Ways to Pray: Five Essential Elements of Prayer

by Emily Vanden Heuvel

Someone once said to me, “I know why I should pray, but sometimes I just don’t know how to pray.” My advice was to not overthink it. Prayer doesn't have to be complicated. It is an intimate conversation between you and God. There are lots of ways to pray and there is no one right way to do it. But there are numerous strategies, routines, and practices that can guide you in prayer.

Five fingers

This suggestion goes way back for me. It is a practice that my mother taught me when I was a young girl. It is simple and easy; use the five fingers on your hand to help you remember five essential elements of prayer. There are different versions of the Prayer Hand method, but this is the one I learned as a child, and that I still use today.


Start with your index finger. Just as an athlete might point to heaven to give God the credit for a big play, this finger reminds us to praise God, to adore him, to tell God what he means to us. For example, “I praise you, God, you are loving.”


Second comes the middle finger, the finger of confession. As the longest finger on our hand, it reminds us of the length and depth of our sin and selfishness, and our vast need for God’s forgiveness. For example, “Forgive me, God, when I lose my temper.”


The third or ring finger, often where people wear wedding rings, is the finger of intercession. It reminds us to pray for others. As part of the ReFrame Media Prayer Team, this may seem easier to do since we intercede for those on our prayer lists each week. For example, “Father, please protect Christians around the world who are persecuted for their faith.”


The fourth or pinky finger is the littlest and last finger on our hand. It reminds us to pray for our own needs, to petition God on our own behalf. For example, “Please God, give me financial wisdom and help me be kind to others.”


Lastly, the thumb. It represents thankfulness. Notice how the thumb has the dexterity to touch each of the fingers on the hand. When the thumb touches each of our other fingers, we are reminded to rejoice and be thankful in every aspect of our prayer life—our praise, confession, intercession, petition, and thankfulness.

Lift your hands

When you feel stuck in your prayer life or feel like you don’t know what to pray, look to your hands. By lifting our hands to pray we can remember to lift our praise, confession, intercession, petition, and thanksgiving to God.