"One should not pray for the cool of spring in the heat of summer." Origen
"You shall not pray that facts are not facts." Jewish Rabbi
Prayer is one of the most befuddling and also meaningful activities that a human can participate in. It takes us away from our own idols, securities and puts us into a place of interaction and dialogue with a being who is not prone to our manipulations. Often it is incredibly humbling. Prayer is not a majic pill, it is not a way to manipulate God's favor. There is such a thing as praying badly. But i think even praying badly can be a good thing because if we keep at it we will discover God with us.
But if prayer is participated in with a disingenuous spirit and with a sloppy and self centered way it can also produce distorted results.
When i hear someone say "i prayed about such and such and God told me..." my own internal system of cautious suspicion goes on alert. Why? Because these statements are often the ultimate trump card in Christian religious conversations. Whenever we claim we have received divine sanction for something what else can be said? Can i disagree with what "God" says to another person? Well i can and i have but it can be an uncomfortable situation.
That is why i like some good even handed thinking about prayer. Prayer is not just an exercise to get what we want, however noble or good that may be. Nor is it a means to by-pass a hard work or effort in life. For example praying to win the lottery or that i would get an A on a test without applying myself is disengenuous. These are not prayers, they are simply self interested wishfulness.
Lent, the church season we are currently in, is supposed to help us to diminish and root out our illusions about our spiritual lives. Hopefully our prayers for ourselves, the world and our friends are going towards these ends.