“So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Galatians 5:16).

Henri Nouwen points out a sobering dynamic: “Praying presents a problem. It requires a constant readiness to lay our weapons down.” What weapons? Nouwen refers to the common belief that we must stand firm and hold our own against those who want to take away what we have. He says that according to the natural world, “If you don’t carry a weapon, if you don’t make a fist, you’re just asking to be threadbare and destitute. You open your hands and they pound in nails!”

Prayer, however, changes our stance and our perspective. We live in a world in which justice requires police—and sometimes weapons and fists. But as we pray, we also begin to see the larger picture through God’s eyes. We ponder Jesus’ words to those who drove the nails into his hands: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

When we pray with “open hands,” Nouwen says, we live in expectation that the God who makes everything new will constantly make us new. As we face each day, we anticipate receiving the breath of God and his renewal in our lives. Nouwen equates the person that never prays with a person that has asthma: “Because he is short of breath, the whole world shrivels up before him… but the man who prays, opens himself up to God and can freely breathe again… free to boldly stride through the world…without fear.” It’s true. To pray is to live. To live is to pray.

Adapted from The One Year Book of Encouragement