Prayer is one of those things that non-believers like to bring up as a gotcha, asking why we faithful continue to pray when all prayers are not answered. The thing is, though, that they are all answered. But, as some wisely point out, sometimes the answer is no.
I'll admit that I pray as much out of habit as piety. There are those with unshakable faith in God, but I'm not one of those people. I'm not entirely convinced that there is anyone listening to us, but I'm more convinced than not. So I pray and hope that I'm not wrong about God, an after life, salvation.
Prayer isn't just about asking for things for yourself and others. It's also a way to direct yourself towards things within your power. While it's true that my newest prayers do include asking that an *elderly friend regains his health, that Flora remains safe, and that friends have easy deliveries and perfect babies, but I also pray lately that I will be more productive when it comes to writing, that I'll resist temptations - sweets mostly. I have more of a will to avoid other excesses - and waste no further energy on men who are unattainable (maybe I'll finally learn to not be fooled by those who are attached but take a damn long time to get around to mentioning girlfriends) and really, those are things within my control. Mostly. So, one of the values of prayer is to force yourself to contemplate what you need to do to be a better person. If some spiritual entity is helping us get there, all the better. Another is to make you evaluate your weaknesses honestly, which is something that the world could do with a lot more people doing.
I do have more faith than to shrug and say "it can't hurt" but I don't fault those people much either. CYA is a legitimate strategy as long as it doesn't harm anyone else, and it's hard to think of ways that prayer can hurt anyone. Of course, I also don't think we should pray for the favored outcomes of things as frivolous as sporting events or as serious as war.
* When I saw him today I told him that I'm keeping him in my thoughts. I've known him for eight years and religion has never come up, so I'm not sure how he'd feel about being prayed for. I hope good, but you never know.
"Lie awake, lie awake because you don't know who you are. Lie awake, lie awake because you know just who you are." - Wyrick, Inside Out