minimum and moved to a different state. And with all the inner change going on, what I truly loved and identified with were things of nature. Pine cones brought me joy. When my children asked me what I wanted for Christmas that year, all I could think of was that basket of pine cones! I had hoped a trip to the mountains to find some to bring home was in the cards, but the opportune time never came. I let the desire pass and stopped thinking about it.

On Christmas morning as I was driving to my daughter’s home, I rounded a corner on a street I had driven down many times before. Sitting on a stone wall beneath a huge scruffy pine tree were a couple of young boys. As I slowed into the turn, one of the boys threw a large pinecone at my car. I slammed on the brakes which startled them, but I yelled out my window, “Are there any more pine cones?” They replied that there were and that I could have all I wanted. (I think they were very happy that they weren’t in trouble.) I excitedly gathered as many as I could get into my trunk, filled with overwhelming joy and emotion that somehow, something in the universe knew of my desire and had answered my prayer through those young boys! How simple and yet remarkable to me. This was more than just a Christmas gift, it was a beautifully orchestrated lesson for me on the true nature of prayer. It was my first experience with an answered prayer. And to my good fortune there have been many since. I still have several of those pine cones to this day as a reminder of my connection to the Divine and what beauty can be created by loving emotion and desire.

I have also received great Divine guidance when asking for assistance when I couldn’t see the next step, expressing gratitude for the help in advance, believing I would receive it. I personally believe there are many who watch over us; be they angels, guides, or deceased family members, whomever they are, they are there and available to us. We live in a multi-dimensional world with much we can not see unless these helpers choose to make themselves known. In desperate times during my life my guides have made themselves known to me and the answers I needed have come in truly beautiful and surprising ways.

We all need answers and direction and having perfect faith that you will receive what you need is a true blessing. A peaceful prayer of thanks for the guidance is much more satisfying than a fear based pleading for help.

Do prayers work? Yes, most of the time. Do they all work? No. Will they always work in the way we expect? No. Remember, the power that answers prayers is intelligent, far-seeing and has an agenda; our spiritual growth. We trust in this Divine power to protect us from those desires that are not ultimately beneficial for us or for those we pray for.

Therefore, the true power of prayer is found in the feelings and beliefs the prayer stirs within us. Our prayers open the doors and brighten the path of that which we desire and inspire visions of that yet unseen. With these proven prayer patterns available to us we can not only help ourselves and others, we can truly help shape and share in the outcome of our chaotic world. As we see in the case of Dr. Dossey, one person can truly make a powerful difference.

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