I think there is a tendency for people to approach prayer with an agenda – to go to God looking for answers to a particular problem with the expectation that God will provide an immediate answer (preferably a particular answer). In his book Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton explains a very different approach, an approach that gives God the freedom to approach us as God desires:
Contemplation is essentially a listening in silence, an expectancy… In other words, the true contemplative is not the one who prepares his mind for a particular message that he wants or expects to hear, but who remains empty because he knows that he can never expect or anticipate the world that will transform his darkness into light. He does not even anticipate a special kind of transformation. He does not demand light instead of darkness. He waits on the Word of God in silence, and when he is “answered,” it is not so much by a world that bursts into his silence. It is by his silence itself suddenly, inexplicably revealing itself to him as a word of great power, full of the voice of God.
As I re-read those words, what came to mind is a poem of Mary Oliver’s that I love called Praying. In it, she speaks of prayer as “the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.” All we need do is wait in expecency in the silence…wait for what God wishes to reveal.