I also believe prayer works, and I’ve seen it do so in a few different ways. It’s complicated, though, in that there are all sorts of prayers which are responded to in all sorts of ways. Let me toss out a few examples I’ve seen and/or done. (Good Lord, I’m actually making an outline! I must be sicker than I thought!)
[ul][li]There’s formal, ritualized prayer which, for this Episcopalian, amounts to the prayers found in the Book of Common Prayer. Ideally, when I’m praying the prayers in it, whether as part of a church service or at home, I should be thinking about the contents of the prayer and praying like I mean it, although I admit my mind tends to wander during the Eucharistic prayer. There is Power in these prayers, although I’ve noticed the Wiccans have better ways of describing that than I do. As a friend of mine puts it, the act of groups of people saying the same words in the same ritual over hundreds of years sort of wears a rut in the universe. It sounds ludicrous, I know, but on the other hand, when I was near catatonic with depression, the words of that Eucharistic prayer provided the Power which hauled me out of the catatonia, back into touch with reality and, as far as I’m concerned, miraculously saved my life.[/li][li]Then there’s less formal, conversational prayer. In some ways, I admit, it’s a glorified version of talking to myself. On the other hand, by talking to God just as I’d talk to a trusted friend or confidant, I’ve been able to find calm and hope. I’ve even been known to pray myself to sleep. I find very real comfort and assurance in this. I’m a grown woman, proud of my independence and competence. Nevertheless, it’s rather nice to have Someone I can turn to for companionship or comfort, whether it’s telling God, “I’m scared” five minutes before I’m laid off or talking to Christ about how difficult it is to get out of a warm bed on a cold morning. [/li][li]There’s also prayer as a way of focusing the mind. Sometimes this does take the form of Zen meditation for me; sometimes it takes a more practical form. The meditative form is intended to take my scattershot mind and help me focus on becoming one with God and adjusting my will to his. As for the more practical form, let me give you an example. I hate driving in bad weather conditions, thanks to an accident several years ago. If I do have to drive when I’m facing snow or ice or when I’m more tired than I’d like to be, I will pray out loud that God keep me safe, give me the wisdom not to do anything foolish, and give that same wisdom to the other drivers around me. This does not mean that, if I hit a patch of black ice at 60 mph I expect God to keep me safe! It means that I expect myself to use the wisdom and experience He gave me to drive in a way which suits the conditions, which includes not going too slowly because I’m nervous. [/li][li]Finally there’s straight petitioning, asking God for something. I don’t remember much of the 48 hours or so that I was catatonic; I doubt I’ll ever will. One thing I do remember from my first night in the hospital is my roommate praying for “the woman in the next bed”. I don’t know her name; I was too far gone for it to register. I don’t even remember what she looked like, although I think she was old. I’m pretty sure she didn’t even know I heard her. I just remember hearing someone, a complete stranger, praying for me, a person who was beyond all hope, or so I thought at the time. Sometimes, though, these prayers require action. Sometimes? Make that most of the time. When I was laid off a couple of years ago, praying alone wasn’t going to get me a job; there was a lot of pavement pounding needed as well. Several years ago I was going to a church retreat in the mountains east of here. Halfway up the largest mountain on the route, I came across a couple stuck by the side of the road. Now, I know nothing about cars, but I still stopped and offered to help, something I don’t usually do. Sure enough, there wasn’t anything I could do, but I said something about being some kind of a Christian on a retreat and offered to pray for them. I got in my car and started praying, “Lord, please send someone to help these people.” Halfway down the other side of the mountain, there was a policecar stopped, waiting for speeders. As I passed her, I got the message. “OK, Siege, you want Me to send someone? Guess what. You’re ‘someone’.” I turned my car around as soon as I could, drove 1/4 mile back to the policewoman, told her about the couple on the other side of the mountain, and got back in my car, knees shaking. I’m not used to a 5 minute turnaround on prayers. My plan was to say nothing about this, since it seemed odd or arrogant even by my standards. Wrong again. You see, I forgot to allow that this was on the main route to the retreat center and I was driving a rather distinctive car. When I got to the center, I was surrounded by four women who’d travelled together, seen me talking to the policewoman and wanted to know if I’d been stopped for speeding. It seems God had other plans. ;j [/ul][/li]Yes, I believe prayer works; I’ve seen it do so. I also, however, believe the ultimate goal of prayer should be for us to help align out wills with Gods. I’ve asked God for things over the years, and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so. Among other things, I’m still not done grousing at Him about this lovely collection of ailments which have had me flat on my back for a week. On the other hand, ultimately, Christ had it right as usual when He prayed in Gethsemane, “Yet not my will, but thy will be done,” “thy will”, of course, being God’s will. That’s how I try to end my petitioning prayers. God knows what I want, what I need, and more than I can put into words. As a devout Christian, it’s up to me to trust Him to take care of things.
There are, however, three things I figure God doesn’t interfere in: weather, lottery tickets, and sporting events: weather because if God did answer all prayers, we’d never have bad weather on a weekend or any other day, although an incident when I was a kid could contradict that; lottery tickets for obvious reasons; and sporting events because, if He did, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have been in and won the Super Bowl!