Sherry Harney’s Praying with Eyes Wide Open: A Life-Changing Way to Talk with God provides an interesting (albeit sometimes problematic) approach to prayer.

There are suggestions in this book that I love and would highly recommend, while other suggestions are riddled with incorrect readings of Scripture and, dare I say, a lack of Scripture at times. So, I will say this straight from the beginning: My review of Harney’s book is not wholly positive. Nevertheless, for someone looking for new and creative ways to approach prayer, this may be the book for you (Check it out here: Praying with Eyes Wide Open: A Life-Changing Way to Talk with God).

The thesis of the book is as follows: “My passion is to see ordinary followers of Jesus grow into natural prayers who talk to God, listen to God, and interact with God at all times, in all places, through all circumstances” (12). Harney’s phrase “praying with our eyes open” is meant to represent a way of praying throughout our every day. This includes praying while driving your kids to school or while working at your desk. But it’s also more than just a call to pray without ceasing. Harney also says “praying with eyes open” means that “rather than closing our eyes to block out the world, we open our eyes, like Jesus did. We see the need and pain as well as the beauty and joy all around us. What we see shapes our prayers” (14).

In regard to the first point, Harney opens her introduction with a bit of an odd story.

Her dad knocks her into a snowbank because he randomly decides to drop to his knees in prayer and didn’t look where he was going as he fell to his knees. I kept thinking, “Shouldn’t he have just prayed with his “eyes wide open” as the book implies?” But, I digress. In all seriousness, though, I do appreciate her challenged to Christians to “make a point of praying situations where you would normally not be praying” (35). Maybe God does have a divinely appointed conversation for you on an airplane and praying to Him for such dialogues is the necessary trigger.

The best part of Praying with Eyes Wide Open is its linking of prayer and theology.

I do agree with Harney that our understanding of who God is impacts how we pray. Chapter 3 really unpacks a theology of God – as God the Creator, God the Father and God the Shepherd – as well as teaches us how to pray to God with these realities in mind. This includes actually addressing God as Creator or Shepherd etc. when we pray aloud, and I think that is a wonderful idea.

The main contention of the book, however, is Harney’s overt attack against “traditional prayer practices”.

She really has a bone to pick with Christians who fold their hands and close their eyes while praying. In fact, she argues that it isn’t biblical! She states, “Here is a shocking truth. There are many and varied postures for prayer taught and modeled in the Bible. Closing our eyes is not one of them” (18). Unfortunately, Harney does not go on to mention any of these other supposed, biblical prayer postures and so the reader is placed in the awkward position of trusting her word over Scripture.

This is where I would like to take Harney to task.

Let us consider the fact that three major biblical postures of prayer include bowing, kneeling and laying prostrate. For example, Moses bows low before God in Exodus 34:8 and King David in Psalm 5:7. King Solomon kneels down before the congregation of Israel in 2 Chronicles 6:13 to pray an Daniel explicitly kneels three times a day at an open window to pray, despite the laws against it in Daniel 6:10. Finally, Ezra the priest literally has his face on the ground while praying to the Lord in Nehemiah 8 and Jesus himself “fell on His face and prayed” in Matthew 16:39. So, yes, bowing one’s head to pray is an obvious biblical stance and, while none of these verses explicitly mention closed eyes, could you imagine Ezra lying face down on the ground with his eyes open? Harney states, “I could not find one single passage where God calls someone to close their eyes when they pray” (19). All I can say is that perhaps some things are just assumed.

So, there it is. That is my assessment of Harney’s book. There are some wins and some losses. If nothing else, as I read Praying with Eyes Wide Open, I ended up spending a lot of time in my Bible double checking ideas and quotes, and any time in the Bible is a good time, indeed.

Interested? You can check it our here: Praying with Eyes Wide Open: A Life-Changing Way to Talk with God.

We have also written our own guide to prayer through the Psalms at The Art of Taleh. Check it out here as well as The Art of Taleh guide to prayers of lament here.

Have you read this book? What did you think of it? Please share in the comments below!

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