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Written by Ángel Manuel Rodríguez
I often hear that we should always kneel for prayer. Is that correct?
Some well-intended church members have concluded that all prayers in church should be offered on our knees. The debate demonstrates that prayer is still considered significant in the Christian experience. But according to Scripture, prayers are presented to God by His people in different circumstances and physical postures.
1. Kneeling: There are many examples of people praying to the Lord on their knees, suggesting that this was a common practice. Daniel prayed on his knees three times a day (Dan. 6:10), Stephen fell on his knees and prayed before he died as a martyr (Acts 7:60), and Peter knelt down before the corpse of Tabitha to pray for her before she came back to life (Acts 9:40; see also Acts 20:36; Eph. 3:14). Kneeling was a ritual expression of the willing surrender of the life of the worshipper to God.
2. Standing: Standing before the Lord in prayer was also a common practice, perhaps more common than kneeling. One of the most impressive cases is found in 2 Chronicles 20. When Judah was confronting the possibility of military attack, Jehoshaphat invited the people to pray. He stood up in the assembly in the house of the Lord and prayed for liberation while the people were “standing before the Lord” (2 Chron. 20:13, NASB). See also the cases of Hannah (1 Sam. 1:26) and Job (Job 30:20).
The Jews used to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to display their piety. Jesus condemned the pride but not the practice of praying while standing (Matt. 6:5). In fact, He endorsed it when He said to the disciples, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses” (Mark 11:25, RSV). Standing in prayer emphasizes the freedom we have to approach God (cf. Esther 5:2). It means that we recognize Him as King of the universe and that it is our privilege to request from Him guidance, blessings, and favors.
3. Sitting Down: The practice of praying while sitting down is rare in the Bible, but not totally absent. A good example is King David, who “went in and sat before the Lord, and he said . . .” (2 Sam. 7:18, NASB). This is the posture assumed by an individual seeking instructions from the Lord or through His prophet (e.g., 2 Kings 4:38; Eze. 8:1; 33:31), and who is ready to serve Him.
4. Lying Down on Bed: We also find in the Bible cases in which people prayed during the night from their beds. While on their beds they remembered the Lord and meditated on Him (Ps. 4:4; 63:6). This posture places the emphasis on prayer as an opportunity to meditate on the goodness of the Lord while seeking His help.
5. Prostration: When prostrating, people placed their full body horizontally on the ground with their faces on it, usually with outstretched arms. One of the knees remained bent in order to facilitate rising up from the ground. Prostration is rarely associated in the Bible with prayer (e.g., 1 Kings 1:47; Mark 14:35), but it is fundamentally an expression of homage and submission before a superior (2 Sam. 14:4; 14:22; 1 Sam. 28:14). In religious contexts this is a posture of worship (cf. 2 Chron. 20:18). It intensified the conviction that God was the very source of human life, the one who could preserve it (e.g., Num. 16:45; Joshua 7:6; cf. Ps. 95:6). It did not become an indispensable aspect of worship in the Christian church probably because God no longer manifested Himself or dwelt permanently in a particular place on earth, but was accessible through His Son (cf. John 4:21-24).
This brief review indicates that in the Bible there was not a particular posture in which worshippers were required to pray. Postures are important only to the extent that they are the external expression of reverence, inner feelings, and commitments to the Lord. One posture was not large enough to encompass all of those experiences. Hence, we find in Scripture a diversity of options and possibilities. Any attempt to select one as superior and indispensable over the others lacks biblical support.