Subway Prayer (or How to Pray for Strangers)

By Judy Paulsen
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Eight years ago, our family moved into the heart of Toronto. One of the surprises that came with this move was being freed from my car; something I was completely dependent on while pastoring in suburbia. Now I was taking public transit every day as I travelled into Wycliffe College. I knew my trip would entail a short walk on both ends of a subway ride. What I didn’t know was that during the subway ride God would teach me how to pray for strangers.

When I first started praying on my subway commute, I would begin by simply glancing around the car, attending to the people around me.  On various days this included a dad quietly speaking in Spanish to his 4 or 5 year-old daughter; a guy in his fifties looking a bit tired and clutching a weathered leather briefcase; an elderly woman with perfectly manicured nails; a group of teenagers chatting away in their dark green school uniforms; a haggard-looking guy working his way through from the back of the train; two young women discussing an upcoming business meeting; a construction worker killing time on his phone, and a middle-aged guy accompanied by a seeing-eye dog.

Once attended to, I would then begin to offer up short prayers for each of them, perhaps foolishly imagining I had some insight into what challenges or joys they might be experiencing. Eventually though I began to make it my habit to pray that ancient prayer known as The Lord’s Prayer, but to pray it while holding up to God the particular people around me each day; a daily discipline of silent prayer that I saw as a little bit of rebellion against the powers and principalities at work in the world.

So here it is. The Lord’s Prayer (amplified subway version)

Our Father in heaven,


[Father, thank you that we can call you that, and that you know each person on this train and love them deeply. Every. Single. One. Thank you that you are the rightful Father of all of us, even if some do not know this yet.

Thank you that heaven is real. Mysterious and breathtakingly real. Help each person here to catch glimpses of heaven today.]


Hallowed be your name.


[I praise you God, for this wonderful mix of people. What a wonderful mix of backgrounds, cultures, dreams, and gifts. I praise you for human ingenuity, creativity, and humour, and for smiles shared between strangers. May each person here bring you reverence and honour this day, prodded by your Spirit.]


Your Kingdom come,

[Yes Father, may your kingdom be lived out in each of our lives today, wherever it is we are going. May your kingdom, already breaking out in Jesus, come to the university, the financial district, the homeless shelters, the teaching hospitals, and the condo towers.  May it come to Greek Town and Korea Town, to Little Italy and Little India. May it come to the sidewalks and businesses of our city, and to the vast stretches of lonely suburbia. May you give each of us here, a hunger for your Kingdom come, in our lives today.]


Your will be done, 

[Help each one of us here know and walk in your way of holiness, justice, freedom and peace. Guided by your Spirit, help each one to know and do the things that you want done today.]


On earth as it is in heaven.

[Yes, on-the-ground, in each of our lives this day; in our thoughts, words and deeds. May your Spirit remind us, strengthen us, empower us, to see, to know, and to love your ways. May we honour you God, in each moment and each encounter and each decision. May each person come to know Jesus as the One who is the meeting place, and path between, earth and heaven.]


Give us today our daily bread,

[May no one here remain hungry today Lord. May each one of us find and eat, the physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual food, that will help them flourish, and which you provide.]


And forgive us our sins,

[Forgive us when we turn away from you and your ways. Forgive the wrongs of each person on this train towards your creation, other people, and themselves. May your Spirit prod each one of us to see our sins more clearly and repent of them, confess them, and make amends for them where possible. Thank you that it is your very nature to forgive, Father. Make us more grateful for that. And thank you that forgiveness has been made possible for the whole world through the work of the Cross of Jesus.]


As we forgive those who sins against us. 

[God, help each of us resist cherishing our anger or feeling entitled to take revenge. Help us forgive others as you have forgiven us.]


Save us from the time of trial

[Help us Lord not to be distracted or deterred by the struggles and pain we encounter this day. When trials come, may each person here turn to you.]


And deliver us from evil. 

[Help us Lord to see evil for what it is, but not be captivated, ensnared, or enslaved to it. Empower us to resist it. Shine your light on the path of each person here today, that each one will see more clearly how to walk in your ways.]


For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours now and forever. 

[May each person here know you Lord. May each person here know that you are and will always be, the Holy One, all powerful, and alone worthy of all praise and glory. Help each of us be drawn closer to you, and live for you, all our days and beyond the grave.]


So that’s my little act of rebellion; my subway prayer. You’ll find your own words, I’m sure. Won’t you join me in this daily habit, whether you take the subway or not?  Let’s be a people who dare to pray for strangers.



Judy Paulsen is Professor of Evangelism, Director of the Institute of Evangelism.