Do you ever pray “directional” prayers? Some people pray TO something or TOWARD something. It may be positioning yourself to pray toward the east or toward the rising sun, or even toward a particular holy place. Some people pray to the moon or stars or a statue or image of a person. Some people pray rather aimlessly into the sky or the ceiling or the floor.
Does it matter? What does the Bible say?
In Exodus, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” In other words, no carved images of any animal or person that takes the place of God. For some people, this extends to icons and statues of Jesus; for others, it means only idols from other religious traditions.
However, later in Israel’s history, when King Solomon dedicated the first Temple, he prayed that when people prayed toward the Temple in Jerusalem, that God would hear from heaven and intervene. For many, this edict still holds true– they focus many, if not all their prayers toward the city of Jerusalem. Others specifically pray to the “Wailing Wall”– the last part of the Temple that still stands. Tradition states that the Spirit of God “dwelt” in the Temple– therefore to pray to the Temple was to pray to the God who lived there.
Jesus did not command His followers to pray toward the Temple itself, but rather to pray directly to “Our Father, which art in Heaven.” Throughout the Bible, the image of prayer is linked with the image of smoke or incense– rising toward Heaven. Jesus sometimes is described as looking up toward Heaven as He prayed. But other times He bowed or knelt as He prayed.
So what are we to conclude? Which is the “correct” direction for our prayers?
There is no conclusive answer in the Bible. And I think this is because God is Omnipresent. He is everywhere at once, so that we can pray anywhere, facing any direction, without a fixed focus point. There is only one direction that is “wrong.” And that is when our heart is facing away from (in rebellion to) God. We can pray aimlessly to nothing and no one, or to something that we know is NOT the One True God–to creation itself or to an invisible but remote “Force.” But the Bible IS clear that we are to pray to God alone– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– and directly and personally to Him. We do not need a personal altar in order to be heard; we do not need to be facing an icon or a building or the rising sun or an imaginary point in the stratosphere. God Himself, through Christ– will accept and respond to our prayers. God will hear us from anywhere, in any position or circumstance. Altars and images and icons may represent Christ and His Holiness– they can be helpful tools in reminding us of who we are in relation to Him–but they must never become replacements for His Spiritual Presence.
Our prayers end up– through whatever mysterious and wandering way– finding their true destination, which is the heart of God Himself, when we seek Him sincerely and whole-heartedly. In much the same way, God’s answers to us will find their way through His Holy Spirit, no matter where we are or what direction we are facing.
God transcends space and time, and can be found by those who seek Him from the ends of the earth. I am greatly comforted by this truth. My Father is in Heaven– and right beside me, and dwelling within me! He is always listening, and always available.