Posture in Prayer

Posture includes the condition of our spirit and the position of our body. We will not have adequate power in prayer if we do not get our posture right.

The heart of Christianity is that God, not man (individually or corporately), is the center of existence. He is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe and of all things. God contains within Himself all power, glory, knowledge, truth, goodness (righteousness, morality), and ultimately everything that is real inside and outside the created order. He is both near and far away. The One who made space and time is not bound by space and time. God does not hold Himself, and He is certainly not held by someone else, to a standard outside Himself. God is the standard.

The Illusion of Independence

Humans, vain and mortal creatures, yearn to be masters of our own world. We convince ourselves that we are. Our self-righteous protestations of personal power and independence sound funny to anyone with a modicum of insight:

  1. We claim to be independent, but how many of us make all our own clothes from fabric that we produce, or grow, prepare, and consume only our own food? How many of us live in homes that we have built, drive cars that we have designed and assembled, and use technology that we have invented? Materially, we are less independent today than at any time in history. A frontier family in a log cabin in the 1820s was far more self-sufficient than we are, and even they knew how much they needed others.
  2. We pretend to not need anyone else, but we falter under the weight of loneliness, substance abuse, mental illness, and even self-harm. We ghost people and never realize that excluding others make us lonelier.
  3. We say that we want to know the truth but exclude opposing voices from our lives. Our scientific institutions and societal leaders falsify or bury research that does not support their predetermined preferences. Worse, we forbid studies that might make us uncomfortable.
  4. We try to make ourselves and others believe that we are happy, well adjusted, and moral members of society, yet crime and instability reach all-time highs.

We want to captain our own ship because no matter how bad the results, we believe that self-determination, however illusory, is better than bowing to the authority of anyone else, including God.

Followers of Christ, cursed with the same sinful nature, share the same struggles. We know that we should want God to run our lives, but we recoil at the thought. Frank Sinatra crooned that he lived his life “My Way.” Billy Joel angrily demanded his way in “My Life.” We want the same, and incredibly, we believe that we can have it.

The Nature of Prayer

The Bible clearly teaches that prayer is man’s most powerful tool to shape the world around us. Prayer has stopped the destruction of God’s people, it has healed the sick, it has saved the drowning, it has caused a drought, it has saved souls, and it has raised the dead. Those who keep prayer journals realize that prayer makes a real and positive difference in the lives of both those who pray and those prayed for.

So why don’t we pray? First, we don’t believe that it works, so we want to spend the time doing something that we believe will have an effect. I have written many articles on the efficacy of prayer, so I refer the reader to those. Second, prayer can make us an object of ridicule both to ourselves and others when our prayers are disappointed.  Third, unlike singing, preaching, teaching, or acts of service, prayer is (or generally should be) done completely in private. No one except God is watching, and so the person praying gets no affirmation from others.  Fourth, prayer constantly reminds us of our utter dependence on God. All we can do is ask, and He is under no obligation to honor our request. Finally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, prayer can be humiliating. Consider the Lord’s Prayer, as explicitly commanded by Jesus Christ in Luke 11:1-4:

11 And it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples.

And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth.

Give us day by day our daily bread.

And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil.

From the first phrase, man in prayer is reminded of his own lowly position. Even more, man is commanded to rejoice in his lowly position before God. The spiritual posture of prayer offends our human pride.

  1. “Our Father” is master over us, and we are not.
  2. “Who art in heaven” – He lives in heaven, and we do not.
  3. “Hallowed by thy name” – We honor and praise His name, not our own. We can’t even ask others to praise us, but only to praise Him.
  4. “Your kingdom come” – God’s kingdom will come, not our own.
  5. “Your will be done” – The Lord’s will is already done perfectly in heaven, and someday we believe and wish that His will, not ours, will be done perfectly on earth.
  6. “Give us this day our daily bread” – God provides our daily needs. We cannot even sustain our mortal lives. Like the beasts of the field, we trust in God for each morsel and for each moment (Psalm 50, Psalm 147).
  7. “Forgive our debts” – We are sinful, drowned in confusion, shame, and guilt caused by our own evil thoughts, words, and deeds. God alone can enliven our spirits and deliver us from our sin.
  8. “Forgive our debtors” – We must ask the Lord to forgive those who harmed us, or who sinned against us in any way. When someone causes us pain, we almost always want them punished, not forgiven. But God commands that we forgive them. If we do not forgive, we will not be forgiven (Matthew 6:15).
  9. “Lead us not into temptation” – Humans hate to admit that we are weak enough to fall into temptation. Simultaneously, we hate to deny ourselves temptations that we enjoy.
  10. “But deliver us from evil” – God alone can keep us from evil; we cannot defend ourselves. Worse, God may keep us from evil that we want to be in.

Physically, Christians are taught to pray with heads bowed in submission to God, eyes closed so that our spiritual sight may focus on Him, and hands folded in rest. Many Christ-followers in Catholic and other traditions kneel in prayer. Some people pray lying prostrate on the ground. Others stand up while raising their hands to God. These positions generally humble the man before God. Kneeling, for example, is done by a knight before his king. Keeping the head down, eyes closed, and hands folded makes a man vulnerable to attack. It is hard to do something else while properly praying. The posture of prayer doesn’t look powerful in photographs and the silence and lack of motion in prayer don’t make for compelling video.

In George Orwell’s classic 1984, the protagonist Winston thought that he could resist the overreaching government, known as Big Brother. Winston knew that his body could be tortured and made to do what his overlords demanded but thought that he could continue to resist in his mind. By the end of the tale, Winston’s resistance collapsed. In the chilling conclusion, Orwell writes that “he loved Big Brother.” In every part of life, including our prayer life, our physical posture profoundly affects our attitude, our endurance, and our performance.

Conclusion

Prayer enlists the help of the Almighty in the affairs of His people. It is the most powerful action of the Church, as it actively brings the power of God to bear on struggles that vex us. And yet, prayer forces us, spiritually and physically, into a posture utterly contrary to our sinful natures. Prayer accentuates and illustrates the gulf between man and God. Until we accept the posture of prayer, physically and mentally, and all that such a posture means, our humility before God, we will not find the power, the peace, and the Presence in prayer. As the puritan John Owen said, “we are what we are in prayer…and no more.”

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Author: MD Harris Family Institute

MD, MPH, MBA, MDiv, PhD, ThM, DECBA Colonel, US Army (ret)

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