"Kissing Frogs: Chapter 14

Prayer Theraphy

Chaplain Paul G. Durbin, Ph.D.


CHAPTER 14: PRAYER THERAPY: Dr. William A. Parker and Elaine St. John begin their book, Prayer Can Change Your Life, "Prayer can change your life anytime, anywhere, at any age. It can heal your diseases, renew your mind and body, calm the storm of daily living from the great tempest of fear and sorrow that threaten to overwhelm, the day by day squalls in human relationship that constantly rock our boat until we view a world distorted by a seasick haze." (p.11)

(1) Dr. Parker And St. John's Study At University of Redlands: Dr. Parker and Ms. St. John detailed a ten year experiment of Prayer Therapy at the University of Redlands. Their study showed that prayer brought renewal, rebirth, that men and women received "beauty for ashes", and were released from fears, depression, discouragement, and marital difficulties. Dramatic physical healings resulted with stuttering, arthritis, migraine headaches, and high blood pressure as a response to the power of prayer. There were some spectacular recoveries from various diseases, but just as important were the day to day adjustments to life, the "life more abundant", the joy and peace achieved right were they were by individuals who made remarkable to adjustments to life.

In their experiments, they had three groups. Group One was the "Psychotherapy" group. They received psychotherapy with no mention of prayer or religion. These people showed a 65% noticeable improvement in both test and symptoms. Group Two was designated, "Random Prayer." These people prayed on their own every night without benefit of psychological insight. They showed no progress in the test, backsliding in some instances. Symptoms were not noticeably improved. Group Three was the "Prayer Therapy" group. The Prayer Therapy group received instructions on positive praying and psychological guidance. The Prayer Therapy group made a 72% improvement in test and improvement of symptoms.

These findings indicate that something was wrong with prayer as understood and practiced by the Random Prayer group. They must somehow have unknowingly prayed amiss for "having asked; received not." The Prayer Therapy group had asked and received. Another result indicated that Prayer Therapy provided something additional to psychotherapy.

(2) Dr. Randy Byrd's Prayer Research:

James Wagner in his book, Ministry of Christ In The Church Today, writes of another prayer research project that was conducted by cardiologist, Dr. Randy Byrd with a different thrust. In this experiment, the patients were unaware that they were being prayed for by groups recruited by Dr. Byrd. He assigned 393 heart patients, each of whom had been admitted to the coronary unit during a ten-month period, to two groups. Dr. Byrd factored the patients ages and severity of their disease into the division process.

Dr. Byrd then located persons around the country who agreed to pray once a day for each of the 192 patients in the experimental group. Each patient in this group had from five to seven people praying for him or her, but were not told so by the researchers. The second group of 201 patients didn't have individuals from Dr. Byrd's prayer groups praying for them. Dr. Byrd found that the prayed for patients had significantly fewer instances of complication. Only three required antibiotics, compared to sixteen in the other group.

(3) God Hears And Answers Prayer:  One of the blessings of faith in God is the assurance that God hears and answers prayer, but at times, we fail to experience that assurance. Could it be that we have no real expectation or confidence that God hears or answers prayer? Perhaps some can identify with the man that associated prayer with playing a slot machine. He said, "It doesn't cost much to play and I might win." That type of experience does not lend itself to a very satisfying prayer life.

As we seek a more meaningful prayer life, maybe we should ask the question "Why pray?" Why teach yourself to pray? Why study to improve your prayer experience? Is it really necessary? Is it an elective in the university of life? Is it a kind of hobby, an optional extra to the main business of being, or should it be an important ingredient of our daily life? It is my belief that we were created by God to have fellowship with Him. We do not always know what life is all about, but we do know that it exists primarily for relations. A stone is dead, a horse is alive; a stone cannot enter into a relationship with its environment, a horse can. A person can enter into a relationship not only with nature, but also with other people and with God. The richness of our personal life depends upon the quality and depth of our personal relationships. The highest relationship possible is fellowship with God. In human life, we enter into relationship through fellowship and communication. This is also true of our relationship with God. A person who never prays may know a lot about God - Only the person who prays can know God. This is the strongest reason to pray and the most rewarding. Listen to the Psalmist in 73:25-26, "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? My flesh and heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." We pray then in order to enter into, maintain, and deepen our fellowship with God.

(4) One's Image Of God: As we accept the need to pray, we see that our image or concept of God greatly affects our understanding of prayer. Dr. William Parker tells of a little boy who was sitting on the floor and drawing on paper. The boy seemed to be so involved in his work that his mother asked, "What are you drawing?" The little boy answered, "I am drawing a picture of God." She responded, "But son, nobody knows what God looks like." The little boy continued to draw and with confidence replied, "Well, they will know what God looks like when I get finished."

