(Riding on The Badger, across Lake Michigan.)
(This is from my book Praying: Reflections on 40 Years of Solitary Conversations with God.)
Several years ago, at Redeemer, we preached through the biblical book of 1 John. At the heart of John’s letter is his concern that some of his readers are walking in darkness, saying they have no sin when they really do, and thus deceiving themselves. John’s redemptive strategy is to bring the concept of God’s character as light, purity, and righteousness, to center stage. This makes all the difference in our struggle against our inner corruption.
Recent empirical research supports this. (1) Prayer seems effective in combating psychological challenges, such as relieving anxiety. The level of effectiveness is connected with the person’s concept of God.
Baylor University sociologist Matt Bradshaw received a Templeton Grant to study this, and published his findings in the journal Sociology of Religion - “Prayer, Attachment to God, and Anxiety-Related Disorders Among U.S. Adults.” (2) Bradshaw found that people who viewed God as loving and supportive, and prayed with this idea of God in mind, displayed fewer symptoms of anxiety-related disorders — such as irrational worry, fear, self-consciousness, dread in social situations and obsessive-compulsive behavior — than those who prayed but did not expect God to comfort or protect them.
Perceived characteristics of God - such as loving, remote, or judgmental - affect the relationship between prayer and mental health.
For the praying person, what we think of God makes a difference.