Can prayer heal

Could it be possible? Could the prayers of a handful of people help someone — even someone on the other side of the world — facing heart surgery?

A few years back, Roy L. was heading into his third heart procedure — an angioplasty and stent placement. Doctors were going to thread a catheter up a clogged artery, open it up, and insert a little device, the stent, to prop it open. It’s a risky procedure under the best of circumstances. “The risks are the big ones — death, stroke, heart attack,” says his doctor, Mitchell Krucoff, MD, a cardiovascular specialist at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C.

“You’re mighty thankful you came out of it,” Roy tells WebMD

Though he didn’t know it, Roy may have had some help getting through the procedure, some nonmedical help. Later, he learned he was on the receiving end of prayers before, during, and after the procedure — prayers sent from nuns, monks, priests, and rabbis all over the world, with his name attached to them.

“I’m not a church-going man, but I believe in the Lord,” he tells WebMD. “If somebody prays for me, I sure appreciate it.” And he’s doing well now, with his heart problems anyway. The only thing plaguing him presently is the onset of diabetes.

Roy was part of a pilot study looking at the effects of “distant prayer” on the outcome of patients undergoing high-risk procedures.

But did prayers help Roy survive the angioplasty? Did they help ameliorate some of the stress that might have complicated things? Or do a person’s own religious beliefs — our personal prayers — have an effect on well-being? Is there truly a link between mere mortals and the almighty, as some recent neurological studies have seemed to show?

Those are questions that Krucoff and others are attempting to answer in a growing number of studies.

God Grabs Headlines

Research focusing on the power of prayer in healing has nearly doubled in the past 10 years, says David Larson, MD, MSPH, president of the National Institute for Healthcare Research, a private nonprofit agency.


Even the NIH — which “refused to even review a study with the word prayer in it four years ago” — is now funding one prayer study through its Frontier Medicine Initiative. Although it’s not his study, Krucoff says it’s nevertheless evidence that “things are changing.”

Krucoff has been studying prayer and spirituality since 1996 — and practicing it much longer in his patient care. Earlier studies of the subject were small and often flawed, he says. Some were in the form of anecdotal reports: “descriptions of miracles … in patients with cancer, pain syndromes, heart disease,” he says.

” we’re seeing systematic investigations — clinical research — as well as position statements from professional societies supporting this research, federal subsidies from the NIH, funding from Congress,” he tells WebMD. “All of these studies, all the reports, are remarkably consistent in suggesting the potential measurable health benefit associated with prayer or spiritual interventions.”

Wired for Spirituality?

For the past 30 years, Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD, has conducted his own studies on prayer. He focuses specifically on meditation, the Buddhist form of prayer, to understand how mind affects body. All forms of prayer, he says, evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the body, and promotes healing.

Prayer involves repetition — of sounds, words — and therein lies its healing effects, says Benson. “For Buddhists, prayer is meditation. For Catholics, it’s the rosary. For Jews, it’s called dovening. For Protestants, it’s centering prayer. Every single religion has its own way of doing it.”

Benson has documented on MRI brain scans the physical changes that take place in the body when someone meditates. When combined with recent research from the University of Pennsylvania, what emerges is a picture of complex brain activity:

As an individual goes deeper and deeper into concentration, intense activity begins taking place in the brain’s parietal lobe circuits — those that control a person’s orientation in space and establish distinctions between self and the world. Benson has documented a “quietude” that then envelops the entire brain.

At the same time, frontal and temporal lobe circuits — which track time and create self-awareness — become disengaged. The mind-body connection dissolves, Benson says.


And the limbic system, which is responsible for putting “emotional tags” on that which we consider special, also becomes activated. The limbic system also regulates relaxation, ultimately controlling the autonomic nervous system, heart rate, blood pressure, metabolism, etc., says Benson.

The result: Everything registers as emotionally significant, perhaps responsible for the sense of awe and quiet that many feel. The body becomes more relaxed and physiological activity becomes more evenly regulated.

Does all this mean that we are communicating with a higher being — that we are, in fact, “hard-wired” at the factory to do just that? That interpretation is purely subjective, Benson tells WebMD. “If you’re religious, this is God-given. If you’re not religious, then it comes from the brain.”

The Impact of Religion on Health

But prayer is more than just repetition and physiological responses, says Harold Koenig, MD, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at Duke and a colleague of Krucoff’s.

