Prayer is a concept common to all religions. At it’s most basic level it is simply communication with a higher power.
DIctionary.com offers this definition
a devout petition to God or an object of worship.
a spiritual communion with God or an object of worship, as in supplication, thanksgiving, adoration, or confession.
the act or practice of praying to God or an object of worship.
a formula or sequence of words used in or appointed for praying: the Lord’s Prayer.
So in most religions it is a way of petitioning the higher power for support in some way and in Christianity that has often been the case. Beyond that though, in Christianity at least, it is a way of having a conversation with God.
The strange thing about Christianity is that, unlike many religions, God did not choose to position himself at the top of a hierarchy but instead looked to human beings as companions. He created people to be in relationship with them and the Bible can be read as having an over arching story about God trying to rebuild that relationship he had with us at the start. There are lots of sub plots but the main story is about God wanting a relationship with us, up to and including sacrificing his own son to free us from Sin.
If that is the case then it has to affect how we pray. We can follow formulas if we want to request God to intervene in a matter. Structure can help make those requests clear in our own mind and have enormous value for us in those circumstances. However, in the same way that you wouldn’t only talk to your best friend when you want something, you can turn to God for other things, to share worries or good news or just talk about your day in a time of isolation. In those circumstances your way of talking, of praying can change. It can become more informal, more conversational.
My favourite prayer goes like this
If God knows what is in your heart (and he does) then the words that you say may be more about you than him. When I first became a Christian and prayed publicly my prayers were short and to the point. Sometimes they were as simple as “what are we doing today?” Other times they were a verbal equivalent of the scribble as frustration robbed me of coherence. As I prayed publicly I began to consider the needs of others too. Some people appreciated structure and frequently invoking the Lord’s name was part of how they had learned to pray. Others required a time of silence, to listen for God. And some were new to prayer and God and Church and were feeling their way and one day their prayer could sound like the curses of an Old Testament Prophet and the next show the simplicity of a child.
As time went on I met people who prayed through dance, through painting, through doodling and in so many other ways. Prayer doesn’t have to be about words any more than worship needs to be about song (but that’s another story).
Jesus said we should shut ourselves alone in a room to pray but prayer fulfils another function too. It let’s us know we are not alone. We have faith that God is there and listening even when we cannot discern him but when a brother or sister prays with us or for us we know we are not alone. That is the value of corporate prayer. We know someone stands with us. In unity.
Prayer is a conversation of words, images or movements. However we feel best able to communicate, God understands our meaning.
Peace be with You