Numerous studies have been conducted concerning pain and prayer, many of which confirm the efficacy of prayer. Even if we do not experience miraculous healing, there is a practical benefit from prayer. Pastor and family doctor Harold Betton of Little Rock, Arkansas says, “Prayer enables you to take your mind and place it in a new perspective.”
Prayer can shift our attention off our pain and onto something more elevating, such as God. This shift is something we can control. South African philosopher Abraham Olivier writes: “If pain is itself essentially part of my perception, and my point of view changes, the quality of the pain must also change. A shift of perspective thus inevitably means a change of pain. Even if it is chronic, I never suffer from the same pain, but from within varying perspectives.”
There is scientific evidence that such shifts in perception actually work, as noted in recent studies at medical institutions. Dr. Sean Mackey of Stanford University is testing the use of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to enable patients to learn how to influence their sensation of pain. “To decrease their painful feelings, for example, the subjects were told to distract themselves with thoughts of more pleasant experiences or events.” Patients with chronic pain reported a 64 percent reduction in their sensation of pain.
Pain from rheumatoid arthritis has made impossible many activities I once enjoyed. Key among them were climbing mountains and playing tennis. It was a sad day when I hung up my tennis racquet for good. But in living with chronic pain, I’ve found various ways to shift my attention off my pain. Among them are not only prayer but also reading, journaling, spiritual direction, nature (especially birds, butterflies, and flowers), music, art books, moderate exercise (when I feel up to it), and conversations with family and friends.
Have you found ways to shift your attention when you are dealing with pain?
 Reported by Anita Manning, Prayer as Effective as Painkiller? (USA Today, May 9, 2005).
 Abraham Olivier, Being in Pain (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang), 2007, p.166
 Alice Park, “Healing the Hurt: Finding new ways to treat pain” Time magazine, March 7, 2011, p.68
Don Simpson is a certified spiritual director in Colorado Springs and is senior editor at NavPress. He is coauthor with Dallas Willard of Revolution of Character (NavPress, 2005). He also participated in launching Discipleship Journal and The Small Group Letter, and was cofounder of Helmers & Howard, Publishers.