As Dr. Dale Matthews examines the elderly woman sitting in front of him, he notes that her blood pressure is high, and she is complaining of a sinus infection. Rather than simply prescribing more medicines, Matthews chooses a method of treatment that many of his colleagues would consider "radical."

He prays.

The patient's blood pressure immediately drops 20 points. Her sinuses clear, and she starts breathing freely. She begins praising God in the doctor's office. "I have the Lord on my side," she says to an observer. "I praise him every day, and I love my doctor."

Matthews then encourages the woman to keep taking her medicine and writes out several prescriptions. Then, after examining her leg (bruised in a fall), he talks with her for several more minutes, supporting her decision to join the church choir.

"The best thing you can do for your health," he says, "is to keep praising God every day."

On yet another prescription pad, the doctor writes out Colossians 3:17 and hands it to the woman. He hugs her, and the woman beams.

"God bless you, Doctor," she says.

"God bless you, Juanita," Dr. Matthews answers.

Matthews, an internist and associate professor of medicine at the Georgetown University Medical Center in Washington, D.C., is one of a growing number of medical professionals who are discovering the medical benefits of faith and prayer. For centuries, families and individuals facing medical crises have made prayer the bedrock of their experience. What is new is that certain segments in the medical community are beginning scientifically to study the effects of prayer on illnesses and injuries. And they are discovering that there is a growing body of evidence that suggests prayer can be an effective tool for combating illness and disease.

The recent interest in prayer and healing has even spawned a new descriptor: Dr. Larry Burk of Duke University uses the phrase "complementary medicine." Complementary medicine seeks to combine prayer and traditional medical practice rather than pit the two against each other. This is in contrast to "alternative medicine" (anything from yoga and EST to aromatherapy), which has largely been devoid of Christian faith, is frequently steeped in syncretistic beliefs, and often pits itself against traditional medicine.

While alternative medicine has been growing for decades—a report in the New England Journal of Medicine found that in a given year about a third of all Americans use "unconventional medical treatments"—prayer has not been included in many of the more popular discussions and books.

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In the academic world, all that is changing. Foundations, government agencies, teaching hospitals, and universities are now sponsoring numerous studies testing scientific evidence for the efficacy of prayer. This past July, perhaps the most comprehensive symposium ever convened on religion and medicine was held in Leesburg, Virginia. Leading researchers from Georgetown, Duke, and Harvard universities, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Institute for Healthcare Research (NIHR) convened to "stimulate an explosion of research in religion in health." The conference was designed specifically to "determine the viability and mechanism of placing 'the faith factor' into mainstream medical care."

Putting prayer under a microscope
Academics are developing and administering well-designed and -respected studies aimed at establishing a scientifically discernible link between prayer and healing. As one researcher noted, there are really only three options: prayer is a placebo, prayer is intrinsically harmful, or prayer is intrinsically helpful. More and more evidence is supporting the last view.

Byrd's study. The landmark study that began generating new interest was conducted by Randolph Byrd in 1984 and published in 1988. Byrd's objective was to evaluate the effects of intercessory prayer on patients admitted to a coronary care unit. Using a randomized, double-blind protocol for ten months, Byrd studied approximately 400 patients at San Francisco General Hospital. Each entrant was assigned an initial severity score according to likely outcomes: bad, intermediate, or good. One hundred ninety-two patients were entered into the intercessory prayer group while 201 were entered into a control group.

Byrd discovered that the people in the intercessory prayer group ended up with fewer patients suffering from congestive heart failure during recovery, and they had to use fewer diuretics, were less frequently intubated, and experienced fewer cases of pneumonia and cardiopulmonary arrests.

The benefit of Byrd's study was that it used classic methodology for intervention evaluation and avoided many of the design problems found in earlier studies. Byrd's study was also unique in that the prayer offered was directed specifically to the Christian God. Most studies—before and since—have defined prayer more generally.

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Siang-Yang Tan, associate professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary and author of Managing Chronic Pain, points out, however, that while Byrd's study showed a benefit gained through prayer, the study did not establish the superiority of prayer to the God of the Bible since no control groups were used in which the help of other deities were sought. "We can't, on the basis of Byrd's study, say that prayer offered through Jesus is better than a Muslim's prayer offered to Allah," Tan asserts, "but we can suggest that some prayer is better than no prayer."

