Archive for category Don’t Close Your Eyes
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but in the Scriptures, people seem to pray with their eyes open. When you read the prayers of the Scriptures, do you picture the Biblical speakers with their eyes closed? I don’t. In fact, when the disciples’ eyes are closed, they generally miss the glory of the Lord (Matthew 26).
A quick perusal of the internet provided nothing but superficial reasons for closing your eyes when you pray. It seems to be an almost universal practice in Western culture but there does not seem to be any biblical precedence for it. That does not make it wrong, but it should cause us to ask whether we are not missing something when we close our eyes and bow our heads.
Let’s consider where this might have come from.
- It might have come from Jesus admonition in Matthew 6, “But thou, when thou prayest, eenter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly.”
- It might come from dualistic beliefs of the neo-Platonists who influenced Christian thought in the early centuries. They believed the material/physical was evil, so in order to find true spirituality one had to cut off the stimulation of the physical.
- It might have come from the medieval practice of bowing one’s head and closing one’s eyes when speaking to one’s feudal lord.
I’m really not sure where the practice came from. In some senses, it is good because it does cut down distractions and in theory, it helps us focus.
But in reality, I lose focus when I close my eyes. I tend to drift far more with my eyes closed than I do with my eyes open. Even worse, I tend to fall asleep – especially if I’m trying to pray in bed either in the morning or in the evening.
Worse than letting you be distracted though, praying with your eyes closed means you’re not seeing things. Your eyes are not taking in what is really going on around you, and you run the very real risk of not seeing what needs to be prayed about.
In Jesus’ day, he said “If you have ears, hear what I have to say.” In our own lives, perhaps we need to also hear him say, “If you have eyes, open them to see what I have to show you.”
In previous post of this series, we talked about worshiping with our eyes open to see the intersection of grace and need. Today, let’s take our consideration further.
It is common to talk about worship as a one-way conversation – God speaking to you or you speaking to God. Often, we believe these things to be conversational. I speak or sing to God and then he answers. Or God fills a place with his presence, and I listen and then respond.
But with an infinite, omnipotent God, this conversation can exist completely in harmony. God can be speaking as I am speaking; I can be hearing what he is hearing, and it is as much worship as if he were speaking directly to me.
When Moses was on Mt. Sinai with him, God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry…” [Exodus 3:7] Moses had heard those things to. That was why Moses had killed the Egyptian [Exodus 2:11-15].
But when God says he has heard what Moses has heard – that he has heard it perhaps even through Moses’ ears, Moses rejects God and tries to find ways out of being responsible for what he heard.
I imagine Moses thinking, “No wait…that’s not right. You can’t use what I’ve seen and heard as what you’ve seen and heard. How can you possibly feel what I felt?”
Often in worship, our experience and our emotion are the language God uses both to hear us and also to prepare us for ministry.
I cannot tell you the number of times someone has perceived a need in the Church and told me about it. When I shock them by replying that perhaps God has equipped them to meet the need, the response is almost always the same. “Oh no, God isn’t calling me into that.”
How exactly does God call you into a specific ministry? If you’re hearing and seeing what he is hearing and seeing, isn’t that something supernatural that God is doing? We sit around waiting for a worship buzz to tell us what to do when God often uses our senses.
So, don’t close your eyes.
I love music because I was raised in music. My dad is a guitar player. My sister plays piano and sings. We had bluegrass bands in our church (seriously). There was never a time in my life when I wasn’t longing to play the guitar. And after I married one of the most amazingly sincere and emotive vocalists I’ve ever known, I even found joy in singing (although I’m still uncomfortable with my voice).
What’s more. I love to worship God. There’s something amazing about Christ’s Church gathered and praising together – putting great words in our mouths, elevating our voices to the throne of grace.
But I see a growing problem in worship music that I want to address in a series of articles. It is my most sincere hope that I will not offend any of my many wonderful friends who lead the Church of Christ in worship, but at the same time, I desire to stay true to Jesus’ vision for the church regardless of opinions.
The series of posts is entitled Don’t Close Your Eyes because this is something we as worshipers often do. As a powerful song swells in our hearts and particularly when we echo the words of Scripture, we close our eyes and elevate our hands (ok, not in many Baptist churches…there, we elevate our hands in spirit). We do the same thing when we pray. We close our eyes, shutting out the world around us.
We close our eyes to focus. We close our eyes to cut down distractions. We close our eyes for lots of reasons, I suppose, but through this series, I want to challenge the Church to worship with our eyes open. I want to offer you some reasons to pray with our eyes open, to worship in the midst of the world rather than shutting ourselves out from it.
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in Acts:
I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:22-25)
Paul spoke these words in Athens, Greece. After Paul was forced to leave the town of Berea, he made the 200 mile trek to Athens alone. While waiting for his companions, he had apparently taken to walking around the Agora and the area of the Acropolis of that great city. He observed the many altars the Greeks had set up for the gods of their world.
There’s a lot of discussion about the success of the sermon that Paul delivers in Acts 17, but that’s not my focus here. Let’s focus on what was going on within Paul. While in his own walk with Christ, he observed others’ false religion. He quite literally worshiped with his eyes open.
Paul saw others’ needs at the same time as experiencing Christ’s sufficiency. Within his worshiping heart, God’s grace could intersect with spiritual emptiness of others’ journey.
It is easy to see worship as a “me and Jesus” thing, closing our eyes and worshiping – cutting out anything else because we believe it will distract us. We worship within cloistered church buildings, safe from the influence of the world at large; but even there, we feel it necessary to close our eyes.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I close my eyes when I wish to relish something. When my lips linger in a kiss with my wife, I close my eyes. When my daughter sneaks into our bed before I am awake and cuddles up against me, I close my eyes and inhale the beauty of God’s work in making her. These things deserve a moment of closed-eyed enjoyment. In the same way, sometimes the presence of Christ is so sweet and so beautiful that we need to close our eyes and revel in his presence.
But we cannot always be this way. Worship is not just about me and Jesus. It is about Jesus, me, and the Spirit blessing me so I can become a conduit of blessing. Worship must be free to flow through me, touching others with grace. Otherwise, it ends with me – the grace and beauty that is Jesus’ presence ends with me. And that is not how Christ intended worship to work.
Worship with your eyes open. The greatest measure of grace is not that it saves me, but that it can save others. Christ’s compassion and devotion is not simply limited to me. In fact, it is boundless – and if I open my eyes, I will see the intersection of His grace and others’ need.