Thursday, May 29, 2008

Praying With the Whole Body!

The pivotal issue in prayer, many say, is not posture or position, not words or rituals – it is attitude. Biblical prayer refuses to fit into a form. True Christian prayer is free. Some argue that “posture, language, place or time – none of these trifles matter.” They do not matter in the sense that God looks at the heart. Indeed, the “greatest liberty is permitted if only a man’s heart” is right before God. But posture may matter more than we think. In Scripture people pray:
  • Kneeling (I Kings 8:54; Ezra 9:5; Daniel 6:6; Mt. 15:25; Luke 22:41; Acts 20:36).
  • Standing (Jeremiah 18:20; I Kings 8:14, 22, 54).
  • Sitting (II Samuel 7:18; Judges 20:26).
  • Lying prostrate (Matthew 26:39; Mark 14:35).
  • With hands lifted up (I Kings 8:22; 54; Psalm 28:2; 134:2; I Timothy 2:8).
  • With the head between the knees (I Kings 18:42).
  • With the head bowed (Genesis 24:26; Exodus 34:8-9; I Chronicles 29:20; Nehemiah 8:6).
  • Silently (I Samuel 1:13).
  • Aloud (Ezekiel 11:13; I Kings 8:55).
  • Alone (Mark 1:35; Matthew 6:6).
  • Together (Psalm 35:18; Matthew 18:19; Acts 4:31).
  • At fixed times (Psalm 55:17; Daniel 6:10).Anytime (Luke 18:1).
  • Everywhere –
    In bed (Psalm 63:6)
    Field (Genesis 24:11,12).
    Temple (II Kings 19:14).
    Riverside (Acts 16:31).
    Seashore (Acts 21:5).
    Battlefield (I Samuel 7:5).

  • They pray –
    Spontaneously (Matthew 6:7).
    Liturgically (Psalm 120 – 126 Liturgical Prayer Psalms)
    For and about everything (Philippians 4:6; Genesis 24:12-14; I Timothy 2:1-4).[1]

Such variations in posture may be surprising. In America, we involve the body very little in our praying. Athanasius said “we are created with hands to pray with.”[2] An old Armenian prayer declared, “You (God) stretched out your arm in creation even to the stars in the sky: strengthen our arms that our uplifted hands may intercede before you.”[3] Dominic would “stand on tiptoe, stretching his arms right up towards heaven, like an arrow waiting to be shot up in the air; or he would stand like that with his hands open, a if to catch some blessing from on high; or when reading the Bible, he would get tremendously excited and talk and gesticulate as if he were actually with the Lord, face to face.”[4]

Prayer is an activity that involves the whole person.

If in our communication with God we thwart and exclude part of ourselves, the neglected side of our person will still be present as a saboteur and protester, preventing prayer from really “taking off” or going deep. If we try to leave behind our mind … the mind, suddenly starved, will dredge up all manner of inconsequential garbage … silence and stillness is invaded … If we neglect our hearts … by confining our prayer to thinking religious thoughts and intellectualizing about God, prayer remains dry [5]

But it is the disallowance of the body in prayer that may hurt prayer most. In the last few decades, Christians have been kneeling less and less at American altars. “We face one another and join hands. Kneeling is being replaced by our more interactive, let’s share approach to spiritual matters …”[6] Years ago, Pentecostal Christians hardly even went to church without spending some time on their knees. It was common to kneel during prayer times, to come to an altar in response to the message and kneel. Dean Merrill, a global prayer leader confesses, "When I get down on my knees to pray, the quality of my interaction with God is somehow changed … the biggest benefit is that kneeling reminds us who’s who in the dialogue. Prayer is not a couple of fellows chatting about the Dallas Cowboys. It is a human being coming face to face with his or her Supreme Authority, the ineffable God who is approachable but still the One in charge." [7]

Calvin Miller agrees, “When the knee bends, character is born.” A kneeling body without a bent heart means nothing in the throne-room of heaven, but a humble heart and a bent knee “is an indication of how we see the Almighty.”[8] It is humility exemplified. “When the knees bend, the King comes!”[9]

“If we do not involve our bodies,” Martin Smith argues, “ … we may not be able to enter a true, attentive stillness because our posture frustrates it …” The result is often a drowsy condition punctuated with “pins and needles and restlessness. More than that,” Smith adds, “We remain inhibited in our self-expression … If in prayer we shut down all bodily gesture and movement and confine ourselves to a single position we cut in half our power to feel and own and express our devotion, our love and our needs …”[10]

Jews rock back and forth in prayer. Pentecostal Christians in the early years were physically expressive in prayer. They lay prostrate. They stood. They paced back and forth. They lifted hands. They bowed heads. They shouted and wept. They doubled over as if feeling the burden about which they were praying. They groaned, as if in labor. Their faces were tear stained, anguished. The hands were at times open. Their fists were at other times tight, with white knuckles, as if they were engaged in a fight. Their whole being prayed!

[1] “Prayer:” Zondervan Pictorial Dictionary, p. 680.
[2] Simon Tugwell, “Present Your Bodies,” The Contemporaries Meet The Classics on Prayer, ed. Leonard Allen (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2003) 133.
[3] Ibid, 134.
[4] Ibid, 135.
[5] Martin Smith, “The Body at Prayer,” The Contemporaries Meet The Classics on Prayer, ed. Leonard Allen (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2003) 138-139.
[6] Dean Merrill, “Whatever Happened to Kneeling?” The Contemporaries Meet The Classics on Prayer, ed. Leonard Allen (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2003) 141.
[7] Ibid, 142.
[8] Calvin Miller, “When the Knee Bends,” The Contemporaries Meet The Classics on Prayer, ed. Leonard Allen (West Monroe, LA: Howard Publishing, 2003) 138-139.
[9] Ibid, 143.
[10] Ibid, 139.

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