Butterflies & Wheels pointed me to this Comment Is Free post by Theo Hobson. A good shot by the theist side in the spitball match with Big Atheism ™ . I don’t want to really want to dwell on the spitball match, but the post includes a useful definition of prayer:
… The believer does not pray in order to try to influence God's will. Instead, he's trying to influence his own will, to make it conform to his worldview. Prayer is essentially a matter of saying "Help me, God, to be what I should be". The believer acknowledges a conflict between what he is naturally inclined to be, and what he feels he should strive to be. …
Also, the believer reminds himself of the worldview he subscribes to. In the case of Christianity, he re-states his belief in the coming of God's kingdom, which is a sort of utopian hope that all will be well. And he acknowledges his own fallibility, the fact that he is part of the problem, in need of radical reform, dangerously prone to evil. And he acknowledges that everything is dependent on God, that he is the absolute authority.
A lot of Christians will object to a description of faith as “a sort of utopian hope.” It resonates with me, though. In the tug-of-war between faith and doubt, one makes a hopeful resolution to live as if the religious teachings are true.
Somewhere I came across a comment that two sentiments always appropriate in a prayer are Help Me and Thank You. Indeed, those may be THE two sentiments appropriate for prayer. I have a friend who is studying the theology of gratitude, and she defines it as reorientation. The point is not to make God do anything, it is to change our attitude toward the reality that we have to accept and make the best of.