In a study published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, German psychologists Malte Friese and Michaela Wanke state prayer helps an individual with self-control.
The two researchers said, “a brief period of prayer buffered the self-control depletion effect.”
They added, “These results are consistent with and contribute to a growing body of work attesting to the beneficial effects of praying on self-control.”
The psychologists studied 79 people asking half of them to pray five minutes and the other half to spend five minutes thinking about any thing they wanted.
The two groups were then tested. In the first test, they watched funny movie clips. Researcher told half the people from each group to react normally to the movies.
The researchers told the second group to suppress all emotions, including facial expressions — difficult tasks requiring self-control. In this group, the praying members controlled their emotions better than their thinking counterparts.
The two groups then performed their prayer and thinking exercises and proceeded to a second test.
Called a Stroop task, the test involved printing colour words such as “green” or “blue” in a different colour than the word itself — i.e. the word “green” might be printed in red ink.
The researchers told the people to quickly say the colour of the printed word and not the ink colour. This is actually a difficult task. It tests a person’s self-control as people will tend to say the colour of the ink and not the word.
The thinkers who suppressed their emotions in the first test fared even worse in the second test than members of the praying group who similarly suppressed their emotions. The psychologists believe this happened because of depleted self-control from the first test. It showed prayer recharged a person’s self-control.
Most of the people in the study group were women — 41 were Christians, 14 atheists, 10 agnostics and 14 other religions.
Lead us not into temptation
Though we have no idea what each member of the study group prayed, Jesus told us specifically what to pray. In Mathew 6, Jesus provided His disciples a teaching on prayer. Known as the Lord’s prayer, one element of Jesus’ example prayer dealt specifically with self-control:
And do not lead us into temptation (Mathew 6:13a NASV)
God wants us to pray specifically for strength to avoid temptation. So not only should Christians pray, but we should pray specifically for help dealing with temptation — increased self-control.