How should I pray?

where to start and how to keep going.

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. 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

Invite your friends and family to join in

The material by Stephen Cottrell is taken from the illustrated Church House Publishing book and eBook Prayer: Where to Start and How to Keep Going. The text is © Stephen Cottrell 2020 and includes material adapted from How to Pray , which is © Stephen Cottrell 1998, 2003, 2010 and is used here with permission of the author and publishers.
Prayers from Common Worship volumes and New Patterns for Worship are copyright © The Archbishops’ Council 2000–2008 and 2002 respectively and are published by Church House Publishing. Used here with permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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