The value of a chaplain's time. Dr. Elisabeth McSherry chose more than 700 coronary patients admitted to the Brockton/West Roxbury Veterans Affairs Center for a study that examined the effect of chaplains who stayed with patients for a longer period of time. McSherry chose patients who were being treated with some of the most costly and complicated procedures, such as bypass operations, valve replacements, and open-heart surgery.

Patients were randomly assigned to two groups. One group received daily and sometimes lengthy visits from one of two chaplains, averaging about one hour per day. The other patients were given routine contact with chaplains, averaging three minutes a day. The estimated cost of the increased chaplain visits was approximately $100 per patient, but the discharge rate was 1.8 to 2.1 days sooner, saving an average of about $4,000 per case.

Diane Komp, a pediatric hematologist/oncologist with the Yale University School of Medicine, calls this "a great study" because chaplains are usually the first expenditure sacrificed during a budget crisis. But she cautions against using the study specifically to demonstrate the value of prayer since patients may have benefited from the visit as much as from the spiritual exercise. Like Byrd's study, McSherry's raises significant possibilities, but it also leaves many questions unanswered.

The importance of community. Another study has shown that community-offered prayer is more successful than individual prayer or general prayer offered by television evangelists. A study of 4,000 randomly selected elderly people in North Carolina found that older people who attend religious services are both less depressed and physically healthier than those who worship at home—though the study does not stipulate whether those who worship at home are too sick to go to church. The study, reported this past February by Harold Koenig, a Duke University psychiatrist, found both general and specific health benefits of religion and faith.

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"Church-related activity may prevent illness both by a direct effect, using prayer or Scripture reading as coping behaviors, as well as by an indirect effect through its influence on health behaviors," Koenig says.

Koenig discovered that those who watched religious television and who prayed at home did not enjoy the same health benefits as those who actually participated in religious services. "Stress and despair arise from the feeling that you're alone, that there's nothing you can do about a situation," explains Koenig.

Koenig's study constitutes the largest random sample of community-dwelling (as opposed to those in nursing homes or institutions) adults ever conducted. It is also the only study ever to examine the links between three distinct religious behaviors (church service, private prayer, and religious television viewing), social support, and mental and physical health. Its importance is its demonstration that the context of prayer—a caring community, for instance—contributes to its success. But this is also the study's weakness. As Komp asks, "Is it the power of prayer or the power of community that accounts for the difference? Or both?"

What this study does suggest, Komp says, is the need for the growing subculture of Christians who do not attend church to have a communal aspect as an expression of their faith. "I read the admonition in Hebrews 10:25 ('Let us not give up meeting together' [NIV]) as both a medical prescription and a spiritual admonition."

Prayer as a coping mechanism. A 1991 study at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, often referred to as the "Saudia study" after the lead researcher, examined the use of prayer as a direct coping mechanism in patients undergoing cardiac surgery. Researchers examined 100 patients awaiting coronary artery bypass surgery. Ninety-six indicated that they used prayer as a coping mechanism to deal with the stress of cardiac surgery. While four did not pray, two of these had other persons praying for them.

The Saudia study found that 97 patients considered prayer to be very helpful, with 70 percent giving it the highest possible rating on the Helpfulness of Prayer scale. "This study revealed that prayer was perceived as a helpful coping mechanism," according to Dr. David Larson, president of the nihr, a nonprofit organization established in 1992 "to conduct and disseminate research investigating the significance of spirituality and religious commitment to health and well-being."

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Doctor Saudia demonstrates that pastors and medical practitioners who can help patients learn to pray (even though some may never have prayed before) can render a great service to their patients.

Prayer and relaxation. A Harvard Medical School study conducted under Dr. Herbert Benson found that repetitive prayer and the rejection of intrusive thoughts results in a specific set of physiologic changes that resemble relaxation. This "relaxation response" is beneficial therapy when treating a number of diseases, including hypertension, cardiac rhythm irregularities, chronic pain, insomnia, infertility, the symptoms of cancer and AIDS, premenstrual syndrome, anxiety, and mild-to-moderate depression.

Benson's findings have been published in a book entitled Timeless Healing, in which he argues for the curative power of belief. "The influence individuals and their minds, emotions, and beliefs can have over their healing is being neglected," Benson says.

To Benson, any form of prayer is as valid as another—prayers to Jesus, praying the rosary, or using a mantra—as long as the person believes in it. Benson takes this one step further, suggesting that the "relaxation response" and "the faith factor" are "not the exclusive domain of the devout. People don't have to have a professed belief in God to reap the psychological and physical rewards of the faith factor." In other words, you don't even have to be sincere. You just have to pray!

