Daniel is a friend on Emerging Universalist. He is somewhere in the vicinity of 70 years old and is filled with the wisdom of a life long walk with the Lord. Many of us on the list look at Daniel as a mentor in this somewhat off the beaten path journey with an off the beaten path view of God, and life, and our relationships with each other. Someone on the list brought up prayer again...with a question akin to what Yancey asks....does it make a difference. This is Daniel's view....
This may be way too simplistic, but it's an analogy that I hope at least hints at an aspect of prayer in time of trouble. Such prayers help us to remember that God is right where we are regardless of the appearance, God never forgets us, but it's easy sometimes for us to forget God.
If I want to watch TV I have to turn it on. Praying for it to come on without making the connection would be fruitless. The TV broadcast is there but I must make the connection. in a like manner, God is with us all the time, but we must make the connection by our conscious awareness.
I think if I should pray for God to give me something or get me out of something it can serve no real purpose except hopefully to remind me that God is already here and needs no instruction from me about what I perceive as needs. And then I can pray aright:
You are with me always; You will never forsake me. You go before me to make the crooked places straight. You lead me and guide me, and I shall fear no evil. My prayer changes from a petition to a realization that I have God with me, and there is never a need for God AND something else. There can't be something else. That's when I'm "plugged in to the broadcast" and on the right channel!
When turmoil or crisis arises, I am very likely to cry out, "Lord, deliver me!" But the very cry reminds me of the Presence of God. And when I don't know how to go in or come out of praying aright, I cry "Father, pray!" and let God take over the how and what. Then I can get to the prayer that cannot fail: "Thy will be done."