Recently I prayed with my eyes wide open! I have not done that for a long, long time. As a young child during family devotions I would on occasion open my eyes(just a slit or two) during prayer -- just to see if anyone else had their eyes open. Years later, there were many times carving up kilometres on pavement on my motorcycle when I would talk with God out loud. I figured no one but God could hear me, but as I prayed at 100 kph I figured it would be wise to keep my eyes open. But now here I was praying out loud in front of a group of people and my eyes were open, and not just a slit or two. My eyes were wide open!
See, I thought I would heed some advice on prayer given by Sherry Harney in her latest book, Praying with Eyes Wide Open (Baker Books: 2017). In this book co-authored by her husband Kevin Harney, Sherry points to a biblical truth that I knew, but never really took to life-practice. As she writes, "There are many and varied postures for prayer taught and modeled in the Bible. Closing your eyes is not one of them. And... neither is folding our hands." (18) In the opening chapter Sherry gives this challenge: "If you have never prayed out loud with other believers with your eyes open, I encourage you to try it.... It is hard to put into words, but I have seen it happen over and over again. Praying with eyes wide open is not just about the reality that we can pray at all times. It also deepens our prayer and connects us with God and with other people on a level we might never have experienced before."(25)
Well Sherry was right! For several hours I had met with a group of church leaders to talk about the health of their local church, and what they could do to increase their church's gospel impact in and through their church. We had begun the meeting in prayer asking the Lord of the church for wisdom and guidance! God had answered our prayers. We came up with a number of initiatives that, if implemented, could assist this church to be even more effective as salt and light in this world (Matthew 5:13-16). Now we ended the meeting in a circle of prayer, each leader offering prayers of thanksgiving, intercession, and/or dedication. I would close the circle of prayer. But as each leader prayed I kept my eyes wide open. And I saw these leaders -- a circle of men and women desirous of heeding God's will for them and their church. As I closed in prayer I kept my eyes wide open. As I prayed with eyes wide open I found that there was a deeper connection between me and them I had not experienced before. I saw individual people making up this body of Christ - men and women, some young and some senior saints, some strong in faith and others needing more faith. As I looked and prayed I felt really united with these leaders, connected as never before in a bond of faith, hope, and love. I also discovered a deeper connection with God. I had this sense of God looking down from heaven on these godly leaders, with eyes wide open, and seeing each person with his love and favour. It reminded me of Jesus' teaching on prayer, how he compared our praying to God like a child speaking to a parent (see Matthew 7:7-11). And I thought of those times when my children and now my grandchildren would up at me with eyes wide open, tell me what is on their hearts, and I would look down on them with love and favour.
But it didn't stop with that meeting of church leaders. I find myself more and more praying with my eyes wide open. When I am at church and I see our pastors or those leading worship, I find myself praying to God about them, asking God to impart wisdom, insight, and strength. No need to bow the head, fold the hands, or close my eyes. I prayed to God with eyes wide open! And this deepened by connection with God and others in worship. Recently I found myself praying as I made my up from Southern Cross train station in Melbourne into the CBD. With eyes wide open I saw a homeless man crouched in a corner, scores of business men and women rushing to meetings, people sitting in cafes having a smoko or chatting with each other ... and I found myself praying for them, as I walked, as I saw them. On another occasion my wife Jeannie and I made the hike to the bottom of Kondalilla Falls, which is not far from our home. I found myself echoing the words of the poet Gerald Manley Hopkins, "The world is charged with the grandeur of God." And with David in Psalm 19 I saw with my eyes wide open the glory of God. And this moved me to pray continually to God with gratitude for all his grandeur. And I could go on! All of this to say that praying with eyes wide open is encouraging me to pray continually and at all times with all kinds of prayers (see Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thess. 5:17). And praying with my eyes wide open has deepened my prayer life and my connection with God and others. Yes, Sherry was right!
If you would like to deepen your prayer life and/or take your praying with and for others to another level, then I encourage you to get a copy of Sherry Harney’s book, Praying with Eyes Wide Open. This book is not simply about encouraging people to refrain from closing their eyes when they pray. If you read this book, you will still find many occasions when your default response is to close your eyes when you pray. As I do! But you also will find yourself praying more often with your eyes wide open. Even when you pray out loud in a group of people. And actually you will find yourself praying more often! As you come and as you go about your daily activities and see the world around you will find yourself praying with your eyes wide open! You will just talk to God about what you see around you.
About a quarter of Sherry’s book addresses the subject of praying with your eyes wide open. The rest of the book deals with equally important issues, such as, praying with ears wide open (hearing God), praying with hearts wide open (a heart open to who God is), and praying with lives wide open (praying for and with others). In my library I have a number of books on the subject of prayer, but few of the books are as helpful as Praying with Eyes Wide Open. Not only is this an easy and enjoyable read full of heart-warming stories and anecdotes. It really is a primer on prayer covering the key ingredients to a rich, transformative prayer life. Each chapter ends with practical suggestions the reader can take to heart on their own prayer journey. If someone came to me and asked me to teach them how to pray, I would give them a copy of Sherry’s book. It will change the way they talk to God! As it changed the way I pray!
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
SHERRY HARNEY is the leadership development director at Shoreline Community Church in Monterey, California, and the cofounder of Organic Outreach International. Sherry speaks regularly about prayer, spiritual formation, leadership, and organic outreach for local, national, and international groups and events.
KEVIN HARNEY is lead pastor of Shoreline Community Church and the author of several books, including Reckless Faith, Empowered by His Presence, and the Organic Outreach series, as well as more than eighty small group guides, curriculum, and numerous articles written in partnership with Sherry.