Reader's Question: "What is your understanding of the power of prayer? How does it work? What should we prioritize in prayer? For example, I often pray for others who are effected by natural disasters like the recent Earthquake in Nepal but the prayers can feel feeble/ineffectual because I am so remote to the 'world' of these people and the extent/scale of human tragedy in such events can be difficult to comprehend. In contrast, when I pray for the soul of a friend who has died or a closer loved one the prayers feel more spontaneous because of my natural emotional connection to the people, places or events. Are more sincere prayers more effective spiritually? Or does the effort of extending our hearts to less attainable/difficult ground e.g. praying for those we do not like or whose practices/behaviours we find difficult to tolerate, render the prayers somehow more noble and worthwhile?"
My Answer: Since you asked me, I will give you my personal focus, rather than trying to summarize what is usually (and correctly) emphasized.
My main idea is that prayer is more of a means than an end - it is desired of us that we open and maintain lines of communication with God - as a person, as our Heavenly Father, so that God is central in our lives and that we come habitually to recognise God at work in our lives, in the world, in the universe and for eternity. On that basis, the more things we pray about, the better.
Therefore I try to pray frequently, whenever I remember - which means the prayers tend to be silent (or nearly silent), and brief, and in all sorts of times and situations. Mostly I give thanks, and ask for protection and help for those I love - sometimes for relief from my own, or other people's, pain and misery - and the courage to endure.
I am certain of the value of prayer in the sense that I have experienced several examples of miraculous answers to prayers - although I have not communicated these to other people because I regard them as being 'for' my own faith. Other definite benefits have been personal revelations and answers to questions communicated as a strong impression of the answer - these have created and sustained my faith, and removed stumbling blocks.
But on a specific, instance by instance basis, I do not think we usually know what happens to prayers or as a result of prayers - except that it sometimes emerges that my prayers led to the 'best' result, even when in retrospect it could be seen that I was praying for the wrong thing, the wrong result.
When I was aligned with Eastern Orthodoxy, I tried to pray continuously using the Jesus Prayer or something similar - but I would no regard this as
1. Unbalanced - we are not all of us supposed to pray all the time, because we have other things to do, and other ways of communicating with God, for example meditation (although I do not rule out that some few individuals are supposed, destined, to pray all of the time).
2. Wrongly emphasized - I now believe that it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the fundamental nature of our relation to God, for us continually, or frequently, to be requesting his mercy. We have it; and it must be saddening and perhaps irritating to God that we do not trust him and the goodness of his intentions, but feel constrained to beg him and propitiate him
- God does not need propitiating (in this sense) because all propitiation (in a different sense) was done for us by Christ and (in another sense) it is only wicked tyrants (like the Pagan gods) who demand propitiation.
So my main prayer is what I have heard called 'arrow' prayers - multiple silent, short, thanks and requests; some few memorized (fragments) of Psalms and of prayers from the the Book of Common Prayer. And the rarer more focused and lasting prayers in solitude, when I may be seeking a sense of communion and understanding, relief, strength etc.