Nothing Fails like Prayer
"If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer." --Matthew 21:22 (NIV)
"I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there' and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you." --Matthew 17:20 (NIV)
"Ask and it will be given to you.... For everyone who asks receives." --Luke 11:9-10 (NIV)
"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven." --Matthew 18:19 (NIV)
These promises are, obviously, false. No Christian I know of would claim that they can accomplish literally anything, up to and including moving mountains, through prayer (and if there are any who do claim that, James Randi has a million dollars for you). Instead, most Christian apologists defend these verses by claiming that the only prayers that are answered are those that are in line with the will of God. Of course, since no one can know what the will of God is, this gives them license to explain away any failed prayers.
But this is a condition not stated anywhere in the text itself. The above verses state clearly what the requirements are for having any prayer answered: believe, have faith, and if you want to be really sure, get someone else to pray along with you. Those are the only requirements listed. Do these things, the Bible says, and your prayer will be answered. It is hard to imagine how this promise could be any more unequivocal. If the text really does mean that any prayer by a faithful believer will be granted, in what way would it have to be different for the apologists to recognize and accept this as the intent?
The apologists' extra condition is, quite simply, an invention. They have made it up out of whole cloth and imposed it on these verses to rescue the Biblical text from errancy. Moreover, in doing so, they have opened a loophole so broad it drains these verses of all meaning. Why bother to make such splashy promises about the dramatic power of prayer if they are immediately qualified by fine print that says there is no guarantee that any prayer will ever be answered? And why would this not be stated in the original text if that is what was meant - must we rely on human beings to clarify the things that God forgot to tell us? This tactic turns God into an overzealous advertiser who is prone to get carried away with his claims and must be rescued by disclaimers from the apologist legal department. It will not stand. In any rational reading, these Bible verses can only be regarded as broken promises.
Probably the most common purpose of prayer is to ask God to do things - fulfill requests, grant favors, and generally use his supernatural powers to act on behalf of the petitioner. Internet prayer request pages overflow with theists asking others to pray for them so that they may be healed of sickness and injuries, delivered from financial troubles, or so that they may find love. Christian visitors to my site often inform me that they will be praying that God reveals to me the truth of his existence.
However, as an application of simple logic shows, any prayer that asks God for anything is pointless. Is prayer going to bring to God's attention a need of which he was not previously aware? Is it going to convince him to do something he was not already going to do? Both of these are impossible with an omniscient deity. On the contrary, if God is all-knowing, he already knows everyone's desires without needing to be told. Likewise, long before any believer ever begins praying for him to take a certain action, his infinite mind will have tabulated every possible reason for or against taking that action, judged the consequences of doing it versus not doing it and run down all the innumerable ramifications of each decision, and finally settled on the verdict that he knows will best achieve his goals. Do theists, believing themselves to be unimaginably small and insignificant by comparison with the Almighty, hope to then change his mind? Do they hope to budge this divine calculus with a single whisper of supplication? A prayer for God to do something he was already going to do is unnecessary; a prayer for God to do something he was not already going to do is futile."
For proof that prayer doesn't do jack:
Prayer doesn't help