Countless people pray for themselves, or request prayers from friends and relatives during an illness or a calamity. But do their prayers work?

Regardless of Faith or background, many graciously respond to requests for prayers—and we’re usually grateful when others pray for us. We all have maladies and troubles that touch our lives. I can unequivocally say that I felt and benefitted greatly from the prayers of loved ones anywhere from Haifa to New Zealand when I have been seriously ill. The comfort of knowing that others said loving supplications for healing on my behalf formed a powerful component in my recovery.

We pray for others, and others pray for us, even though we know we can’t predict the outcome of each prayer. Yet our prayers assure at least some type of healing or assistance, in the fact that the cordial unity between all those involved in the prayer brings love, hope and serenity to the heart. Though thousands of miles away, prayer can have a powerful effect. The Baha’i teachings say that turning toward God in prayer, realizing He is the healer, the helper, and trusting in His mercy, brings us heavenly calm:

Whoso reciteth, in the privacy of his chamber, the verses revealed by God, the scattering angels of the Almighty shall scatter abroad the fragrance of the words uttered by his mouth, and shall cause the heart of every righteous man to throb. Though he may, at first, remain unaware of its effect, yet the virtue of the grace vouchsafed unto him must needs sooner or later exercise its influence upon his soul. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, pp. 294-295.

Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD, who has conducted studies on prayer for the past 30 years, said:

Prayer involves repetition—of sounds, words—and therein lies its healing effects. For Buddhists, prayer is meditation. For Catholics, it’s the rosary. For Jews, it’s called dovening. For Protestants, it’s centering prayer. Every single religion has its own way of doing it.

The Baha’i teachings say that prayers can also reach us from our loved ones in the next world:

The wealth of the next world consists in nearness to God. It is certain therefore that those who enjoy near access to the divine threshold are permitted to intercede, and that this intercession is approved in the sight of God. But intercession in the next world bears no resemblance to intercession in this world. It is an altogether different condition and reality, which cannot be expressed in words.Abdu’l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, newly revised edition, pp. 266-267.

In prayer there is a mingling of station, a mingling of condition. Pray for them as they pray for you! When you do not know it, and are in a receptive attitude, they are able to make suggestions to you, if you are in difficulty.Abdu’l-Baha, Abdu’l-Baha in London, p. 96.

Praying for God’s will in healing will always facilitate the best possible outcomes, though we may be unaware of it at the time. Our best interests from a loving Creator are always a result, and urgent prayers are always answered:

The prayers which were revealed to ask for healing apply both to physical and spiritual healing. Recite them, then, to heal both the soul and the body. If healing is right for the patient, it will certainly be granted; but for some ailing persons, healing would only be the cause of other ills, and therefore wisdom doth not permit an affirmative answer to the prayer.

God will answer the prayer of every servant if that prayer is urgent. – Annamarie Honnold, Vignettes from the Life of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 147.

Finally, the Baha’i writings recommend prayer in cases of illness, but also specify that we should, at the same time, seek the care of competent physicians: 

It is incumbent upon everyone to seek medical treatment and to follow the doctor’s instructions, for this is in compliance with the divine ordinance, but, in reality, He Who giveth healing is God. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 156.

At this time, given the scientific tools we have, prayer doesn’t lend itself to strict empirical analysis—but prayer still holds a respected and powerful station in our world.

All religions refer to prayer for spiritual and physical healing. Why is it that we pray for ourselves, for our unborn children in the womb, for our loved ones far away, and for those in the world beyond? Perhaps because prayer unites us in a web of loving care and compassion. Prayer turns our attention to the One Who is able to deliver us from all difficulties–our Creator. Prayer is the glowing light that guides our way out of the darkness. Prayer calms the broken heart, soothes the soul, and gives hope to the fearful. So now the question is: do we need any more proof that prayer works?

The opinions and views expressed in this article are those of the author only and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of BahaiTeachings.org or any institution of the Baha’i Faith.

10 Comments

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  • Mar 12, 2017
    I believe the question about empirical proof of the power of prayer, or to ask 'does prayer work?', is a bit like asking 'do expressions of affection between friends or lovers work?'. The spontaneous expression of love is not meant to secure an advantage or produce an effect. Likewise, there isn't supposed to be a mechanical process in a conversation between man and God; otherwise submission and grace are rendered irrelevant.
  • Mar 12, 2017
    Actually, prayer does indeed lend itself to (certain) empirical analysis. The effect if prayer on the pray-er can indeed be measured. The effects on those prayed for can be (and have been) measured. NONE So of it newtonian-- mechanistic. But that does not preclude measurement...it just precludes replication. For excellent analysis, see https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Words-Prayer-Practice-Medicine/dp/0062502522
  • Mar 11, 2017
    Have faith so shall your powers and Blessings be -Abdu'l-Baha and He doeth as He willeth and ordainest as He pleasesth what recourse as we -Baha'u'llah but in this Gloriest dispensation the life of a living person can be sacrificed for the sick one through prayers entreating the Almighty to compensate ones life for the sick one if God wills this request will be granted tq Allah'u'Abha my understanding of the writings of The Blessed Beauty Baha'u'llah .
  • Hilton McConnell
    Mar 10, 2017
    When you pray from your hart,and tears flow from your eyes, you know the prayer is being answered.
  • Mar 10, 2017
    Great article on the healing power of prayer... Thanks! ☺️???
  • Peter Pei
    Mar 10, 2017
    So beautiful
  • Jan 01, 1970
    When you pray from your hart,and tears flow from your eyes, you know the prayer is being answered.
  • Jan 01, 1970
    Actually, prayer does indeed lend itself to (certain) empirical analysis. The effect if prayer on the pray-er can indeed be measured. The effects on those prayed for can be (and have been) measured. NONE So of it newtonian-- mechanistic. But that does not preclude measurement...it just precludes replication. For excellent analysis, see https://www.amazon.com/Healing-Words-Prayer-Practice-Medicine/dp/0062502522
  • Jan 01, 1970
    I believe the question about empirical proof of the power of prayer, or to ask 'does prayer work?', is a bit like asking 'do expressions of affection between friends or lovers work?'. The spontaneous expression of love is not meant to secure an advantage or produce an effect. Likewise, there isn't supposed to be a mechanical process in a conversation between man and God; otherwise submission and grace are rendered irrelevant.