Benson's study illustrates the importance of Christian professionals getting involved in the burgeoning debate. The concept and reputed practice of "prayer" is being bandied about in the studies, but its definition is anything but certain. At times "prayer" can be used to refer to meditation, mantra recitation, or supplication. Few studies address the importance of personal supplication to a specific, divine Being—the definition of Christian prayer.

"We have to be careful," Tan summarizes. "No matter how much empirical data you amass, you will never be able to prove that the Judeo-Christian God is the true God. That can only be known through faith. Faith doesn't go against reason (and the studies are showing that), but it goes beyond reason."

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Dr. Matthews is a little more direct: "Scientific knowledge has demonstrated the positive benefits of religion. I can say, as a physician and scientist—not just as a Christian—that, scientifically, prayer is good for you. The medical effects of faith on health are not a matter of faith, but of science."

These positive results do not imply, however, that the studies are without their critics.

Medicine's cultured skeptics
The new convergence between faith and medicine has its critics. Albert Ellis, president of the Institute for Rational Emotive Therapy, has said, "The whole field is off its rocker. These studies should not be taken too seriously." Ellis believes that patients who get better after praying do so because faith bolsters their immune system, not because a personal God actually intervenes. Echoing Sigmund Freud, Ellis has quipped that religion is "equivalent to irrational thinking and emotional disturbance."

One of the biggest blocks to a new synthesis is that, statistically, health-care professionals tend to value faith far less than their patients. One survey found that while 72 percent of the public agreed with the statement "My whole approach to life is based on my religion," only 33 percent of psychologists and 39 percent of psychiatrists agreed.

A February 1996 study conducted for USA Weekend found that 79 percent of those polled believe spiritual faith can help people recover from illness, injury, or disease. The same poll found that 56 percent say their faith has already helped them recover from illness, injury, or disease. While 63 percent believe it is good for doctors to talk to patients about faith, only 10 percent say a doctor has talked to them about their faith as a factor in physical health. Respondents from the South had the highest incidence of doctor-initiated discussion; patients from the Northeast reported the lowest.

After spending several sessions with a "secular" psychiatrist, one of Doctor Matthews's current patients told herself, "I could do this for the rest of my life and never make any progress." Even though she did not consider herself religious, she found Matthews's attention to the spiritual dimension extremely helpful. "If it weren't for the spiritual progress, I probably wouldn't be alive today."

All of Matthews's patients who were interviewed for this article testified that he was the first doctor who actually took the time to pray with them, and even though some of them did not consider themselves "religious" when they started treatment with Matthews, all of them appreciated his spiritual emphasis.

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David Larson laments the reluctance of the medical profession even to consider prayer or religion as part of the profession. Larson cites a 700-page report, "Spontaneous Remission," which lists multiple cases of terminally ill patients who have been healed outside of traditional medical intervention. "In the medical profession, these events are euphemized as 'spontaneous remissions' or left unexplained. Unfortunately, the patients' faith hasn't been part of the research," Larson states.

"The clinical neglect, mishandling, and misinterpretation of the beneficial health effects of religious commitment, including prayer, have kept the application of these (positive) findings from being fully realized in the medical arena," Larson continues. "If a new finding arises, the scientific community has an ethical obligation to examine it as potential scientific progress to be either supported or refuted in time through proper study. They must be on the lookout for what works and respond accordingly."

Pioneer practitioners
Many practitioners are pioneering their own approaches to incorporating faith and prayer into their practice of medicine. Without many precedents or models, many doctors are struggling to deal with the ethical and logistical issues of helping their patients discover the curative powers of prayer.

Matthews approaches the subject with sensitivity toward a patient's receptivity. While surveying a patient's social history, Matthews softly probes for evidence of spiritual belief, looking for cues in patients' answers and comments that suggest God is a part of their lives. A simple, "Thank the Lord" or "Please, God" from the patient can be enough to open a door. If no evidence of faith can be discerned, Matthews does not pursue it. When a patient is interested, however, Matthews will go as far as actually praying with a patient, as he did with Juanita.

"Every patient is at a different place," Matthews explains. "A one-size-fits-all approach simply won't work. To pray with the man I just saw, for instance, would be too much for him at this moment, but we'll get to that place at a later time, I'm sure." Instead of praying with that patient, Matthews encouraged him to pray alone before engaging in stress-inducing activity.

