Does prayer work? What an interesting question. You may find my response interesting also, but not for the reasons you might expect! So when you read my answer, stay with me so I can explain.
As a Christian and Corps Officer (Minister) I BELIEVE IN PRAYER! But do I believe that prayer "works"? No! No I don't, based on the implied meaning behind the question.
If you are still reading, then I think now is the time for an explanation...
The question implies that prayer is something to be used to get a certain outcome. A bit like a tool to fix something or a charm to conjure something or a formula to solve something. This understanding and use of prayer moves prayer from a means to engage in relationship with the divine to a ritual designed to manipulate the divine.
Does prayer work in this context? This can only be answered in the affirmative if the person 'praying' gets what they want or in the negative for those who do not get what they want. However, both answers miss the point of prayer as they treat prayer more as a transaction. To ask whether or not prayer works is to misunderstand the purpose of prayer.
- Prayer is not a shopping list
- Prayer is not a magical formula
- Prayer is not a bargaining chip
- Prayer is not a form of cosmic manipulation
Prayer is an invitation to participate in an intimate relationship where the human communes with the divine where the divine is revealed and the human is transformed.
Prayer is not so much a transactional relationship as it is a transformational relationship.
Author of This Chosen Fast, Matt Madigan, sums up this relational perspective of prayer - “It was so easy to forget that prayer and fasting is all about relationship, and not just about objectives.”
When I understand prayer as relationship the question, "Does prayer work?" doesn't make a lot of sense, because prayer is not about what I get from God but how I engage with God. By engaging with God from a platform of relationship means that when I do "ask, seek and knock" (Matthew 7:7) through prayer, I am doing so with an alignment of purpose that sees God's "will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6:10).
“I understand prayer as partnership, a subtle interplay of human and divine that accomplishes God’s work on earth.” - Philip Yancey