Praying with Your Eyes Open
When I was a child, we were told in Sunday school to close our eyes for prayer. Though the Bible never gives this instruction, it is probably a good idea to teach this to a roomful of fidgety five-year-old’s. Open eyes can easily present little ones with distractions that lead to a breakdown of classroom order. Besides this, praying with your eyes closed is a tradition that dates back as far as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila.
But there is one place in the Bible where we are encouraged to pray with our eyes open, if not our physical eyes, then at least the eyes of our hearts. Colossians 4:2 says, “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.”
The Greek word translated “being watchful” might merely be an admonition against growing drowsy during prayer time (as in Mark 14:38), or it may be a vague reminder to be ready for the Lord’s return. But I think it means more. N.T. Wright suggests that this verse might be advising us to follow a “threefold rhythm” in our prayer lives. First, we present a concern to God in prayer. Then, we watch for ways God is answering. Finally, as we see evidence that the Lord is responding, we thank him for how he is at work.
Rinse and repeat. Pray to God. Watch for answers. Thank him. Pray to God. Watch for answers. Thank him.
In the Old Testament, Elijah demonstrated this kind of watchfulness in prayer. There had been no rain in Israel for over three years when the Lord revealed to Elijah that it was time for the drought to end. 1 Kings 18:42 says, “Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.” He then told his servant to go look toward the sea. The servant did so and came back reporting that he had seen nothing. So, Elijah prayed again, and once more told his servant to look. Again, there was nothing. They repeated this process over and over until finally, on the seventh time, the servant came back with the news, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” God’s answer was on its way!
What would happen if we added an element of watchfulness to our prayer lives? I find it easy to drift into a complacent attitude in prayer. I sometimes mumble through my daily list of concerns without really expecting an answer. I suspect my prayers would be livelier if I developed the habit, after praying, of pausing to think of recent ways I may have noticed God responding and then thanking him for what I see. I may not have yet received a full-blown answer to my prayers but paying attention even to tiny clues that God is at work will motivate me to pray more boldly. It will also fill my heart with thanksgiving.
What evidence can you see that God is beginning to answer your prayers? I once had a pastor who would encourage us to pull out our “spiritual magnifying glasses” to search for the slightest clues that God is at work. I think that pastor was on to something. Once in a while we need to open our eyes when we are praying – open our eyes to see how God is at work.