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Posture in Prayer

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Archives / 1961 / January



Posture in Prayer


VARIETY in posture in prayer charac­terizes the practice of the American Churches. Not only variety in posture but also variety in attitude is to be found today. The question is, is there something about posture in prayer which makes one kind of posture by its very intrinsic nature the es­sential posture for effective prayer?

It is well known that Semitic peoples gave to the world three forms of monotheis­tic religion. Judaism, if today's pattern for prayer means anything, practices standing tor prayer. Christianity on the whole, in its major portion, makes use of the bended knees as the proper posture for prayer. Mohammedanism, the other of the three religions which worship one God only, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, univer­sally makes use of not only the bended knees, but also of almost complete prostra­tion. The same variety of posture in prayer characterizes the polytheistic religions of the East, Hinduism, Buddhism, and so on. Some Christians seem to hold that kneel­ing only is the effective posture for prayer. The bent, bowed body, in some way con­tributes to effective prayer, that in the opinion of these Christians, no other pos­ture of the praying Christian is real pray­ing. If the body is not bowed, neither is the heart, before God! Or so it is said.

New Testament Examples

New Testament examples of prayer in­dicate that our Lord, certainly at times, at least, knelt or prostrated himself in prayer (Matthew 26:39). Peter knelt as he prayed for Tabitha (Acts 9:40). Paul knelt with the elders of Ephesus at Miletus, and with the Church at Tyre, on his farewell jour­ney to Jerusalem (Acts 20:36; 21:5). Paul said "I bow my knees unto the Father" and "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow" (Eph. 3:14; Phil. 2:10).

In the Gospels the father of the paralytic knelt before Jesus when he sought healing for his son; the leper knelt before Jesus when he begged cleansing; the man who wanted to learn from Jesus how to obtain eternal life knelt before him as he asked (Matthew 17:14; Mark 1:40; 10:17). The forgiven Publican in Luke 18:12, however, stood praying. For him the posture was not the thing, but the attitude; he went home "justified."

In the post-resurrection days of the Early Church there is on the whole, no mention of the posture in prayer. We are not told that the 120 were on their knees when the Spirit came upon them on the day of Pente­cost. There is no indication, in Acts 8, when Philip evangelized Samaria, that the Spirit came upon the Samaritans because or while they were on their knees. The Eu­nuch did not leave his chariot and on his knees seek salvation (Acts 8:26ff). There is no indication in the account of the con­version of the first Gentile, Cornelius, that he and his house or Peter were on their knees when the Spirit fell on all who heard the word (Acts 10:44). As one proceeds through the Acts, and examines what Paul and his converts did, it is not evident always what the posture in prayer was.

One problem of the churches today is often centered round posture in prayer. There are some who just cannot believe that a proper attitude, a proper approach to God, can be had with bowed head and not bended knee. Particularly, among evan­gelicals, the idea is frequently held that unless the Christian and the penitent are both on their knees before God in prayer, nothing in way of salvation and a changed life can possibly happen.

What Is Essential

Is it necessary that any one pattern of posture in prayer be practiced by all the members of a local congregation of Chris­tians, in their worship services and in their midweek or other special group meetings? That is to say, can there be liberty in the matter of posture in prayer? If in the same congregation one kneels, another sits, xvith bowed head, and still another stands for prayer, is anything lost or something introduced which makes congregational prayer ineffective? Shall the one who stands for prayer look with disdain on the one who remains seated in prayer? Is it necessary for the one who feels like kneel­ing for prayer to look with censorious im­plications at the one who remains seated and bows his head in prayer? In other words, can there be freedom in posture in prayer in any congregation, or denomina­tion?

On a moment's thought it must be plain to any Christian that it is highly improper to judge a fellow Christian on the basis of his posture in prayer when it is the attitude of the praying person which is essential, and which matters most to God. Is not prayer a private as well as a public matter, between the individual Christian and his God; and even when public, that is con­gregational, is not prayer also a private matter? Nowadays many congregations are asked by their leaders to kneel for prayer; other congregational leaders are in the habit of asking that the congregation stand for prayer; still other congregational lead­ers just say to the sitting congregation, "Let us pray." It would seem that the invitation should be to prayer, rather than to assume some particular attitude or posture for prayer, as though one cannot pray as they are, usually seated, but must either kneel or stand.

The basis for this request, for a change in posture for prayer, seems to be that the act of prayer is such a special kind of re­ligious activity that to make it effective a change of posture is required from that previously had, one cannot turn from hear­ing Scripture read, or a sermon preached, to prayer, without a change of posture. On the other hand, prayer is a Spiritual activity, and for that reason should domi­nate the body in prayer activity, and not vice versa. The main point is, no prayer is effective prayer if it is not indeed a sin­cere, expectant approach to almighty God in the name of Jesus, whatever the posture. —The Watchman Examiner, Feb. 25, 1960.


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