Back when I was an atheist, I thought this progressively self-centered mock-prayer by Piet Hein* (below) summed up the essence of faith, that prayer was, in fact, nothing more than a method of brownnosing God in order get what we want:
O, Sun that givest all things birth
Shine on everything on earth!
If that’s too much to demand
Shine at least on this our land!
But if even that’s too much for thee
Shine at any rate on me.
Sadly, for many people, that’s exactly what prayer is. But it is precisely as accurate a definition of true prayer as “a deep hole in the ground” is of Mt. Everest. For, while earnest prayer is a conversation with God, it is never a method of bending God to my will. In fact, the exact opposite is true: The only thing that changes during prayer, the only thing that ever needs to change, is me.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may be able to discern what is the good, well-pleasing, and perfect will of God.” ~Romans 12:2