Traditional religious beliefs have a variety of effects on personal health, says Koenig, senior author of the Handbook of Religion and Health, a new release that documents nearly 1,200 studies done on the effects of prayer on health.

These studies show that religious people tend to live healthier lives. “They’re less likely to smoke, to drink, to drink and drive,” he says. In fact, people who pray tend to get sick less often, as separate studies conducted at Duke, Dartmouth, and Yale universities show. Some statistics from these studies:

  • Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attended regularly.

  • Heart patients were 14 times more likely to die following surgery if they did not participate in a religion.

  • Elderly people who never or rarely attended church had a stroke rate double that of people who attended regularly.

  • In Israel, religious people had a 40% lower death rate from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Also, says Koenig, “people who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. And when they do become depressed, they recover more quickly from depression. That has consequences for their physical health and the quality of their lives.”


Koenig’s current study — conducted with Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the first to be funded by the NIH — involves 80 black women with early-stage breast cancer. Half the women will be randomly assigned to participate in a prayer group, and will choose eight women in their church to form the group.

In the prayer group, he says, ” will pray for her; she will pray for them,” Koenig says. “They will offer each other psychological support, talk about things that are bothering them.” During the six-month trial period, each patient will be monitored for changes in immune function.

Religion provides what Koenig calls “a world view,” a perspective on problems that helps people better cope with life’s ups and downs.

“Having that world view helps people integrate difficult life changes and relieves the stress that goes along with them,” Koenig says. “A world view also gives people a more optimistic attitude — gives them more hope, a sense of the future, of purpose, of meaning in their lives. All those things get threatened when we go through difficult periods. Unless one has a religious belief system, it’s hard to find purpose and meaning in getting sick and having chronic pain and losing loved ones.”

“Nobody’s prescribing religion as a treatment,” Koenig tells WebMD. “That’s unethical. You can’t tell patients to go to church twice week. We’re advocating that the doctor should learn what the spiritual needs of the patient are and get the pastor to come in to give spiritually encouraging reading materials. It’s very sensible.”

When We Pray for Others

But what of so-called “distant prayer” — often referred to as “intercessory prayer,” as in Krucoff’s studies?

“Intercessory prayer is prayer geared toward doing something — interrupting a heart attack or accomplishing healing,” says Krucoff, who wears numerous hats at Duke and at the local Veterans Affairs Medical Center. An associate professor of medicine in cardiology, Krucoff also directs the Ischemia Monitoring Core Laboratory and co-directs the MANTRA (Monitoring and Actualization of Noetic Teachings) prayer study project at Duke. Long-time nurse practitioner Suzanne Crater co-directs that study.


Noetic trainings? “Those are complementary therapies that do not involve tangible elements,” says Krucoff. “There are no herbs, no massages, no acupressure.”

The goal of prayer therapy is to accomplish healing, yet “there are a lot of questions about what healing means,” Krucoff tells WebMD. “At this level of this work, there are many philosophical debates that can emerge. The basic concept is this — if you add prayer to standard, high-tech treatment — if you motivate a spiritual force or energy, does it actually make people better, heal faster, get out of the hospital faster, make them need fewer pills, suffer less?”

Roy L. and 150 other patients took part in MANTRA’s pilot study. All suffer from acute heart disease, and all needed emergency angioplasty.

The stress of the procedure — because it is done on patients who are awake — has its own negative effects on the body, Krucoff tells WebMD. “The heart beats faster, beats harder, blood vessels are constricted, blood is thicker and clots more easily. All that’s bad.” But if an intervention could mediate that stress, it would potentially be a pretty useful adjunct for people coming in for angioplasty, he says.

In the pilot study, the patients were assigned to a control group or to touch therapy, stress relaxation, imagery, or distant prayer. A therapist came to the bedsides of patients in the touch, stress-relaxation, and imagery groups, but not to the bedsides in the control or distant-prayer groups. Like Roy, people in those two groups didn’t know whether prayers were being sent their way or not.

Those early results “were very suggestive that there may be a benefit to these therapies,” Krucoff tells WebMD.

Krucoff and Crater are now involved in the MANTRA trial’s second phase, which will ultimately enroll 1,500 patients undergoing angioplasty at nine clinical centers around the country.

