There have been several scientific studies on the efficacy of prayer. The Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer (STEP), financed by the John Templeton Foundation, found that prayers had no effect on the recovery of 1,802 patients undergoing coronary artery bypass graft (CABG) surgery.
Patients at six US hospitals were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Group 1 patients received intercessory prayers but were told that they might or might not receive prayers. Group 2 patients did not receive prayers but were told that they might or might not receive prayers. Group 3 patients received prayers and were told that they would receive prayers.
Three different Christian groups were asked to pray for the patients, using only the patients’ first names and the initials of their last names. The Christian participants could pray in whatever way they like; however, they must include the phrase “for a successful surgery with a quick, healthy recovery and no complications” in their prayers.
The authors of the study found that “[i]ntercessory prayer itself had no effect on complication-free recovery from CABG, but certainty of receiving intercessory prayer was associated with a higher incidence of complications”.
Does this mean that prayers are not effective?
In my opinion, all scientific studies on the efficacy of prayers are doomed to failure and there are three reasons for it:
First of all, God should never be put to the test.
Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 6:16)
Secondly, God is not a vending machine that dispenses things on request.
Thirdly, God is not obligated to answer every prayer made to Him.
While it is true that Jesus told us in John 14:13, “And anything that you will ask in my name I shall do for you, that The Father may be glorified in his Son”, God knows what is best for us. God does not always answer our prayers the way we want.
Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? (Matthew 7:7–11)
Not all prayers are answered the way we want. In Luke 22 31–32, we read that Jesus prayed for Simon Peter to stand firm in his faith: “And I have prayed for you that your faith will not fail, and when you are restored, confirm your brothers.”
Jesus’ prayer was not answered the way He wanted; Simon Peter did disown Jesus three times as Jesus predicted: “Before a rooster shall crow, you shall deny me three times.” (Luke 22:61)
I believe in the power of prayer. Praying for others is the easiest way to help others. Nevertheless, it is always up to God whether or not our prayers will be answered and how they will be answered.