By Emily F. Miller, Crosswalk.com
“You can keep your eyes open, otherwise we might have a mess” my pastor said to a laughing congregation before prayer, as the communion plates surfed through the rows.
Praying without bowing your head, clasping your hands, and closing your eyes might be unfamiliar territory for some. It may even evoke guilt. Posturing for prayer is a very traditional concept, so ingrained in Christian—and worldly—culture that we tend to do it automatically.
Not to mention “prayer hands” is the name of an actual pose, in yoga. Although it is something that is done often and out of habit, especially in church, assuming prayer pose with head down and eyes closed is not the only acceptable way to pray.
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God Cares About Your Heart, Not Your Prayer Posture
One thing that God makes clear in the Bible is that He cares about the heart above all else. He says so to Samuel before he anoints David. Samuel sees David’s brothers, strong in stature, and thought for sure that this was who God had chosen to be king. But God intervenes:
But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ – 1 Samuel 16:7.
David is anointed, and throughout his story he is referred to as “The one after God’s own heart.” He doesn’t just see your heart, but how your heart is pursuing His. He cares about who you are inside, not how you appear on the outside. An empty heart bowed in prayer will never be more pleasing to God than a full heart unpostured.
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Jesus Cares about Desire, Not Empty Demonstrations
Another example comes from John 1. Jesus passes by John the Baptist and two of his disciples. Seeing Jesus, the disciples follow him. Jesus turns to them and asks “What do you want?” (John 1:38). This may seem like a weird way to greet people, especially for Jesus, but this conveys a strong message: Jesus was not interested in blind followers. The first thing He did was check their hearts.
He wanted to know why they were there, why they were trying to follow Him. Their physical presence with Him wasn’t enough, He cared about where their hearts were as well.
In Matthew 6, Jesus specifically talks about prayer. His big no-no is going into public, praying to be seen.
He says “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:5). In this, He is saying they desire attention...and attention they have received, but that is all they will get. Their hearts are not entering a place of humility with God, but a place of righteousness among other people.
If your prayer posturing is for the approval and praise of others, then you’re doing it all wrong. Instead of loud, public prayer, He promotes private prayer, alone in your own room with the door shut, and not to babble on in hopes of being heard (Matthew 6:6-7). He then gives them the Lord’s prayer, structuring how to communicate with God.
So what does Matthew 6 have to do with prayer posturing? Nothing and everything.
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Jesus Addresses the Posture of Your Heart in Prayer
Did you notice that Jesus doesn’t once say how to posture your physical body? He doesn’t say “lie down” or “close your eyes” or “fold your hands and bow your heads.” He talks about relationship (a one-on-one communication with God) and how to address God (the Lord’s prayer, featuring praise, obedience, repentance, forgiveness, and request).
Once again, we have an example of heart posturing towards God. Your desire to pray should come from your desire to be in relationship with God, not to receive attention or praise from others. The way Jesus teaches us to pray with the Lord’s prayer shows us that we should come to God in humility and awe, but our physical demeanor isn’t the primary factor He is looking for.
With Jesus’ sacrifice, we were brought into relationship with Him, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. We were designed to have and desire that relationship, and He desires that we willingly and whole-heartedly engage in that with Him.
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Prayer is Engaging in Divine Relationship, Not Worldly Rules
He desires that we give our hearts to Him above all else. Your eyes being open during prayer doesn’t change the way He loves you and hears your prayers.
The point of prayer posturing—heart and body—is connection. Whether that means eyes wide open and lying flat on your back, on your knees, standing up, sitting down—or even bowing your head and closing your eyes—that is all perfectly acceptable and equally pleasing to God.
He wants relationship. And the most important aspect of relationship is heart. Proverbs 4:23 says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” and that “everything” includes prayer.
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A Prayer to Encourage Praying with a Heart for God
Thank you for seeing my heart. I praise You for knowing me better than I know myself. You have searched me and know me, and despite my flaws, You love me fully. I am thankful that You take such care in knowing me, in caring about who I am in You, rather than what I do and all the ways I fall short.
Forgive me for all the times my heart has been against You, even when it seemed on the outside that I was for You. I pray Your hand is always over me, posturing my heart and mind to receive from You, to be in relationship with You. I pray the only thing I seek in prayer is Your presence and relationship, no approval of man or self-righteousness.
Allow me to release the rules I have ingrained in my mind, and to focus solely on You. Mold my heart to reflect Your character. Thank you for all You have given me, Amen.
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Emily F. Miller has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Creative Writing from the University of Akron. She currently works at Rahab Ministries, a non-profit serving victims of human trafficking, and is a women’s college ministry leader for Delight Ministries. Her personal blog is alwaysemily.blog and her Instagram is @emilyfmiller16. In her free time, she loves cooking and baking, reading, going for walks, and having coffee dates with friends.