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November 8, 2003
Column #1,158

Prayer: The Power to Heal
"Pray without ceasing." I Thes. 5:17

     Newsweek's current cover story, "Faith & Healing" reports, "One of the clearest health benefits of religion: churchgoers live longer than others."

     Non church-attenders will live to 75. One who goes less than weekly will reach 80, while weekly attenders live till 82, and those going more than weekly, 83.

     If you are an unbeliever or a skeptic, but knew, that by developing and practicing a faith, that you would be given seven or eight additional years of life, would you do it?

     Hopefully. Why do religious people live longer? First, church-going promotes healthy habits. Weekly attenders are more likely to make positive changes. They are 131 percent less depressed, 78 percent more likely to give up smoking, 54 percent more apt to do more exercise and 39 percent more inclined to stop drinking. Seventh Day Adventists and Mormons, who do not drink or smoke, have substantially lower rates of cancer and live longer.

     However, that is only a small part of what science proves happen to the religious.  According to Dr. Harold Koenig, director of Duke University's Center for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health, two-thirds of active believers evidence greater "life satisfaction, hope, purpose, meaning, lower rates of depression, less anxiety and lower suicide rates."

     On the other hand, stress can increase one's likelihood of illness. Dr. Koenig reports a Pittsburgh study of 75 women with breast cancer. Those women who were depressed and frequently tired, did not have as strong "killer cells" attacking the disease.

     By contrast, eight of ten Americans believe that miracles can happen, and "a remarkable three persons in ten report instances of a profound healing of a physical, emotional or spiritual nature," or 60 million adults writes George Gallup Jr., in a Foreword to "The Healing Power of Prayer," a book co-authored by Dr. Koenig and Chester Tolson, Executive Director of Churches Uniting in Global Mission, a network of senior pastors of America's largest congregations.

     Their book tells of Greg Anderson, a member of the staff of Crystal Cathedral, who had a lung removed in 1984. Four months later he was told that his lung cancer had metastasized throughout his lymph system and he had just thirty days to live. But with prayer, chemotherapy, and a positive attitude, the cancer disappeared. He has written a number of books, most notably, "The Cancer Conqueror," and now is CEO of the Cancer Recovery Foundation of America.

     He writes that "the body's healing capacity is directly linked to one's mental and spiritual well-being. Embracing healthy beliefs and attitudes, learning to effectively resolve emotional distress, and moving in the direction of greater joy and gratitude all have a direct impact on our physical health."

     God heals in one of three ways, according to Koenig and Tolson.

1. Miraculously, like the blind man who could suddenly see when Jesus touched his eyes;

2. Nature is altered but scientists can not prove it was a miracle;

3. Prayer to God activates the immune system to speed healing and recovery .

     Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard's Mind/Body Medical Institute, describes a "relaxation response," in which a person focuses on a phrase, repeated in the mind, to bring peace. A Protestant might repeat, "The Lord is my shepherd;" A Catholic, "Hail, Mary, full of grace; a Jew, "Shalom." Studies show 75 percent of those with insomnia were cured, 36 percent of infertile women became pregnant within six months; migraine headaches were less frequent and severe.

     However, Koenig and Tolson believe this meditation technique is "often self-centered" while prayer is "God-centered." "Prayer is a conversation with God. Prayer is not a monologue. Prayer is a dialogue. It is a person-to-person experience."

     "The Healing Power of Prayer" gives practical suggestions on how to pray. It notes that Jesus said, "When you pray, say 'Our Father.' God is thus a person, with a will and purpose, an ever-present friend, who is "closer than a brother" (Prov. 18:24).

     Koenig writes, "For me, prayer begins with adoration and worship," recognizing God as "the person who first thought of me and brought me into being." He then confesses selfishness that hurt others and pride. "Then I express thanks" for his many blessings of health, family and work. Next, he asks God to help others and himself. "Then I listen. It's God's turn to talk..."

     While health is one consequence of praying, the purpose of praying is more fundamental, to connect with God, communicating with the transcendent.

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