Prayer: Days 3-5



How should I pray?  

   When you were at school you were probably taught to put your hands together when you prayed. But in one of his many books about prayer, Henri Nouwen says that when we pray “we are asked to open up our tightly clenched fists”. So why not start by holding your clenched fist in front of you, and then slowly opening it up to receive from God the blessings and wisdom God longs to give you.

   In this way – your hands open before God – your hand itself can be a basic pattern and reminder of how to pray:

Using your hand as a model for prayer

1. Thumb

When something is good you give it the “thumbs up”. So start with thanksgiving. Count your blessings. What are the good things in your life? Thank God for them.

2. Index finger

This is the finger you use to point. Pray for direction in your life; the decisions you need to make; the things for which you are responsible; the things you are concerned about. Pray for direction in our world and for the challenges we face.

3. Middle finger

This is the tallest finger. Pray for the important people who have power in the world; national and local politicians; the Royal Family and other world leaders and their governments.

4. Ring finger

If you are married, you wear your wedding ring on this finger. It is also the weakest finger. It can’t do much on its own. Pray for your family and friends. Pray for the people upon whom you are dependent, and the people who are dependent on you.

5. Little finger

This is the smallest and the last finger on your hand. Pray for the poor, the weak, the helpless, the vulnerable, the excluded, the hungry, the sick, the ill and the bereaved. Remember those who have died.

And finally – lifting both your hands to God in thanksgiving – pray for yourself

The sign of the cross

This leads us to probably one of the most basic ways of praying of all, also using your hands. Making a sign of the cross on your forehead or your body. It is one of the ways many Christians begin and end a time of prayer. The sign of the cross reminds us that we belong to Jesus.

     In Baptism – the start of the Christian life – we are marked with the sign of the cross, the sign that we are saved by the suffering and death of Christ. In death – if we receive the last rites – we are marked with the cross again. The sign of the cross reminds us that we belong to Jesus, the crucified one.  “Prayer is not an activity of the mind, for God is not in the head. It is an activity of the whole person, and God is in the wholeness.” (Ken Leech, Soul Friend)

     What do you think of when you make the sign of the cross? Many Christians think of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Is there a verse from the Bible or a short prayer that you find helpful to call to mind?

     Try listing the things you are thankful for in the morning when you get up. Does this sometimes lead you into prayer?


God be in my head,

and in my understanding;

God be in my eyes,

and in my looking;

God be in my mouth,

and in my speaking;

God be in my heart

and in my thinking;

God be at mine end,

and at my departing

(Sarum Primer)

How do I build prayer into everyday life?

     Most of us have routines that shape the day. One of the ways of developing a life of prayer is to weave times of prayer into these existing rhythms and routines. If we attend to some simple spiritual disciplines and rhythms to shape our day, we are also more likely to maintain good mental health. Each point in the day lends itself to a different sort of praying:

First thing in the morning

When you get up in the morning and clean your teeth. Or when you jump in the shower. Or when you open the curtains for the first time – use this as an opportunity to welcome the new day. Dedicate the day to God, asking that you will receive the sustenance you need. This kind of prayer is sometimes called a consecration of the day to God.

At mealtimes

Eating is still one of the main routines that shape a day.When you sit down to eat, say a prayer of thanksgiving for your food. This is a very basic sort of prayer. It enables us not just to give thanks for the food in front of us, but for all those whose lives are connected with ours, and for all the ways God provides for us. I might want to give thanks for those who plant and grow and pick and transport and stack and sell the food that ends up on my plate.This kind of prayer is called thanksgiving. It is primarily for the food and those whose labour has provided it. But it can also be a brief opportunity to give thanks to God for all the things that sustain life, not least God’s own unending grace and goodness. It’s worth remembering that the word Eucharist (one of the names Christians have for Holy Communion) means thanksgiving. The most basic act of worship in the church is a meal. And it is a thank you meal.

As you exercise

When you take your daily walk (or run or cycle) you are likely to be on your own. Why not use this as an opportunity to pray for others as well as yourself. Perhaps list in your mind the people you are concerned about and the other things that are closest to your heart. This kind of prayer is usually called intercession. It is that prayer when we bring to God the people and things that are on our hearts.

At the end of the day

At the end of the day you could say the ancient office of Night Prayer (or Compline). This is a service of quiet reflection for the end of the day, deriving its name from the Latin word meaning completion. It includes an opportunity to think over the day, what is sometimes called an examination of conscience. We bring to God what has happened in the day. The things that have gone well and the things that have gone wrong. The things we should have said and done as well as the wrong things we ended up saying and doing. This kind of prayer is called confession. We acknowledge our need of God, our sinfulness, and we cry out for God’s abundant mercy and goodness. We also finish the day as we started: thanking God for the blessings of the day; and praying for rest and safety through the night.

