Though I was a Christian at that time, I did not develop a mature thinking towards prayer. Without consistently experiencing the discipline to pause, stay silent, or listen, I carried what I knew about prayer with a mixture of what I thought prayer should be: prayer should be long, almost masochistic, always-on-my-knees, and repetitious. WIth that equation, how can I not think of prayer as boring or a chore?
I stayed away from it as much as possible; it was always a one-sided conversation: "Thank You, Lord. Forgive me, I'm sorry. Bless me. Amen." The content of my prayer rendered me skeptical: can God really say something!? Nah... Then off I went to bed.
Years went by and I felt ashamed about my perception towards prayer. I had to put all elementary teachings aside and mature.The more I dissolved any man-made, culture-made, and church-made ideas about prayer, the more I realized its beauty.
I will not forget my experience praying to God during one prayer and fasting night. I didn't feel like telling God what I wanted or needed . Still feeling stuck in my old wine skin, I felt unsure of my next step while I saw people on their knees and some crying. I got my Bible and read chapters in the book of Psalms. There I found words from David which I used to praise my King. Minute after minute, I found myself amazed that I was not lacking any words. I spent much of my time adoring Him. Then came the call for the closing prayer to which I was astonished that it had been more than 30 minutes of nothing but praise!
That experience taught me something. When you pray, you don't have to follow a grid, a formula, or an instruction on your church bulletin. It can help, but you don't have to. The thing is, that is not essential. Mentally, it can give you some sense of satisfaction knowing you followed the step-by-step guide, but that is man-made. When talking to God, be who you are as if talking to a friend, but maintain respect. God is a King who deserves to be honored and adored, but He is also your confidant and your partner. So don't kid yourself by including "Thy" or "Oh" in your prayers thinking it'll impress God.
I've learned that prayer is also not an excuse to back out from something or an excuse to create a spiritual-sounding response. I have heard so many people tell me in the past (and quite guilty of committing the same thing), "I'm going to pray about it" but have not a clue as to what that truly means (at least for me I can definitely attest to that). One time when I was asked to teach a class, the leader told me, "Hope you can pray about it and let me know before Sunday." But I had less than a week to really dwell on the idea. Af first, it didn't sink quite well with me as I struggled to know what that truly meant. Yet, I found myself in the class teaching that Sunday since I felt pressured to agree on it. I may be downright ignorant about my judgement here and there may be nothing absolutely wrong with what she said, but to me it didn't feel right. Perhaps, my heart was prematurely ready to serve and I needed time to pray.
Prayer involves much thinking, decision-making, and studying. I always had this idea that prayer would merely be shooting arrows upward and leaving without following through. Days and days should go along in expectation for God to reveal the stone paths that you should take on. Consultation from the wise should help to illuminate which path to take. Prayer gets us to ponder upon the pros and cons of a decision and the options before us. No wonder prayer changes us. It helps us become better listeners and attentive students of God's leading. Prayer along with serious pausing, listening, and reflecting, will definitely give you answers. But of course, there are prayers that simply mean TAKE A LEAP OF FAITH and MOVE. There are days when it is not even the time to pray.
In Exodus, Moses leads the people out of Egypt until the great Red Sea is before them - the greatest obstacle thus far. While people are arguing, bickering and whining, Moses almost goes off on panic mode and asks God what to do. God then says, "Why are you crying out to me!? Pick up your staff and get your people moving!" (Exodus 14:15). Clearly, it wasn't a call for prayer but of common sense and of deep courage to plunge in. Moses then takes his staff and God performs an awesome miracle before their eyes. The people cross to the other side of the sea and the Egyptians perish as the ocean walls come down. God wanted Moses to move. In this type of situation, I believe that fear enveloped Moses that he forgot the glory shown to him through the very thing he carried - the staff. In moments when we have to make a decision quickly, we have to deflect and reflect His name. It is always for God's glory, not for us. May that be the driving and guiding force that sets you to decide.
Ultimately, I can't tell you when or when not to pray. It's only by your discernment, your understanding of the Father's heart and His word, and the Holy Spirit's leading that will open your eyes to know what He desires for you.
I hope this helps. Some random insights I gathered from reading Chuck Swindoll's book.