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Imperfect Prayer Studies
When He heard this, He sighed deeply in His spirit and said, “Why do these
people keep demanding a miraculous sign? I tell you the truth, I will not
give this generation any such sign” (v.12).
A 1988 study by Dr. Randolph Byrd found coronary
care patients were 11 percent more likely to
recover when they had received the prayers
of others. A 2006 study led by Dr. Herbert Benson
suggested there was no improvement for patients at all. A
more recent study (September 2010) by Candy Gunther
Brown at Indiana University reported significantly positive
results for hearing and vision-impaired Mozambicans
after they had received intercessory prayer.
I find such studies interesting, but—in my eyes—many
of them have deep methodological problems. Some
studies have used multi-faith pray-ers, so which “God” is
being prayed to? Most have looked for a direct causeand-
effect result, so where does God’s will come into the
equation? Frankly, I really don’t think God appreciates
being part of lab experiments.
Jesus raises another concern about empirical approaches
to the miraculous. Some Pharisees once demanded that
Jesus perform a miracle to prove who He was. Actually,
he’d already healed a demon-possessed girl (Mark
7:24-30) and a deaf man (7:31-37), and He had just
miraculously fed 4,000 people (8:1-10) and 5,000 before
that (6:30-44)—miracles the Pharisees had either seen or
heard about. But these were not good enough. Jesus sighed
deeply and declined their request (8:12).
He refused to perform miracles on demand. He wouldn’t give signs to those
He knew still wouldn’t believe. Jesus wouldn’t do wonders for closed or merely
inquisitive minds. His miraculous acts were done out of compassion (8:2) to the
desperate (7:26), the believing (5:27-28), and even the doubtful (9:24-27), but
never for the merely curious.
Prayer works! But it’s all about praying to the one true God in submission to
His sovereign will. —Sheridan Voysey
Contrast the Pharisees’ attitude with that of the doubting dad in Mark 9:14. Why did Jesus respond positively to the father’s request for a
Some prayer studies focus on the human act of prayer rather than the
deity being prayed to. Why is this wrong?
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