Where Do Prayers Go?

Do you ever pray “directional” prayers? Some people pray TO something or TOWARD something. It may be positioning yourself to pray toward the east or toward the rising sun, or even toward a particular holy place. Some people pray to the moon or stars or a statue or image of a person. Some people pray rather aimlessly into the sky or the ceiling or the floor.

Does it matter? What does the Bible say?

In Exodus, when God gave Moses the Ten Commandments, He said, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.” In other words, no carved images of any animal or person that takes the place of God. For some people, this extends to icons and statues of Jesus; for others, it means only idols from other religious traditions.

However, later in Israel’s history, when King Solomon dedicated the first Temple, he prayed that when people prayed toward the Temple in Jerusalem, that God would hear from heaven and intervene. For many, this edict still holds true– they focus many, if not all their prayers toward the city of Jerusalem. Others specifically pray to the “Wailing Wall”– the last part of the Temple that still stands. Tradition states that the Spirit of God “dwelt” in the Temple– therefore to pray to the Temple was to pray to the God who lived there.

Jesus did not command His followers to pray toward the Temple itself, but rather to pray directly to “Our Father, which art in Heaven.” Throughout the Bible, the image of prayer is linked with the image of smoke or incense– rising toward Heaven. Jesus sometimes is described as looking up toward Heaven as He prayed. But other times He bowed or knelt as He prayed.

So what are we to conclude? Which is the “correct” direction for our prayers?

There is no conclusive answer in the Bible. And I think this is because God is Omnipresent. He is everywhere at once, so that we can pray anywhere, facing any direction, without a fixed focus point. There is only one direction that is “wrong.” And that is when our heart is facing away from (in rebellion to) God. We can pray aimlessly to nothing and no one, or to something that we know is NOT the One True God–to creation itself or to an invisible but remote “Force.” But the Bible IS clear that we are to pray to God alone– Father, Son, and Holy Spirit– and directly and personally to Him. We do not need a personal altar in order to be heard; we do not need to be facing an icon or a building or the rising sun or an imaginary point in the stratosphere. God Himself, through Christ– will accept and respond to our prayers. God will hear us from anywhere, in any position or circumstance. Altars and images and icons may represent Christ and His Holiness– they can be helpful tools in reminding us of who we are in relation to Him–but they must never become replacements for His Spiritual Presence.

Our prayers end up– through whatever mysterious and wandering way– finding their true destination, which is the heart of God Himself, when we seek Him sincerely and whole-heartedly. In much the same way, God’s answers to us will find their way through His Holy Spirit, no matter where we are or what direction we are facing.

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God transcends space and time, and can be found by those who seek Him from the ends of the earth. I am greatly comforted by this truth. My Father is in Heaven– and right beside me, and dwelling within me! He is always listening, and always available.

To Bow; To Kneel…

There is no one “right” way to pray–God listens to our heart, whether we are standing, sitting, bowing, lying prostrate, or running! However, kneeling or bowing before God shows our heart attitude. And I think it is important to talk about it a little here.

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  • Bowing or kneeling shows deference. A person bows or kneels before a sovereign or dignitary, someone of rank and importance, or someone in high authority. 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. (Philippians 2:9-11 NKJV)
  • Bowing not only demonstrates God’s superior position, but reminds me of my own position before Him. It is a humbling position to kneel; to bow one’s head; to become smaller and cast one’s eyes down. If there is pride lurking in my heart, bowing may not come easily…
  • To bow or kneel forces us to stop, and puts us in a position for prayer. It forces us to turn away from distractions and from comfort. I can pray in any position, but I don’t generally kneel to do household tasks, or bow to take a phone call. Even if I am not in a position to physically kneel or bow, I can put aside distractions, and take a heart and mind “stance” of prayer.
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  • Throughout the Bible, we are encouraged to bow or kneel when we pray– it is one among many stances of worship we are to take when approaching God’s throne. (see also Romans 14:11, Isaiah 45:23, Revelation 5:13, and Psalm 95:6-7)


  • Kneeling or bowing sets us apart. That is not to say that we should make empty postures to make ourselves look virtuous. But neither should we be afraid to bow our heads, or reluctant to kneel, if we feel led to do so. This is especially true when we are at home or in church. It may NOT be appropriate to kneel in the breakroom at work or bow your head while driving– but if bowing or kneeling at church or in your own home makes you feel uncomfortable (other than for physical limitations), because someone “might” see you, there may be another heart issue at stake.

