Magic is a wonderful thing, and those of you who are choosing to study it deserve a hats off. Its a long road, but well worth it in the end. Here are a few reasons however, you may be struggling to get the desired effects...
Let's be honest for a second. Many people, unless it was founded upon religious beliefs, and that I understand, come to magic as a source of entertainment. Today's culture does not see, at least the majority, magic as an evil, but rather a force, such as imagination. It is credited to child-like wonder. Action and Fantasy films depict it as a force of power, able to smite and decimate, and bend the very Earth itself into your puppet.
Magic is not a toy, you will not learn it over night. Mother Earth bows to no man, but simply shares her energy with those willing. You will not hurl pillars of flame, or envelop yourself in a shroud of water. Magic is the manipulation of energy, the Earth's natural energy, in efforts to better yourself or others. The human spirit can channel these forces, but only through concentration.
Yes, magic has chants, but these are also coupled with strong determination and vision. You can't say Abracadabra, and swoosh! Your done. Remember how I said that the Earth's energy's are channeled via the spirit/soul? This is done through meditating. Meditating clears your mind of the distractions brought on by negative emotions, throwing off your Chakra, or energy points. Chanting actually does help, different tones produce different effects, such as Toah or "Toe" as it is pronounced, for the third eye (I wont get into this).
Also, a quick note, my general rule of philosophy is that greed is never rewarded. Take time to think if you really do need what you are asking for, whether it be vanity, or in darker cases, revenge. (Revenge is also seldom rewarded, as black magic will command you in ANY way, whether it hurts you and your friends as well.)
Also, as a final note, "rooting" and "grounding" also help better connect you with Earth and her energies.
Perhaps you are doubting yourself.
"My whole life I was told that magic isn't real..magicians use optical illusions and that alone."
This is something programmed into our minds. Does this make the programmers evil? Of course not. Back in the days of old, magic was part of nearly every religion, in a hope to either communicate or better themselves, such as Alchemists. Later however, for unknown reason, it fell into a cloud of suspicion. Im not the best with history, but eventually we closed off to it.
Im going to tell you right now, just as everyone who practices the craft, I can't PROVE to you, as a matter of fact, that magic exists. It is closely tied to the soul, it's effects take time and may not work at all unless your intentions where pure. If you need "proof" of something well beyond explanation, then, and im not being rude, maybe you have come to the wrong place.
I kind of touched on this early..but maybe you are too concerned if integrating magic into your religion is a sin/bad karma? This is not true. As I said above, it is perfectly natural, in fact, incense burning could be considered that, or even prayer as you have to send your hopes to the receiver. If you aren't comfortable addressing to a certain spell's energy source as what it is, say you are Christian and disagree saying goddess or spirits, then simply replace them with "Lord". It is still channeling through the both of you.
Finally, as for what I can think of at this moment, maybe you are rushing. I tried to jump head first into the pool, and cracked my head into nothing. The reason being that I didn't have a firm understanding of what magic really is..and hopefully by reading this you have slightly. Read about the elements, read about how to better yourself, read about contacting your spirit guide/guardian angel! All of these will help you on your path