By David Briggs, The Association of Religion Data Archives
Even as the minister portrayed by Greg Kinnear confronts God in anger over his son’s suffering, his flock embraces prayer as an effective means to support and comfort his family.
Similar scenes are played out every day throughout the country, in settings both personal and public from informal prayer circles to online chat rooms to prayers of the faithful in synagogues, churches and mosques.
It is difficult to quantify whether intercessory prayer can physically heal illness. But new research is lending support to the idea that act of praying for others matters.
Consider these findings associating prayer with positive outcomes for others:
- One national study found that people who were prayed for by someone close to them were the most optimistic about their future — even though individuals receiving prayer were more likely to be facing adversity such as mental or physical health issues or unemployment. Having friends who are not family members pray for them was especially associated with high rates of optimism, according to the study analyzing data from the 2006 Portraits of American Life Study.
- In a separate study of older adults, two waves of a national survey in 2005 and 2007 showed that the negative effect on depressive symptoms of living in a dilapidated neighborhood was significantly reduced for older people who believed others often pray for them. “The findings indicate that this uniquely religious form of helping behavior makes it easier for older people to cope with the problems they face,” researcher Neal Krause of the University of Michigan wrote in an article in the Review of Religious Research.
- Another study analyzing data from the 2008-09 U.S. Congregational Life Survey found worshipers who spend more time in private devotions were more likely to give a loan, care for the sick and to help someone find a job. “Prayer can connect us with others, and even help us identify with their suffering,” stated researcher Jennifer McClure of Pennsylvania State University.