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!