   Not all these things will work for everyone. Some things that work one day, won’t work so well the next. Find the way of praying that is right for you, and then build on it, trying other new things from time to time. And perhaps speak to friends about how it is going and what works for them. “Love to pray. Feel often during the day the need for prayer, and take trouble to pray. If you want to pray better, you must pray more.” (Mother Teresa of Calcutta, In the Silence of The Heart)

Think about the rhythms and routines of your daily life. Make time for God by discerning where in each day are your times and places for prayer. Try giving thanks before a meal – with others or on your own. Keep it short and simple, such as “O Lord, bless this food to our use and us in your service, and keep us ever mindful of the needs of others. Amen.”


Save us, O Lord, while waking,
and guard us while sleeping,
that awake we may watch with Christ
and asleep may rest in peace. Amen.


How do I pray with my family?

     The question I’m going to explore here isn’t, of course, relevant to everyone – though it will be a very important one for some. And many of the principles below can – and, perhaps, should – apply to how we pray as adults, too. In my experience, children love to pray. Their ease with God spans Christian traditions. They thrive on routine and will be in enthralled by the comfort and the colour of ritual. They love the Word of God and will listen over and over again to stories from the Bible. Their prayer will be spontaneous, joyful and creative.When I first started to explore ways of praying together at home with small children, I looked around for the books on the subject. I couldn’t find any. There are plenty of books of prayer for children, but nothing much about how to pray with children. Here are a few ideas for praying with children and with teenagers and as a whole family.

With children  With younger children it is important to understand how they develop and particularly the importance of routine. When our own children were small, we tried to make prayer a natural part of the day the rhythm of life. Tea time, bath time, story time and prayer time all followed each other in a comfortingly familiar daily routine. That prayer included daily rituals of sitting down together, lighting a candle and saying a set prayer. But it also included spontaneity and creativity. Using pictures the children had made themselves as a focus of the prayer, allowing them to give expression to their prayer. And making sure that the whole thing was punctuated by stories from the Bible. Small children learn through play. It is the way they come to understand the world around them ... we must make praying like playing. Small children learn through play. It is the way they come to understand the world around them. They reproduce the world through their play, solving problems and re-enacting its dramas and delights. So, we must make praying like playing.Whenever we pray in the home with children, teenagers or as a couple, or even on our own, we need to try and weave together these three elements.

  • Ritual – using familiar prayers and secure patterns of prayer and developing our own little family rituals of prayer.
  • Spontaneity – nurturing within ourselves and in our households ways of expressing prayer in response to what has happened to us in the day. Both thanksgiving and petition.
  • Play – praying should be fun!

Some years ago, a Sunday school teacher asked me if I had noticed that adults’ prayers usually began with the word “please”, but children’s prayers always began with the words “thank you”. It is a most challenging observation. When we adults come to God, it tends to be with all the stuff we want to ask God to do for us. But children come with thanksgiving on their lips. So when we pray with children, it is not us praying for them, but us praying with them, and asking them to lead us in prayer. Often where we may dither and hesitate, their praying gets right to the heart of a situation in ways we find embarrassing or difficult.

With teenagers Praying with teenagers will always be more challenging. Probably the most important lesson to learn is not to force them or expect them to join in if they don’t want to. Teenagers are very interested in God, very interested in spirituality and very committed to wanting to change the world. Given the right space and the right conditions they will want to give voice to their longing for God and their longing for a better world. In the home, sometimes this will be best expressed by silence, by images, by listening to music, by meditative reading. And sometimes by discussion which then may lead into prayer. With teenagers this might be something that happens once a week rather than every day. “You gave your Son to share in the life of a family in Nazareth. Help us to value our families, to be thankful for them, and to live sensitively with them.”

New Patterns for Worship  Faith at home offers resources to help us discover God in the place we spend most of our time. It includes support for families in how to discuss faith and develop their practices and habits together. Find out more on our website. Teenagers can teach the rest of us a lot about prayer. They will want to live their prayer, and see prayer in action, or they will soon lose interest. They challenge the rest of us to see the connection between prayer and life.


Thank you for the world so sweet;

Thank you for the food we eat;

Thank you for the birds that sing;

Thank you God for everything


(Edith Rutter-Leatham)