In his book No Common Task, Anglican Bishop George Reindrop tells the story of a nurse who once taught a patient how to pray. Before learning the nurse’s lesson, the patient was an angry, gloomy, bitter type whose life had no real purpose. But after he learned the lesson, his life, to say nothing of his prayer life, took on a whole new meaning.
The key to the nurse’s prayer lesson was her hand. Each finger stood for someone for whom she prayed. Her thumb was the nearest to her, and so it reminded her to pray for those who were closest to her. Her index finger was the finger she used for pointing, and so it reminded her to pray for all the teachers in her nursing school and in the hospital where she worked. Her third finger was the tallest, and so it reminded her to pray for the leaders in every area of life. Her fourth finger was the weakest — any piano player will attest to that — and so it reminded her to pray for people who were in trouble and pain. Finally, her little finger was the smallest, and so it reminded her to pray for the least important people, a list upon which the nurse always placed herself.
Perhaps you might try using the nurse’s formula. Then again, maybe you’d like to start with her basic premise but customize it to suit your own prayer life. For example, you might consider this alternative:
- Like the nurse’s lesson, your thumb can remind you to pray for your family and your closest friends. It’s pretty hard to do better than that symbolism.
- If you can imagine your enemy plotting evil schemes against you and pointing a menacing finger at you, your index finger can remind you to keep the Bible’s command to pray for your enemies (Matthew 5:43-48; Luke 6:27-28). And don’t most of us need some reminding in that department?
- I like the nurse’s take on the third finger, which is the tallest one on most people’s hands. That finger can remind you to keep the Bible’s command to pray “for kings and all who are in authority” (1 Timothy 2:1-3).
- Your fourth finger is the one that you think about the least, which can remind you to make a point of praying for someone for whom you’ve never prayed. It can be a friend, an acquaintance, a neighbor, a person you used to know but haven’t seen in years, a celebrity who has been in the news recently because of some trouble, your mailman, your doctor, your dentist, your mechanic, your insurance agent, the kid who bags your groceries at the store, etc., etc., etc.
- I also like the nurse’s application of the fifth finger. By making that one the reminder to pray for yourself, your “wish list” of requests for yourself lands in last place during your prayer session. This will help you keep things in proper perspective.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you how to pray. If you’ve got a system that works well for you, that’s fine. You keep right on using it. But if you are like me in that you don’t always get around to praying for your enemies, for those who are in authority, or for people who don’t normally come to mind, using your fingers as reminders can help. That’s why I plan to give it a try. If nothing else, it will get me out of the rut of praying the same old prayers about the same old people involving the same old situations. And that’s good thing. After all, prayer is supposed to be a great adventure that we take with God, and when any adventure becomes boring or routine, it’s no longer an adventure.