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 Prayer Posture

John Hoole August 1, 2004



What does the Bible say about our posture while we are praying to Him?

o Some say that congregational prayer should always be while standing.
o Others say kneeling should accompany any prayers, especially when it is private prayer.
o Still others would question why anyone raises their hands while praying.
o Some would contend that praying while sitting shows lack of respect.
o Still others believe we should kneel or sit for prayer, but not stand.
o And then there are some who say it doesn't matter at all.

There are some segments of the Christian family who believe that while posture is not as important as the prayer itself, they do believe the posture of a person while praying is not insignificant. Down through church history, there has been quite a debate over this issue of prayer posture. If you were to search the internet, using the phrase, "prayer posture," most of the first 100 web sites you are given will be either Catholic or Islamic. To both of these groups, a person's posture during prayer is very important. That is not to say that each of these believe the same thing. The Catholics have a specific posture for people when they are observing the Eucharist. The Islamic believe praying should be by prostrating themselves in the direction of Mecca.

In the century following the Reformation, the debate of one's posture in prayer was hot. Calvin, said, with reference to Psalm 95:6:

"We observe that mention is made not only of inward gratitude, but the necessity of an outward profession. The three words which are used imply that, to discharge their duty properly, the Lord's people must present themselves a sacrifice to him publicly, with kneeling, and other marks of devotion."

Book of Discipline - French Reformed Church

"That great irreverence which is found in diverse persons, who at public and private prayers do neither uncover their heads nor bow their knees shall be reformed (that means they will be disciplined). Which is a matter repugnant unto piety, and giveth suspicion of pride, and scandalizes them that fear God. Wherefore all pastors shall be advised as also elders and heads of families, carefully to oversee, that in time of prayer all person, without exception….do evidence by these exterior signs the inward humility of their hearts and homage which they yield to God; unless anyone be hindered from doing so by sickness or otherwise."

Some believe and teach that Christians should have one posture for thanksgiving, and yet another posture for other praying. David Lipscomb (1831 - 1917) was the founder of Nashville Bible School in Tennessee, which is now called David Lipscomb University. On one occasion, He wrote,

"The scriptural declarations and examples are that we should stand up to give thanks, but kneel to pray. When the leading purpose is thanksgiving, it is proper to stand up; when the design is prayer, kneeling is proper."

Quite often in the Bible, standing was an acceptable posture for public prayer. At the dedication service for the Temple in Jerusalem, Solomon stood before the people while spreading his hands toward heaven (1 Kings 8:22).

Even to this day, orthodox Jews pray while standing. Any picture you see of the "Western Wall" of the temple in Jerusalem, will find men standing and praying.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT OUR PRAYER POSTURE?

IS THERE A PRAYER POSTURE THAT MAKES IT ACCEPTABLE TO GOD?

There are times in the record of Scripture where the posture of a person in prayer is given.

In Luke 22:41 (NKJV), we find Jesus praying.

41 And He was withdrawn from them about a stone's throw, and He knelt down and prayed.

While we are sometimes told the posture of the person in prayer, most of the time when prayer is mentioned in Scripture, it is not stated what, if any, particular posture is assumed by the person praying.

HOW MANY DIFFERENT POSTURES IN PRAYER ARE MENTIONED IN THE BIBLE?

1. Sitting (Acts 2:1-4 [Pentecost], Elijah under a broom tree - 1 Kings 19:4)
2. Dancing (2 Samuel 6:14)
3. Head bowed (Luke 18:13, Gen 24:26, Acts 21:5)
4. Publican smoke his breast (Luke 18:13)
5. Standing (Mark 11:25)
6. Prostrate on the ground (Joshua 5:14; Matthew 26:39 [Christ])
7. While lying sick (Psalm 4:4, 63:6; 2 Kings 20:1-3)
8. Kneeling (Daniel 6:10)
9. With hands raised (1 Timothy 2:8)
10. Elijah stretched his body over a widow's dead son
11. Stephen prayed while looking into heaven (Acts 7:54-60)
12. Peter prayed while walking on the water (Matthew 14:30)
13. While hanging on a cross (Luke 23:42)
14. Jonah prayed in the belly of a fish (Jonah 2:1). We can only imagine what bodily posture that would have required.
15. With eyes open (Christ - John 17:1, 11:41, Matthew 14:19)
16. Praying with their mouth moving (Hannah - 1 Samuel 1:12-13)
17. In stocks while in prison (Paul & Silas - Acts 16:24-25) 18. Hand laid on other people (First 7 deacons - Acts 6:5-6; Christ laying hands of little children - Matthew 19:13-15) 19. Clapping hands (Psalm 47:1)

Some of these were situations where the person praying had no choice as to posture of their prayer.

o Lying sick
o Hanging on the Cross
o In the belly of a large fish
o While in stocks in prison

Some postures can be used in conjunction with other postures.

