Sharp About Your Prayers

the challenges, absurdities, and joys of an urban faith

Sharp About Your Prayers header image 2

How Was Your Day?

February 22nd, 2013 · 12 Comments · Sharp Prayers

I recently saw a rerun of the film “Bruce Almighty.” I enjoyed it. The premise of this Jim Carrey comedy is theologically interesting: What would you do if you had God’s powers?

One of the first things that the main character, Bruce, does — after God gives him dominion over a small part of western New York State — is to fix the wrongs that have been plaguing his life. Bruce gets a new car. He house trains his dog. He takes revenge on an archrival at work.

Insta-PrayerSoon, however, Bruce discovers that his vast powers come with added responsibility. He is now expected to answer people’s prayers. Every morning, Bruce awakes to a computer inbox overflowing with prayers, and those are just the ones from the Buffalo area.

YesThese prayers follow a fairly typical pattern: a child at school asks for help passing a math test; a hockey fan prays that the Sabres will win the Stanley Cup; a bunch of people pray that God will help them win the lottery. Shrugging, Bruce decides to say “yes” to all of these petitions.

The next morning he awakes to a sad realization. His unlimited “yes” has not created widespread happiness, but chaos. Hockey fans riot. Thousands of lottery winners complain because their share of the jackpot is painfully small. People are angrier and more frustrated than ever.

Maybe, the movie suggests, answering prayers is more complicated than it may seem.

The movie also prods us to think about something else. When we talk with God, do we usually fire off a laundry list of things we would like the Almighty to do?

Now, to be sure, asking God for things — like daily bread and healing for a loved one — is a faithful way to pray. But is it the only way?

C.S. Lewis once observed, “I don’t pray to change God’s mind. I pray for God to change my mind!”

What does that sort of prayer look like — sound like? One example is a practice started by Ignatius of Loyola called the examen. Ignatius encouraged his students to pray by lifting up to God a moment from the past day when they felt surrounded by grace — a moment that was life-giving to them.

PrayerThe idea is to start a conversation with God. I compare it to that moment when I walk in the door and Amy asks me, “How was your day?” Ignatius believed that if we begin our prayers as if they were an answer to that question, we will move to a deeper relationship with God.

In recent weeks, I have asked you to lift up to God those events, occasions and encounters at this church when you have felt surrounded by grace and uplifted in your faith. I know some of you have been participating in this discipline.

So now I am curious: what have you been praying about?

Please post here…

Facebook Comments

Use Facebook to Comment on this Post

Tags: ····

12 Comments so far ↓

  • JohnNo Gravatar

    Homework: my prayer log of FAPC
    2/8 – Blessed to receive an email that challenges me to think . . . deeply.
    2/9 – Thankful for a safe, dry, warm place for 12 men to sleep on this snowy day
    2/10 – Thankful for an adult education class that meets at the Sunday School hour and challenges me to think and listen to others. Asking tough questions about wisdom.
    2/11 – Heartened and strengthened that so many people that came to ask how we are doing and wanting to know the answer. For Jackie, Jackie, Lenore, David, Nick, Derrick, George, Tyronne, Ali and everyone that I see when I come to FAPC. To be greeted so well is a blessing.
    2/12 – Blessed to have a wonderful place to invite a friend from California to visit while they are in NYC during Easter
    2/13 – Thankful for the front row of Kirkland Chapel was available and we feel comfortable sitting there. The unknown craftsmen that built and carved such an interesting place with very small place to meditate. For a mark on my forehead that others see but I don’t see. For marks on others that they don’t see but I see.
    2/14 – Blessed to have good friends to share good ideas and good times.
    2/15 – Thankful for a place that welcomes all who are seeking God and where I can invite new friends to a place where they can feel welcomed as they are.
    2/16 – Thankful for 8 tons of material moved out of Coney Island Cathedral and Charlotte, a new friend, who we would not have met if FAPC was passive.
    217 – Thankful for sore muscles and smiles of others that felt the same at the service. Thankful for an impromptu lunch and deep laughter.
    2/18 – Thankful for a place to invite Mikiale, a stranger who became a friend over an accident.
    2/19 – Thankful for a beautiful building on 5th ave that I can show visitors and explain all the things that are done from there.
    2/20 – Thankful for the creaking floors and all the comforting sounds of FAPC ( laughter, crying, comforting, singing, children running, greetings, joking, quiet prayer, loud prayer, . . . .)
    2/21 – Thankful for all the people who pray for us.
    2/22 – Thankful for an email that makes me think and challenges me.

    • SBJNo Gravatar


      This is marvelous–just marvelous. Thank you for taking this discipline so seriously!

