Last night I watched Bruce Almighty with the youth group. Aside from the difficulty I have getting through 90 minutes of Jim Carrey, it wasn't as bad as I expected. Near the end there's a really interesting scene where Bruce and God talk about prayer. God asks Bruce to pray, to ask for something. Bruce asks for world peace and the hungry to be fed. 'Now ask me for something you really care about' says God, and Bruce has to think about what it is he really wants. Part of what the film is doing is suggesting that we don't always know what we really want.
A lot of this rings true. I've found that people, particularly young people, often pray about what they think they ought to be praying for. There are expectations and formulae at work, and people think that they shouldn't pray for themselves or for what they want. But Jesus connects best with those who know their need of God. Only to pray for those who qualify as needy others is to put ourselves into the position of those who do not need anything. This is simply untrue (we do need things) and, worse, denies the truth about our neediness. We need God, food, acceptance, shelter and a whole host of other things - being needy is a part of being human.
This is not to say that we should never pray for those who suffer a long way from our experience (say, in Iraq or Uganda). But our prayers will be more real, more in tune with our own longings - which is to say more truly ours - if they come with knowledge and experience of these places and people. This is one of the joys of belonging to the church. Within the church, and through a whole host of networks, partnerships, organisations and so on, we come to know people and places where God is at work. The more we know people and places, the more our prayers for them will be real in the sense of urgently desiring their welfare. In this, I think, we can detect our wills being conformed to God's will and our longings to God's longings. We may even begin to see how our neediness and the neediness of others are connected.