Today, as I come before my creator, I will kneel in reverence, bow in humility, and worship Him in word and action.

Positioning for Prayer

Bow, kneel, stand; hands folded, hands raised, hands clasped–there are many positions we assume when praying.  And different types of prayer seem to have different positions.  We tend to say grace seated or standing behind our chair at the table.  Some families hold hands; others bow their heads and fold their hands.  Some corporate prayers call for kneeling; others are said standing.  Some people bow, some kneel on the floor with arms outstretched; some curl up in their favorite easy chair; some face east or toward a certain focal point; some touch or hold an object, like a rosary or a Bible, or the wall or surface of a sacred place.  Some pray with eyes closed; others with eyes raised toward Heaven.

Does any of this posturing and positioning really matter?  Does God have a preference?  A requirement?  Does He get offended if I stand, or keep my eyes open or neglect to hold my hands a certain way?


The answer is not as easy as one might think–The Bible has many specific accounts of prayer, as well as many commands and guidelines.  Hebrew priests stood with hands raised to pronounce blessing and to seek God’s favor.  King David’s psalms are poetic prayers.  They don’t often describe a position of standing or kneeling, but many of them imply a position of lying down, pacing, clapping, shouting, climbing, etc.  Jesus often prayed alone, and spoke of praying privately– in corners and closets away from prying eyes and listening ears.  On the night of the Last Supper and in the Garden of Gethsemane, the Bible describes Jesus as praying while “looking toward Heaven” (John 17:1), and later, “he fell with his face to the ground and prayed.” (Matthew 26: 39)

All this indicates that positions matter in relation to the function or the nature of the prayer.  And that’s where I want to focus my thoughts today.

God isn’t displeased if I stand to pray, rather than kneel–unless I am standing in pride and arrogance.  He is pleased if I kneel in humble and contrite spirit, but not if I kneel out of false humility or to impress others with my self-righteous posturing.  If I bow my head at the table out of habit, and forget who I am supposed to be talking to, or “pretend” to kneel instead of leaving the comfort of my chair– then I may need to take a new position; a new attitude of prayer.


God isn’t impressed with our physical position in prayer– but I believe he wants our whole self, our undivided attention and our physical and emotional expression and attitude.  Sometimes, the physical position comes as a natural extension of our grief, our joy, our reverence, and our stillness before His throne.  Other times, our physical position brings us out of our pride, our busyness, and prepares our heart attitude.

I have had moments–even days– when I was not naturally motivated to quiet my spirit, bow my head or my heart, and kneel before my Maker.  But in kneeling, and bowing my head, and closing my eyes, I was positioning more than just my body.  I was coming in obedience to the one– the only one– who can transform my mind, renew my spirit, and soothe my restless heart.  Other times, I could not kneel for the joy and exuberance of the moment.  Standing on tiptoe, hands raised, head raised, and heart raised, I sang out to my Father in gratitude and awe.

So the answer to the question– Does our position in prayer matter?– would seem to be, “no.”  What matters is our attitude. God is not impressed or fooled by an outward show–he is concerned with our heart’s desire to be close to him. There is, however, one position that is pivotal in the pursuit of prayer.  That is the position of Faith.  In Hebrews, we are told that “without Faith, it is impossible to please God, for whoever comes to him must believe that he exists, and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him..”(Hebrews 11:6)  Jesus spoke of faith that can move mountains, even if it is the size of a mustard seed.  Whether kneeling or standing, grieving or rejoicing, our prayers must be accompanied by faith– faith that God exists; that he is loving and gracious and all-powerful to save; faith that our “position” in him is one of reconciliation and renewed life through his grace and the finished work of Jesus Christ; faith that he will hear our prayers and answer according to his will; faith that his will is altogether good and perfect– even when we don’t understand it in the here and now.

One final thought–though the Bible does not specifically require that we kneel to pray as we pursue a relationship with him, it does declare that one day, “at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord…” (Philippians 10-11a).  I can practice kneeling in this life, knowing that it won’t go to waste!

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