Prayer is God's gift to us so that we will come to desire those things that He desires for us. When we prayer Christ prayers in and through us; our prayer is his prayer and our father is his father. Because of this our prayers are never ignored because they are spoken through the Son, Jesus Christ, into the very heart of God.
St Therese of Lisieux says 'Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy'. St John of Damascene describes prayer as 'The raising of one's mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.'
These definitions tell us about prayer more generally. But for many of us it seems a difficult task; how are we to 'pray always' as the Bible tells us? God asks nothing of us that is impossible and so we must, each of us, ask how prayer is saturating the normal rhythm of everyday life, work, family, school, socialising.
Prayer can be a request (petitionary prayer), it can be thanksgiving for something, it could be praise or it could be on behalf of someone else (intercessory prayer). All these types of prayer are a natural part of a Christian's prayer life and in our worship you'll find each one used at different times and in different circumstances. It is important to remember that not only does Jesus pray through us and so our prayers are his, but that other people, including the saints hear our prayers and pray on our behalf. Sometimes asking a saint to pray for us reminds us of their virtues and own closeness to God in such a way that helps us to follow their example.
There are three main ways in which we pray: vocal, using words out-loud or in our minds; meditative, this is a prayer that seeks for greater understanding and deeper knowledge; contemplative, this is a simple being with God. a sort of gazing that brings us close to God.
A simple way to begin to pray is to develop a habit to recalls us to our creator. This sort of prayer can easily be woven into the pattern of our everyday life. Try simply remembering to say 'thank you' when good things happen, 'help me' when things are not so great. Briefly turning our minds to God, whether we say the words or simply think about them is the very easiest way to develop a good prayer life.
Many people find words helpful. Vocal prayer provides us with something to say when the words will not come. Reciting some simple prayers such as the 'Our Father' (see the bottom of this page for this prayer) prayer can be a great way to get started. The 'Our Father' is the prayer that Jesus taught his disciples when they asked him how they should pray.
Remember God know what you want to say even when you can't think of the words. There are no set ways or correct words, you can only give God what you have so don't be afraid to share openly in your own voice in the words you would normally use.
As your prayer life advances you might consider joining in some of the daily prayers of the Church in the morning or evening - this is called the daily office.
One of the great traditions of Christianity has been our request for prayer from saints and those around us. A saint is a person who the Church believes is in Heaven. It is a belief that stems from Jesus himself who told the criminal he was crucified with that he would be with him on today in Heaven. We ask saints to pray for us because they are humans so understand our wants and needs but they are also in heaven and so in the presence of God to whom all our prayers are directed.
Saints are often associated with specific events, problems or professions and are called patron saints. Most people know that St George is the patron saint of England. These are there to help us direct our prayers and also because these saints are seen as having a specific interest in these areas because of the way they lived their lives. St Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals because he had a habit of going into the countryside and spending time with the animals their.
Chief among all the saints is Mary the mother of Jesus. She is seen as the model of all Christian life because she said yes to God. She trusted God in her prayers when she said 'your will be done'. At the bottom of this page is a prayer that asks Mary to pray for us and is used by many different Christian groups. It is important to remember that we do not pray to saints but ask them to pray for us - all prayers are ultimately for God.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil,
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory,
for ever and ever.
Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners now,
and at the hour of our death.