Prayer may be conceptualised as a simple ritual through which a person develops their thoughts and relationship with a Deity (Janssen, Hart and den Draak, 1990), which forms the centre of all religious beliefs (Brown, 1994). A survey by Foster (1992) of world religions and the usage of prayer suggested at least 21 different forms of prayer, while others have suggested over 100 categories of prayer in common usage (Richards and Hildebrand, 1990). In the most common usage, prayer consists of thanksgiving, confession, petition, adoration, and intercession. The prayer consists of three main parts: an introduction involving some glorification to the Deity in the form of addressing the Deity as our superior, e.g. ‘Great Spirit’, ‘Father God’, ‘Divine Father. The middle section details the prayer's main purpose, e.g., petition for guidance, wisdom in a meeting or intercessory petition for healing. Then the ending, which often includes some humble declaration of the Deity's omnipotence, as in some effort at ingratiation, e.g., ‘we trust in your wisdom, ‘we call in your name. Western tradition of prayer then typically uses ‘Amen’ to end and express trust in the power of God to make good on the prayer (Magee, 1981). Prayers in other organised religions also contain a declaration of the Deity's omnipotence; for example, in Sikhism, prayers end with the declaration ‘Wahe Guru’, meaning literally ‘…there is only one God.
Recently, questions have been raised as to whether this approach to prayer, to petition favour from the Deity or to request intercession, is the correct usage of prayer. Braden (2016), in the book ‘Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer, challenges this traditional convention and proposes that it is the nature of the ‘Intention’ that holds the power of the transformation being sought. An example of the Native American approach to prayer is to pray for what is sought as if it has already manifested. Braden suggests that the uncanny success rate of the Native American rain prayer is not because ‘they ask for rain’ but because they pray ‘rain’. In essence, the prayer becomes an affirmation that Braden suggests interacts with an all-pervading intelligence, and as such, we become co-creators with nature. So, the universe responds to our intentions as we frame them in our prayers. In other words, if we pray, ‘I need to be healed, this will be manifested not as being ‘healed’ but in a constant cycle of ‘needing to be healed!
Interestingly, this approach isn’t new, and reference can be seen in the biblical text of Mark 11:24, as a teaching of Jesus: “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours”. Likewise, examples can also be seen within the Spiritualist religion. For example, during the period given for healing, the prayer for healing often follows the instruction to the congregation members “to imagine those sick before needing the healing”. Isn’t this simply setting the intention and co-creating the manifestation of the desired effect as if it has already happened?
As well as enabling the individual to develop their relationship with their Deity, prayer has also been shown to benefit both physical and mental health and improve the individual's quality of life (Bradshaw and Kent, 2017). Boelens et al. (2009) conducted a study with individuals suffering from depression and anxiety symptoms in an office setting. Splitting the office workers into two groups, Boelens found that the individuals that were given six weekly 1-hour prayer intervention sessions showed significant improvement in depression and anxiety symptoms; compared to workers that did not receive the prayer sessions. These effects also seem not limited to office workers but have been found to reduce death anxiety in patients with terminal cancer and were effective in improving the mental health of these patients (Hajabadi, Ebrahimi and Farhadi, 2020). Likewise, the benefits of prayer are not limited to benefiting psychological symptoms but also benefit symptoms of the physical disease, including the management of pain (Illueca and Doolittle, 2020).
However, the literature also uncovers something of interest in that prayer's efficacy is associated with the individual’s attachment to God (Bradshaw and Kent, 2017) and not solely through the communication of prayer. Perhaps, the individual’s attachment to God through establishing a personal relationship with God facilitates a substantial degree of trust and expectation within the individual. That brings about the manifestation in a similar way as Braden suggests the prayer should assume that what is sought has already been manifested. This arguably demonstrates the importance for all individuals to understand the nature of prayer and invest time in establishing a relationship with God in whatever form resonates with the individual.
Only time will tell whether individuals will consider this advice in a growing secular society. But possible hope comes from the ONS (2011) census that found the growing secularisation is not due to individuals having no spiritual beliefs. But instead, illustrative of the decline in attendance at orthodox church services. 70% of Millennials regarded themselves as not religious but, at the same time, as being ‘spiritual’, which introduces a dichotomy for traditional religions to overcome, if they wish to encourage this age group to join their church. So, the emphasis moving away from religion and upon the spiritual nature of humankind suggests there is still hope for society to discover once again the power that prayer affords every individual and is part of our spiritual heritage.
Boelens, P.A. et al. (2009) ‘A Randomized Trial of the Effect of Prayer on Depression and Anxiety, The International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, 39(4), pp. 377–392. doi:10.2190/PM.39.4.c.
Braden, G. (2016) Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer: The Hidden Power of Beauty, Blessing, Wisdom, and Hurt. Hay House, Inc.
Bradshaw, M. and Kent, B.V. (2017) ‘Prayer, Attachment to God, and Changes in Psychological Well-Being in Later Life’:, Journal of Aging and Health [Preprint]. doi:10.1177/0898264316688116.
Hajabadi, N.R., Ebrahimi, R. and Farhadi, S. (2020) ‘The Relationship between Frequency of Prayer and Death Anxiety in Cancer Patients.’ Indian Journal of Forensic Medicine & Toxicology, 14(3), pp. 2163–2167.
Illueca, M. and Doolittle, B.R. (2020) ‘The Use of Prayer in the Management of Pain: A Systematic Review, Journal of Religion and Health, 59(2), pp. 681–699. doi:10.1007/s10943-019-00967-8.
Janssen, J.A.P.J., Hart, J.J.M. and den Draak, C. (1990) Praying as an individualised ritual. Rodopi.
Magee, J. (1981) ‘Reality and prayer: A guide to the meaning and practice of prayer.
Richards, C. and Hildebrand, L. (1990) ‘Prayers that prevail’, Tulsa, OK: Victory House [Preprint].