A sociologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that people who frequently pray find comfort from their emotional troubles. In his study, dozens of victims of violent relationships were interviewed. They represented a wide range of the United States' population in educational, racial and geographic backgrounds.
It was discovered that individuals who were sad or angry benefited from prayer, in which they spoke to a source who they believed to be God. The study, which appears in the journal Social Psychology Quarterly, concluded that prayer helped many of the victims cope with their feelings in a positive manner.
If they vented their anger to that abusive partner, the result was likely to be more violence. But they could be angry at God while praying without fear of reprisal.
It was found that praying served as a helpful distraction for many people. By folding their hands and concentrating on what to say to God, they were able to take a reprieve from their anxiety. The prayer is similar to an intimate conversation with a close friend or parent.
Another study published in the journal Psychology of Religion and Spirituality noted that more Americans are praying about health issues. Comparing 2002 and 2007 studies by the centers for Disease Control and Prevention, researchers found that the number of adults praying for good health increased from 43 percent to 49 percent.
Prayer heals. So say thousands of Americans who use prayer to improve their health, according to a study by Dr. Anne McCaffrey of the Harvard Medical School. Her study found that one-third of Americans use prayer to facilitate physical healing. Sixty-nine percent of the 2,000 people surveyed said prayer greatly improved their health.
Additional studies have linked prayer to positive health outcomes with high blood pressure, asthma, heart attacks, headaches and anxiety. "It's not a fringe thing," says McCaffrey. "I think very mainstream Americans are using prayer in their daily lives."
Though Western medicine, with its focus on scientifically quantifiable results, tends to eschew the links between prayer and healing, the Old and New Testament have long espoused the healing power of prayer. A prayer for the sick is a regular part of Catholic and Jewish religious services. Members of Muslim congregations often conclude daily services by asking the imam to offer a special prayer for those who are sick.
'This is the most ancient, widely practiced therapy on the face of the earth," said Dr. Mitchell Krucoff, a professor of medicine and cardiology at Duke University Medical Center.
Patients describing the benefits of prayer often talk about how it provides a sense of well-being. It makes sense. When we accept God, we achieve a spirituality that connects us to the significance of life and provides an immutable foundation from which to judge right and wrong.
This foundation is not transient like the vain and materialistic trappings of life. It is eternal. Even during the worst hardships, when the other things in our lives seem to fall apart, we can still find peace in the eternal love of God.
People who understand this will feel God's love reflected back. That is to say, a person cannot love God without loving himself. How could a belief system designed to bring about such a sense of peace not have positive general health benefits?
Of course, none of this means that spiritual health is a substitute for traditional medicine, or that prayer will ensure physical well-being. After all, many saints suffered from a laundry list of physical maladies. We are only human.
But what's telling about the Harvard study is that it reveals just how critical a component prayer is in most Americans' lives. Doctors cannot and should not ignore that. Traditional medicine needs to explore this critical component of patients' lives to better understand their response to illness and recovery. "Doctors need to realize that we don't have the market on what people are doing to make themselves feel better," says McCaffrey.
Of course, it is difficult to test the effects of prayer. You cannot reduce spirituality to a quantifiable figure. You can't measure its effects in a beaker. Perhaps that's why physicians are loath to discuss the matter with patients. But the fact that prayer is a critical component in most people's lives tells us that spirituality – when combined with traditional medicine – should be embraced as an integral part of the health-care process.
How to Pray when You Are in Physical or Emotional Pain
David wrote Psalms 6 during a time when he was in a great deal of physical and emotional pain. David was sick to the point of his bones aching, his eyes are red and swollen from lack of sleep and crying, he has enemies all around him. If that wasn't bad enough, he felt like the Lord had left him because He was angry at him.
We've all felt like that at some point in our lives, and probably will again. We feel like at the lowest, most painful point in our life, when everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, everyone is against us, we're physically/emotionally sick, we feel like the Lord is far from us and not hearing our prayers for mercy.
That's the situation that David was in when he penned Psalms 6. As you read Psalms 6, you see David did one thing under those circumstances that most of us fail to do when we are in similar circumstances. David begins his prayer by stating his complaints. We can state our complaints to God.
David did not end his prayer with complaining, he ends by speaking faith. David's example in Psalms 6 teaches us how to pray when we are in physical or emotional pain.
David was a physically strong man of war. He was a spiritually strong man, a man after God's own heart. David was a man of great power and wealth, the King of Israel. None of these things kept sickness and emotional distress from touching his life, but David's ability to pray, to know how to talk to the Lord his God, delivered him from physical and emotional distress he was in.
David begins by asking the Lord for mercy. David next prays for the Lord to 'return' and deliver him and save him. David feels like the Lord is far from him. He then continues on in prayer and describes his feelings, he feels like he's going to die, he's been crying day and night because of his enemies.
In verse 8 is where David changes his prayer, he quits complaining and begins to speak faith......'for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping....(verse 9) The Lord hath heard my supplication; the Lord will receive my prayer'. 'Hath' is a present tense word, the Lord HAS heard. Nothing has changed for David yet. He is still sick, his eyes still swollen from crying, enemies are still around him, but he speaks faith. He prayed, now he believes.
David gives the example in Psalms 6 of how to pray when you are in physical or emotional pain, in Psalms 142: 1 & 2, David sums it up- '....I cried unto the Lord with my voice; with my voice unto the Lord did I make my supplication....I poured out my complaint before him; I shewed before him my trouble'. He used his voice to pray and he 'poured out' his complaints to the Lord.
A PRAYER FOR THE PERSON WITH EMOTIONAL PAIN
O Lord, At this time of emotional pain in my life, help me to remember that You became man to grant us a perspective on the suffering of this world. You, too, were moved by intense feelings, and were at times angry, near despair and filled with doubt. You, above all, suffered at the hands of others and were misunderstood by many. Yet, You listened, always with rapt attention, to others in pain, offering them comfort and acceptance.
Teach me now to find new faith in You, in myself, in my doctors and helpers, and in my fellow man. I ask Your grace and courage that I might embrace my life and experiences as my own, good and bad, and begin my life anew today. Allow me that strength to communicate about my inner experience so that others, working through Your hand, may understand and accept me, and I may find Your peace within myself. Amen.