Most of us agree that prayer is a powerful gift of communicating with the Lord. It can be hard to describe in detail for the uninitiated, but for those who have sensed the Lord’s nearness during prayer, perceived his direction, embraced his comfort, or received a miracle there is no argument that it is potent indeed.
Most of us have heard more than a few quotes about prayer from writers we enjoy. Let me share just a few of mine:
“Prayer does not fit us for the greater work. Prayer is the greater work.” Oswald Chambers
“The Holy Ghost does not flow through methods, but through men. He does not come on machinery, but on men. He does not anoint plans, but men – men of prayer.” E.M. Bounds
“I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.” C.S. Lewis
“If you want that splendid power in prayer, you must remain in loving, living, lasting, conscious, practical, abiding union with the Lord Jesus Christ.” Charles Spurgeon
“I need the spiritual revival that comes from spending quiet time alone with Jesus in prayer and in thoughtful meditation on His Word.” Anne Graham Lotz
I could add more, but I know you may have your own favorites and your own experiences in prayer. Prayer is considered one of the spiritual disciplines and for many of us; it is not one that is easy or practiced with regularity. Perhaps that relates to what our relationship with the Lord is like, but perhaps it is also because prayer for us is more like submitting a list of desires or needs not unlike a Christmas list and hoping He gives us what we ask.
In my recent post using translations of Erasmus, I shared how John’s well known beginning to the gospel he wrote focuses on the word…word, broadens the meaning of the word logos to the word conversation. In that sense as believers, He invites us to join the conversation with Him. That moves us away from lists of desires and needs to a relational dynamism.
But if prayer is powerful and impacts us, can we prove it?
One of the places scientists are beginning to look at is what is happening within the brain as MRI and the new SPECT imaging is allowing us to begin to delve into this complex organ. Dr. Daniel Amen is well known for his work in this arena and recently wrote a little book entitled Stones of Remembrance looking at how memorizing scripture affects the brain.
Another neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Newberg, along with his team of researchers conducted brain scans to look at the impact on the brain of those involved in prayers. The subjects studied included Franciscan nuns reciting prayers, Tibetan Buddhists in meditation, Sikhs chanting, and Pentecostal Christians speaking to God using the gift of tongues.
Using a brain scan in his studies in the same manner Dr. Daniel Amen does, a radioactive tracer is injected and images are taken when the brain is at rest and then when it is involved in prayer or meditation as noted above.
The studies of Dr. Newberg show a positive link between prayer and changes in brain activity.
Some of the results noted in Jonathan Merritt’s latest book, Learning to Speak God from Scratch include the following:
- Concentration increased dramatically when the subjects were praying or meditating
- Prayer resulted in sharpening brain function so that subjects became hyperfocused and aware
- Whispered prayer, worshipful songs, and chanting all turn on the hippocampus and block neuronal traffic to other brain regions that Newberg says “…opens the door to a greater sense of spiritual connection with God”
- If the subjects felt God’s love during the spiritual exercise, the part of the brain that helps us feel love was often activated
- If the subjects felt restfulness during the spiritual exercise, the part of the brain that helps us feel secure was often activated
The research resulted in evidence that prayer not only changes our brain and bodies in the moment, but it can also lead to “permanent physiological transformation” (Merritt).
Christian theologians, writers, and preachers have told us for many years that prayer changes things. Some have said prayer changes us. Now research using brain scans can prove this to be true. (If you have never seen examples of SPECT brain scan imaging, you can go to the website of Dr. Daniel Amen to see a series of scans of healthy and unhealthy brains.)
In consideration of how prayer transforms us spiritually and physically, Paul’s words in Romans 12:2 (TPT) can take on a deeper meaning:
“Stop imitating the ideals and opinions of the culture around you, but be inwardly transformed by the Holy Spirit through a total reformation of how you think. This will empower you to discern God’s will as you live a beautiful life, satisfying and perfect in his eyes.”