Is prayer good for your health?

Image © 2012 healingherald.org

Recently I was reading an article in the Guardian. Maybe that was where I went wrong. After all, the Guardian isn’t known for its Christian outlook 🙂

However, this particular article (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2012/jun/18/christian-doctor-lucky-not-struck-off) was written in response to the investigation into the conduct of Dr Richard Scott, the Christian GP who discussed his faith with a patient in an apparently “inappropriate” way. In it, Robert Winston sets out the scientific wisdom of Leanne Roberts of the Southwalk diocesan office who has conducted a survey of 8000 patients, to show that whether you are prayed for or not, you are just as likely to die.

I find this mildly amusing, because when Jesus prayed for his patients, he had about a 98% sucess record of healing them completely. (The 2% is the time when he took 2 efforts at healing to make a point – see Mark 8:24). So there – prayer worked for him. And it worked for Peter, who prayed in Jesus’ name to heal the lame man (Acts 3:6), and Paul, known for resurrecting a youth who fell asleep out of a window and died because he got so bored by the sermon  (Acts 20:9). If it worked for them, it could work for us.

I confess to being a charismatic Christian, which means not only do I wave my hands in worship services whilst trying to sing along to tunes my parents claim are unsingable, but I believe the Holy Spirit has the power to heal people. Sometimes physically, sometimes spiritually, sometimes just by teaching them something new. But I also have Christian friends who have felt slightly miffed by talking to Christian doctors, who have been a bit too keen on recommending prayer at the end of a consultation, when they say there is not much else that they can think of that can be done.

I don’t know enough about Dr Richard Scott (other than that he worked at an explicitly Christian Bethesda healing centre in Margate) to judge how appropriate he was in his comments to his patient.

But I do get annoyed with atheists in the media (especially the Guardian) who seem to keep harping on about the “inappropriateness” of Christian prayer and medical healing having anything to do with each other. Yes, we all know that atheists and Dawkinsites like to portray prayer as wishful thinking, faith as a delusion, religion as a dangerous malady and good old secular stoic psychology as the answer to all human problems.

In particular I get annoyed with that breed of secular psychiatrists who actually do think Christianity is a problem for those with mental health issues, because, yes, the Bible does talk about sin, and guilt. It says we have all sinned (no-one is perfect), but Jesus died for us and forgives us completely. And this gives us hope. It gives me hope of knowing I am an adopted son of God, loved unconditionally, made to praise God in heaven eternally. God brings me power, healing, and strength. Not that my life is always easy – but I rest securely on the promises of God. And what do the gurus of atheistic philosophy have to offer those who are struggling, and in need? Not much, it would seem. Advice to make the most of this life, and try to find some meaning in it, because this life is all there is. Sounds fairly depressing to me.

I am not a GP. I am not a psychologist. I am a biased Christian, who believes that faith in Jesus Christ brings hope and healing to people. And that prayer does work. So yah-boo-sucks to you, Guardian columnist Robert Winston, with your fancy white coat and big moustache.

Link

After reading a BBC news article on mental health provision in the UK recently “Shocking discrimination in mental health services” (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-18481943), I decided to write a post about our attitudes to mental health in society today. I have known many friends who have received various forms of treatment for various forms of depression. Personally, I was diagnosed with anxiety by my GP a few years ago, and was referred to an NHS service which taught me techniques of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and breathing control which I found very valuable. It was this treatment, along with, I believe, the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in me, that I have been able to make massive progress in dealing with anxiety issues, which affect me now to a far lesser degree and in far fewer challenging circumstances. I used to get nervous sitting in very crowded rooms for long periods of times without suffering anxiety . However, in the past year I have sat in many services and lectures, and led a fair few, without being significantly struck by my anxiety. Indeed, looking back since my anxiety treatment, I can see there are many public events I have attended which would have caused me considerable worry before, that I didn’t even think twice about worrying about this time round. I confess I still felt pretty anxious before singing in a choir of ten at a graduation ceremony in front of about 500 people including my tutors and University officials – but I managed to sing well enough – and I am, after all only human!

So my testimony is a success story. I credit most of the work to God. But I also am very grateful for how I believe he worked through the NHS – enabling the right GP to refer me to the right NHS service that would enable me to receive the proper treatment for my condition. I recognise that I was in the right city at the right time. But I also remember my worries about speaking to my GP about anxiety the first time. I was afraid to book in an appointment – in the end I waited until I was wanting to see the GP about a physical ailment, and only mentioned the anxiety situation at the end of the consultation. At the time I was also undergoing the selection procedure for the Church of England, and I spent sleepless nights worrying about the effect it might have on the process to have a “mental health” referral on my medical record. Fortunately for me, this worry proved to be unfounded, although it did take a trip to London and the reassurance of a second doctor to confirm this to me and the Church of England.

I believe that in recent years, mental health issues are beginning to be more recognised by society as “real” health issues, not just mood swings or conditions that people make up. I hope that our society is not ignoring those with mental health issues. It worries me though that services such as the simple series of 6 classes that treated me might be being squeezed out with the budget cuts. As Christian churches and friends, I believe we can be helping people in this area and encouraging people to seek, where available the appropriate treatment, and I hope that the recent BBC article will help people to

But more importantly, I hope people begin to see that mental health conditions are treatable. They might not always be 100% curable, but there are therapies and medications which enable people to deal with their condition enough to be able to perform their jobs well, and help people do the things they really love doing more frequently. We need to break apart the unhealthy mindset, of those with conditions and those without, that to be afflicted with a mental health condition means an end to successful employment, happiness and enjoyment of life. For me, dealing with anxiety has taught me to learn about myself and to recognise my dependence on God. I no longer see it as the “death sentence over my career” I once believed it to be.