Prayer is impossible to quantify

July 27, 2013 

Would you sit down at a computer without power? Or put your keys into a car if you knew it wouldn't go "Vroom"?

Likewise, what if prayer doesn't change anything?

Francis Galton, Charles Darwin's half-cousin, doubted that prayerworks, but wanted to investigate.

Galton (1822-1911) excelled in math and science: He invented weather maps. He wrote more than 340 papers and books. Galton was central to the founding of modern statistical analysis. He helped start the modern use of fingerprints.

Galton set up several statistical prayer studies. In one, he examined data from a previous study on longevity.

Galton first focused on clergy. He reasoned that clergy should be the longest lived of all since they were the most "prayerful class" of all, and among the most prayed for.

Yet when Galton compared the longevity of notable clergy with eminent doctors and lawyers, clergy lived shorter lives than the other two.

Galton turned to royalty -- arguably more prayed for than other members of the aristocracy. Galton pored over the data and concluded: "Sovereigns are literally the shortest lived of all who have the advantage of affluence."

Galton also examined the insurance rates for ships. He figured ships carrying missionaries and pilgrims should have lower rates, if occupants' frequent praying reduced the number of accidents.

Yet Galton found that ships carrying missionaries and pilgrims sank just as often as other ships.

Do such findings rule out Godly prayer? Does anything happen after believers pray? And if something happens, is it by fluke or faith?

We could multiplymodern studies, butthe Bible gives a simpleanswer. Scripture says Jesus rose from the dead, bodily.

So? So God heard Jesus, who prayed with loud cries and tears when he was suffering for all our sins on the cross. God heard Jesus due to his reverent submission (Hebrews 5:7).

For Jesus' sake, then,the Father hears whenbelievers pray. Believers do not bank on theirown supposed goodness. They pray in Jesus'name.

Jesus' resurrectionalso means Jesus, God's eternal Son, cannot lie-- and Jesus promises, "Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you" (Matthew 7:7).

Don't knock just once, Jesus said. Keep knocking -- just as his apostle Paul tells us to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and Jesus' brother James urges us to pray. Why? In Christ prayers are "powerful" and "effective" (James 5:16).

James mentions rain,in that vein. Rain looks like it falls, or doesn'tfall, no matter how we pray.

James says, still, that the prophet Elijah was nodifferent than the restof us, but when he prayed for no rain there was drought for three and a half years. Then he prayed for rain, and rain fellfrom the sky, and crops grew again (James 5:17-18; see 1 Kings 17 and 18).

Bottom line?

Prayer results may fool you.

God's promises in Christ cannot fail you.

The Rev. Daniel A. Witte, pastor of Risen Savior Lutheran Church, can be reached at 941-747-5564. For more information, see Faith Matters is a regular feature of Saturday's Herald, written by local clergy members.

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