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The Posture of Prayer

Updated: Nov 1, 2018

I can still hear the sweet, elderly voice of one of my early Sunday School teachers saying, "boys and girls, fold your hands, close your eyes, bow your heads: it's time to pray." And generally speaking, that's still how I position myself most often in prayer.

Strangely, it's not really biblical. There are six main postures discussed in the Scriptures about how to physically maintain our bodies while praying, and none of them refer to folded hands, closed eyes, and bowed heads. Even so, our bodies play a crucial role in prayer. They are the temple of the Holy Spirit; in prayer we invite the Spirit to come and indwell us. And, we are called to "present our bodies as living sacrifices" to the Lord (Romans 12:1). Our actual position, then, goes along way in helping or hindering our pray life.

  • Kneeling: When we think of what to do when praying, kneeling often comes to mind first. Jesus did it, "Jesus knelt down and prayed" (Luke 22:41) and so did the apostles. If you attend a church with kneelers, you're probably in the practice of kneeling at least some of the time you pray. Throughout almost all of history, kneeling would be considered a deeply reverential posture. That's changed somewhat in our mixed up, messed up world: kneeling has become a sign of defiance and sparked a twitter tornado (NFL, anyone?). In my experimenting with various postures, kneeling is one of the hardest for me. Without something directly in front of me, like another pew, it feels off balance and hard to maintain. But I'm working on it. There's value in switching things up a bit if only to give novelty to something you're trying over and over again.

  • Lifting Up Your Hands: Lutherans aren't generally fond of "holy roller" behavior; we've even been called the "frozen chosen." But my faith came alive under the Navigators in college, so praising God with my hands held high is something I'm very comfortable with now. I still miss our old church choir's rousing rendition of "We Lift Our Hands in the Sanctuary" on many a Spirit-filled Sunday. God's Word says it's more than okay to exalt him with our hands in the air. Paul tells Timothy, "I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer" (I Timothy 2:8). It's a posture of praise over what God has done and what He is doing in our lives.

  • Standing: Jesus taught the disciples to stand sometimes in prayer, "And when you stand praying..." (Mark 11:25). This is what we generally do in our church and I have to admit, sometimes, especially after three particularly long worship songs, I'd prefer to sit. Not because I'm tired or lazy; sitting just feels more intimate, more in-my-own-space with the Lord. It also lends a pronounced physical change and helps move me from worshiping through song to communing with God through prayer. In my own prayer time, standing is one of my least used postures, but again, I'm trying to be open to all the postures of prayer during this season so I continue to work on it.

  • Prostrating: This posture has intimidation written all over it. I'm scared just typing it lest I mistakenly use the very similar medical term for a sensitive part of the male anatomy instead. And of course spell check doesn't help because both words are legit. I've checked and rechecked the above spelling and I think I'm good. We generally define prostrating as lying face down, but the Latin origin has more of a "throw yourself aground" feel. I can honestly say I NEVER tried this prayer posture before deciding to study different practices this Fall. And I've certainly never seen someone else do it. "Humility" is the first word that comes to mind when you're lying face down before the Lord. I'm fairly sure that's the whole point. Jesus, the very Son of God, "fell with his face to the ground and prayed," (Matthew 26:39) in his deepest hour of need. While He didn't get what He asked for—that He wouldn't have to go to the cross—He gained the strength necessary to face God's plan for Him. Prostrating Himself before the Father allowed Him to say, "not as I will, but as you will" (Matthew 26:39).

  • Sitting: This is my most used posture in prayer. But I've changed where I sit during this season. I used to sit on the couch in my study when I prayed, but I've gotten in the habit of sitting on the floor instead. One, it keeps me focused, especially if it's early in the morning and I'm tired. I absolutely do not want to fall asleep and hear the Lord's rebuke, "could you not keep watch with me for one hour?" (Matthew 26:40). Two, it feels reverential, intimate: there's something about leaving my Bible and journal on the couch and taking up a new position that helps me stay in the conversation. It centers me and draws me into His presence.

  • Looking up to Heaven: Jesus often "looked up to heaven" when he prayed. Eyes wide open. Most of us close our eyes when we pray. It helps to keep distractions at bay and to focus our attention. But turning our eyes heavenward also reminds us that we are praying to Someone; we are actually in a conversation with another Person. How many days do we just rattle off a litany of requests and concerns and call it good, never even slowing down to listen to God, let alone acknowledging His presence.

Different postures in prayer enable us to "present our bodies as living sacrifices" in different ways. It's a gift and a privilege to enter into His presence at all. Communion with God is the highest goal, our posture should always help, not hinder, such glory.

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