Patients will be randomly assigned to one of four study groups: (1) they might be “prayed for” by the religious groups; (2) they might receive a bedside form of spiritual therapy involving relaxation techniques; (3) they might be prayed for and receive bedside spiritual therapy — the “turbo-charged group,” as Krucoff calls it; or they might get none of the extra spiritual therapies.

“We’re not looking at prayer as an alternative to angioplasty,” he adds. “We’re very high-tech people here. We’re looking at whether in all of the energy and interest we have put into systematic investigation of high-tech medicine, if we have actually missed the boat. Have we ignored the rest of the human being — the need for something more — that could make all the high-tech stuff work better?”

Last updated: January 4, 2018

Prayers for healing can illustrate firsthand the incredible power of prayer. Through prayer for the sick and poor in health, we can find comfort in the most trying of times. Use these prayers, and keep them in your heart so they can remind you of God’s nearness.

The following prayers have been curated by pastors and clergy, while some come from rare, out-of-print prayer books.

God has been in the business of answering prayers for healing for a long time. Use these prayers as examples, and submit your own public prayer request at the bottom of this page.

can prayer heal

Renew My Mind, Body and Soul

Lord, I come before you today in need of your healing hand.
In you all things are possible. Hold my heart within yours, and renew my mind, body, and soul.

I am lost, but I come to you with grace.

You gave us life, and you also give us the gift of
infinite joy. Give me the strength to move forward on the path you’ve laid out for me.
Guide me towards better health, and give me the wisdom to identify those you’ve placed
around me to help me get better.

In your name I pray, Amen.

To Heal a Friend

Think, o God, of our friend who is ill, whom we now commend to Your compassionate regard.

Comfort him upon his sickbed, and ease his suffering. We beg for deliverance, and submit
that no healing is too hard for the Lord, if it be His will.

We therefore pray that You bless our friend with Your loving care, renew his strength,
and heal what ails him in Your loving name.

Thank You, Lord.

can prayer heal

A Prayer for Healing a Loved One

All our times are in Thy hand.
All diseases come at Thy call, and go at Thy bidding.
Thou redeemest our life from destruction, and crownest us with loving kindness and tender mercies.
We bless Thee, that Thou hast heard prayer, and commanded deliverances for our friend and
Thy servant, who has been under Thine afflicting hand.

He (or she) was brought low, but Thou hast helped him (her).
May he (she) not only live, but declare the works of the Lord!

As Thou hast delivered his eyes from tears, his feet from falling, and his soul from death,
may he daily inquire:What shall I render unto the Lord for all his benefits towards me,and
resolve to offer unto Thee the sacrifices of thanksgiving, and to call upon the name of the Lord.

May we ever remember that recovery is only a reprieve and
that some day we will go to our rest in the Lord.
May we therefore secure the righteous path and live with eternity ever in our view.

A Prayer to Jesus for Healing

Dear Lord, You are the Just judge, Holy and True. You are the Most High God. You give us life.
You hold all power in your hands.

You are the Mighty one from God who carries the world, and is ruler over all the earth.
You Oh Most Blessed One are the giver of life. In you are only good things.
In you is mercy and love. In you is healing of the nations.
In you is freedom of worry and freedom of pain.

Lord Almighty, You loved us so much. You were sent from your Father,
sent to save us from destruction. We truly can never make it to Heaven without the help of Jesus the Son,
who was sent to earth to help us.

You, Lord are full of mercy and grace, please forgive us for our faults.
Lord Jesus, in you all healing is performed. You Lord are the miracle worker.
In your Spirit, your gift of healing is alive. In you Lord we can put our trust that you can heal us,
and protect us from the enemy, and death of our soul.

You, Lord are miracle worker for the sick, and for the lost souls.
You, Lord forgive us and save us from condemnation. You cleanse us and make us born again new.
You give us a clean heart full of peace. You Lord are the Light.

In You is all truth. Your way Lord is the way to Heavenly Hope.
Your hands Lord created the universe. You Lord are the True giver of Life.
Every child is a miracle of Life. Life rests in Your Hands.

Wrap us as a close knit family, draw us near to you Lord, and bind us with your Loving Hands.
Let us be drawn closer to You. You are the Vine, dear Lord and we are the branches.
You carry all knowledge and all power. You Lord are our medicine. Your Words Lord are Truth and Life.

Help us put our trust in You. You Lord are the greatest physician.
You heal, You protect, You care, You love, You are kind, You are patient,
You are thoughtful, You are strength. You Lord are our Creator.

