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Can Prayer Heal the Sick?

It's an appealing and comforting thought. Friends, family and even total strangers pray for you when you're seriously ill. When you recover, you may be grateful for those prayers. But did they contribute to your recovery? How would you know? Is it a question even worth asking?

Does prayer work?

Praying on another person's behalf to improve their health is called "intercessory prayer." And, believe it or not, researchers have attempted to scientifically study its effects on health and recovery from disease. The results are intriguing:

  • A 1988 study found that when patients in the hospital with heart disease had prayers said for them, they had less breathing trouble and required less antibiotic therapy than otherwise similar patients for whom prayers were not said.

  • A study published in 1998 suggested that prayer improved the health of AIDS patients. Although those receiving prayers had no change in an important measure of immune function over the six months of the study, they did have fewer serious illnesses, fewer doctor visits and better mood than those who were not prayed for.

  • In 1999, patients in a Missouri intensive care unit recovered faster after prayers were said for them compared with those who did not have prayers said. This study was unique due to its size—nearly 1,000 patients—and neither the patients nor their doctors knew which patients had prayers said for them.

  • A 2001 study published in the Journal of Reproductive Medicine supported intercessory prayer for women who were infertile. In that study, women for whom others prayed became pregnant twice as often as those who were not the recipients of prayer.


Several of the best studies of intercessory prayer in recent years have come to the conclusion that it doesn't work. For example:

  • A 2005 study from researchers at Duke University showed no benefit from distant prayers for patients undergoing high-risk heart procedures.

  • In 2006, perhaps the largest study of intercessory prayer to date showed no benefit of prayer for 1,802 heart bypass surgery patients. The complication rate was actually a bit higher for those who knew others were praying for them.

Does the answer matter?

Prayer could be useless, but do you care?

The bottom line

Is the value of intercessory prayer a myth? Maybe it is. I doubt there will ever be consensus on how to answer this question...


Please go HERE to see the entire article, including answers to the bolded questions...

For a Urantia Book perspective, please see our topical study on Prayer

146:2.11 When you pray for the sick and afflicted, do not expect that your petitions will take the place of loving and intelligent ministry to the necessities of these afflicted ones. Pray for the welfare of your families, friends, and fellows, but especially pray for those who curse you, and make loving petitions for those who persecute you. "But when to pray, I will not say. Only the spirit that dwells within you may move you to the utterance of those petitions which are expressive of your inner relationship with the Father of spirits."

91:6.2 Prayer is not a technique for curing real and organic diseases, but it has contributed enormously to the enjoyment of abundant health and to the cure of numerous mental, emotional, and nervous ailments. And even in actual bacterial disease, prayer has many times added to the efficacy of other remedial procedures. Prayer has turned many an irritable and complaining invalid into a paragon of patience and made him an inspiration to all other human sufferers.

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