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"My job, ultimately, is to care for a person's health. That's the role society has given us. I'm not called to be a clergyman, although I have, on occasion, prayed with people for salvation. When I put this white coat on, society expects that my role is to focus on health. I think the fear many have is that Christian doctors may begin focusing on 'eternal' medicine instead of 'internal' medicine, so I consider myself a practitioner of internal medicine for all plus eternal medicine for those who have ears to hear."

William Haynes, a senior attending physician at the Medical Center at Princeton, describes the gradual synthesis he achieved as a praying physician in his book A Physician's Witness to the Power of Shared Prayer. He describes three stages in his journey. The first was simply telling patients who were being discharged that he had prayed for them during their recovery. "This took great courage on my part," Haynes writes, "because of the unorthodoxy of prayer as an adjunct to the standard medical treatment. Just the thought of mentioning it was frightening."

Haynes's second stage was to tell patients who were still in the hospital that he was praying for them nightly. This was a little more difficult as he would have to face these patients again the very next day. The third stage on his journey was reached several months later when he began asking patients if he could pray for them on the spot. "At last," Haynes writes, "I felt more complete in my role as a Christian physician. The uneasiness had vanished; the strength and peace received by the patients from the Holy Spirit were and are instantly perceptible!"

Haynes has never had a patient refuse or belittle his request, even though he offers to pray with at least two or three patients every day.

In Haynes's experience, instant healings are the exception. Most healings require several sessions of prayer and result in gradual improvement. Although he has witnessed and verified "instant healings," most of these result from healing services where "dozens of people are prayed for, and a few walk away instantly healed."

An apology for prayer
One of the great difficulties in studying the effects of prayer on health is that, as Christians generally recognize, petitionary prayer is not 100 percent effective in securing the precise benefits desired. (See "When Prayer Doesn't 'Work,' " on p. 29.) A few televangelists might make such a claim, but Christian doctors are far less certain.

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"I do not think we can name-it, claim-it," Komp asserts. Komp calls the uncertain nature of curative prayer one of the "mysteries" of faith, pointing out that she will have a "long list of questions" to ask God when she gets her "face-to-face day" in heaven.

But science, by nature, is based on demonstrable results that can be replicated by additional studies. If Prozac really helps depression, the results should be the same, whether it is administered in Chicago or Orlando. If prayer is not certain to be answered in the affirmative, however, can such replication ever be achieved?

On the other hand, no medical treatments are 100 percent effective. "If a child comes in with leukemia," Komp explains, "I know that 90 percent will go into remission within four weeks with vincristine and prednisone. I won't withhold these drugs because of the 10 percent who won't respond. The failure to meet 100 percent isn't a stumbling block to a medical practitioner."

If group studies continue to yield the results they have—that, when taken as a whole, groups that are specifically prayed for tend to do better than groups that are not-then scientists will be forced at least to concede that some prayer is generally preferable to no prayer.

This, however, raises a potentially troublesome ethical objection: How could a Christian doctor ever knowingly withhold prayer from a control group? And how can a researcher be certain that members of a control group are not being prayed for by somebody outside the study? Such unanswered questions are to be expected in a field of study that remains very much in its infancy.

The other major question facing researchers is whether prayer in general, or Christian prayer in particular, is the primary basis of healing. Apart from Byrd's study (for which there was no control group for "non-Christian" prayer), prayer has not generally been defined along Christian lines.

Matthews concedes that while "science has demonstrated that being devout provides more health benefits than not being devout, we haven't shown that being a devout Christian will make you healthier than being a devout Buddhist. Christians, in general, are not healthier than non-Christians."

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As a practitioner, Komp's aim is simply "to invite someone to start a conversation with God. I will leave it with God to keep the conversation going." And Komp has found on more than one occasion that nonbelievers come to faith in Christ after beginning a more general journey toward prayer.

Combined modality therapy
The challenge facing Christian practitioners today is to find a way to combine the best of prayer and traditional medical practice, allowing them to complement each other. Toward this end, Diane Komp advocates what she calls "combined modality therapy." In traditional medical language, "combined modality" means more than one form of treatment, such as surgery plus radiation. Komp uses the term to mean medical care plus prayer.

As a specialist who works with cancer patients, Komp's experience is that oncologists tend to be more open to the power of prayer than other physicians. "Cancer puts us in touch with our mortality, even though more cancer patients are cured than die," she says. "AIDS is still seen as something that happens to other people, but cancer is metaphoric for our greatest fear."

