I was going to blog about something else next (part of my Great Master Plan for More Blogging), but that can wait just a bit. Something on this morning's Good Morning America caught my attention.
GMA did a story this morning about a scientific study about the effectiveness of prayer on seriously ill patients. They had three groups of patients: one who knew they were being prayed for, one who were prayed for but not told, and one who were not prayed for. Apparently, the group who knew they were prayed for turned out to actually do worse than the other two. Now, in the interests of science, the people who were chosen to do the praying were at a distance and totally unconnected with the patients. After presenting those results of the study, Robin Roberts talked with the show's own medical expert (who also happens to be an ordained minister) about it all. Dr. Tim (I'm suddenly blanking on his surname) said he had problems with the science of the study, because given the wide variety of possible illnesses, you didn't really have the kind of consistency of conditions for good scientific evaluations. And then, of course, the variability of those doing the praying. He added that as a pastor, the importance of the connection of the loved ones with the patient was also significant when it came to the effectiveness of prayer.
It's all very intriguing. But I think Dr. Tim is on the track of one of the crucial elements - at least to me - in prayer. And that element is love.
Now, understand, I do believe that God pays attention to all prayer. There's no such thing as a wasted prayer as far as I'm concerned. But I also think that our attitude of love is very important in the effect.
John tells us that God is Love. So, when we put ourselves into a state of love (I'm sure you understand I'm not talking about romance here), we come closer to the nature of God, closer to His heart. I also believe that an attitude of love brings us spiritually close to those we are praying for. And love requires that we step back from our own personal needs & desires, and really put the other person first.
So, when we actually know someone, especially when they are dear to us, that ability to "get out of the way" is much more active. It's much easier to do when we genuinely care, when our heart is engaged. Impersonal, objective prayer ... I'm not so sure about that.
I think this is one of the big drawbacks of our social training to be "objective" and "scientific" and "rational". We become far too detached from the lives of those around us. We aren't really engaged in what's going on in the lives of others, even those close to us. Except when we choose to let them get close and matter more.
So I really think that love is a crucial element in prayer. And that has some really interesting implications when we start moving into the admonitions to pray for our enemies, for those who hate us, for those we dislike. For prayer to be most effective, it needs to spring from love. And yet many of those we're told to pray for are folks I don't really want to love. So, either I don't pray for those folks, or I have to find a way into "love territory".
How come God doesn't make this stuff easy?
That's a rhetorical question. "If it were easy, everyone would be doing it." Heh.
Again, I don't think any prayer is wasted. But I do think the best, most effective prayers for others come from an engaged heart. "The prayers of a righteous man availeth much." Yes. The person who is focused on being God's child is ahead of the pack. But righteousness isn't just about doing all the right things in our actions, it is about becoming closer to God, becoming more like God. And if God is Love, then we need to be moving more and more into the territory of Love when we pray.
So that, then, is the challenge of prayer as I see it. For my prayers to be most effective, I need to open my heart entirely for the benefit of the person I'm praying for. The person I'm praying for has to matter to me, in a positive way. That's not always easy. But this morning's story has given me food for thought about it. I need to be even less perfunctory about my prayers for those people that I don't know personally. They have to matter to me, even if I don't know them.
"I'll pray for you." That's not a small thing, especially if I can do it the way the Lord really wants me to do it.