One advantage of live breaking news is the power of prayer it can unleash. We were watching the airplane that had to do an emergency landing in LA this week and helping, I'm sure with many other people, pray it down. The same with the Hurricanes- by seeing what's happening, people know what to pray for.
That said, I think prayer can be retroactive too, since God isn't limited by time as we are. It's kind of like sending a letter up into another dimension. Once the prayer leaves this dimension it's no longer bound by time. Of course, usually once we know the result we don't pray or our prayer changes. I'm thinking more about cases where we pray for someone without the instant news advantage. Perhaps we know something is happening that day and we miss it by a few hours with our prayer.
Then too, prayer isn't about getting a certain result but more about connecting to God. I used to think prayer could have tangible results, and frankly, I still do and that's why I try to pray my children to sleep sometimes. (That one doesn't actually work very well.) Once, when I was 17, I tried to convince a 23 year old that God cared about the most minor details of our lives, and I prayed a rather silly Gideon like prayer about two stained shirts. Sure enough, the stain came out of one shirt and not the other. (I think, but I also have a terrible memory.) During this time I was suffering greatly at Teen Missions boot camp, having lost all my luggage enroute from Miami to Orlando. It went to the Domincan Republic I believe. The irony of this was that it had come with me from COlombia to Miami without mishap. ANyway, there I was in the everglades of Florida where somehow, the nights were freezing and I had only a thin sheet that someone had lent me. FOr some reason, this made waking up in the mornings absolute hell. But after praying, that actually got better. (Of course, Teen Missions really didn't get better. I'm definitely not the bootcamp type.)
So on the one hand, I think prayer is about maintaining our relationship with God and that somehow the "magic" of prayer is that it shifts our perceptions of things as we pray- case in point- praying for someone you really dislike can help you to love them. (I suppose because praying is an act of love) but on the other hand, I think that sometimes prayer can really be about changing a physical situation - case in point- praying over someone's illness and having it healed. The difficulty with the latter lies in when the physical situation isn't changed. Does that mean that's not what the prayer was for?
This makes me think of Jesus healing the paralytic who came through the roof. First he said "Your sins are forgiven," and then he said "take up your bed and walk" as thought they were really the same thing.
Some people take this to mean that his paralysis was a result of his sin. Sometimes that may be true, but other times the gospels make it clear that the handicap is there from birth. That gets into a whole other blog about my view on sin. Maybe another day.