University Congregational Church
Nov. 26, 2017
“The Five Finger Prayer”
Psalm 46:1-3, 10-11
Read Psalm 46
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Several years ago, I was at the home of another minister. I had never met this minister and his wife before they welcomed me into their home. The reason for my visit was that I had been invited into a rural community to conduct a funeral. There were no hotels in that community and the family was full up with family from out of town, so the Baptist minister and his wife extended an invitation to stay at their home. They prepared a wonderful evening meal – just what you would expect in a rural Kansas place – fried chicken, baked potato, green bean casserole, and brownie dessert.
The morning of the funeral came, and I was invited into the kitchen for breakfast. While we were finishing our coffee, they asked if I would like to stay during their morning prayers. It wasn’t like there was anywhere else to go, and I didn’t mind, so they read a devotional out of the Upper Room, and began an extended prayer. The prayer included specific names of people in their community, in their church, and in their family. They prayed for the elected leaders in the United States, and for themselves. It was a sincere and profound time of silence and spoken prayer. And, while that kind of prayer is not my style or my practice, I was moved.
Let me say something about the nature of prayer as I understand it. So many people think of prayer as bowing and folding hands and speaking aloud. There is nothing wrong with that form of prayer. However, there are many people who have abandoned the traditional prayer style and yet have not found another way to meditate or pray.
I like what Gandhi said about prayer: “Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admission of one’s weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart.” Deep thinking or reading profound work is another kind of prayer.
Last week, I spoke about keeping a gratitude journal. That is – in my thinking – one kind of prayer; journaling or even making a short list of things for which you are thankful. Putting it out into the universe has power.
Today I want to introduce you to “the five finger prayer”. This prayer is not a kneel or fold-your-hands type of prayer. It’s easy to remember, can be done about anywhere, and includes some important aspects of life that I think should be the subject of prayer. It is credited to a nurse who was asked by a patient for some spiritual direction. I was drawn to this prayer style so much that I thought I’d share it with you. And, as I have been doing, it is a bit less formal sermon on a holiday weekend.
So, here it is: the five finger prayer. . . it may seem like a gimmick, or even a bit simplistic… but I think it works. Because our spirituality doesn’t always have to be deep or difficult in order to be real. I would encourage you to pray it with me and to consider using it as a way to remember your prayers.
First, you start with your thumb. It is the closest finger to you. The thumb reminds you to pray for those closest to you… for your family, your closest friends, your co-workers… those people who are part of your everyday life. C.S. Lewis said, “To pray for your loved ones is a sweet duty.” So your thumb reminds you to pray for the closest people in your life. This list could be family members, but also co-workers, friends, or any others on your mind.
Secondly, your pointer finger. This finger reminds us to pray for those who teach, instruct, and heal. This finger points to those who are teachers, counselors, doctors, other medical professionals and ministers. These are leaders who need support and wisdom for pointing people in a good direction. The pointer finger reminds us to pray for those who lead our children and us.
The next finger is the tallest finger. It reminds us of our leaders. The middle finger suggests that we pray for the president, leaders in business and industry, and administrators. These are people who shape our nation and guide public opinion. They make decisions which affect all of us. They certainly need our prayers and God’s guidance. My grandparents included the elected leaders of our nation in their daily prayers. Over the years, it was a real witness to me that they prayed for candidates they supported and the ones who were in office with whom they disagreed.
The fourth finger is our ring finger. Surprisingly, it is the weakest finger on the hand. Piano teachers will confirm this. The weak finger reminds us to pray for those who are weak, in trouble or in pain. These are people who need our constant prayers… and those closest to Jesus’ heart. The weak finger suggests we remember those who are weakened by illness, grief, those in pain for whatever reason, and those who are hungry, outcast, or alone.
Lastly comes our little finger; the smallest finger of all. It suggests that we pray for the smallest beings in our lives – our children, our pets, and even ourselves. Often others exclude the small but the pinky reminds us to pray for those who have been left behind. And by the time we have prayed for the other four groups, our own needs will have been put in proper perspective. When we get to the pinky, we remember the little ones.
As I said, this is a simple way to structure your everyday prayers, or to have a bit of a prayer time in your car at a red light or when you’re waiting in the doctor’s office. It is a way to remember those in your life who need your positive energy.
God speaks to us through our everyday lives and through other’s lives as well. Sometimes we hardly recognize it as God when it takes place, and rarely are we able to decipher what, if anything, it all means. Part of the reason we completely miss both God and the message is because we expect that God is only in lofty places. We expect God to only appear in those places where holy people conduct their affairs… like mountains, sanctuaries, temples, monasteries, classrooms, libraries – anywhere but in a nursery school, on a playground, in a kitchen, in a parking lot, at the checkout counter, or in a nursing home.
Some of us think God only shows up where silence is prized – certainly not in the hustle and bustle of everyday living. Yet, the Bible is full of God stories from the crusty side of everyday life… think shepherds in fields, wandering slaves in the dessert, lions dens, the dirty water of a river, the gates of a city.
That’s why this prayer works. It’s ordinary and simple. It brings to thought and prayer everyday life, ordinary blessings, and spiritual discipline. So the next time you’re looking for God on a mountain, look no further than your own hand, and begin bringing to mind those who touch your life each day in ordinary ways.
And just to review:
The thumb reminds us to pray for __________ (those closest to you)
The pointer finger reminds us to pray for ______________ (teachers, ministers, medical, counselors)
The tallest finger reminds us to pray for __________ (those who lead)
The ring finger, or weakest finger reminds us to pray for ___________ (those who are weak)
The pinky finger, or smallest finger, reminds us to pray for __________ (animals, children and self).
May our lives be enriched as we seek new ways to relate to others and to God.