It is Sunday morning. Some Christians have been sandwiched between Church walls to worship their God. One of the major things that characterise a church service is prayer. Usually, the church service ends with a prayer as one way of saying a spiritual goodbye to one another.
Some churches have a tradition of closing their eyes when someone is saying a prayer. Those who do not close their eyes attract questions, wrath and condemnation from fellow Christians. However, some Christians wonder whether it is wrong for somebody to pray with their eyes open.
Ketrina Dickson of Chilomoni in Blantyre defends the practice of closing eyes.
“Many Christians are not taking a prayer seriously these days. You see a Christian praying with eyes open. God will punish those people because that’s bad,” says Dickson.
Dickson, a member of Cavalry Family Church, says in the past people were taking prayer seriously unlike now. She bemoans the loss of respect for prayer.
“I don’t know where this world is heading to. Even right in my home, my children don’t take prayer seriously because they usually pray with their eyes open. Do you think God can hear and accept such prayers? Let us give prayer the respect it deserves,” says Dickson, a mother of six.
But Reverend Maurice Sabuni of Mulunguzi CCAP in Zomba says it is not a sin to pray with one’s eyes open. Of course, he says closing eyes during a prayer helps people to focus on the prayer and avoid unnecessary distractions.
“I don’t believe that God can be angry just because you did not close your eyes during a prayer. I don’t even remember that Jesus used to close His eyes when praying. What matters is not whether your eyes are open or closed during a prayer, but the relationship between you and God,” says Reverend Sabuni.
But Daniel Mvunguti of Lumbadzi in Lilongwe still doubts whether God can receive a prayer from somebody who does not close his or her eyes when praying.
“As if that is not enough, I see people making very short prayers when they are asked to pray. I don’t think God is happy with such prayers. A prayer should be long enough to fully communicate with God. Don’t take God for granted by giving Him short prayers,” Mvunguti says, bringing in a new angle to the debate.
Mvunguti says a ‘real’ Christian should make a long prayer to impress God. He says Jesus used to pray the whole night hence today’s Christians should refrain from making short prayers. Mvunguti bases his argument on Luke 6:12: which reads “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.”
However, Doreen Zindikirani from Dowa differs with Mvunguti, saying a prayer should be short.
“It is important to be economical with time when praying. A prayer should be short so that both God and fellow Christians should concentrate on other things,” says Zindikirani.
Zindikirani, an Anglican faithful, adds: “Some people make long prayers just to be seen as holy and more devoted than the rest of us. Even the Bible warns such people not to hide behind long prayers.”
On God’s anger over long prayers, Zindikirani cites Matthew 23:14 which partly reads: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore, you will be punished more severely.”
Furthermore, Zindikirani says long prayers make a church service unnecessarily long.
“Some prayers are so long that they make a church service unnecessarily long. For example, at my church people get worried when a certain man is the one to close the service with a prayer because he is fond of making long prayers,” she says.
Reverend Sabuni says Jesus used to make both short and long prayers hence Christians should prayer freely.
“There is nothing wrong in making a short or long prayer. Jesus made both short and long prayers depending on the situation. What matters is not the length of the prayer, but the relationship between the person praying and God,” says Sabuni.
He advises Christians to always ensure that there is substance in their prayers, regardless of the length of the prayer.
Debates around prayer show that many Christians concentrate on unnecessary things which will not buy their way to Heaven.
As Reverend Sabuni puts it, they forget that the most important thing is to have a good relationship with God, to whom the prayer is addressed.