How and why should we pray? It seems to me that lots of Christians are beset with problems about their prayers. They wonder why they don’t get the answers they are looking for. They feel guilty because they’ve heard it suggested that the failure of their prayer is their own fault. They aren’t praying earnestly enough, they don’t have enough faith, their motives are unworthy. The “Prayer of Jabez” phenomenon is indicative of a belief in a “mechanical” approach to prayer - turn the handle the right number of times, at the correct speed and your desire will be met from the little slot at the bottom.
Our thinking about prayer is often focussed on results - what we will get as a result of our prayers. So you find books on “effective praying” which offer all kinds of hints and tips on the proper techniques. Using the right words, adopting the correct posture and repeating the procedure at the proper intervals will all (allegedly) play a part in twisting the Almighty’s arm and make sure he gives the right answer. Getting what you want is the outcome you want from prayer.
But all this is missing the point. Prayer is not a problem to be solved, nor is it a technique to be learned. Prayer is a relationship to be entered into. True friendships are not forged on the basis of what good the other will be able to do you. Friendships exist for their own sake. They are a good end in themselves. We do not pray to God because of what we expect him to do for us. We pray because of who he is, the eternal Father who loves us beyond our understanding and who longs for us to respond to him.
Being focussed on “technique” and “results” in prayer is all about being in control, clinging on to a sense of self-determination and pride. But at best, prayer is the opposite of those things for it means letting go of ourselves and acknowledging our weakness and helplessness. We come to God, not as skilled negotiators or clever bargainers. We come as little children to our daddy.