      Bless you,


  • Len BattifaranoNo Gravatar

    I lift up my deep gratitude, every morning, that I have slept a warm bed, been able to have a hot shower, and that I have the two happiest dogs I know…len b

  • Laura FissingerNo Gravatar

    Tonight I received the singular blessing of seeing a PBS biography on a gospel/rock/R&B pioneer (guitarist and singer) named Sister Rosetta Tharpe. I thank God for introducing me to this musical and spiritual renegade — who would, no doubt, be invited repeatedly, to perform and lecture at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church! That’s the kind of spiritual home to which God led me — raise the roof, how I thank Him!

  • Jama Toung

    -the love of Sunday School leaders who make my kids feel welcomed, over and over again.
    -warm church greeters who remind me I am home
    -hugs and smiles from friends who remind me I am not alone
    -prayer time in the Kirkland Chapel

    • SBJNo Gravatar

      I love this list. I really love the way that “home” and welcome are son integral to your experience.

      Bless you!!

  • Anonymous

    life-giving moments to me at FAPC:
    –parents with strollers. It ain’t easy hauling that thing around midtown WITH such precious cargo. When I see the same parents EVERY Sunday pushing their strollers through the hallway & in the elevator–it’s a life giving God filled moment for me.

    –smiling children. Nothing better & more life-giving than the sincere smile of a child at our church. Call it biased judgement, but we’ve got the cutest kids around town.

    –smiling pastors in the elevator. I don’t smile in the elevator but our pastors do. And their smiles are warm, welcoming & calming. I don’t need a conversation in the elevator, but I need the smiles. Smiles are like little morsels of grace & thanks be to God, our pastors smile.

  • Richard JordanNo Gravatar

    I have the feeling that simply thinking that waking up and being thankful for one blessing of the last day is sufficient for the WHOLE day. As I walk around NYC, or anywhere for that matter, I sing to myself my favorite hymns and ask for blessings and bless myself the situations and people I see. If parents are supposed to bless their children, why not extend that idea to everyone? My perception of myself as an abbot within the many communities in which I operate allows prayer to happen throughout the day. Thus, I find it strange when within churches and communities of all kinds I find those in charge operating from a “boundary” perspective. Some boundaries simply can deflate people, unless through training one immediately rebounds. As a keen observer of all that goes on around me, one would be surprised at what I see, but then simply bless it and as the hymn in the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal states, “Forth We Go Rejoicing.” Pray, yes, but I would extend that to “and bless always.” Jut my own spiritual life.

  • Ellen Pearre CasonNo Gravatar

    A sampling from the daily reminiscences of personal gratitude – from a long-time member:
    — remembering the baptism in 1980 of my daughter, Jeannine, by a WOMAN minister, Rev. Jean Kiskaddon. WOW !
    — remembering the startup of the Shelter in the late 80s on the 3rd floor, and pre-teen Jeannine getting the guys to help her with her homework.
    — remembering my teenaged son Randy going on annual February “Blue Nose” campouts with Harry Schneider and the FAPC Boy Scout troop.
    — remembering the Mercedes/ Jeannine/ Randy teenage complexity, with memories that are meaningful to this day.
    — remembering the Session BEING the body of Christ, in very difficult times.
    — remembering Margaret Shafer tending Jeannine’s wounds on the 1995 Maine mission trip until she could return to a NYC hospital.
    — remembering Margaret, remembering Margaret, remembering Margaret — this went on for a few days.
    — remembering Trustees finding their voice to say “no.”
    — remembering one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in NYC, giving sanctuary on 9/11 to tired, dirty, scared flee-ers.
    — remembering Jeannine & Kaldar’s beautiful wedding, the first back in FAPC after the long construction, made all the more perfect by Oscar McCloud’s loving shepherding.
    — remembering Oscar, remembering Oscar — that was a few more days.
    — remembering Kate and Emily’s tender guidance of the Stephen Minister training and ministering, making me a better person I’m convinced
    — rejoicing in recent Christmas Pageants where my grandsons Logan and Hunter are beginning the grounding that their mother got from year after year moving from part to part in the timeless story.
    — rejoicing in interfaith events of all kinds, where this congregation extends our hand to our neighbors in faith-ful solidarity.
    — rejoicing in commited leadership from our three Boards, which endeavor with our Pastors to present an increasingly vibrant prophetic voice from our very diverse Congregation.
    — rejoicing at Sunday School and children’s Choir leaders who embody for Logan and Hunter that God sends help when you need it, and that they BELONG here.
    — rejoicing in FAPC’s commitment to glorious music that first attracted 6-year-old Randy, and later gave me a place to hide-in-plain-sight for 15 years, and now enriches working-Mom Jeannine’s life with rare beauty.
    — so so grateful for a Church and Denomination that struggle, albeit imperfectly, with stewardship of God’s House, making it plain that ALL are welcome !


  • Rose Cunningham (Rose)No Gravatar

    Today I take hold of the Presbyterian Golden Nugget “HE ALONE IS LORD OF THE CONSCIENCE”
    In doing so, I sighed a Prayer for Leaders, Strategists, and all who are welcome, I sighed a Prayer for the understanding of an “INFORMED CONSCIENCE”