Are any among you suffering? They should pray. – James 5:13
As we reach out to and pray for all who are affected by Hurricane Matthew, we are reminded of the gift of prayer and its power to assist us and others.
In his letter to a group of Christians outside of Palestine, James calls for prayer when people are suffering, cheerful and sick, promising that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective” (v. 16). James is convinced that prayer can have a significant effect on our brain, body, heart and soul — in bad times and good.
Dr. Andrew Newberg of Thomas Jefferson Hospital in Philadelphia has been studying the effect of prayer on the brain for more than 20 years. He injects radioactive dye into people, and then looks for changes in their heads when they pray. Pointing to a computer screen that showed brain activity, Newberg said to NBC News (December 24, 2014), “You can see it’s all red here when the person is just at rest, but you see it turns into these yellow colors when she’s actually doing prayer.”
Such changes cause Newberg to believe that prayer has the power to heal. He suggests that “by doing these practices, you can cause a lot of different changes all the way throughout the body, which could have a healing effect.”
Back in the first century, James had the same belief. Prayer is powerful, says James. Powerful and effective (v. 16). Martin Luther affirmed this in the 16th century when he said: “Prayer is a very precious medicine, one that helps and never fails.” Jesus prayed constantly in his ministry, and share a prayer template that became The Lord’s Prayer.
Prayer not only affirms the power of God, it changes us. When Dr. Newberg studied a group of Franciscan nuns who joined together in meditative prayer, he discovered that the area of the brain associated with the sense of self began to “shut down.” He saw that in this type of prayer “you become connected to God. You become connected to the world. Your self sort of goes away.”
Connection to God. Connection to the world around you. Loss of self. That’s real change and true healing. As James writes to his fellow Christians, “The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up” (v. 15). Prayer does not always lead to a cure, but it saves the sick by raising them into the presence of God.
One of the most well-known modern prayers is the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” God is being asked to give serenity, courage and wisdom to people so that they can become well and live life more fully.
Prayer can heal us, even when it doesn’t cure us of our illness. It changes our brains and it changes the rest of us as well, turning us into people who get outside of ourselves to form deeper connections with God and with the people around us. Prayer is powerful and effective because it gives us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and wisdom to know the difference.
Thank you for the many prayers after my recent surgery. Your prayers have been vital to my recovery! I am so grateful for each of you and our partnership in the gospel together at Mt Horeb!