Podcast S1E8 - Prayer

In our latest episode of Language of God, we talk about prayer. We interview David Myers, Barbara Bradley Haggerty, Philip Yancey, and Jimmy Lin. The first section considers the scientific studies of intercessory prayer and its efficacy–or lack thereof, in these controlled double-blind studies. And we ask why that is. Then we ask about a better way of understanding prayer and its function.

What do you think about prayer? Is there any relevant connection with science? Or could science illuminate the practice of prayer in any way?

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I use prayer primarily for meditation, mindfulness, keeping calm and focused and for building a relationship with God and achieving Shalom.

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How can you create a scientific experiment about prayer while ignoring what Jesus taught about how to pray.

Prayer 101

Every church I go into and every blessing I hear reveals a lack of understanding of the core prayer guidelines laid out by Jesus in his teachings; starting with the Lord’s Prayer. I am compelled to make fellow Christians aware of these spiritual laws in order to help prayer to be more effective.

Common courtesy: Before asking God for anything, you should first praise Him and thank Him.

Thy Will be done: Accept God’s Will and assume you don’t know it in your prayers, because if you pray for something that is not His Will, your prayer will be wasted no matter how hard you try. Rather make your prayers open ended and trust that your prayers fuel His Will. Don’t put conditions on your prayers.

Love your enemy: Praying for your enemy can have the greatest positive impact on your world.

You will receive more than you give: Never pray for yourself as God knows what you need, and He will give it to you when you give to others.

What you do for the least of your bothers you do for me: Pray for those less fortunate.

So when you pray to God to take this cross from you, think about Jesus and ask God instead to give you the strength to carry this cross.

Good words, Shawn. But of course Jesus also taught about prayer:

“if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven” (Matt 18:19)


“If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer” (Matt 21:22)


“I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24)


“I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13).

and so on… So I don’t think it is fair to say people who advocate “name it and claim it” prayer theology are ignoring what Jesus said.

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Dear James,
Can you clarify your “But of course…” The quotes that you gave are Jesus telling us to pray in His name, but not how. In the Lord’s Prayer does He tell us how to pray, as He did on the cross: Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34) And Saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)

So in a scientific study of prayer, you have to know God’s will to measure the effectiveness of prayer, so any experiment of this type is doomed to fail. I like the work from Dr. Emoto which shows the impact of intension on water, so God’s will is not part of the experiment. The results of prayer on water is pretty dramatic.

I mean: I agree with you that prayer is not an incantation for us to get what we want (did you listen to the episode?). BUT… it is pretty easy to find things Jesus said that SEEM to suggest that. So the claim of what Jesus taught about prayer involves a larger interpretive activity (like all biblical theology does), of attempting to identify the larger overall message that emerges, rather than isolating individual Bible verses.

So are you implying we might leverage this model to scientifically determine what God’s will is (or at least what God’s will isn’t): have people pray for specific things, and if they don’t happen, we know that wasn’t God’s will. That still seems too formulaic, and doesn’t sit well with my theology.

Yes, I listened to the whole podcast, thus my comments about the failed experiments on prayer. What I am saying is the quotes that you gave implies to many that we should pray to God when we want something and He will give it us, like a car or money or success. I am sure this was not Jesus’ intension from the parable of the rich man.

The strongest prayer that I know comes out of old German: “Take from me that which hinders me from You and give to me that which brings me to You.

No, I would never suggest to use science to determine God’s will. I am saying that experiments around the effectiveness of prayer need to take this huge unknown into account. Like eliminating it as a variable as Emoto did.

This podcast is about a topic, prayer, rather than a person so many people are interviewed.

How is this topic even important? It is pretty central to Christianity because it is directly connected with the difference between theism and Deism. We believe in a God that interacts with us and the universe rather than a God who simply set it in motion and then sits back and simply watches.

Two connections with science are made.

  1. Experiments testing the hypothesis that prayer has a physical effect.
  2. Looking at the neurological activity of people when they pray or have a religious experience.

What were the results?

  1. The experiments concluded that there were no effects in the double blind tests they used. But valid complaints were made that the double blind test meant that those who prayed had no connection to the people they prayed for and even less connection to the words of the prayer scripts they read.
  2. There were identifiable brain states that occurred during prayer. The frontal lobe decision making part of the brain was more active and the part of the brain aware of our location and environment was not active. In short, our attention was turned inward and shutting off distractions we become more actively involved in part of us which directs our life and gives it meaning.

It was mentioned that some of the people participating in the second type of study came to the conclusion that our religious experiences was just brain activity. These kind of comments make me laugh. It is like saying our books are just paper and people are just meat. And why do people say things like this? They are excuses to see no value in things. For sociopaths and psychopaths, “people are just meat” is a poor excuse to treat people like meat. Such comments about brain activity are likewise an poor excuse to treat the beliefs and experiences of others as nothing of value. Both are not only the height of arrogance and intolerance but they are a demonstrable example of willful ignorance – seeing no more than what you want to see.

To be sure, everyone is free to value what they choose, and so I would find no fault in people if they simply said they find no value in football, reality tv, rap music, religion, science, or whatever… Time is life and it is precious, so we MUST choose what we are going to do with it and nobody can or should make such choices for us. No excuses for our choices are needed. Though since I have included that example of sociopaths and psychopaths, I must add one additional consideration in a free society that our liberties must end at the same liberties of others. If you do not value others then you are free to live alone and minimize your interaction with them. You cannot be allowed the freedom to treat them like meat.

The only other thing I can say is that I resonated with the comment regarding why we pray, to say that Jesus did this and He did it a lot.


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