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Creative prayer: Prompts for prayer

Friday March 15 2019

Creative prayer: Prompts for prayer

For the ten years we lived in Dunedin, New Zealand, I had two prompts for prayer that I don’t have here in Seattle. The Dunedin hospital served the whole southern half of New Zealand’s South Island. The only helicopters we heard in Dunedin were coming in to land on the roof of the hospital, bringing patients from towns that might be several hours drive away, or taking them home.

When I first arrived in Dunedin, someone told me that every time she heard a helicopter, she prayed for the people in it. She was a nurse, so I’m sure she was praying both for the patients and for the medical staff. I tried to do the same thing. For me, praying for the sick people in the helicopter reminded me of other people in my life with medical needs, so I would often pray for them at the same time.

Here in Seattle, I try to do the same when I hear or see an ambulance or fire truck. Emergency vehicles have become a prayer prompt for me, a kind of memory device that reminds me of people in need.

Another prayer prompt I experienced in Dunedin came when I drove or biked past two schools on my way to town, an elementary school on one side of the street and an intermediate school on the other. When I saw the schools, I tried pray for children – the children in those schools, children I knew from church, my colleagues’ children, and children in need around the world.

I hadn’t realized until this week that I don’t have a prayer prompt like that in Seattle. I don’t drive or bike past any schools on the routes I commonly take. I miss praying for children like that, and I wonder if I could figure out another way to remember to pray for children.

A friend told me a couple of weeks ago that she often uses the alphabet to help her pray when she wakes up in the middle of the night. She thinks of someone whose name begins with A, then B. She’s often awake long enough to pray through the whole alphabet, but sometimes she falls asleep before she gets to the end. She said that using the alphabet like that helps her pray for people she might not otherwise pray for.

I’ve tried her method three times. I have found it hard to get through very many letters at one time, because when I think of someone whose name begins with A, and I pray for that person, I end up remembering her family members and others involved in her life, and I pray for them, too.

The first time I used the alphabet for prayer I made it only to D. So the next time I used it, I started with E. Again, I only got through a few letters because praying for one person kept reminding me to pray for others in their family or community. The third time I used it, I started with P. I couldn’t actually remember how far I’d gotten the previous time, but I thought it might be good to use some letters near the end of the alphabet.

The goal with these prayer prompts is not to pray exhaustively (or to make it through the alphabet!) but to allow them to remind us to pray and to help us pray for people or situations that might not be in the forefront of our thoughts.

Do you have prayer prompts? Please use the comment section below to let us know the kinds of things that remind you to pray and open your prayers into new areas.

(Next week: Creative prayer using the body. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This is the second week of Lent. If you haven’t settled on a Lenten devotional, I’ve got two options to suggest to you:

  • The devotional I wrote a few years ago that uses one psalm for each day of Lent, illustrated with my husband Dave’s paintings. It’s available here as a pdf.
  • The one I co-wrote this year for our church, focused on creation care as a hopeful spiritual practice for Lent, also illustrated with Dave’s paintings. It’s an online devotional, available here.


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