In the tapestry of my life, pray is a thread that is woven into every warp and woof. To me, it’s like breathing. I depend on it for hope, direction and wisdom. And for me, like most Americans, it has become a form of therapy. According to a University of Rochester study, over 85% of people turn to prayer when confronted with major illness. They use prayer for strength and healing. That is a higher percentage than for those taking herbs or pursuing alternative healing modalities. (That's at about 40% of US adults by some reckonings.) People are recognizing more and more that prayer works.
It doesn’t matter if you pray for yourself or for others, if you pray to heal an illness or for a change in your life, or if you simply sit in a meditative silence and quiet your mind—the effects appear to be the same. A wide variety of spiritual practices have been shown to alleviate the stresses of life, which are one of the major contributing factors for the onset of disease. Any spiritual practice is also a powerful way to maintain a positive outlook and successfully weather the trials that come to all in life.
The relationship between prayer and health has been the subject of scores of double-blind studies over the past four decades. Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardiovascular specialist at Harvard Medical School and a pioneer in the field of mind/body medicine, discovered what he calls “the relaxation response” that occurs during periods of prayer and meditation. We can affirm with confidence that men who pray are healthier.
Four Important Reasons to Pray
It Makes Us Healthier – Physiological changes occur when we pray. The body’s stress response decreases, the heart rate slows, blood pressure goes down, and our breath becomes calmer and more regular, putting us in a healthier place and bolstering the immune system.
It Builds Relationship - Communication is the lifeblood of any relationship and it's the same in our relationship with God. It is the great desire of God’s heart to have a personal relationship with YOU! We were created for an intimate relationship with God—it's built in—and prayer is our vital role in that relationship.
It Makes a Difference - Imagine that someone in your family has an illness for which the doctor prescribes several types of medication. He or she receives the medicines—and then upon arriving home, only takes one of the medicines prescribed. That would be crazy, wouldn’t it? God, the Master Physician, the All-Knowing, our Loving Father, has given us prayer to assist in times of need. If prayer is prescribed to us by God—as a means of releasing His grace and power into situations—why would we NOT participate in it? Why would we hold back the benefits of prayer and make that critical difference for ourselves and others?
I was a children’s pastor for seven years. A vivid memory I have of that time is when I set forth to help the kids understand that prayer really does make a difference. We decided to do a “test." For eight weeks, we would begin our children’s church program with prayer, kids would raise their hands and submit prayer requests. Our secretary would record them. The next week, we would do the same thing, except that we would read the list from the previous week. I thought it would be good for the kids to see many of their prayers answered over time. I had no idea that the results would be so astonishing! By the end of the eight-week trail, more than 90% of the prayers had been answered and almost all of them were answered in the way the kids had requested. I have often thought it would be a good idea for me to do that for myself and family on an ongoing basis. I bet I would be surprised once again.
It Fulfils Our Destiny - The Lord's Prayer says: Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. [Matthew 6:10] Prayer is not just for times of need. Jesus instructed us to pray always for God’s Will and purposes to be accomplished through us. God's Will for us can only be known; our destiny can only be fulfilled as fruit of that communion.
“At the end of the day, I can end up just totally wacky,
because I’ve made mountains out of molehills. With meditation,
I can keep them as molehills.”
—Ringo Starr, British singer and songwriter, drummer for the Beatles
Some of the most transformative moments of my life have been when I was in a state of meditation and became enlightened as to a direction or a situation in my life. It’s a time when I let go of my own agenda, fears and limitations and seek guidance from God and the scriptures. In contrast to prayer when I am actively engaged in communication with my Creator, meditation is a time of just being quiet and listening.
I remember long walks on dark roads as I contemplated a dark situation I was in, getting reassurance and hope that things would be okay. It was a hard time in my life. I had been in business for myself remodeling a house and had made plenty of mistakes. I was faced with a $150,000 bill from the IRS that I had no way of paying. A family member was facing serious medical issues. The economy was in a slump. I couldn’t sleep, common for me in those days, so I went out walking down that dark road at 3 o’clock in the morning. I was out of ideas and desperate.