Nehemiah 8:6 NKJV

6 And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. Then all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

A person can raise their hands while sitting, standing, dancing or kneeling. A person can also pray mouthing their words while sitting, standing, kneeling, in prison, etc..

We only have to look at the posture Jesus used to pray to realize that any posture is acceptable.

1. Looking toward heaven (Matthew 14:19; John 11:41)
2. Sitting (Matthew 26:26)
3. Prostrate - lying face downward (Matthew 26:39)
4. On the cross - when in deepest agony (Matthew 27:46)
5. Hands raised in a blessing (Luke 24:51)

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE MOST COMMONLY MENTIONED POSTURE IN THE BIBLE?

Psalms 95:6 NKJV

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

Kneeling is the most commonly mentioned posture for prayer in the Bible. The Psalmist seems to suggest that when we come before our Maker, we should bow down and kneeling before Him.

There are some who believe that bowing one's knees is the only acceptable way to pray to God. And some of these take their belief from Ephesians 3:14 (NKJV), which says:

For this reason I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

As a Hebrew, Paul normally prayed in a standing position that was customary for the Jews. But he told the Christians in Ephesus that he prayer for them on his knees. By stating this, and doing it, Paul communicated the deep sincerity, passion and importance of what he was praying for them.

But the Scriptural evidence show that God honored prayer in other postures as well.

2 Chronicles 20:13-14 NKJV

13 Now all Judah, with their little ones, their wives, and their children, stood before the LORD.
14 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah,…

It didn't matter to God that all the people were standing before Him. The Spirit of the Lord was manifest in their presence. In Mark 11:25 (NKJV), Jesus expected, at times, the people would be standing while praying.

25 And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PRIVATE AND CORPORATE PRAYING?

DO WE SEE A PATTERN WHERE THE POSTURE IS DIFFERENT?

Sitting - Elijah sat alone under the broom tree (1 Kings 19:4)
In the upper room, all 120 were sitting (Acts 2:2)

Kneeling - Peter, when praying for the small girl (Acts 9:40)

Paul and the elders at Ephesus (Acts 20:36)

Standing - The Publican (Luke 18:13 - "standing afar off" )

The Israelites with Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:3-5)

Bowing All Israel (1 Chronicles 29:20)

Moses (Exodus 34:8-9)

Lifting Hands - Israelites (Nehemiah 8:6)

David (Psalm 28:2)

The biblical evidence shows that there really is no difference in posture, between private, personal prayer and group or corporate prayer.

With the biblical information we have looked at so far, I think it is safe to say that there is no specific posture which is required during prayer. If we accept the Lord's Prayer as a model for his followers to use, Christ did not indicate any posture requirement during it.

There is a rather humorous poem about the proper posture during prayer.

"The proper way for a man to pray,"
Said Deacon Lemuel Keyes,
"And the only proper attitude
Is down upon his knees."

"No, I should say the way to pray,"
Said Reverend Doctor Wise,
"Is standing straight with outstretched arms
And rapt and upturned eyes."

"Oh, no, no, no," said Elder Slow.
"Such posture is too proud.
A man should pray with eyes fast closed
And head contritely bowed."

"It seems to me his hands should be
Austerely clasped in front,
With both thumbs point toward the ground,"
Said Reverend Doctor Blunt.

"Last year I fell in the old well
Headfirst," said Cyrus Brown,
"With both my heels a-stickin' up
And my head a-pointin' down."

"And I made a prayer right then and there,
The best prayer I ever said,
The prayingest prayer I ever prayed,
A-standin' on my head."

When Christ said: "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," He did not say to do so only after obtaining a certain posture. If the acceptability of our worship depended upon our physical posture surely God would have told us so in His Word. But He has not done so. God delights in hearing from us. He isn't nearly as concerned about our bodily positions as we usually are. I believe His greatest concern is the posture of the heart which is being carried around inside that body.

Now, having said that our prayers can be said with many different postures, I think we can also say that one's posture is not totally insignificant. At the close of a sermon, when the pastor instructs us to bow our heads and close our eyes, he is recommending a specific posture for what is happening at that moment.

With regard to posture, WHY DO WE OFTEN CLOSE OUR EYES WHILE PRAYING?

Now here is something that may shock some of you. Almost all the way through the Bible, you will find that they prayed with their eyes open.

Luke 18:13 NKJV

13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!'

The longest recorded prayer of Jesus is recorded in John 17. We are expressly told that He prayed with his eyes open. In John 17:1 (NKJV), we are told:

1 Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You."

