Why and how your prayer might foster peace

Why and how your prayer might foster peace October 10, 2023

With heavy hearts, we mourn the loss of innocent lives in the Israel-Gaza conflict. We yearn for peace to preside. We might feel distant and helpless—wondering what we can do to foster love, understanding, and unity.

Have you considered praying for peace? If you’re like me, you probably considered it, but you also might have questioned: Why prayer? How and why can prayer really help a situation?

First, let’s remember that it’s okay—actually, it’s good—to ask questions. We are invited to search: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find” (Matthew 7:7).

So let’s go forth and explore. Let’s delve into the human brain and look at the physiological mechanisms underlying prayer. In doing so, we’ll consider why and how prayer might be beneficial.

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Prayer and coping

First, it’s worth mentioning that there are different types of prayer, and that there are both spiritual and psychological components to it. In fact, I highly recommend this Psychology Today article, Taking Another Look at Prayer, for more background information on prayer.

Now, let’s delve into some of the benefits of prayer.

First, prayer can help us cope with the difficult circumstances in our world today. For example, in one study, prayer was related to finding benefits in one’s experience with illness (Levine et al., 2009). Another study showed that patients who prayed together in a hospital reported more positive emotions, optimism, and improved energy (Rastogi et al., 2023). Prayer has also been shown to reduce the experience of pain (Elmholdt et al., 2017).

In neuroimaging work, prayer was shown to regulate the emotional response to past trauma. This study showed that when participants prayed, there was more activity in brain regions responsible for regulation our emotions and behavior (Baldwin et al., 2016). With more activity in those brain regions, we can more easily keep our emotions in check.


Overall, we see that prayer can help us through tough times. While we deeply mourn the loss of lives, we also likely need to continue fulfilling our daily responsibilities each day, even in the midst of global conflict. With prayer, we can be strengthened to go on and go forth, doing good in our lives and thus spreading love, promoting peace.


Prayer and well-being

With all the conflict in the world, we might find ourselves feeling a bit sad, anxious, or unsettled. It’s normal to have a negative emotional reaction to this conflict, yet prayer can help with this as well. In fact, prayer has been related to greater well-being (Meraviglia, 2006). It has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression and anxiety (Boelens et al., 2009).

Overall, prayer can help us feel better, and when we feel better, we can think and do better. We can be better for ourselves and for those around us, with those effects extending into our world, begetting peace.


Prayer and collective well-being

Prayer has been shown to elicit benefits that foster well-being beyond our own individual selves. For example, prayer may promote forgiveness (Lambert et al., 2010). It has also been linked to more empathy (Rastogi et al., 2023), compassion towards others, and even altruism—or selfless, helping behavior (Connor et al., 2015).

In neuroimaging work, prayer has been shown to recruit brain regions involved in interpersonal interactions, such as the temporoparietal junction (Schjoedt et al., 2009). This part of the brain is likely involved in taking other people’s perspectives.

As such, prayer may support the well-being of a broader social network, upholding well-being that extends beyond a single person. When we pray, we’re not only strengthening ourselves, but our social networks—and that, ideally, includes all of humanity.


Prayer and Insight

Engagement in prayer overlaps largely with that of meditation, such that the benefits of meditation likely generalize to the benefits of prayer. As such, several studies have shown that meditation improves creativity and enhances creative problem solving (Lippelt et al., 2014).

Moreover, multiple brain regions have been shown to be active during problem-solving after one engages in meditation. The authors suggest that such brain activity might correspond to restructuring a problem so that it can be solved in a new way (Ding et al., 2015).

In our busy lives, we are constantly bombarded with information, with the world wide web literally at our fingertips. Our brains are left with little time to reflect. Yet engaging in prayer and meditation might just hold the key—offering us a chance to reorganize our thoughts and discover a new, creative solution to the longstanding dispute over the holy land.


The mystery of prayer

While it’s clear that prayer benefits us in ways that foster our own well-being as well as that of others, it’s important to note that much remains a mystery with regards to intercessory prayer. Yet that holds true for all of creation as well. Our minds can hardly fathom the seemingly infinite universe in which we reside, yet that doesn’t suggest it’s not real. Likewise, we can hardly fathom the spiritual value of prayer, yet we can choose to believe in it, meanwhile reaping the benefits for ourselves and our beloved world.


Prayer for Israelis and Palestinians

Given the fathomless mysteries of the universe alongside the demonstrated benefits of prayer, I’d say it’s sensible to pray. As Duncan Edward Pile suggests in his Patheos blog post, let’s Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem. Let’s pray for healing, for hearts to be opened, and for authentic dialogue that can lead to unity and peace.

As we pray, let’s reap the benefits. Prayer may help us cope with the challenges in the world and in our own lives; it may foster forgiveness and empathy towards others; it may even help us discover new solutions to existing conflict.


Messages of peace

Moreover, our world is smaller today than ever before. We can gain insight through prayer; then, maybe we share that insight in a social media post; maybe that post, within seconds, travels across the globe. Maybe that insight about forgiveness, empathy, or a creative solution finds its way to a soldier, who just might step up as a leader, and who just might lead others to peaceful resolution.

Maybe you pray and your insight goes viral, spreading to others and communicating empathy, forgiveness, and altruism.

My point is that you never know.  You might consider spending some time praying for peace in our world.

You just might find that the benefits strengthen you and extend to others, enveloping the world in peace and unity.




Baldwin, P. R., Velasquez, K., Koenig, H. G., Salas, R., & Boelens, P. A. (2016). Neural correlates of healing prayers, depression and traumatic memories: A preliminary study. Complementary therapies in medicine, 27, 123-129.

Ding, X., Tang, Y. Y., Cao, C., Deng, Y., Wang, Y., Xin, X., & Posner, M. I. (2015). Short-term meditation modulates brain activity of insight evoked with solution cue. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 10(1), 43-49.

Elmholdt, E. M., Skewes, J., Dietz, M., Møller, A., Jensen, M. S., Roepstorff, A., … & Jensen, T. S. (2017). Reduced pain sensation and reduced BOLD signal in parietofrontal networks during religious prayer. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 11, 337.

Lambert, N. M., Fincham, F. D., Stillman, T. F., Graham, S. M., & Beach, S. R. (2010). Motivating change in relationships: Can prayer increase forgiveness?. Psychological Science, 21(1), 126-132.

Levine, E. G., Aviv, C., Yoo, G., Ewing, C., & Au, A. (2009). The benefits of prayer on mood and well-being of breast cancer survivors. Supportive Care in Cancer, 17, 295-306.

Lippelt, D. P., Hommel, B., & Colzato, L. S. (2014). Focused attention, open monitoring and loving kindness meditation: effects on attention, conflict monitoring, and creativity–A review. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 1083.

Meraviglia, M. (2006). Effects of spirituality in breast cancer survivors. Number 1/January 2006, 33(1), E1-E7.

O’Connor, L. E., Rangan, R. K., Berry, J. W., Stiver, D. J., Ark, W., & Li, T. (2015). Empathy, compassionate altruism and psychological well-being in contemplative practitioners across five traditions. Psychology, 6(08), 989.

Rastogi, S., Pandey, P., Maurya, K., Kumar, S., Varma, A., Chinmayi, R., & Singh, G. (2023). Self reported benefits of participating in group prayer in a hospital outpatient setting: A cross-sectional observational study. Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine, 100738.

Schjoedt, U., Stødkilde-Jørgensen, H., Geertz, A. W., & Roepstorff, A. (2009). Highly religious participants recruit areas of social cognition in personal prayer. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 4(2), 199-207.

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