A few general remarks
A friend once told me he wanted to avoid deep theological discussions. Instead all he wanted to do was pray and teach on prayer. Even a spiritual minor can ask more questions on prayer than a generation of world-ranked theologians can answer. There's nothing simple about prayer.
Still, this much is clear: Jesus who would have known all about the difficult questions related to prayer urged people to pray always and not quit (Luke 18:1). It's true that even that Luke text is filled with unanswered difficulties but it's clearly a call to prayer, persistent prayer. And there's the assurance that a God who keeps faith with his children hears the prayers. See.
So maybe we should begin there: Trust in the Holy Father to whom we pray. I say trust in him rather than our understanding of him. The Father is no great "Unknown" because he has made himself known in Jesus Christ and this gives us grounds to trust him. Just the same he's too grand to be fully grasped so we're to trust him even when we don't understand his ways. We did that to a great degree with loving parents, didn't we? Christ would say: Think noble things of God and trust him.
Then I think we should pray believing that the reality of things is vast and complex. No prayer is as simple as it seems. I recognise that a heart in agony has no time to think of such matters but it's true even when I am in awful pain. If our prayer is a request it may be asking for something that God chooses not to give because he has other agendas in motion. I can understand why Tevye in Fiddler On The Roof wonders how it could be hard for God to make him a rich man without upsetting world affairs. Still, even his sensible question is more complex than he knew. In another place on the site maybe I'll go into this in some detail.
We should pray expressing the desire of our hearts even if we think we might not get what we ask for. There are those who think if you pray thinking you might not get what you ask for that you aren't praying in faith. That just isn't true and James 1 is not speaking to such a situation. It isn't a lack of faith to humbly admit that what we ask for might not suit God's purposes. But even with that reservation we are still urged by Christ to pray and Paul encourages us to make our requests known to God (Ephesians 6:18). Tell him what you want without fear or shame and trust him to work the richest and best result.
I'm sure we should pray prayers of various kinds. All kinds of prayers, Paul says in Ephesians 6:18, because prayer isn't simply the way we ask for what we want. There are thanksgiving prayers. There are prayer of praise and prayer of penitence. There is prayer that simply rejoices in the presence of the Holy Father. Prayers that ask for nothing, vow nothing and promise nothing. There are prayers that go up simply because we want to talk to our Father who is our Friend. It seems that only in the area of request prayers do we have questions on top of questions.
We need to bear in mind that prayer is only one expression of the rich and complex relationship we have with God and the world. Naturally, I believe prayer is vitally important but it isn't the "most important" thing in a Christian's life. In light of the entire biblical witness, to claim it is makes little sense.
©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.
Many thanks to brother Ed Healy, for allowing me to post from his website, theabidingword.com