Are Atheists Too Restrictive In Judging the Efficacy of Prayer?

sea shell on the beach

How many times have you heard an atheist say, "Nothing fails like prayer" or something similar? but what if we've got it all wrong? What if Christians are right that we don't understand prayer? what if it really does work, as long as one is doing it correctly?

I am not referring to prayer working in the sense of making the religious believer feel better in the same way meditation or relaxation might. I am also not thinking about prayer working in the sense of self-soothing. I think it is clear that prayer does work in those ways, but that is not usually what we mean when we talk about prayer working.

Here's what I'm thinking:

Suppose a Christian prayed in Jesus' name every night before going to bed and requested only that "something positive" happen the next day or for divine guidance in some unspecified way. Wouldn't this virtually guarantee that the Christian would feel like their prayers were being answered consistently?

I know, some of you are not going to accept this as prayer working. Maybe you are right to do so, but I'm not so sure.

While similar, I think what I am describing here is a bit different from praying for something one already knows will happen. If I pray tonight that I will be able to find a parking spot at the grocery store tomorrow, this would be silly because I have never once had any trouble finding a parking spot at the grocery store. That specific outcome is already guaranteed. That's a bit different from what I am describing here.

By praying for something positive to happen or for divine guidance while being sufficiently vague about what might count, the Christian is making it extremely likely that their prayer will be perceived as having been answered. I think there might be another benefit as well. I'd suggest that the Christian who approaches each day looking for something positive to happen or for confirmation of divine guidance is not only likely to find these things but also likely to be happier. Isn't looking for good things to celebrate in our daily lives bound to make us more likely to find them? And who wouldn't like the idea of a benevolent agent helping them out?

Atheists are correct to object that this still doesn't mean that prayer is working in any supernatural sense. Clearly, this is about the psychology of the Christian and not whether there is something out there listening to their prayers. I realize that. Still, couldn't this mean that the Christian who insists that every one of their prayers are answered and that this makes them feel connected to their preferred god(s) is not necessarily lying? If we are willing to let go of the requirement that prayer "working" has to mean a full-blown miracle, might we recognize that it can work in other ways?

Perhaps the fatal flaw to everything I am suggesting here might be that none of it is contingent on any gods or limited to religious belief in any way. The atheist could strip away all the god-talk, call the process something other than prayer, and obtain the same benefits from doing something very similar. I could go to bed each night "hoping" for positive events the next day, wake up the next morning determined to approach my day looking for evidence of positive things, find at least one, and end up feeling happier. The Christian would probably still insist on calling this "prayer," but nobody else would need to do so. But if it worked equally well, as I'd assume it would, this would seem to undermine any claims about "prayer" requiring either gods or faith to deliver its benefits.