How you view God affects your prayer life and mental health

(AP)

As Christians we all know that prayer is a resource in times of trouble, but new research suggests how much of a comfort it is depends on our perception of God.

The Baylor University study found that prayer did not necessarily ease anxiety and that a crucial factor was individuals' relationship with God. 

Those who had a sense of God as loving and protective were far more likely to feel that prayer relieved feelings related to anxiety, like fear or dread.

By contrast, those with "avoidant or insecure" attachments to God were more likely to regard prayer as "an unsuccessful attempt to cultivate and maintain an intimate relationship with God", said researcher Matt Bradshaw PhD.

These individuals pray but "they do not necessarily believe God will be there when they need Him", he explained. 

The result of praying for these people may then in fact be higher levels of anxiety rather than lower.

"Rejected, unanswered, or otherwise unsuccessful experiences of prayer may be disturbing and debilitating — and may therefore lead to more frequent and severe symptoms of anxiety-related disorders," said Bradshaw. 

The study, published in the Sociology of Religion journal, was carried out to examine the psychiatric symptoms of people who believe in God, to add to the existing body of research that has been done on areas like life satisfaction and depression. 

"For many individuals, God is a major source of comfort and strength that makes the world seem less threatening and dangerous. Through prayer, individuals seek to develop an intimate relationship with God," Bradshaw said.

"Those who achieve this goal, and believe that God will be there to protect and support them during times of need, develop a secure attachment to God."

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