Because of this, Komp sees medical illness as a gateway to faith. "The diagnosis of cancer has started many patients on a spiritual journey. We see Bibles on bedstands; we see spiritual books that people read, the greeting cards that people send them. Faith is not a taboo subject in the face of cancer."

Benjamin Carson, a leading pediatric neurosurgeon at Johns Hopkins, has found a similar openness in his work with sick children. He often assigns "prayer homework" to parents whose children are about to undergo risky brain surgery.

Matthews says, "There is a growing disillusionment with the limitations of science. Therefore, the possibility exists for the reunion of religion and medicine, the twin traditions of healing, which have been separated for centuries."

William Dempsey, Jr., an emergency department physician in Scranton, adds that doctors "should consult with the clergy for individuals who require greater spiritual intervention just as we would with any specialist. Imagine the effects this could have on managed care, malpractice, and other medical and social issues. The time has come to bring down the wall between science and religion and together work toward resolving much of the suffering that we have seen in the daily lives of our patients."

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Dempsey's suggestion that the medical community should start "consulting" with members of the clergy may gain more momentum as the McSherry chaplain study gains wider notice. More than comforters, members of the clergy may be seen as active participants in the healing process.

Perhaps in anticipation of this, the Christian Medical and Dental Society offers a "Prescribe a Resource" program that allows doctors to write prescriptions for patients who then order resources that provide counsel from a Christian perspective. cmds is hosting seminars to train doctors how to share spiritual principles with patients in an ethical and nonthreatening way.

Health in community
The "new synthesis" must include more than the patient, doctor, and even the clergy, however. The story that develops in the next decade may very well be the importance of community in the role of prayer. What Koenig has found from research, the Reverend James Krings, a chaplain at Saint Mary's Health Center in Saint Louis, Missouri, has found from personal observation: Individual faith is helpful, but a community of faith is even better.

Krings counseled a young woman named Toni who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her physician wanted to schedule an immediate mastectomy, but Toni wanted to visit Krings first. Krings suggested that Toni receive the Eucharist at her church on Sunday, plus a laying-on of hands.

Toni drew desperately needed strength from the church community's response as her illness was made public. Later, she told the church, "Just as Aaron and Joshua [sic] held up the arms of a weary Moses, so you've held me up." As tears filled her eyes, she added, "I sat on the rock of Saint Cronan's as I traveled through my sickness."

What followed was a transformation—not just in Toni's life, but in the life of the church. The transformation is seen in the fact that, since Toni's experience, it has become normal for people at Saint Cronan's who are facing hospitalization or major medical tests to request anointing and prayer.

"Church members are much more public about their illness," Krings notes, "and Toni's experience seemed to give everybody permission to be ministers to each other rather than wait for the 'professional clergy' to meet their needs. Our people always had the ministerial instincts, but Toni's going public set them all free to use them.

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"The parish has never been the same," Krings adds. "It's the single healthiest parish I've ever seen, because the whole array of human experience is welcome, including sickness and funerals."

Toni showed dramatic improvement and enjoyed periods of remission. After a number of months, the cancer came back, was defeated once again, and then returned for yet a third and final time, eventually taking Toni's life. Even so, Toni gained several additional years of life, and the parish gained a radically different orientation toward fellowship, support, and love.

A community may be even more important when prayer does not result in healing. Matthews reminds us, "Jesus' prayer in Gethsemane, that God would take the cup of suffering from him, was answered with a no." Patients and family particularly need the support of a believing community when it looks like nothing but death will take the illness away.

This lack of certainty may explain many church leaders' ambivalence about openly and publicly engaging in healing prayer, but that is precisely why the church needs to interact with the current interest in spirituality and medical practice. Theological perception is essential to understanding the practice and purpose of prayer.

"Church communities should be less afraid of illness," Krings asserts, "including cancer and heart disease. It should be a normal part of church life for people to be prayed over. Don't make it a spectacular event, just a normal part of an average Sunday as we celebrate … the body of Christ. The power of prayer is in the community."

The church's two extremes
While medicine is becoming more open to the possibility that prayer heals, the community of faith, ironically enough, has not always been so open. Today, two radically different faith perspectives challenge Christian physicians, according to Komp, the author of Images of Grace. Both extremes make treatment more difficult.

