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How a Chair Can Help You Pray

Having a conversation with Jesus as an act of prayer.

How an empty chair can help you pray
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There are a thousand ways to pray. I’ve used numerous aids to prayer in my lifetime, from prayer books to beads to music and more. Some endure, some helped for a season. One enduring prayer aid is a chair.

My prayer chair sits in the corner of my home office, and it has seen many hours of prayer, both glorious and gritty. But that’s not the chair I mean. I’m talking about the other chair that sits beside my prayer chair. That chair is an aid to prayer that I drew from Brennan Manning’s book, Abba’s Child

Manning tells the story of an old man who was dying of cancer. The man’s daughter asked the local priest to come and pray with her father. When the priest arrived, he found the man lying in bed with his head propped up on two pillows, and there was an empty chair beside his bed. The priest supposed that the man had been expecting him and had set the chair there for him.

The bedridden man asked the priest to close the door. “I’ve never told anyone this, not even my daughter, but all my life I have never known how to pray.” In fact, he said, he had long abandoned prayer until one day, about four years earlier, when his best friend said, “Joe, prayer is just a simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus. Here’s what I suggest. Sit down on a chair, place an empty chair in front of you, and in faith see Jesus on the chair. It’s not spooky, because He promised, ‘I’ll be with you all days.’ Then just speak to Him, and listen in the same way you’re doing with me right now.”

So he tried it, and said it worked so well that he prayed that way for a couple of hours every day, being careful not to let his daughter see him talking to an empty chair, because she would think he’d lost his mind.

The priest was deeply moved by the story and encouraged the old guy to continue praying that way. Two nights later, the daughter called to tell the priest that her father had died that afternoon.

“Did he seem to die in peace?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said. She had gone to the store and came back to find him dead. And then she paused, as if unsure whether she should go on. Then she said, “But there was something strange—in fact, beyond strange, kind of weird. . . . It has to do with how I found him.”

“How you found him?”

She hesitated again before telling the priest that she found him leaning over, resting his head on the chair beside his bed.

I remember that story often when I sit in my prayer chair and see the chair I’ve set next to it. Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine Jesus sitting there. Sometimes His presence is so near and so real that I reach over to touch Him. And sometimes it seems that I do.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, so to speak. But if you haven’t tried it, I recommend a chair as an aid to prayer, placed close enough so that you can experience the simple matter of having a conversation with Jesus, speaking to Him, listening as you would with any friend. And maybe even—sometimes—laying your head on His lap.   

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