Developing a prayer life that is personal, intimate, and powerful takes time and attention. In fact, anything worth having in this world takes time and attention. Like a farmer approaching new, wild land, the soil of our hearts and minds must be cultivated for prayer to bear fruit.
There is a lot of effort on the farmers part to prepare for growth. The rocks must be removed. The trees felled, and roots burnt up. The soil must be tilled, broken, and irrigated. Fertilizer needs to be spread, pests fought, and then the seeds are sown.
With ongoing careful tending, the farmer has reached the limits of that his efforts can take him. He has prepared the land as best as possible to bear fruit. Now the sunshine, the winds and rains, the animals, the soil's nutrients, the seeds themselves must do their work. At this stage, the farmer must simply let go as these external forces work upon fruit.
So too in prayer is there a balance between our effort or activity, and the surrender of our activity to the movement and will of God. It should go without saying that our effort is graced effort, a striving and working that is itself a gift to strive and to work. When I speak of "our work", it is a work caught up wholly in the grace of God. He gives the desire and the strength to accomplish it.
There are a host of obstacles awaiting us that prevents prayer from taking root in our lives: distractions, bad habits, weak wills, busy schedules, full calendars, other people clamoring for our time and attention, responsibilities, and of course our own sin. Here we work, we strive, we build up virtues and beat down vices. We forgive others and we beg forgiveness from others. We withdraw from the world of never-ending, always-on entertainment. We find places of peace and calm. We carve out time in our day for silence and solitude. We ask others to pray with us and for us.
In short, we cultivate in our own hearts the proper environment that makes prayer, good prayer, possible. Then, we surrender and let God give the growth. Our work ends. Or, in another way, we could say that our work does not end, but is transformed into receptivity (not passiveness). This is where we stop the Martha activity of doing things with God, and become transformed in the Mary of simply being with God.
The purpose of prayer is not to pray. It is not an end in itself. The purpose of prayer is union with God. Prayer is a form that union takes. It is the communication between Lover and beloved. Sometimes we speak and sometimes we listen, like in any relationship. Cooperation with God's grace in our efforts lie in the removal of bad things, and the building up of good things. But our efforts can never force God to speak. We merely ready ourselves to receive Him. He decides when to give Himself.