They used to say about Poemen that when he was ready to go out to the meeting for prayer, he first sat by himself for an hour in self-examination, and then he went (11:22)
If we ask the saints of the ages to define prayer, almost all of them will begin with the statement, “Prayer is listening.”
I still remember how I felt when I first learned that truth. I was surprised, because at the time I was trying to figure out what to “say” when I prayed. I was thinking about how to speak, not how to listen.
Listening is primary because prayer is a disposition of the heart before it is a declaration of the mind or the mouth. It’s what the Bible means when it instructs us to “incline your hearts to the Lord.”
Poemen’s hour-long self-examination gave him the right attitude for prayer—humility. And with an “inclined heart,” he could receive from God the things to pray about.
I am a simple person, and what all this says to me is this: it’s interesting (and sometimes amazing) the things that come to mind to pray for when I begin with listening rather than speaking. The context for our praying is a well-examined heart.