Does bowing your head and closing your eyes make your prayer time more effective? Can you connect with God better that way? Does the Bible command us to bow our heads and close our eyes? I remember as a kid that bowing our heads and closing our eyes was common place when it came to prayer. I heard “no peeking” several times as a kid. Folding my hands was also an essential part of prayer. But do these actions help us hear God better?
Well, how did Jesus pray? John 17:1, Mark 6:41, and Mark 7:34 seem to indicate He did just the opposite of bowing His head and closing His eyes – He looked up and kept His eyes open. Once Jesus prayed with his face to the ground (Matthew 26:39). So that’s how we should pray? Then why do pastors often instruct their people to close their eyes and bow their heads? Watch the next time someone says, “Let’s pray.” Everyone knows to bow their heads and close their eyes regardless of how spiritual they are. I do think bowing the head shows reverence towards God and closing the eyes helps you focus on Him by blocking out things around you. But are they necessary to effective prayer?
Jesus never instructs anyone to bow their head or close their eyes. He was more interested in their hearts than their posture. In Luke 18:9-14 we see the Pharisee and the tax collector praying. We see that humility can be displayed in one’s actions. The Pharisee bragged in his “prayer” that he was better than others, even the tax collector standing nearby. He even boasted in his giving and fasting. The tax collector was so humbled and grieved by his sin that he couldn’t even look toward heaven and called himself a sinner. Jesus called the tax collector humble and justified before God. Perhaps that’s why some bow their head and close their eyes?
I looked hard but couldn’t find any scripture that said your eyes should be open or closed when you pray. Some scriptures depicted people kneeling (about 27 that I could find), others show lying on the ground (about 20), still others show hands raised in worship and prayer (I stopped counting at 40). So sit, kneel, bow, lay down, raise your hands, dance, jump, be still, bow your head, close your eyes, keep them open – I’m not sure those are the most important matters of prayer. It’s the heart. Perhaps we would be better off sometimes being still and knowing He is God (Psalm 46:10).
Other times we are so full of joy we must be like David and dance before him (2 Samuel 6:14). Regardless of the position you use in prayer, when you do pray, what are you saying to the Lord while in those positions? The Lord said to Samuel, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). You will find Him when you seek him with your whole heart (Jeremiah 29:13).
Think about the following questions in regards to what Scripture says about prayer. Do you associate folding hands, bowing heads, and closing eyes with prayer? Why? Do these actions get God’s attention more than someone who is still? Does a certain position (or place) help focus your attention on God? Is God more concerned with your position or your heart? Are the two connected? Are there “irreverent” positions? Could you misinterpret someone’s actions as reverent or irreverent? Now pray this, “Lord, hear my heart. Let my actions be pleasing to you. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you (Psalm 19:14). Teach me to pray and not just give into religious traditions or motions. I want my heart to be pure and my actions to reflect my heart. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”
Stephen Harrison is the senior pastor of Family Church at White Hall.
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