The first extreme is what Komp calls "hyper-charismatics." In these circles, Komp has witnessed Christians who avoid traditional medical care for fear it would rob God of the credit for healings. The other extreme is what Komp calls hyper-dispensationalism. "This view doesn't allow God much more room than what an agnostic would expect. They don't allow God to do the unexplainable today."

"I have seen fewer healings than charismatics claim, and more than dispensationalists presume. When people face serious health problems, the hyper-charismatics do them a disservice by not allowing them the best that medicine has to offer; hyper-dispensationalists do them a disservice by presenting them with a God who does nothing outside of medical science. I like to go by that well-known maxim, 'Work as if everything depends on you, and pray as if everything depends on God.'"

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From Komp's experience, there is a higher mortality rate among children from charismatic families who hold an extreme position than there is among children from other types of Christian families, due to their "higher rate of noncompliance with medical therapy."

"A lack of interaction with the medical community can lead to death," she warns.

With those who come from rigid dispensationalist churches, Komp has seen a number of adherents turn to New Age approaches and resources, "trying to fill the vacuum."

To avoid the two extremes, pastors and churches must teach a "middle ground" approach that does not elevate prayer to a guaranteed formula or reduce it to a wishful thinking exercise that does not actually move the hand of God. This preserves the mystery of prayer, recognizing that not everybody will be healed, and it also avoids the hyper-faith element, which holds that faith itself heals, and that the absence of healing is evidence of a lack of faith.

Finding middle ground
This "middle ground" approach is now being demonstrated in a study being conducted by Matthews of Georgetown. After observing the strengths and weaknesses of other studies, Matthews has been able to design and secure funding for what may be the most significant study yet on the practice of Christian prayer and healing. His study will focus on rheumatoid arthritis because it is common—with over one million people suffering from the ailment—and it has obvious physical deformities and symptoms that can be readily observed.

The results of the study will not be published until the spring of 1998, but the methods of the study are intriguing. Matthews has adopted a model of prayer that views prayer more like "surgery" than "medicine." In Byrd's study, patients did not know if they were in the control group or not, so the prayer study resembled a "pill and placebo" approach similar to many drug studies. In Matthews's study, in addition to traditional medical treatment, trained Christian pray-ers from Francis MacNutt's Christian Healing Ministries are offering spiritual counsel, leading patients through forgiveness, renouncing the occult, and then engaging in a laying-on of hands and prayer.

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This approach more closely resembles a "surgery of the soul" than simply giving the patient a "spiritual pill" (praying at a distance) and seeing if they get better. Matthews was also quite intentional in seeking trained prayers. "It's the difference between being operated on by an intern and a general surgeon," Matthews explains. "I wanted to use senior 'soul' surgeons when it came time to pray. God can heal in any way and through anyone, but God does assign different gifts of healing to certain people."

This model most closely integrates a Christian approach to healing prayer. It holds the future for those Christians eager to build on previous studies—trained physicians and trained prayers working together, using the most advanced techniques of medicine and the most studious and comprehensive methods of prayer. It is a far cry from the circus atmosphere of some healing services that have elicited scorn from modern Christians and scientists, and it clearly suggests a fruitful future for complementary medicine among Christians.

The new horizon
Where does this leave us? The field of complementary medicine is newly emerging, leaving many opportunities for Christian academics, theologians, and physicians to engage their colleagues and to help guide the research in a proper vein.

But while this new interest in faith and medicine has generated some encouraging new possibilities, it has also elicited some potential dangers. As Doctor Tan explains, the "upside" of the new interest is that people are becoming more open to religion. The "downside" is that they are becoming open to all religion, including New Age varieties.

Tan adds that Christian engagement—from the pulpit and from the physician—are crucial. "We have to be very careful that we don't end up using God—and prayer—because of the positive effects. We must be wary of trivializing God."

We also need to be careful we do not convey the message that our faith needs to be validated by science. Academic studies cannot make or break the faith of the church, nor should they unduly influence the faith of an individual.

"The truth of faith and the truth that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life transcends the truth of science," notes Matthews. "If a study showed that Elvis worship was more beneficial to lowering blood pressure than Christianity, I wouldn't change my belief in Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can save me from my sins and give me eternal life. That's far more important than lowered blood pressure."

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In God's economy, where character is valued over comfort, pain can sometimes do us more good than healing. But clearly, this emerging interest in spiritual answers to physical problems presents a new opportunity for Christians facing the twenty-first century.

Gary Thomas is a writer from Manassas, Virginia.

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