The Orientals usually pray with their eyes open. I had a grandfather who always prayed with his eyes wide open. I usually pray with my eyes closed. I don't want to be distracted by what goes on around me at that moment. For me it is a way to shut out the world, a concentrated fully on our Lord.

WHY IS IT THE COMMON PRACTICE TO BOW THE HEAD WHEN PRAYING?

The Bible does not specifically answer this question. And yet, it does provide many accounts where those who prayed bowed their head.

2 Chronicles 29:30 NKJV

30 Moreover King Hezekiah and the leaders commanded the Levites to sing praise to the LORD with the words of David and of Asaph the seer. So they sang praises with gladness, and they bowed their heads and worshiped.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE IMPORTANCE OF KNEELING BEFORE GOD?

1. It is an expression of honor and submission to God.

It must have some significance because of the way it is used in Romans 14:11 (NKJV).

11 For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God."

This kind of reverence and submission is echoed in Philippians 2:9-11 NKJV

9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth,
11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

All creation will bow their knees before the King of Kings. They will submit to His authority. This act of honor and submission is not only true before God, but true of mortal on earth.

2 Kings 1:13 NKJV

13 Again, he (Ahaziah - king of Moab) sent a third captain of fifty with his fifty men. And the third captain of fifty went up, and came and fell on his knees before Elijah, and pleaded with him, and said to him: "Man of God, please let my life and the life of these fifty servants of yours be precious in your sight.

The first two groups of 50 men had been killed with fire coming down from heaven. The 3rd captain of 50 came before Elijah and fell on his knees before him, thus showing respect and submission to the prophet.

When Xerxes, the king, promoted Haman, the king decreed that all who worked under Haman were to show respect and submission by bowing/kneeling before him (Esther 3:2).

What makes this so important when we come to the throne of God, is that it is humbling - like a servant before his master in an expression of total submission.

2. Kneeling is also a symbol of defeat

Psalms 18:39 NIV

39 You armed me with strength for battle; you made my adversaries bow at my feet.

David praises God because his adversaries were made to bow at David's feet.

Psalms 20:8-9 NIV

8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
9 O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call!

So, we see that bowing can also be a symbol of defeat. When we are going through adversity, David tells us that we can call to God, and even our enemies will be made to bow before us in defeat. The enemy falls to their knees, but the last half of verse 8 says we rise up and stand firm.

3. Kneeling is an expression of Adoration

There are examples in the Scriptures where people knelt to pray and to worship the Lord.

In 2 Chronicles 7:3 (NIV), at the dedication of the Temple, we read:

3 When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the LORD above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the LORD, saying, "He is good; his love endures forever."

So what have we learned about kneeling before the Lord, Kneeling before God is a voluntary act of honor, submission and adoration to Him.

Psalms 95:6 NKJV

6 Oh come, let us worship and bow down; Let us kneel before the LORD our Maker.

The next time you kneel in worship, you are in fact making the nonverbal statement, Lord, here is my life; it is Yours. Take it and use me as You please." I know we don't have to stand up or sit down when we pray. I don't want to be legalistic and say we must bow, but I do believe we all must submit to God. Bowing and kneeling is an indication of humbling ourselves before God. And, while I know it is possible to bow or kneel without humbling oneself before God, the posture of our heart must be accompanied with humility before Him.

When I pray in private, I like to get on my knees before Him. I get down in front of a chair or the sofa. Nobody else sees me do it. They don't have to. That's not important. But I want to tell you something - John Hoole needs to do it. When I get on my knees, it prepares my heart to have the right attitude toward God.

He told the people in the Old Testament, "take your shoes off because you are standing on Holy Ground." And I wonder if we sometimes take lightly our coming into God's presence. I believe that bowing our knees could greatly enhance our worship, if it came from our heart and truly expressed our attitude to God.

I know that there are some of us that cannot bow our knees because of physical conditions. God understands all that.

In closing this topic, I think it is wonderful that the Almighty God allows us to speak to Him at any time, anywhere. What a privilege! The key to it all is to make sure our hearts are reverently submitted to God, that all known sin is confessed to Him, and that we have a clear conscience before Him. If we do that, that matter of our body posture will take care of itself.

Acceptable prayer must be sincere (Hebrews 10:22). It must be offered with reverence and godly fear, with a humble sense of our own insignificance as creatures as well as a sense of our own unworthiness as sinners. Prayer must also be offered in the faith that God is, and is the answerer of prayer, and that He will fulfill his Word.

No rules are anywhere in Scripture where it is laid down that a specific posture must be used. But it does tell us we must approach God with the right attitude and posture of the heart. God delights in hearing from us.

   
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