Lots of people fall into the trap of feeling bad when they pray for some sort of outcome they want. They feel they're not worthy of it, or that it's selfish or that God just wants them to suffer, so they should just suffer without the result they want.
All of this is deluded thinking. First, if you're a Christian, you have to consider that the God-man - Christ Himself - taught people to ask for what they want and need. "Ask and you shall receive," He said. "Whatever you ask for in prayer, you shall receive." You'll notice here that He doesn't say he'll reject any request that makes your life more pleasant because He wants you to suffer, and He doesn't say these requests are selfish.
Now that we've got that out of the way, it's time to learn the essential steps to building a prayer routine that "works". What do I mean by prayer that "works"? Simple - you begin to see the fruits of your prayer, both in the sense of inner peace and the concrete results you've asked for (or something better). And based on that, you develop a deep realization that you're not alone and that help is closer to you than your own breath. Do you think that would work for you?
How to Make Requests in Prayer:
Step 1: Put Yourself in the Divine Presence
Represent God vividly before you. Do not build a mental picture of Him; just put everything else out of your mind and feel the firm conviction that the power of God is here with you at this moment. Remember that the direct experience of the ages has revealed two things - the Absolute is totally beyond human imagination, so don't try to imagine God, and the Absolute Reality is benevolent, so banish any childhood ideas that God is out to get you. Simple be fully present and summon the full attention of your mind and heart.
Step 2: Be Honest with Yourself and with the Divine Presence
If you're not sure that God exists, or that God is personal, or that God is loving or any of that, don't worry. If you have doubts, express those too. And know that you can certainly ask God for clarification, for love and compassion. The Absolute Reality is up to the challenge ;-)
Step 3: Give Thanks
Give thanks for all the blessings in your life. Give thanks for your family and friends, for your job and career, for your health and for all the good things that have happened to you. Don't worry about being exhaustive here, just bring a few things to mind.
Then recall specific prayer requests you've made that have been fulfilled. Yes, if you're new to this you may have to skip this step for now. Just keep in mind it's vital to know exactly what you've asked for and exactly what you've received. This will boost your faith, which in turn is vital to the success of your prayer and your entire spiritual life.
Step 4: Make Your Requests
Know exactly and clearly what you're asking for. Make your requests known to the Absolute without the slightest doubt. Simply assume you will receive your requests and that if you don't receive them immediately, that some even greater benefit is coming to you.
God is the Uncreated life force behind the entire universe. Nothing is impossible for Him. If you think your request is impossible, keep in mind it's absolutely possible for God and that the only barriers to your request are found in yourself and nowhere else.
What should you pray for? First of all, ask for spiritual progress for yourself and those close to you. Ask that all of you will be protected from harm, whether spiritual or physical. Pray for some people individually, especially those most in need. Ask for any material thing you need as well. In short ask for anything you need or want. And always end by reaffirming the things you've prayed for. This makes it all the more definite in your own mind and memory. With it fixed in your memory, you can recall your prayer requests during the day, knowing that they're on their way to you and to the people you've prayed for.
Of course, we're not talking about requests that are purely selfish in the sense of petty. Praying to become a billionaire might not be the best idea, for example. First, you don't need it and second, you probably wouldn't even like the result! As St. Isaac the Syrian put it (and I'm translating this literally), "Don't ask a king for shit."
Does This Really Work?
Well, if you're a skeptic looking for scientific data, I'd recommend you have a look at Lynne McTaggart's classic book, The Field: the Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe. There you'll find the results of some rigorous scientific experiments on distance healing, for example, proving that prayer really can heal people measurably and repeatably, and over any distance.
I can tell you personally that I'm continually stunned by the results of prayer. I expect my requests to be granted - not because I'm gritting my teeth and fighting off doubt, but because I've seen it so frequently that it no longer occurs to me that I should doubt.
It wasn't always like this, of course. Learning fruitful prayer takes time, persistence and dedication. But when you've learned well, you have a whole new take on life itself. You know for a fact you're not alone. You know for a fact that help is closer to you than your own heartbeat. And you know that this help is the power that created the Universe in the first place.
Next time, we'll talk about an even more profound type of prayer - prayer as a continuous inner state of communion with the Divine. As I said before, this is the "real chocolate", the real nectar of life and it's unfortunately a teaching that has long since disappeared from conventional "religion".
~ Dr. Symeon Rodger