Whether we realize it or not, each of us has his or her own image of what God is like in our mind's eye. According to our image of God; we think, we feel, we act, we live and we pray. People see God as: "Not there", "Far away", "Up there", "In the hills from which cometh my help", "In the church", "At the altar", "In the Bible", "Closer than breathing", "Everywhere".

If God is "not there", then we waste our time to even consider prayer. If God is "far away", how loud do we have to pray to get God's attention? If God is "up there", how high do we have to fly in order to communicate with him? If God is in the "hills", what about those of us who live in the low land, such as New Orleans where there is not a hill in sight? If God is only "in the church", do we only get close to him when we go to church? If God is only "at the altar", do we only experience his presence in Holy Communion or at altar calls? If God is only to be found "in the Bible", must we have to have a Bible with us at all times in order to be near God? If God is "closer than breathing" and "everywhere", then we can begin to communicate with him wherever we are. Personalizing the statement, "God is everywhere" means "right where I am God is. God is with me." Jesus said "the Kingdom of God is within you." God is here with us "closer than breathing" for the scriptures tells us that God is the friend that sticketh closer than a brother.

Each of us needs to communicate with God in order to reach our fullest potential as a person. Why did Jesus pray? Because he had needs that he could meet in no other way. Why did the disciples pray? For the same reason. As they witnessed the pray life of Jesus, they somehow realized that the deeper needs of their life could be expressed in no other way. It was through prayer that the emptiness of their lives were filled, their faith strengthened, and their hope renewed. Through prayer, they were able to reach their full potential as human beings and so can we.

There is a hymn which speaks to the meaning of prayer. "Lord, what a change within us one short hour spent in your presence will prevail to make, what heavy burden from our bosoms take, what parched grounds refreshed as with a shower! We kneel, and all around us seems to tower, we rise and all the distant and the far, stands forth in sunny outline, brave and clear. We kneel, how weak, we rise, how full of power! Why, therefore, should we do our selves this wrong, or others, that we are not always strong. That we are ever overborne with

care, that we should ever weak or heartless be, anxious or troubled when with us is prayer, and joy, and strength, and courage with Thee."

There are times when we do not feel God's presence. What do we do then? During those times when I do not feel God's presence, my prayer goes something like this, "Lord, even though I do not feel you near me at this moment, I accept the fact that you are, so I am going to live my life this day on the basis of your promise to be with me." I have come to discover that in expressing my honest feeling of aloneness that God's presence becomes for me, once again, a reality.

You may be thinking, "I can see the need of prayer, but how do I pray?" As in most of our learning, we learn by doing. You may learn the techniques of playing baseball by studying a book on baseball, but you will never learn to play baseball until you get on the field and make the attempt. This is not to say that the study of theory or techniques is of no value. It is frequently helpful and sometimes essential, but it is not sufficient by itself. Some skills are required almost entirely by practice: typing, playing baseball, driving a car. This is undoubtedly true of the most important way of learning to pray. Prayer is learned in the school of practice.

Prayer may be words, thoughts, or images. Prayer can express feeling of inspiration, devotion, and affirmation. Our prayers are communication with God, but also prayers are closely associated with autosuggestion. Dr. Byrd's experiments show that prayer has elements beyond autosuggestion. Prayers for healing can create an attitude where healing can take place. This is true whether the prayer is for yourself or others. A prayer I often pray while walking, driving, or just contemplating is, "God's love, joy, peace, and health feels my body, mind, and spirit."

Barbara Von Froggle, a psychology teacher, said that psychologist agree that a person's thoughts affect the body. "We know that the brain releases chemicals. More than two hundred of these are mood-altering. So what you think you do produce in your brain chemically. Taking that medical base, I believe, when you pray, there is a balancing which takes place in the body. You relax, the Holy Spirit has a power of its own that relaxed you and makes you function as God intended."

Our prayer should be affirmations of what we are praying to experience. A lack of affirmations creates a negative attitude which diminishes the effect of one's prayers. The lack of affirmations was a cause for the failure of the Random Prayer Group. "Their form of prayer was negative as well as in complete violation of definite instruction to pray, 'believing ye have you received and ye shall receive.' That promise was fulfilled because as they reiterated their unhappy symptom, holding them directly in the focus of their minds, reaffirming them, then hold them firmly in place. Negative prayer produced negative results."

