I learned very early on that life is what you make of it, and that the universe is not out to get you, but neither does it owe you anything. In my experiance prayer is not unlike hope in general, the only difference is that whilst some of the things I've hoped for have come true, everything I've actively prayed for (in the days that I used to pray for things) NEVER came true. Don't take that the wrong way, I am only one person and I know full well that some people pray for things and some of those things do happen...it just never happened to me...ever...I can honestly say that I've never knowingly experianced a miracle. Sure good things have happened to me, but with those things I know exactly who did what and who to thank, first and foremost my family (something which I am eternally greatful for knowing not everyone has the luxury of a caring loving and stable family), but also my friends, people who have worked with me and, the occational stranger and, not to be too humble, Myself.
The biggest difference, and reason that I think hope worked and prayer failed, is that I could do something about hope. Just because I hope something will happen doesn't mean I just sit back and do nothing about it, rather the best way is to hope that you will succeed in solving your own problems. With prayer, you are calling on somebody else to solve your problems for you...honest opinion? It almost never works. I'm not saying that people don't need help now and again, but I worry about consistently depending on somebody else in general, even if it is god. I can tell you from experiance that God will not solve all your problems, at some point you have to take responsibility for your own life.
Of course this only targeted at those who do actually just pray for everything and don't take charge of things themselves. I see nothing wrong in saying to god 'I'm going to do x, and any help you want to give would be much appreciated'...but If I were god, someone who just prays to me saying "please solve all my problems" isn't going to get my help, because I wouldn't be teaching him anything if I did!