When I was a kid, I was taught to close my eyes during prayer. The voice of my Sunday school teacher still echoes in my memory: “Alright children. We’re going to pray. Everyone bow your heads and close your eyes.”
As a adult, I understand the logic of “bow your heads and close your eyes.” Kids are easily distracted; shutting eyes shuts out distractions.
But as we grow up, we need to learn to pray with our eyes wide open. Jesus told his disciples to “watch and pray” (Matthew 26:41). Paul instructed believers to “Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful” (Colossians 4:2).
I realize that the being watchful in prayer means more than keeping your physical eyes open. The Greek word for “watchful” in Colossians 4:2 has the idea of “being alert” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:6). Watchful praying means having your spiritual eyes open, noticing the opportunities and obstacles around you that call for prayer.
In the context of Colossians 4, we are to be especially watching for gospel opportunities. After calling Christians to watchful praying, Paul goes on to say, “And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should” (Colossians 4:3-4).
When Linda and I travel, we often pray for gospel opportunities along the way. We’ve noticed that God regularly answers our prayer. We have the chance to witness to a waiter at lunch, to the taxi driver giving us a lift to the airport, or the couple sitting next to us at the airport terminal.
But back at home, we don’t always watch and pray in the same way. We get busy, task-oriented, preoccupied. And we miss gospel opportunities.
So while it can still be a good idea to “bow your head and close your eyes” when you pray, remember that God is at work around you and pray with your eyes wide open.