“Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing
God’s gift of Himself.”
~ Mother Theresa
I was raised Catholic and was wondering if it is okay for non-priests to lead public prayer? ~ @SeeJaneSell
Am I supposed to close my eyes when I pray? ~ @ChristineBlake
One cannot help but appreciate the reverence for prayer implied in these questions.
Christians often take for granted the privilege of prayer. We call prayer “just talking to God”—as if it was no more than that.
True, we are encouraged to “come boldly to the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16 NKJV). But we should remember that the only reason for such boldness is because our access was purchased with the blood of Jesus Christ.
The Most Holy Place of the Jerusalem temple was the place of God’s presence. It was closed off by a great curtain (or “veil”), reported by the historian Josephus to be four inches thick. The curtain was probably almost as high as the temple—about sixty feet.
When Jesus died on the cross, that veil was torn into two pieces, starting from the top. No human could have performed such a feat, which was clearly a miracle of God. Hebrews 10:19-22 explains that this showed God giving access to His presence through Jesus’ death.
Direct access to the holy throne of God is still a place for God’s anointed priests. But whether a congregation’s consecrated minister is called a priest, or another title such as bishop, elder, reverend, or pastor, the New Testament definition of a priest now includes all who belong to Jesus Christ, who are anointed with the Holy Spirit:
You also ... are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. ... you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people ...
~ 1 Peter 2:5,9 (NKJV)
What about the prayers of non-Christians, who are not God’s priests?
Christians have direct access to God the Father because we are restored to Him through Jesus (Ephesians 2:18). But Acts 2:21 says, “And it shall come to pass That whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved.” Before the time of Jesus, in the Old Testament, examples abound of God hearing the prayers of those who demonstrated faith and fear. In the New Testament, the prayer of Cornelius was heard because of he feared God and demonstrated faith, though he did not yet know of Jesus Christ.
What was most important about these people is that their hearts were humble before God, seeking His righteousness, understanding that they had no righteousness of their own merit. It is this posture of the heart, rather than position of eyes or knees which was most important to the Lord. Getting on our knees or closing our eyes is simply one way to express that humility.
Even the prayers of Christians can be hindered by such things as “vain repetitions,” failing to honor one's wife, and regarding sin in the heart. We all should be careful to follow leaders who prove themselves faithful to God and the Bible, so we are not led astray. Christians who lead others in practice of faith, including public prayer, should do so with godly fear and humility.
The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.
~ 1 Peter 3:12 (NKJV)
© 2010 Anne Lang Bundy
Image: Michelangelo's "Creation of Adam," Sistine Chapel