I’ve spent a lot of time in the Middle East. The Middle East is one of the most fascinating though deeply misunderstood regions of the world. Every time I’m in the region I learn something new about people, culture, history, civilization, language, food, or religion.
On a trip to the region a few years ago, I learned a surprising lesson about prayer.
The lesson was surprising for several reasons. First, I’ve been a praying Christian for all my life. What else is there to learn about prayer? Second, prayer is so simple, at least in its formulaic steps: address the Father, thank Him, petition Him, and close in the name of His Son Jesus Christ. What else is there to learn about prayer? Third, I taught prayer full-time for two years as a missionary. What else is there to learn about prayer that I had not learned as a teacher of prayer? Fourth, I’m a parent that actively teaches and prays with my children daily. What am I missing about prayer that I should have already known?
The point should be clear: I was unconsciously in a mindset that I had nothing else to learn about prayer.
In such a mindset I was understandably surprised, delighted, inspired, and humbled by what I learned from my Muslim friends about prayer.
As my Muslim friends petitioned God in prayer, they held their hands together in cupping shape creating a bowl shape with their hands.
I was curious. I’ve seen believers in God turn to Him in prayer by reverently folding their arms, or clasping the hands together, or even raising their hands skyward in petition. But cupping the hands?
Inquisitively I asked my Muslim friends, “When you pray to God, why do you hold your hands together in cupping shape?”
Their response was beautiful and simple.
“We pray to God in faith expecting answers to our prayers. We hold our hands in that position because it represents our willingness and readiness to receive blessings from God. Our open hands symbolize that we are open to and capable of holding the blessings He will entrust to us.”
Just like an empty pitcher can be filled full of water, my Muslim friends symbolically demonstrated that they were open vessels ready to receive God’s blessings.
How often have I prayed to God and yet I’m not ready or open (symbolically, physically, spiritually) to receive what He has to offer?
Since learning that lesson from my Muslim friends, as I have prayed with my hands open representing my willingness and openness to receive from God, my heart has been reminded to be more thoughtful in prayer, more attentive at listening, more attuned to the gifts I’ve received and thereby more grateful to God who truly does bless us to overflowing that we cannot contain what He has to offer us: “I will open [to] you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it” (see Malachi 3:10).