RELEASED from a labor camp after serving a thirteen-year sentence, Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky flung himself into the snow and refused to continue when his escorts tried to confiscate a book of the psalms from the Bible. In an interview he recounted, ``I said I would not leave the country without the Psalms, which helped me so much. I lay down in the snow and said, `Not another step.''' And he also commented, ``Without religion I could not have withstood all that I suffered.''1 In times of trouble many people are willing to pray and seek help from God. Whether or not they are students of the Bible, they may be aware of Biblical characters who prayed -- Jacob and Daniel in the Old Testament, for instance, and Peter and, of course, Christ Jesus, the best example, in the New Testament. In fact the Bible is itself a record and result of prayer and of man's desire to seek God's presence.
Still, many wonder how it's possible to know for sure that prayer or reading the Bible does any good. It would, of course, be hard to prove that prayer, the psalms, or the power of religion is what sustained Shcharansky or indeed sustains anyone in any circumstance. Most of us know of people who seldom show any interest in prayer or God and seem to get by. But when the chips are down they may ask a brother, cousin, or friend, ``Would you pray for me?'' Then if things get better, prayer may be given a little credit. Or maybe not.
In some ways, that hardly matters. Christ Jesus taught that we should do to others as we would have them do to us. Thus we can recognize that specific prayer, even about a general situation, is a compelling response to human needs. Such prayer is a universal way of communicating and of caring for others.
For many people, prayer is an ordinary part of each day, as natural as waking up or taking nourishment. For Christian Scientists it's usual to start the morning by affirming the presence of God, who is omnipotent and loving, and by identifying man as spiritual, as the beloved child of God. Prayer keeps our inner vision and priorities in line with solid spiritual values. In our doing this, in consciously trying to let what is done, said, and felt be prompted by what God is and knows, and by a desire to express man's basic spiritual individuality, the day goes better. This prayer prepares us to face challenges, somewhat like a pianist who makes sure his practicing is done conscientiously. When it is, the performance or teaching has more authority and poise, and fewer mistakes.
This can sound simplistic or unremarkable coming during a period of comfortable living that may have few challenges. But thinking people are ready to question: ``What good does prayer do when there are terrible things happening to our world and people we may or may not know are suffering. Suppose you yourself are in real trouble -- what does prayer prove?''
The question can, and should, be asked. But the answer doesn't really come from theological debate. The power of prayer is witnessed in lives, in healing and restoration that do not lend themselves to hasty headline summation or materialistic analysis.
In the Bible for instance, Jesus' disciple Peter was imprisoned for his Christian teaching and healing. Yet he found the doors of the prison open and his bonds loosed as a direct result of prayer.2 Such incidents are representative of the effect of faith, which the Psalmist recognized when he said: ``The Lord will command his lovingkindness in the daytime, and in the night his song shall be with me, and my prayer unto the God of my life.... I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.''3 Nor is it unusual to find people today in all parts of the world, and indeed from diverse backgrounds, experiencing practical comfort from such prayer.
As one who prays daily, I have experienced more spontaneous affection as a result of drawing closer to God, the Father and Mother of all. In fact, for three generations our family also has solved tough personal relationship problems, overcome losses in the great Depression, and had a consistent record of physical healings as a result of prayer and following Christ Jesus' example of claiming man's unity with God.
The answer to the other side of the question ``How do you prove prayer works?'' is shown for me by the fact that when I don't pray, things too easily come apart. I wouldn't dream of not relying on prayer. As with most Christian Scientists, our family members have often witnessed the truth of Mary Baker Eddy's4 statement in Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, ``The scientific unity which exists between God and man must be wrought out in life-practice, and God's will must be universally done.''5 Seeing how prayer and God's power restore health and harmony to the body, to family life, and to business responsibilities, why would we not trust Him?
1The New York Times, February 13, 1986. 2See Acts 12:1-17. 3Psalms 42:8, 11. 4Mrs. Eddy is the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science. 5Science and Health, p. 202. BIBLE VERSE Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord. Psalm 119:1