Here is a posting by Steven Bruns at Seedbed. From the Apostolic Tradition (circa 215 AD) come these words:
“It is not altogether necessary for [the bishop] to recite the very same words which we gave before as though studying to say them by heart in his thanksgiving to God; but let each one pray according to his own ability. If indeed he is able to pray suitably with a grand and elevated prayer, this is a good thing. But if on the other hand he should pray and recite a prayer according to a brief form, no one shall prevent him. Only let his prayer be correct and orthodox.”
I don’t think most Christians think about their prayers being “correct and orthodox.” Prayer has become anything goes as long as one is sincere. But clearly prayer reflects theology. How people approach God, what it means to pray in Jesus’ Name, what people pray for, how their prayers are ordered, etc., all declare what one believes about the Triune God and the nature of the the Christian life – its goals, its permissions and its restrictions, its focus, its discipline of the passions and appetites, and its release of Godly desire.
In this sense prayer is not just having a conversation with God. It is about bringing order to our lives and fixing our compass points so that we ask and live aright. This is why prayer must be taught and why our Lord gave us a paradigmatic prayer to guide us.
Listen to people pray. Really listen. Not to judge but to process and learn. And then reflect on how poorly we pray – random, disordered, self-focused, truncated and narrow. If the Christian life is being lived as it is prayed, there are a lot of us in trouble.
This is one of the reasons I use the Divine Hours as a prayer guide so that I am not left to the confusion of the moment and its hurts and disappointments. This is one of the reasons many spiritual movements develop prayer books, such as The Book of Common Prayer in the Anglican Church.
If one prays well, one lives well. Let’s start with learning how to pray.