Our posture when praying

In my book on prayer, The Message of Prayer, I wrote:

Much of the devotional literature on prayer is focused on those things which help us to pray – posture, exercises, liturgies, habits. But, while they may be helpful, none of them is necessary. The focus of the Bible is instead on Christ and his sufficiency. There is nothing we can do to make our prayers more effective before God. Any such notions are a return to paganism – it is to suppose that we can manipulate or placate God. As Ronald Dunn puts it, the floor of the throne room is sprinkled, ‘not with the sweat of my good works, but with the of his sacrifice’.[1] The ‘posture’ that the Bible commends is a humble and contrite heart.[2]

This is the big and fundamental truth that you need to bear in mind as you read what follows.

I’ve done a quick bit of research on the posture of people when praying in the Bible. In our context it is usual to pray sitting down. Often people end up semi-recumbent in easy chairs. It seems to me to do little for the energy of our praying. I had a suspicion that standing up was a more common posture for prayer in the Bible and wondered whether we should encourage this more as a way of energetically engaging with God and wrestling with him n prayer.

What I found was this.

1. The Bible does not seem to show much interest in posture when praying. What matters is the mediation of Christ. Back to my quote above.

2. Standing is a more common posture than sitting. Kneeling or bowing face to the ground is also a common posture. I think these postures might help us as we pray – perhaps standing for public prayer and kneeling for private or small group prayer.

3. Lifting up hands in prayer is also common. As it happens, I was reading a history of British art last night and there was an illustration from the fourth century of Christians praying – all with their hands lifted up. I think I might encourage people to raise their hands when they pray. I’ve noticed in the past that I gesticulate when praying just as much as I do when preaching.

Here are some of the relevant verses:

Kneeling to Pray

1 Kings 8:54: When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the Lord, he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven

Daniel 6:10: Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.

Luke 22:41-42: He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’

Acts 21:5: All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray.

Acts 9:40: Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the woman, he said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up.

Standing to Pray

1 Kings 8:22-24: Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:  ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below …’

1 Samuel 1:25-27: Then they slaughtered the bull, and they brought the child to Eli. And she said, ‘Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed, and the Lord has granted me my petition that I made to him.’

Mark 11:25: And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.’

Lifting Up Hands in Prayer

1 Kings 8:22-24: Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven and said:  ‘O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below …’

1 Kings 8:54: When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the Lord, he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven

1 Timothy 2:8: I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.

Sitting to Pray

2 Samuel 7:18: Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Sovereign Lord, and what is my family, that you have brought me this far?’

Bowing, Face to the Ground, to Pray

Exodus 4:31: And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshiped.

2 Chronicles 20:18: Jehoshaphat bowed with his face to the ground, and all the people of Judah and Jerusalem fell down in worship before the Lord.

Matthew 26:39: Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’ (see also Mark 14:35)


[1] Dunn, Don’t Just Stand There, p. 43.

[2] Pss. 34:18; 51:17; Is. 57:15; 66:2.

2 thoughts on “Our posture when praying

  1. I think there’s something in that. The older people in our churches often stand to pray, and feel that it is proper either to stand or kneel.

    I find at hte very least it helpful to sit forward on the edge of hte seat when praying, and when following along.

  2. Hmmm… thanks for that, I’ve been thinking through posture when praying so that was very helpful.

    I remember being told that John Owen (I think it was him, one of the puritans anyway) used to kneel whenever he was doing sermon preparation or having devotional times, which I think is quite cool. I think there is something about getting into a position of humility and servitude when we come before the Lord.

    Just wondering, did you find anything about/do you have thoughts on having our eyes opened/closed during prayer?

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