The Problem of Prayer
In Luke 11 Jesus’ disciples asked Him to teach them to pray, just as John taught his disciples. Jesus replied with "The Lord’s Prayer." Clearly it’s a model prayer, but personally, I’ve never found it very helpful. Presumably God doesn’t want us to merely memorize and recite this prayer at Him, does He? So I looked further, and found that the times when Jesus prayed were much more useful to me. The difference between classroom education and the real world, I suppose.
I found the first useful example in John 11:41ff, when Jesus prayed before raising Lazarus from the dead. There, He used His prayer to make it clear to the listening people that He didn’t need to ask God for permission or help in raising Lazarus.
In Luke 22:46, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, before His crucifixion. Knowing what lay ahead, Jesus prayed that He would not have to go through with it, knowing even so that there was no other way. Once on the cross, He prayed several times: when He felt forsaken by God, for forgiveness for the people, and to commit His spirit to God. So we know that Jesus prayed, and we know what He said in some situations. He didn’t say the Lord’s Prayer when He was under great spiritual strain: He just talked to God.
Jesus wasn’t the only character who talked to God: there are many examples from the Old Testament too: Elijah prayed for God to raise a child from the dead. Habbakuk had a long conversation with God about the evil of society, and what God was---or wasn’t---doing about it. David prayed for forgiveness after committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband to cover it up. And there are many Psalms where David complains that God doesn’t hear or care about him.
Several years ago, I recall being in a Bible study class in which a sweet little old lady commented that she had been told, as a child, that it was selfish to pray for herself, and so, she had never asked God for anything, except once when she made a bargain with God: if He would do this one thing, she’d never ask Him for anything else again. I thought, "What a tragedy!" She was afraid to tell God what she wanted. Yet David, the man God said was "after His own heart" prayed for himself all the time. So did Jesus, in the Garden. David and Jesus, it seems to me, never made a big deal about praying. They may have set aside a special time for prayer, but mostly they seem to have prayed whenever they felt like talking to God, and they talked about whatever they needed to talk about.
David especially said exactly what was on his heart. Sometimes he complained bitterly that God didn’t care. Sometimes he asked God why He had forsaken him? Sometimes he praised God, and sometimes he thanked Him for His blessings. Sometimes he begged God to kill his enemies, just smite them left and right. It’s all in the Psalms...read them. David actually spends more time complaining than he does anything else, a trait I happen to share with David.
I concluded, therefore, based how real people prayed in the Bible, that how we pray is not all that important. Some people need a set of rote prayers: sometimes that is especially helpful in very stressful times when we don’t even know what to say. Some people like to write their prayers out as a letter to God: King Hezekiah took a letter in before God once, and showed it to Him. Sometimes God’s answers shock us: Habakkuk thought God had gone crazy!
But mostly, I think God just wants us to talk to Him. David, Moses, Jesus, Habbakkuk, Elijah; they all had conversations with God. Sometimes it was a formal prayer with a beginning and an end and a middle. Sometimes, like when Jesus was on the cross, it was just a gasp (is there anything more haunting than "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"). It seems to me that any and all of these prayers are perfectly acceptable to God. Be flexible: don’t think of it as "praying." Just talk to God!