Learning to Pray with Eyes wide open

Sherry Harney

September 7, 2023

On a snowy and blustery winter day in Michigan, I took a walk with my dad.  He has a daily routine of walking each morning after his time in the Scriptures. When I travel to visit my parents, I enter into the routine of their life and one of the things I do is walk with him.  As we neared the end of our walk, knowing I would soon be heading back to California, I asked if we could pray as we walked.  My father gladly agreed.

As we began to pray, I was shocked when my dad bumped me into the snowbank on the edge of the road.  As I fell, almost as if in slow motion, I instinctively knew what must be happening and looked back to see the vehicle I knew my dad must be saving me from.  To my surprise there were no cars on the road.

I hit the snowbank with a gentle thud, looked up at my dad, and realized what had actually happened once he share why he had done this.  He was not saving me from a renegade car sliding toward me on the icy roads.  Somehow, in the natural response of hearing someone say, “Let’s pray,” my father went into automatic prayer mode.  As we began praying, he reflexively closed his eyes.  This caused him to veer toward me and accidentally knock me into the snowbank. 

We both laughed as he helped me up and brushed the snow off me.  My dad and I ended up having a rich conversation about how, though it is appropriate to close our eyes in some situations, there are also many occasions when we are wise to keep our eyes wide open while we pray. 

The next morning, I received this email from my father:   

Dear Sherry, I thought about you this morning while I was walking.  I prayed with my eyes open.  I even prayed out loud.  I learned from you that if I pray with my eyes open, my time with God is limitless.


He got it!  When we learn to pray with our eyes wide open, our time with God is limitless, our prayer life expands, heaven touches earth, and God’s power is unleashed.

My journey of prayer began long before that winter day walk with my dad.  I grew up in a godly home with parents who taught me about Jesus and how to talk with Him.  At five years old I entered a life-transforming relationship with Jesus.  I had heard about Him. I had prayed to Him. But on a quiet Sunday, late in the afternoon, I laid on the sofa in our living room and personally met the Savior.

I know I was just a little girl, but I assure you that he entered my life and has never left. Decades later His presence is sweeter and His power more profound. Since that day, I have grown to love and hunger for His Word.

The Bible whispers and at times shouts the truth of heaven when I read it. Sometimes the words of Scripture lift my spirit and inspire me. They resonate with and penetrate my soul. At other times the teaching of the Bible confuses me and weighs heavy on my heart.

"When we learn to pray with our eyes wide open, our time with god is Limitless"

One such passage that troubled me for years and caused me to struggle is a seemingly simple two-word exhortation: “Pray continually” (1 Thess. 5:17). I wanted to obey God’s call and follow His teaching . . . but how? How was I to pray without ceasing? How could I stay aware of God every moment and communicate my love with every breath? How could anyone measure up to this spiritual expectation?

As a young girl and later as a mom of three boys, I continued to feel the weight and pressure of this command. I could not do it. The very idea of praying at all times, in all situations, every moment of every day, felt oppressive.

Then, after years of struggling with this passage, the Holy Spirit breathed a simple truth of understanding into my soul that changed everything. When the veil was lifted and I understood the real meaning of this passage, joy descended and prayers flowed with new freedom and passion. Here is what God taught me: It is not that we have to pray continually; it is that we get to pray continually.

This is not a simple matter of semantics. It is a spiritual reality, a paradigm shift of heavenly proportions.  When we begin to shift from requirement to privilege, from something we have to do to something we get to do, it changes everything, and I hope it is just as transformational for you. It is not that you and I have to pray every moment of every day. God will not be disappointed with you if you don’t pray all the time. The amazing truth is that the Maker of heaven and earth invites us to commune with Him at all times and in all places. When we are ready to communicate with the God of eternity, His eyes, ears, and arms are always wide open. His desire is that we would experience more of His presence and power in the everyday moments of our lives.

Prayer, in its simplest form, is about relationship.  It is about being in the presence of the God who made us and loves us. When we learn to pray with our eyes wide open, we remember we are not alone. We sense more deeply and intimately that God is with us in our pain, depression, sadness, and fear. He is also present at the heights of ecstasy, joy, and delight. From the valleys to the mountaintops, God is near, His door is open, He is present. With our eyes open, we literally see the world around us. We notice beauty, struggle, injustice, and kindness. We begin to see God at work in the big and small things of life. And this moves us to prayer.

When we live with an awareness of God’s glorious presence in each situation and every moment of our day, prayer becomes natural and organic, not something processed and artificial. We talk with God as we would a friend, someone who is walking with us through the journey of life.

My journey of praying anytime and anywhere has done more than grow my prayer life. It has also transformed my understanding of God, deepened my intimacy with my Savior, grown my heart for the lost, and changed the flow and texture of each day. I see the needs of the broken in new ways. I feel my heart aligning with the passion of Jesus for those who have not accepted Him as their Lord and Savior. With eyes wide open I have prayed with and for people who are spiritually wayward. It has not only drawn me closer to my Lord, but it has propelled me to look beyond myself and join Him on His mission.

My prayer is that you will discover the power of praying with eyes open and eyes closed.  We can pray all the time, any place, because God invites us to communicate with Him and He is always near.  As close as, well, as close as a prayer.

Sherry Harney is the co-founder of Organic Outreach International, the Spiritual Development Director at Shoreline Church in Monterey California, and author of Praying with Eyes Wide Open, soon to be re-released by Zondervan as Organic Prayer in June of 2024.

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