Praying on Cue

It’s 3:10 on Friday afternoon and your boss hands you an urgent request. It’s from an important client, and you have to handle it by close of business. You’re already managing way too many tasks and projects, but the boss insists, so you add this to your barely-juggled lineup. Back at home that evening, your juggling continues. After helping your wife bathe the kids and taking out the garbage, you finally sit down and pick up your Bible. When you open it up, your eyes land on 1 Thessalonians 5:17, where St. Paul tells you to “Pray without ceasing.” It’s a good thing you’re already sitting down… You barely stifle your (far from reverent, yet honest) first thought: “Are you kidding me right now, Lord?”

When we come to this seemingly impossible Biblical command, we’re tempted to dust off our Contextualist Biblical Interpretation Merit Badge. We try to explain away verses like this, insisting that “St. Paul was obviously speaking to an audience in a simpler, less demanding, time.”

But what if he wasn’t? What if God (speaking through St. Paul) was being totally serious?

Years ago, I had a friend named Charlie who was a UPS driver, and every time I would see a UPS truck, I would always say: “Pray for Charlie!” I got the idea when I heard the late Bishop Nicholas Walsh (of the Diocese of Yakima Washington) share the following story from his seminary days.

It seems the rectory cook in his home parish was an elderly religious sister. One day, during a visit before entering the seminary, he was talking with her and she said that she would pray for him. While grateful, the young seminary student didn’t give her statement much thought: it’s the kind of thing Christians always say to each other. It’s a kind gesture, but we often forget to follow through. But immediately this busy sister abruptly stopped her meal preparation and started looking around the kitchen, saying: “What can I use to remind me to pray for you?” After a moment of thought, she declared that she would pray for the future Bishop whenever she turned on the hot water.

Fast forward to Christmas. The young seminarian returned home from seminary and found himself again in the kitchen with the cook. Her first words to him were: “Young man, do you have any idea how many times a cook turns on the hot water each day?!” He had forgotten about her promise of prayer. She had not. I am sure that her countless “hot water” prayers must have had a lot to do with his successful priestly vocation and eventual ordination as a Bishop. A lot happens in the world because of prayers like hers.

This story has stuck with me ever since I heard it, and I have tried (with varying degrees of success) to adopt this prayer practice in my life. I call it: “Praying on cue” and I believe it is one way to answer St. Paul’s challenge to “Pray without ceasing.”

Anything in our life can become a prayer cue. Anything can serve as that spark or reminder to pray. But I have found that we can break them down into three broad categories: actions, situations, and thoughts.

Routine actions are a great place to start seeking prayer cues. Take something we do every day, such as commuting, doing dishes, or turning on the microwave. We can also use non-routine actions as a springboard for prayer: things we do once in a while such as going to the library, going to the doctor, or visiting our in-laws (if that last one is not a cue for prayer, I don’t know what is.)

We can use certain situations as prayer cues as well. Pray when you’re as waiting in line (in stores or at traffic lights), when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, or (especially in these troubled times) whenever you pass a school or a church.

God sometimes uses our thoughts to call us to prayer. These “prayer cue” thoughts might be about people, places, things, situations, or even memories. All of these can be springboards to prayer. We might also find a prayer cue in our emotions. Anger, resentment, confusion—and, yes, even laughter and joy, can (and should) open the doors of our hearts to prayer.

Part of staying open and alert to invitations to pray throughout our day is remembering that there are different kinds of prayer. Petition (praying for something, or someone) is probably the most common type of prayer, but we shouldn’t forget prayers of praise, thanksgiving, and repentance. Just as encountering a need can lead us to intercede with God, so also the beauty of a daughter’s smile, a sunset, or a couple walking hand in hand may move us to praise the Lord. Also, the loving conviction of the Holy Spirit continually invites us to the prayer of repentance through the “cues” of our sinfulness and our daily shortcomings.

Finally, since each and every one of our countless daily actions, situations, memories, and thoughts may be an invitation to pray, how can we keep these invitations from becoming burdensome? Let’s go back and read 1 Thessalonians 5:17, “Pray without ceasing,” in context. The prior verse (Verse 16) says ” Rejoice always.” The subsequent verse (Verse 18) says “In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.” God is clearly calling on us to pray without ceasing, while also making it clear that constant prayer is the natural and overflowing fruit of a joyful, thankful heart.

What type of prayer cues might the Lord be sending you? Who will he prompt you to pray for the next time that you turn on the hot water?

Etienne Steve Hammett About Etienne Steve Hammett

Etienne 'Steve' Hammett, M.Ed., is the father of three. He is a retired counselor. He is a member of the Intercessory Prayer Team in his parish, which is located in the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan.


  1. Avatar Fr Don Flumerfelt says:

    Many times as a young Christian , people would ask me to pray for them about some concern. Then I ran into a Pauline teaching on prayer “Be instant in prayer” I realized that I need not put off until another ‘more appropriate time’ for prayer. I would request of the person asking for prayer if we could pray in that instant wherever I was. I have never had anyone turn me down! They felt better after we prayed knowing that their request had been heard correctly. The ‘instant prayer’ is the first installment in the journey of prayer as St. Paul taught “ He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion “