I have spent a lot of time in my life praying. I obviously don't any more. (If you're new here, I'm a former Catholic, now atheist.) I have prayed for big things and little things. Prayed for strength, prayed for others, prayed for guidance, prayed for a boy to fall in love with me. (Ok, that last one might be a tipoff that it's been a long while since I believed in the power of prayer.)
But back when I DID believe in the power of prayer, I don't think I ever really thought about it. Now that I'm an atheist, I find it utterly bewildering. My list of questions about how prayer works has grown longer the more I've thought about it. He are some of the highlights:
Does God ever respond with specific intervention based on prayers? Why? Why would God help guide you to your lost wedding ring, for example, but not give the folks in Japan a heads up about the tsunami that's coming. If the tsunami is all a part of God's master plan, then didn't he have a plan that involved you losing your wedding ring? And if his plan also involved your finding it, doesn't that mean that He wasn't really answering your prayers so much as following the master plan He had already laid out? So basically, God really only follows His own master plan and will "answer" your prayers if it's something He was already planning on doing anyway.
Also very perplexing for me: prayers to saints. Now I have heard people say hundreds of times to pray to such-and-such a saint for assistance with some particular problem. First off, I thought the first commandment says to put no gods before me. If you're praying to someone other than God himself, that seems a little close to the line on that one. I've had a devoutly Catholic friend explain this to me this way: you're not praying TO the saints as though they are answering your prayers, it's more like you're asking them for help, like you would a friend. That sounds a little better to me, but I'm still a little perplexed. 1) I think there are a lot of people praying to saints who aren't making that distinction. 2) If you're gonna ask someone for help, why not go directly to the big guy himself? Why ask for help from some saint when you can ask God. You know He's listening anyway. 3) Why would you need help from a saint anyway if God's on your side. Is God swayed by a good word from St. Peter on your behalf? (I'm assuming not.)
Anyway, I just know that most everyone I know believes that God answers their prayers. I think that most people also believe that God has a greater plan that we do not fully (or even slightly) understand. It would seem to me that these are conflicting beliefs. I don't get it.
Just a reminder. I'm open to all comments, whether you agree or disagree with me, so long as you're respectful