Dodging the Prayer List

Some prayer lists have better records than others.  Back when I went through cancer treatment, I had been making presentations across the state, and kept finding out that churches I never attended – may have never driven past – were adding me to their prayer lists. 

Remember – my specialty was demography.  I quizzed everyone who told about adding me to their local prayer list about how effective it was.  The damned cancer made life-expectancy calculations a whole lot more personal – and the local Methodist church I was attending didn’t have a very good record.  I mean they’d put people on the prayer list, and in three or four months, they’d be burying them.   

My surgeon for the arthroscopic work on my knees was an obnoxious bastard – he must have skipped every med school class on bedside manner.  But I had checked out his record, and there were no cases of postoperative infections.  I want surgeons who do the job right.  It’s the same thing with preachers – if they’re going to lead a group petitioning the old boy up above for someone’s good health, I want a preacher and congregation that has a good success record.  My regular preacher didn’t have that – and it took a bit of dodging to stay off the Brookings United Methodist Prayer list.  Just barely dodged it as one educator added me to it, and I explained I was healed up and they needed to apply the efforts to someone who really needed it. 

So I was on prayer lists on every continent except Antarctica – rural churches across South Dakota, and avoided the usually fatal prayer list of the church I attended.  Since then, I’ve wondered – does anyone, anywhere, keep good records on the success/failure rates of their prayer lists?  Francis Galton started a study in England, 150 years ago – but the best descriptor I could find today was “The third party studies reported either null results, correlated results, or contradictory results in which beneficiaries of prayer had worsened health outcomes. For instance, a meta-analysis of several studies related to distant intercessory healing published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in 2000 looked at 2774 patients in 23 studies, and found that 13 studies showed statistically significant positive results, 9 studies showed no effect, and 1 study showed a negative result.”  That statement comes from Wikipedia, so take it for whatever you think it’s worth.”  Francis Galton’s study on the efficacy of prayer is a rather long read, and can be accessed at

Toward the end, he wrote, “If prayerful habits had influence on temporal success, it is very probable, as we must again repeat, that insurance offices, of at least some descriptions, would long ago have discovered and made allowance for it. It would be most unwise, from a business point of view, to allow the devout, supposing their greater longevity even probable, to obtain annuities at the same low rates as the profane. Before insurance offices accept a life, they make confidential inquiries into the antecedents of the applicant. But such a question has never been heard of as, ‘Does he habitually use family prayers and private devotions?’ Insurance offices, so wakeful to sanatory influences, absolutely ignore prayer as one of them. The same is true for insurances of all descriptions, as those connected with fire, ships, lightning, hail, accidental death and cattle sickness. How is it possible to explain why Quakers, who are most devout and most shrewd men of business, have ignored these considerations, except on the ground that they do not really believe in what they and others freely assert about the efficacy of prayer? It was at one time considered an act of mistrust in an over-ruling Providence to put lightning conductors on churches; for it was said that God would surely take care of his own. But Arago’s collection of the accidents from lightning showed they were sorely needed; and now lightning conductors are universal. Other kinds of accidents befall churches, equally with other buildings of the same class; such as architectural flaws, resulting in great expenses for repair, fires, earthquakes, and avalanches.” 

As I continue aging, I really would like to have a conclusive study that shows which prayer lists are more likely to have positive outcomes – at least to a 95% confidence level. 

1 thought on “Dodging the Prayer List”

  1. It is about time somebody wrote this!

    Sent from my iPhone


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