Productivity and Prayer

My life has been pretty hectic of late. I’ve had undergraduate essays to mark, so I’ve been up at my desk at around 9.00 in the morning, home around 8.00pm, and then back to my desk till 1.00 or 2.00am to get on with the marking. I had no time for anything else that I could get away without doing, including prayer. According to Martin Luther, this is not a good, or godly, idea:

Tomorrow I plan to work, work, from early until late. In fact I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer

The more work Martin Luther had to do, the more he prayed. This sounds profoundly illogical: the more time you spend praying, surely, the less productive you will be…

Unlike many other parts of faith, the relationship between prayer and productivity is one that can be empirically investigated – does science reveal that the more one prays, the better one’s work? Being me, I had to do the research.

And despite the burgeoning literature on the psychology of religion, I didn’t find a lot. The first study I found was on academic writing (useful stuff…). It turned up no significant correlation between prayer and writing output (Kellogg, 1986). But – prayer in this study was entangled with meditation – so not quite what I was after, anyway.

Other studies showed that prayer lessened the effects of work stress on physical health and  depressive symptoms. (Copeland-Linder, 2006).  There were lots of studies showing a negative correlation between prayer and (work) stress.

But no study, so far as I can see, linking, significantly, prayer and work output, in either direction. So, I am none the wiser.

Of course, in hindsight, having done the research and finding nothing, I realize that trusting my work to God in prayer, for however long, rather than just getting on with it, is what I should have done in the first place – regardless of the empirical relationship between prayer and productivity. Science can’t do that for me.

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