Proba wrote Saint Augustine because she was afraid she wasn't praying as she should. Augustine responded with several rules for prayer:
The first rule is completely counter-intuitive. Augustine wrote that before anyone can turn to the question of what to pray and how to pray it, he or she must first be a particular kind of person:
"You must account yourself 'desolate' in this world, however great the prosperity of your lot may be."
He argues that no matter how great your earthly circumstances, they cannot bring us the peace, happiness, and consolation found in Christ. The scales must fall from our eyes. If we don't see that truth, all our prayers will go wrong.
He quotes Proverbs 30 as an example: "Give me neither poverty nor riches: Feed me with food appropriate for me lest I be full and deny you ... or lest I be poor, and steal and take the name of my God in vain." Ask yourself this question. Are you seeking God in prayer in order to get adequate financial resources—or are you seeking the kind and amount of resources you need to adequately know and serve God? Those are two different sets of motivations.
In both cases the external action is a prayer—"Oh, Lord, give me a job so I won't be poor"—but the internal reasons of the heart are completely different. If, as Augustine counseled, you first became a person "desolate without God regardless of external circumstances" and then began to pray, your prayer will be like Proverbs 30. But if you just jump into prayer before the gospel re-orders your heart's loves, then your prayer will be more like this: "Make me as wealthy as possible."
- Tim Keller, from a blog post: here