I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Page through your Bible and you will see different postures of prayer. You will see bowing (Exodus 34:8), kneeling (2 Chronicles 6:13), face to the ground (Nehemiah 8:6), hands lifted (Psalm 141:2), eyes lifted (John 11:41), sitting (2 Samuel 7:18), and more. Prayer does not require certain physical postures; we see Jesus praying suspended from a cross and Jonah praying squeezed in the belly of a great fish. And yet, physical positions do give expression to our feelings and thoughts. Tie my hands behind me and I’d have a difficult time talking. Communication specialists talk about all that is communicated in body language.
C. S. Lewis, in The Screwtape Letters, says that body posture does influence our praying “since we are bodily ‘animal’ creatures, our desires and aspirations find expression in bodily form… So also the posture we adopt in prayer is an outward and visible expression of our real (and not just inward!) need for God.”
While we might think we “have” bodies, we actually are “bodies”. In today’s Scripture the apostle Paul appeals to believers to present their “bodies” to God as an act of “spiritual worship”. “Yet we sit here with our souls tucked away in this marvelous luggage, most insensible to the ways in which every spiritual practice begins with the body.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World)
As we seek to grow in prayer, it is essential to recognize that “Classical Christian spirituality has paid close attention to the disposition of the body in prayer… bodily comportment for prayer is always significant.” (Rodney Clapp, Tortured Wonders: Christian Spirituality for People, Not Angels) Our bodies do express and embody our praying. We don’t just think our prayers, but can express our prayers with our bodies. Thus, this is the reason for the different postures of prayer in the Bible, and why sometimes we feel compelled to different postures. Theologian Craig Dykstra reminds us, “…you can know things on your knees that you can’t know sitting down.” (Quoted by Teresa A. Blythe in 50 Ways to Pray)
Different body postures accompany our prayers, but sometimes they are prayers in and of themselves. Often our thoughts and feelings cannot be fully expressed in words, so our bodies speak them. That’s why we want to stand and place a hand on our heart for the National Anthem, or why a man traditionally kneels to propose marriage.
The most common prayer posture in the Old and New Testaments is standing with eyes looking upward, arms raised, with hands open (Luke 9:28-32; John 17:1). Ancient Jews called this posture the Amidah (“standing prayer”); early Christians knew it as the Orans posture. This kind of standing prayer is seen on catacomb wall drawings in Rome. Christianity’s first theologians and Church Fathers recommended this position for praying. The revered Church council that gave us the Nicene Creed also stated: “It seems good to the holy Synod that prayer be made to God standing.” (Canon 20)
Just as we usually stand to express respect for another person, so we stand to express our reverence and awe of God. And as we stand, we raise open hands and open eyes towards heaven, expressing our desire to receive. It’s a powerful way of embodying our prayers and a favorite posture of prayer for God’s people. We are “standing” in the need of prayer!
As you pray today, stand and raise open hands toward heaven as you look expectantly to your Father.
Conclude your standing prayer with The Lord’s Prayer.
Take a few moments to reflect on what it was like for you to pray in this position.
“The physical activity symbolizes an engagement of the whole being in the act of praying.”
“Prayer”, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, ed. Leland Ryken, James Wilhoit, Tremper Longman III