You know our thoughts, our sighings and our cryings and every hair on our head.
You are Wonderful and make all good things for us. Heal us Lord, if it be Your will.


can prayer heal

A Prayer Against Disease

Lord, Your scripture says that you heal all diseases and whoever believes in You will not perish but have an everlasting life. Strengthen me, Lord, in this time of illness. Sustain him as he lays sick in his bed. When You were on Earth, you did all things good and healed all kinds of sickness.

You healed those who had diseases. You died and rose for our sins and that we may have eternal life, Lord. I believe in my heart that You are here with us today and that with Your most holy power will remove all sicknesses and evils that roam the earth. Let it be done in Your glory, Lord.

We praise and glorify Your name, Amen.

My Lighthouse of Hope

Most gracious and loving Father, I want to thank You for all the blessings Youve given me, my family and friends and all those I hold dear.

Thank You Lord for giving me another day to see the beauty of your creations. You know the state of crisis that I am in now Lord. I want to be of use again to You, Lord. In the time of my hospitalization, You Lord remain as my rock and my anchor.

You stand as my lighthouse giving me hope. I pray Lord that you will heal me soon.

In Jesus name, Amen.

A Prayer for Doctor’s Wisdom

Dear Lord, Guide my doctor’s hands and give him wisdom.

Show him the way and help him to heal me.

I put my faith in you and the medical professionals that you have brought to me.

A Prayer to Ease Pain

Almighty Father, Thank you for your love, grace and mercy. I pray that my discomforts will turn to comforts, my pains to gains, my deprivation to more blessings, my losses to profits, my tear to smiles, my sorrows to pleasures, my illness to wellness, my debts to credits and my dreams to realities.

As the scripture said “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” And he “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.

I trust in you Lord and in you alone to heal me with any form of skepticism towards blessing that you will be employed upon me. I trust, Lord, that this agony and suffering that is only in my head, will come to end and positivism will shine upon me as I read, hear, study and preach the truth in the Bible.

What does the Bible say about healing?

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves; therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty. For he wounds, but he binds up; he shatters, but his hands heal.”

“And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospelof the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people.”

“And the people, when they knew it, followed him: and he received them, and spoke unto them of the kingdom of God, and healed them that had need of healing.”

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous man is effective and has great strength.”

Often times, it is good to look towards the scriptures for truth and understanding of this world. Click here to read more Bible verses about Healing or Life.

Prayer Request: Post Your Own “Prayers for Healing”


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can prayer heal

The study you refer to was led by Herbert Benson, M.D., president of the Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, and an associate professor at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Benson is the author of the groundbreaking book The Relaxation Response and is a respected pioneer of mind/body medicine. His reputation is one of the reasons these results were eagerly anticipated. The study involved 1,802 patients who had coronary bypass surgery at six hospitals in the United States. Each of the patients was assigned to one of three groups: those in two groups were prayed for by name by members of three distant congregations, those in the third group were not prayed for. Of the two groups of patients who were prayed for, those in one group were told that they would be prayed for, those in the other group were not told.

Overall, the prayers seemed to have no effect on the recoveries of the patients in any of the three groups. However, there was a higher rate of post-operative complications among patients who knew they were being prayed for. The study looked only at the effects, if any, of distant prayers, not at those received from the patients’ friends or relatives. Researchers commenting on the findings said that no study could account for the influence, if any, of prayers from persons or congregations not involved in the study.

Despite the fact that this study was designed to eliminate flaws in earlier investigations of the effects of prayers on healing (the results of which are mixed), Dr. Benson said after his findings were made public that they are not the last word on the effects of distant, intercessory (asking God to take action) prayer. The study cost $2.4 million, which came from the John Templeton Foundation, an organization that supports research into the moral and spiritual dimensions of life. It was published in the April, 2006, issue of the American Heart Journal.

The big question is whether you can successfully apply scientific methods to the study of prayer and its effects or, as some experts have asked, whether you should. No doubt, we’ll be hearing more about this subject. If you’re interested in it, I recommend works by Larry Dossey, M.D., a physician who has written widely about the power of prayer in healing, including the books Healing Words, Be Careful What You Pray For…You Just Might Get It, and Prayer Is Good Medicine. Writing about the Benson study, Dr. Dossey noted that “no single study makes or breaks a new field” and that “an obituary for prayer research is premature.” I agree. Stay tuned.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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