The Random Prayer group members were often holding their unhappy symptoms directly in the focus of their attention. Over and over they declared they were unhappy, suffering, sinful, and unworthy. As they focused on their problems instead of their solutions, they got what their pray focused on. They went right on being unhappy, ill, sinful, just as they had been in past. "It is done unto us as we believe." Their words may have requested change, healing, renewal; but their minds focused on their problems.

In our prayers of affirmation, may we learn to see ourselves as we desire to be.. As we continue to hold this image in our minds, we re-emphasize it. We tend to experience the images we hold in our mind.

In her book, How To Manage Stress; Heal Yourself And Be Whole Again, Lou Coffey-Lewis states that we do not have to shout, demand, or be dramatic in our prayer. Simply ask with childlike faith and trust and your prayers will be answered.

Another element of effective prayer is to pray with the belief that the answer is already there before you even see the evidence of it. Give thanks for the answer before you have experienced it. To give thanks and know without doubt that God has already answered your prayers take a great deal of faith and trust.

Pray as if talking to a close personal friend. Believe that God hears and loves you and let His loving response come to you. God's answer may not always come in the way you expected, but it will come.

When we pray, we must not stop thinking. The mind is the connection link between God and the individual. Prayer should have an element of creative thinking. Emersom said, "Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view." Prayer can not help us unless it helps us to change or control our thoughts for as we think in our heart, that is what we are. Change your thoughts and you change your experience.

(5) Guidelines For Effective Prayer: (Based on Parker and St. John Techniques)

1. Recognize a God of love and meditate on God's love and your relation to him.

2. Understand that God desires healing, wholeness, and abundant life for each person.

3. Release any negative aspects of your life: insecurity, incompetence, anger, guilt, fear, hate, etc.

4. In time of prayer and throughout the day hold positive, healthful, wholesome thoughts and images that are in line with God's love.

5. When praying, believe that you have received the help you have requested and act as if you have received it.

6. In prayer recognize others as in the circle of God's love also and pray for their well-being.

7. Spend time in silence and allow a strong feeling of victory, peace, and serenity to feel your being.

8. Go forth with hopeful expectation. It may be helpful to know that God isn't so much concerned with our saying the right things as He is with us saying the real thing. To share with God our feeling and what is on our minds is heard by God just that way no matter how much we may stumble for words to express it. St. Paul in his letter to the Romans (8:26-20) put it this way, "We do not even know how we ought to pray, but through our inarticulate groans the Spirit himself is pleading for us, and God who searches our utmost being knows what the Spirit means."

Dr. R.D. "Sean" Longacre shares this story about his daughter Binkey. This incident occurred when she was just a little girl. Dr. Longacre went to Binkey's room to tell her, "good night", When he opened the door, she was on her knees by the bed. He heard her praying, "Dear God, A,B,C,D,E,F..." She went throughout the alphabet three times and said, "Amen."

As she got up from her knees, she saw her dad who said, "Binkey, what are you doing?" She replied, "Well you see daddy, I'm not old enough to know all the words yet, so I just keep saying the letters because God will put the words together for me." What a prayer! What Faith!

(7) Luke's Case History: At the request of a patient, I was called to the Emergency Room at Methodist Hospital. I arrived to find a very disturbed man. Luke was a drifter who had taken an overdose of drugs. When I went to his room and introduced myself, he began to cry. With tears running down his face, he said to me, "Why doesn't God love me? I have tried so hard to do what is right, but something always happens to make me go wrong." We talked for awhile about his life and what got him to this point in time. He talked about wanting to experience God's love, presence and peace. He said, "Chaplain, will you pray for me?"

I took his hand and said, "Now just let you eyes close and begin to relax. In the Psalms, David wrote, 'Be still and know that I am God.' St. Paul wrote to the Romans, "And in the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for when we do not know how to pray as we should, the Spirit intercedes for us with groaning to deep for words." God hears you Luke, even when you do not know what words to say."

(8) The Little Fish In Search Of Water: A little fish was swimming near the edge of the river and he heard a teacher speaking to his students. As the teacher and the students were sitting on the banks of the river, the little fish could hear the teacher tell his students, "Water is absolutely necessary for life. Without water, we would perish in a few days." The little fish thought, "If what the man said is true, I better find some of that precious substance called 'water' or I shall die in a few days."

The little fish found other fish and asked them where he could find water, but none of them knew where he could find water. From stream to stream, the frightened fish searched for this life-sustaining water. The little fish found the wisest fish in the river and said, "Please, where can I find the precious substance called 'water' that will give my life." "Waters" replied the wise fish. "You were conceived and born in water. Water is your environment, water supports your very life. You are surrounded by water."

