By Aaron Earls
When sickness comes, most Americans talk to their doctor and God.
According to a study published in the Journal of Religion and Health, more than 87 percent of adults surveyed say they have prayed for healing for others. Half (51 percent) say they do so often.
Nearly 8 in 10 have prayed for healing for themselves, with 32 percent saying they do so often.
“Outside of belief in God, there may be no more ubiquitous religious expression in the U.S. than use of healing prayer,” says Jeff Levin, a Baylor University epidemiologist and author of the study.
On the contrary of being a “fringe activity” as many supposed, Levin suggests prayer may be among the most widely used forms of treatment for medical issues.
The use of prayer for most Americans is not meant as an alternative, says Levin, but rather as a complement to other treatment.
“Interestingly, most people who use prayer for healing do so alongside regular medical care, rather than as a substitution, as has been presumed up to now,” he says.
The study found more than half of Americans asked for prayer for their health (54 percent) and have participated in a prayer group, prayer circle, or prayer chain (53 percent).
In what Levin called the most surprising finding, more than a quarter (26 percent) have also laid hands on someone for the purpose of healing and nearly 1 in 5 has done so on multiple occasions.
“For many of us, the image that comes to mind [with laying on of hands] is the faith healer,” Levin says. “But these findings show that the practice is much more widespread, as is healing prayer in general.”
While several factors, including church attendance, were predictive of at least one form of prayer, the study found the most consistent predictor was having a loving relationship with God.
“People who feel a close connection to God, who love God and feel loved by God, are the very people most likely to pray for healing: for themselves or others, alone or in a group, and verbally or through laying on of hands,” says Levin.
What the study didn’t address is whether those prayers “work.” Levin says science may never be able to prove that to everyone’s satisfaction, but his study was conducted because almost no attention had been given to simply documenting and examining the people who are praying for healing.
AARON EARLS (Aaron.Earls@Lifeway.com) is online editor of Facts & Trends.