Throughout my life, I've often wondered about the power of prayer. If God is all-powerful, and He wishes the best for all of us, then why do prayers matter? If I pray that my friend's medical school applications will go well, for instance, what difference do I make? Certainly God already has a Divine Opinion on whether my friend should get into medical school or not. Certainly God has the power to help my friend get into the right medical school without my prayers. So why pray? Of course, there is the chance that by praying I'm releasing endorphins or reducing levels of stress hormones in my body. So maybe prayer is more for my own physical well-being than to nudge God into seeing things my way?
There have been several scientific studies which explored the power of prayer. I think the most frequently cited is the Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in Cardiac Bypass Patients. But, as I pointed out in a previous post about whether God belongs in science, these studies tend to be inconclusive and easily misinterpreted. Clearly, I will not find a scientific answer to my question.
Prayer seems to be a very natural human urge. It's not just people from the mainstream religions that pray. For instance, some people "pray" to the universe, as in Rhonda Byrne's The Secret. Byrne's philosophy uses positive thinking to direct the power of the universe, with life-changing results. Similarly, my Wiccan friend once likened spell-casting to a form of prayer. He said that if you focus your mind on a certain goal, you are more likely to achieve that goal - regardless of whether you consider this spell-casting or prayer. The universal belief among these religions and philosophies is that there is some sort of greater power out there (whether it be a self-aware God or simply the universe) that is ready to be harnessed for the good of humanity.
Personally, I have a Christian perspective on prayer. The idea is: pray to Jesus / God for what you want and then finish up with a nice "Thy will be done." This phrase always gets to me though. Of course God's will is going to be done. I realize that this phrase is supposed to help me accept the fact that sometimes God's answer will be "no." But the phrase still bothers me - and maybe that's because I still haven't decided whether prayer really influences God's Divine Opinion or not.
I have two basic types of intercessory prayer that I commonly use. The first is the general "please God, let such and such happen. Please, please, please. Thanks! Oh...yeah. Thy will be done and all that jazz!" I pray like this because a part of me doesn't really believe that I'm influencing the Divine Opinion. But I go ahead and pray, because part of me really does believe. *sigh* Wavering doubt has always been my biggest weakness, as you can read in my recent post about doubt.
Surprisingly, I am much more confident about my second type of intercessory prayer. I meditate upon God's love...I visualize it streaming out of the sky and filling me till I'm overflowing. Then I concentrate on whoever I happen to be praying for. I visualize a string of love pumping out of me and into the other person. This isn't difficult, since I have an inexhaustible source of love coming from God. I hold this connection with the other person as long as I am able.
In my heart, I know that this form of prayer works. I really AM channeling God's love when I pray that way. So this is the way I prefer to pray. (Although it tends to be more about love and less about getting my dream job, so I have to pray the other way too!) But why am I so confident about this type of prayer and so doubtful of the other? I mean, shouldn't the same questions be raised? If God is all-powerful, why would He need me to channel His love for Him? But I thought - maybe that's what He put us here on Earth for. To amplify and channel his love. Maybe we're part of His power. Maybe we're meant to provide this love to our neighbors. This interpretation seems to fit with Christian philosophy. So I'm running with it. :)
On the other hand, I still need to reconcile myself to my other type of intercessory prayer. Perhaps my readers would like to share their thoughts on the subject?