According to St. Augustine, prayer is simply the exercising of our desire. God knows what we need before we ask him, but he wants us to make known to him our needs and desires.
But what do we truly desire? Sometimes we find it hard to put our desires into words, or else we find ourselves caught between conflicting desires, like someone who wants to lose weight but also enjoys good food!
Perhaps this explains why the teaching of Jesus on prayer sometimes seems a puzzle to us: “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you,” he says in Mt. 7:7. Why, then, do we not always get what we ask for?
Perhaps Jesus is asking us, “What do you truly want? Are you sure you really want what you praying for?” That might sound strange, as we are accustomed to think that it is we who should ask what God he wants: “May you will be done,” as we say in the Our Father.
In the Gospel of St. John, the very first words Jesus speaks, addressed to two men who had begun to follow him, were: “What do you want, what are you looking for?” (John 1:38). This is the penetrating question Jesus asks us with great love every time we pray. If we can search into our hearts and find their deepest desire, we will surely get it, for it will be nothing less than the desire for God himself.