As a last resort I did the only thing I had left—I turned to God and asked for help. In humility and great release, I remember thinking, “I am finished. I have destroyed my family. We're going to lose our home and all our dreams. Please God, HELP!”
I don’t know how long I walked that night, but I remember thinking about how God had helped us in the past and reflecting on some personal spiritual experiences that I had in the past. It wasn’t long before I started to feel hopeful and went back to my. We did make it through that time with our finances intact. We were able to remodel that house and made a good profit. I think if it weren’t for that time of meditation, I would have lost all hope.
Many times, meditation has helped me refocus and reenergize on the important things in my life. I also remember sunshiny times and gentle breezes after climbing to a mountaintop, when I would feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude and joy. I now take some time each time I am in the mountains to just sit and enjoy the place—just being in the moment and feeling everything intensely that comes to my senses: the sights, the smells, the sounds, the tastes, and the majesty of the location. It all adds up to the feeling of a powerful presence around me that I would not have experienced if I had not taken the time to meditate.
When I think of meditation, I think of three things: Silence. Stillness. Simplicity. Silence means letting go of thoughts. Stillness means letting go of desires. Simplicity means letting go of self-analysis.
You can meditate multiple times a day, every day. This daily practice may take some time to grow into, and admittedly, I struggle to be consistent with it myself. But be patient—remember Chapter 3—take baby steps. When you give up or get discouraged with your inability to quiet your mind, start again. Check out what’s going on in your community. You may find that a meditation group and a connection with community may help you to develop this discipline. It's a discipline rather than a technique. Start taking some steps. Soon it will get ingrained in your life. Experience is the best teacher. It allows the benefits and fruits of meditation to pervade your mind and all aspects of your life. John Main said that, "Meditation verifies the truths of your faith in your own experience."
I meditate to take the attention off my various outer selves, seeking guidance from God. In the Christian tradition, contemplation is a grace and is a reciprocal work of love. Not surprisingly, then, if we find we become more loving people because of meditating this will express itself in all our relationships, in our work, and in our sense of service, especially to those in need.
"Instead of using medicine, rather, fast a day."
—Plutarch, Greek biographer and essayist
During my fasts, I have had some of the most amazing experiences of my life. Physically—I found that I am more disciplined than I ever thought I could be, and that my body could do things I never imagined. Mentally—I received clarity of thought and rest from a chattering mind. I felt like I was in an altered state during my fasts. Emotionally—I experienced emotions I didn’t know I had, both good and bad. Spiritually—I got tuned into my Creator in a way that was so real and dynamic, words can’t describe it.
I was interested in taking my health and spiritual life to a new level. I started with a one-day fast, then moved to a three-day fast, and progressed from there. The longest fast I have done was 18 days. Please do some research and consult your physician to make sure a fast is right for you. I found Dr. Joel Fuhrman’s book, Fasting and Eating for Health, quite helpful as a guide.
Each time I fasted; it was different—a hard but rewarding experience. I had strong emotional swings—in both directions. One time at about day 12, I was relaxing in a local hot-springs pool when a kid walked by me with a burger and fries on a plate. It was like an inner monster raged up from inside me with a strong desire for that food. It was almost uncontrollable, like Gollum, the devious character in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, who desired the ring of great power. That emotion of hunger for the food and even jealousy and anger toward the innocent kid took me off guard and came from a dark spot inside of me that I had to observe, and obviously, not act upon. Perhaps it was the survival instinct, like the hungry stray dog wanting to pounce on a meaty bone—the hamburger, not the kid!
I felt like this point in my fasting was a time of deep release for me, as those emotions were exposed and dealt with in a healthy way. In the positive direction, I also experienced times of inner peace and spiritual elation that were wonderful and life-changing, with a clear mind and a pain-free and like-new energized body.