You ask, "Where is God?" You are surrounded by God's loving spiritual presence right now. You are conceived in it. You were born in it and your life is sustained by it. You are immersed in God's loving presence. You can now feel his presence all about you as the little fish felt the water all about him.

(9) In The Midst Of The Storm: I was quite for several seconds to give Luke time to let the story of the little fish sink into his subconscious. Now, Luke, use your imagination and put yourself in this story that I tell you: Now with your eyes closed let this story of the disciple in the midst of the storm speak to you the message you are ready to hear. Just imagine that you have been with Jesus all day and he has been teaching from the boat because there were so many people there to hear him. Jesus concludes his message and needs a rest so he tells you and the other disciples to sail to the other side. As the boat set sail for the other side, Jesus lies down and goes to sleep. You and the rest of the company are in no hurry so you decide to do some fishing. It is a terrific day and you have a big catch of fish. All of you are very happy and excited. Meanwhile the gentle waves rocked the boat back and forth, back and forth which allowed Jesus to sleep soundly.

Almost without warning the sky turns black and the winds began to blow. The storm winds intensified and the waves rock the boat even harder. Lightening struck the water near the boat and the boat rocks and tosses as water leaps over the side of the boat. You are afraid that the boat will sink.

As you use your imagination, let that storm on the Sea of Galilee represent any storm that may be going on in your personal life. It may be that you are in the storm of physical pain, of illness, or injury. It could be a financial storm. Do you feel like the disciple. Can you cry out, "Wake up Jesus? Don't you care about us?"

Jesus responded to the cries of the disciples by reassuring them of his presence. "Peace

be still, I am with you." When the disciples heard those words, the heart of each disciple began to grow calm. At almost the same time, it was as if the storm was listening for the storm itself became calm.

If you listen now you can hear Jesus say, "Peace be still, I am with you." Peace can come to you with or without a change in your circumstances. In the Bible, the word "peace" never simply means just the absence of trouble or discard. When Jesus comes to us and speaks "Peace be still, I am with you," he is offering the gift of his presence - not just to resolve disharmony, but also to bring us the gift of meaning.

When the cold, black winds of pain, sorrow, illness, injury, financial set backs, or emotion upset blow, there is calm and comfort in the presence of Jesus. When the storm of doubt seeks to uproot the very foundation of faith, there is the presence of Jesus.

No, you are not on the Sea of Galilee, but you feel the winds of the storm and perhaps you are questioning your resources to cope with the situation. The storm in your life may be caused by unrealized dreams, dashed hopes, impairment of health, domestic difficulties, tension on the job, insecurity of position, inadequate finances or conflicts with family or friends.

When the storm of life comes we want to cry out, "Wake up Jesus. Don't you care about us." As we express our need, Jesus comes to us saying, "Peace be still, I am with you," and we experience his presence with us to calm the storm. When the uncertain winds of anxiety blow, there is a steady safety in the presence of Jesus. When the harsh winds of illness or injury blow, there is calm and comfort in the presence of Jesus. When the cold, bleak winds of sorrow and grief blow, there is peace and security in the presence of Jesus. I am not saying that Jesus is a magic cure, but He is with us to either still the storm or help us cope with the storm. To experience the presence of Jesus is to experience peace in the midst of the storm. May you experience that peace today. "In Jesus name, Amen."

With the "Amen", he thanked me and said, "Do you want to know what meant most to me?" I responded, "Yes, please tell me." He said, "You touched me."

I saw Luke the next day before he was discharged and he looked like a different person. He said, "That was an unusual prayer you prayed yesterday. I don't remember ever hearing a prayer like that before. You made me a part of the prayer. I was living the prayer. It seemed like I was in the boat with Jesus during the storm. Thank goodness Jesus woke up and said, "peace be still." How is Luke doing now? I don't know for I have not seen him since his discharge from Methodist Hospital.

(10) Mahatma Gandi's Prayer: I conclude this chapter with a story about Mahatma Gandi who lead India to independence. Louse Fisher, who was Gandi's friend and biographer, wrote of visiting Gandi. He writes that he saw only one decoration on the mud walls of his hut; a black and white print of a painting of Jesus with the inscription, "He is our peace." Mr. Fischer asked Gandi about it and he responded, "I am a Christian, and a Hindu, and a Moslem, and a Jew." This is a parable of God's love and even though it may be difficult to attain: may we never be too narrow to admire it when it flashes across our horizons. Gandi once wrote, "In the midst of death, life persist; in the midst of untruth, truth persists; in the midst of darkness, light persists; hence I gather that God is life, truth, and love. He is love. He is the supreme Good."