Prayer is the raising of one's heart and mind to God, or the requesting of good things from God (Catholic Catechism 2559). As St Thérèse of Lisieux expressed:
‘For me, 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.’
There are many forms of prayer in Christianity and many people who have taught others how to pray. However, the authority on prayer would be Jesus Christ, who was God and had great intimacy with God the Father. When asked how to pray by his disciples, Jesus told his disciples:
‘He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.Forgive us our sins,
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
And lead us not into temptation'.’”
This has become the basis of the Our Father prayer, and it outlines a few types of prayer that are common.
Adoration/worship: 'Hallowed be your name' In this kind of prayer, we praise the greatness of God and we acknowledge our deep dependence on Him. The Holy Mass is full of prayers of adoration or worship, such as the Gloria (the Glory to God).
Petition: 'Give us each day our daily bread' Prayers of petition are maybe the prayer you’re most familiar with. Simply put, this is when we ask God for things we need. The example Jesus gives us is an extremely practical one, asking for food for the day, showing us that none of our needs are beneath talking to God about. But our petitions should always be open to accepting God's Will, - Jesus shows us this by praying in the Our Father 'Thy will be done'.
Intercession Intercession is when we pray for others, interceding for them to God. This is a very natural prayer as it is offering those dearest to us to the heart of God, entrusting them to Him. So as Christians, we can pray prayers of intercession for anyone, for those we love, for those we work with, for strangers - even for our enemies, whom Jesus calls us to love!
Thanksgiving This type of prayer makes sense if we think of prayer as a relationship - we cannot just be asking for things from a person, we must also thank them for what they give us! When we apply this to prayer, we realise that there is so much for us to be thankful for. The best known kind of thanksgiving prayer is probably saying grace before meals, but we should be able to thank God throughout the day.
In these ways, we can see that prayer is the bedrock of our faith - it is how we talk to God in all the seasons of our life. When we are in need and when we are thankful - it is our conversation with him and without it we will be lost.
We can also pray in any scenario. As St Teresa of Calcutta explains:
‘You can pray while you work. Work doesn't stop prayer and prayer doesn't stop work. It requires only that small raising of the mind to him: I love you God, I trust you, I believe in you, I need you now. Small things like that. They are wonderful prayers.’
In this way, there is no conflict between prayer and action, they should be a unity. Good works should always be fuelled by prayer.
A final piece of advice on prayer from Jesus is to give our personal time to God too, to pray in our quiet times.
‘But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’ (Matthew 6:6)