"Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you." -- Matthew 7:7
"Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that my Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it." -- John 14:13-14
"And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive it, if you have faith." -- Matthew 21:22
Quite a lot of prayers are like this, probably because we're creatures of needs and wants. And as often as not, we don't know the difference.
The Bible, of course, endorses this sort of thing, though in real life, the results seem to be mixed at best. We pray for a loved one to pull through and sometimes, seemingly miraculously, they do. Troublingly, given the above passages, they often don't. Perhaps equally troubling in its own way stands the fact that believers of other religions--and of no religion--experience "miraculous" cures at about an equal rate, albeit under a different headline.
These are probably the prayers that are said most earnestly, but, well, good luck if you're asking for something in prayer. You'll need it. Given the evidence, I don't have a lot of faith in these prayers--if there's a God, it's not the sort of God who answers prayers like some kind of genii granting wishes.
"Lord, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." -- Reinhold Niebuhr
I have noticed on several occasions that our school's Director of Spiritual Life (and Protestant minister) frequently prays in terms of virtues, or of mindfulness. A prayer that a group or individual might have some quality strengthened really amounts to emphasizing the characteristics that we think are important. If I pray for myself that I might have courage to do something that I want to do, or that I might have peace in my heart when other people annoy me, or whatever it is, I'm also reminding myself of what it is that I want myself to be, what I see as my highest self. If God exists, then perhaps He will help out, but even in the absence of God, this kind of prayer actually works pretty well. By reminding us of who and what we want to be, we are more likely to put into practice our values.
This, too, makes a fair bit of sense to me, whether there is a God or there isn't.“Oh, I think that children pray so, to find a lost doll or that Father will bring home a good haul of fish, or that no one will discover a forgotten chore. Children think they know what is best for themselves, and do not fear to ask the divine for it. But I have been a man for many years, and I would be ashamed if I did not know better by now.”[…] “So. How does a man pray then?”[…] “Don’t you know? How do you pray, then?”“I don’t.” And then I rethought, and laughed aloud. “Unless I’m terrified. Then I suppose I pray as a child does. ‘Get me out of this, and I’ll never be so stupid again. Just let me live.’”He laughed with me. “Well, it looks as if, so far, your prayers have been granted. And have you kept your promise to the divine?”I shook my head, smiling ruefully. “I’m afraid not. I just find a new direction to be foolish in.”“Exactly. So do we all. Hence, I’ve learned I am not wise enough to ask the divine for anything.”“So. How do you pray then, if you are not asking for something?”“Ah. Well, prayer for me is more listening than asking.”—Robin Hobb, Fool’s Fate