Contemplative Prayer: Palms Down, Palms Up

During this time of Covid-19, we feel it is vitally important for pastors to continue to learn to carve out a few moments each day to simply be with God in prayer. In this edition of Thrive in 5 we are deviating from our normal five-point format to allow Linda Gist to teach us a simple but effective way to sit with God, release our anxious thoughts and receive his gracious presence.

Pastors, are you feeling “Zoomed-out,” busier than ever? Are you weary from carrying the weight of all the changes and uncertainties of “phased reopening” and wondering what church will look like in the months to come? Jesus, who knows and understands, says to you, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

Take a few minutes today to be with Jesus and engage in a simple prayer practice called, “Palms Down, Palms Up.” This is a type of listening prayer, a time for you as a pastor to step away from the responsibilities of ministry in order to listen to God and to yourself. This version of the prayer uses physical gestures in order for you to “embody the prayer.”

Richard Foster describes this practice in Celebration of Discipline (pp. 30-31): Begin by placing your palms down as a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over any concerns you may have to God. Inwardly you may pray, ‘Lord, I give to you my anger toward John. I release my fear of my dentist appointment this morning. I surrender my anxiety over not having enough money to pay the bills this month. I release my frustration over trying to find a baby-sitter for tonight.’ Whatever it is that weighs on your mind or is a concern to you, just say, ‘palms down.’ Release it. You may even feel a certain sense of release in your hands.

After several moments of surrender, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive from the Lord. Perhaps you will pray silently: ‘Lord, I would like to receive your divine love for John, your peace about the dentist appointment, your patience, your joy.’ Whatever you need, you say, ‘palms up.’ Having centered down, spend the remaining moments in complete silence. Do not ask for anything. Allow the Lord to commune with you, to love you. If impressions or directions come, fine; if not, fine.

Practicing the prayer

  • Begin by becoming still. Sit comfortably, with your feet flat on the ground and your hands resting comfortably on your lap.
  • Gently notice your breathing as you become still.
  • Turn your palms down, resting them on your thighs, and allow yourself to notice what you are carrying today: a concern, an anxiety or something that weighs on your heart and mind.
  • As you continue to sit with your palms down, let it be a symbolic indication of your desire to turn over this particular concern to God. Inwardly pray and release your concern.
  • When you feel ready to move on, turn your palms up as a symbol of your desire to receive. Articulate that (with or without words) to the One who loves to give generously.
  • Continue to sit with your palms up and listen for what God’s wants to give freely to you.
  • This process can be repeated as you notice other concerns. As you come to the end of this time, relax your posture and give thanks — treasure this time with God.

Additional Tips

  • You can go to the Lord with one concern or multiple issues. However, you should treat each issue separately.
  • Don’t rush.
  • You aren’t looking for a pre-conceived experience or outcome. You are simply inviting the Lord to commune with you, to love you.
  • Find a time and place where it is quiet and you will not be interrupted (closet, car, park, etc.).
  • If necessary, enlist the support of family members to help you find that quiet time and place.
  • Have paper and pen handy to write down your experience, positive or negative, if you desire.

To learn more about contemplative prayer practices see the following resources:

Foster, Richard J. (2018). Celebrations of Discipline: The path to Spiritual Growth. New York: HarperCollins.

Foster, Richard J. (1992). Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home. New York: HarperCollins.

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg (2005). Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Spiritual contributor and curator: Linda Gist is a spiritual formation director in Sacramento, California. She is a graduate of the Renovare© Institute for Christian Spiritual Formation and regularly leads retreats for pastors.
To contact Linda, email
Linda’s website:  Rhythms of Grace
Executive editor: Russ Gunsalus
Curator of content: Dave Higle