My sophomore year in college, my friends and I decided to spend two hours in prayer for the salvation of the unsaved high school students we were working with. We decided to meet at church, and the only free space that evening was a large janitor's closet that smelled strongly of detergent and disinfectant.
So we gathered in that closet to pour out our hearts to God. We prayed every which way we knew: we praised God and confessed our sins and lifted up the names of all the students we could think of. Then we praised and confessed and interceded some more. When I looked at my watch, just 15 minutes had passed! The next hour and 45 minutes of prayer were the longest and slowest I had ever experienced.
I came to pour out my heart to God and discovered there wasn't much to pour out. It would be years before I understood why I saw prayer in the same way I saw the Psalms at that time—only as a tool to help me ask God for what I wanted. The problem was that I wanted so little! What I didn't understand was that learning to pray was learning to desire the things God wants to give, and then asking him for them.
It isn't that our desires are unworthy to express to God in prayer. He is our loving and compassionate Father, and he listens to all we say with a kind and wise heart. But he knows better than we do what we need—and better yet, he desires things for us that we may not even desire for ourselves.
Since that "closet episode" in college, I've learned a few more things about prayer, especially from the Psalms.
James Boice said learning to pray is a little like learning to play the violin with the virtuosos. No instrument sounds worse in the beginning stages of learning; it's all screech and scratch. But if the student is ...