Why do our best prayers sometimes fail?

Back in mid-twentieth century, a psychologist named Klopfer made an amazing discovery. It came while dealing with one of his patients, a man named Wright.

Cancer had eaten up Mr. Wright, causing tumors the size of oranges throughout his body. He lay in the hospital, dying. Nothing could be done, except to make him as comfortable as possible.

But Mr. Wright’s hope flared a little when he heard of a new cancer drug called Krebiozen. He asked his doctors about it, but they wanted to reserve the experimental drug for patients who hadn’t progressed as far as Mr. Wright; they wanted to use it on those who would live longer.

But Wright insisted, begging his doctor until he gave one injection on a Friday, expecting him to die over the weekend.

Not only did Mr. Wright live through the weekend, but his doctors found him on Monday morning happily walking the halls and visiting with the staff. His tumors had shrunk to half their previous size.

Doctors excitedly began three injections a day for Mr. Wright, and within ten days he went home and back to his usual activities (which included flying his airplane).

However, it wasn’t long until the news media reported conflicting stories about the new drug’s effectiveness. Many said it was useless, news that put Mr. Wright back in the hospital where he reverted to his former critical condition.

At this point Dr. Klopfer intervened, telling Wright that the earlier drug had deteriorated in shipping and that a new, more powerful form would arrive soon. Mr. Wright took heart, and the Doctor began more injections… this time of nothing but fresh water!

Mr. Wright again recovered, leaving the hospital and going back to his normal activities in a few days. His watery injections had boosted him back to health… until.

Until the American Medical Association released a statement saying that Krebiozen was a totally worthless drug. His faith in the drug now shattered, Mr. Wright reentered the hospital and died within a few days. (See Dr. Bernie Seigel’s book, Love, Medicine & Miracles – Harper & Row; 1988, page 33.)

This amazing story reminded me of how Jesus emphasized the power of belief:

  • Jesus talked often about faith. He quizzed his disciples about it, pushing them to develop more of it. He often said, “according to your faith will it be done to you”, leaving life open-ended with few limits other than one’s lack of belief.
  • Faith amazed Jesus. To see time-bound mortals “get it” – to see them learn this God-like skill called faith – this excited Jesus.
  • He marveled at the Centurion’s astonishing faith (Matthew 8 ) and the iron-willed faith of the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15), but he also stood amazed at the smothering lack of faith in his own home town (Mark 6:6).
  • Jesus went around looking for faith, evaluating each encounter with people, sizing them up and taking their measure, always with an eye toward discovering faith… faith in him and his ability to manifest God on earth.
  • He even said, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8 NIV).
  • While we’re here on earth doing all this praying, he’s looking for faith. He’s evaluating our prayers based on their faith-content. Why? Because Jesus knows that even eloquent prayers spoken without faith are dead on arrival.

(Have you ever had a “Mr. Wright” experience? Tell us about it…)

“Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (Mark 11:24 NIV).