I'll just say up front that the information in this post concerning the ancient view of saints is from Frederica Mathewes-Green and I won't clutter up the reading with a million quotation marks.
Growing up Baptist I was taught that praying to the saints was scandalous because it was equivalent to worship of the saints. This was one of several justifications that we used to pray for the Catholics so that they might become Christians. Throughout the Canon of St. Andrew, there are many statements praising the saints and asking them to pray for us. The early church found great assurance in the fact that through the Incarnation and Resurrection Jesus had overcome death, and thus had abolished the need to fear death. I think many modern activities are indirectly motivated by the fear of death - using miracle wrinkle smoothing creams, having elective cosmetic surgeries, taking vitamins and supplements, using drastic measures to prolong the life of the terminally ill. The fear of death motivator has been well marketed. We've separated ourselves from death as if distance will keep death away. We display death in funeral homes, not our own homes. The meat that we eat is processed in a slaughter house, not our house. I'm not sure I could eat a chicken if I had to kill it myself, and I'm sure I couldn't kill a cow. Of course, this doesn't stop me from eating meat. I just subconsciously pretend that it miraculously shows up boneless and skinless in Winn Dixie. But back to the saints....
By becoming a human being, Jesus showed that our human bodies and awareness could be bearers of the presence of God. We are likewise eternally freed from death. This means that those who have departed are still alive. The heavenly realm, which permeates the earthly at all times, is populated by saints and angels who are praying alongside us. We can ask for their prayers just like we ask for the prayers of any other friend or relative.
I admit this is a new concept for me, but I had an experience many years ago that helps me internalize the idea. As a child I had an extreme fear of death. I would lie awake at night worrying about it. I knew about heaven and had other reassurances, but it didn't help me assimilate the unknown aspects of death. My grandmother was the first person who was very close to me who died, and several months after her death I had a dream in which I felt that she communicated with me. I was sitting in the small living room of my grandparents' house. It was often bulging with company, and chairs from the kitchen were brought in so that everyone could sit together and visit. In the dream it was like many times before, a crowd of family members with my grandmother in her usual spot. She always took one of the kitchen chairs and left the more comfortable ones for her guests. It was all very familiar and comfortable and suddenly I alone remembered that my grandmother couldn't be there; that she was dead. I panicked and looked to her for help and she smiled at me and told me not to be afraid. I'm sure there are plenty of psychological reasons for having such a dream, but the details are still as vivid to me today as they were when I awoke, and my fear of death was forever altered by her comforting presence. I love the thought that when I pray I am joined not just by all the towering figures of faith in the Bible, but by someone who still loves me very much and doesn't want me to be afraid.