Raise your hand if you are an Olympics junkie like me, and you are currently suffering from OFS (Olympic Fatigue Syndrome). If I didn’t have any other obligations or need to sleep and have some personal hygiene, I would watch the events 24/7. I am mesmerized as incredible talent meets disciplined hard work and preparation to yield amazing rewards. Similarly, prayer is a mental and spiritual discipline which allows us to make use of our privilege of direct access to God. The more consistent we are with the practice of prayer, the more we realize the rewards that come with it.
For the last two weeks, I have written about aspects of prayer. The first blog, “The Most Important FaceTime” spoke of the importance of this vital connection to God and the fact that it allows us to remember who He is, and to align our imperfect thinking with His Sovereign thoughts. Through this alignment, we see Him as an ABLE God who we can trust. We begin to see things from His perspective. My next blog, “Can You Hear Me Now, God?” addressed our occasional feelings that perhaps God doesn’t hear or care when we are anxious or hurting, when in fact, He lifts and carries us through those times, just as He did for Jesus when HE felt God’s silence or distance. During His ministry, Jesus never really stopped praying. He prayed alone, in public, before meals, before important decisions, before and after He healed people… notably, He consistently prayed to be in line with His Father’s will. He not only modeled it for us, but He taught about it – its importance, and how to do it. He did this for the rewards that this prayer discipline brings: The connection with God. The health and focus and wisdom and strength and courage and peace.
There is research indicating that isolation or aloneness can increase stress hormones, anxiety, and depression. When we change only one variable, without changing the circumstances (external stimuli), everything changes for the better. That variable is the addition of another – someone to be with as we journey through life. In studies with monkeys that were exposed to stressful, chaotic, or sleep-depriving stimuli, their stress hormones decreased significantly when another monkey was present. Similarly, when pleasurable stimuli were introduced, the levels of pleasure elevated with another monkey present. We have all felt the difference it makes when we are not alone. With God, we are never alone! We are always in the presence of the God who created and loves us. When we pray, we enter a state of conscious awareness of that fact.
The name for the phenomenon of spiritual, physiologic, mental, and emotional stability when we spend time with God in prayer is called “social buffering”. When we are afraid, praying to remind us of God’s nearness buffers our fear. We get braver. Anger is dissipated when we consider His presence. Happiness becomes a celebration when we rejoice and thank Him for that provision. With Him, the highs are higher and the lows are not as low. What a gift!
You know those frantic pre-test or pre-presentation prayers we utter at school or work? They WORK! Dr. Caroline Leaf, an expert in Neuropsychology and Communication Pathology (brain function and the physiology of thought patterns), says that prayer can actually make us smarter! Connecting to the God who made us brings our brain to its highest level of functionality and focus. Sadly, those desperate prayers are not likely to put things into our brain that have never been looked at, but they could help us remember things we heard or read that might not have been intentionally memorized.
Connecting to God through prayer is a booster giving us an increase in our ability to handle stress, pain, and chaos. Over 1200 studies on brain chemistry and neuron function back this up. We not only become mentally and emotionally stronger but also physically stronger! If there was a pill that did all of these things, the world would be clamoring for it! Don’t get me wrong, prayer does not automatically make everything all sunshine and roses, but it does equip us to better handle life’s circumstances. Dr. Leaf references the Bible verse: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” Romans 12:2
When we go to the ONE who is ABLE to change a situation or change us, the ONE who has a purpose for every great and small thing, it gives us:
- confidence to continue on,
- joy in feeling our value
- purpose in every pain
- and peace.
Yeah. Perfect peace.
Philippians 4:6-7 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.