On prayer and the closing of the eyes
Virtually every Christian has been taught that prayer is when you talk to God with your eyes closed. We tell our children, “Close your eyes and we will pray”. The idea of having your eyes closed when you pray is so engrained in our culture that we don’t give it a second thought.
As protestant Christians, we believe that the Bible contains actual words of God. We also believe in the sufficiency of the Bible’s instruction. Let’s survey the Scriptures and see what the proper mode and posture is when we pray.
In the English Standard Version translation of the Bible, the word pray occurs ninety times. Fifty-three times of that is in the New Testament. These verses describe prayer as urgent and emotional. For example, the Psalmist exclaims:
Give attention to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you do I pray. (Psalm 5:2, ESV)
In the New Testament, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. The apostle Paul prays for his coworkers in the gospel. Jesus often prayed in private, away from the crowds. However, we are not told any specifics. Jesus also prayed in public. For example, in the story of feeding of the five thousand:
Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. (Matthew 14:19, ESV)
Jesus is looking up to heaven, possibly stretching his arms and is speaking to his father. The lifting of hands or arms is also described in 1 Timothy where Paul is telling Timothy how a church service should be conducted:
I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; (1 Timothy 2:8, ESV)
The Bible records many occasions where people pray to their God but in no instance does it describe or prescribe that the believer’s eyes be closed. Why do we do it then? I can think of a few different reasons. One, we don’t want to embarrass the one leading the prayer; two, it helps us focus on the task at hand; or, three, we want others around us to know that we are praying and shouldn’t be disturbed.
These reasons are understandable and certainly not sinful in any way. But I do believe that we rob ourselves of some joy by closing our eyes. If we only ever pray with our eyes closed, we won’t pray very often. Prayer becomes a holy moment that we plan ahead. Your prayer life should be an ongoing conversation with your Father. Jesus prayed constantly. And so need we.