Prayer is divine conversation, our communication with a loving Heavenly Father who knows us individually and intimately — including our strengths and our needs — and who wants us to pray to Him and no one else.
But sometimes we as Latter-day Saints struggle with our prayers — even regular, frequent prayer — because we allow that divine conversation to fall victim to our mortal nature and senses. We don't "see" or "hear" God as we would with someone in one of our normal, day-to-day interactions.
As such, we might start to get casual, even routine, in communicating with our Heavenly Father, waiting only until we are in great need to pray with fervor, urgency and intent.
Rather, we tend to make greater efforts in being effective in our conversations with others around us — to articulate our thoughts and feelings as well as to listen carefully and acknowledge what the other is saying.
Latter-day Saints are taught to approach God regularly through prayer, better understanding and knowing Him and His will. As we do that, we draw close to Him and align our desires and efforts close to His design.
As we do, we are able to secure — in large part by prayer — blessings for ourselves and others that God is willing to grant, but which are dependent on our asking in faith.
The Bible Dictionary underscores this:
"As soon as we learn the true relationship in which we stand toward God (namely, God is our Father, and we are his children), then at once prayer becomes natural and instinctive on our part (Matt. 7:7-11). Many of the so-called difficulties about prayer arise from forgetting this relationship.
"Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.
"Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work, and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings" (Bible Dictionary, pages 752-3).
Two latter-day prophets used common-day analogies to help us avoid falling into the trap of commonplace prayers.
President Gordon B. Hinckley taught: "The trouble with most of our prayers is that we give them as if we were picking up the telephone and ordering groceries — we place our order and hang up. We need to meditate, contemplate, think of what we are praying about and for and then speak to the Lord as one man speaketh to another" (The Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley, p. 469).
Said President Howard W. Hunter: "If prayer is only a spasmodic cry at a time of crisis, then it is utterly selfish, and we come to think of God as a repairman or a service agency to help us only in our emergencies. We should remember the Most High day and night — always — not only at times when all other assistance has failed and we desperately need help" (The Teachings of Howard W. Hunter, p. 39).
Prayer is a two-way communication, a time not just for one-sided expressions on our part but a pondering and listening to impressions and inspiration from the Spirit.
One should pray not only with reverence and respect to the Most High, but also with regularity. However, prayer should never become routine, regimented, ritualistic or repetitive.
The goal then mirrors that as taught by Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve in his April 2008 General Conference address:
"Prayer is a privilege and the soul's sincere desire. We can move beyond routine and 'checklist' prayers and engage in meaningful prayer as we appropriately ask in faith and act, as we patiently persevere through the trial of our faith, and as we humbly acknowledge and accept 'not my will, but Thine, be done.' "