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The Posture of Prayer

Updated: Mar 3, 2022

As Daniel faces the reality that his integrity in worship is about to become a worldly liability for him, he gets down on his knees anyway and picks up his habit of praying to the living God. While I spend some time in the sermon noting the tone and frequency of Daniel’s worship through prayer and while we will have opportunity to talk about the content of prayer in Daniel 9, I thought it might be worthwhile to discuss the posture of prayer in this reflection.

As we think about the posture of prayer, we can begin with the obvious fact of Daniel’s physical posture on his knees. This is what Ralph Davis has to say about Daniel’s posture: “Such posture is an outward sign of an attitude of submission and self-humbling. Admittedly, outward gestures can be empty, but we usually assume otherwise. Should someone stand in front of you with his/her tongue sticking out, thumbs in ears, wiggling fingers, you likely read it as blatant defiance rather than meaningless aerobics. In short, in this case, knees ‘speak.’”[1]

He continues later: “Kneeling in prayer is not a matter of indifference—it reminds you of your true position. It's as if you say, ‘I'm servant. He is the king. I do not live in a democracy but under a monarchy. He is not my errand boy. I never present my demands. I am always a beggar at throne of grace, and, though it is a throne of grace, I never forget it is a throne.’”[2]

Davis’ point is that our physical posture should reflect our spiritual posture in our prayer. Whether we pray on our knees or in another way, it should be a genuine reflection of the attitude of our heart. One practical point that can be drawn from Davis’ comments is that the posture of prayer should not be prescribed. One reason we do not prescribe kneeling or any other posture for prayer is that it is the responsibility of the pray-er to assume the proper physical posture.

For this reason, also, I am not generally inclined to teach a particular posture of prayer at home, e.g. head bowed and eyes closed. Rather, I would encourage us all to consider the various postures of genuine prayer in the Scriptures and how they reflect on the inner spiritual posture of the pray-er. Davis notes that “standing (1 Kgs 8:22), sitting (2 Sam 7:18), or stretched prostrate on the ground (Mark 14:35)” are also postures of prayer, to which I will add casting your eyes down and beating your breast (Luke 18:13).[3]

All of this talk of the physical posture of prayer has pointed to the spiritual posture of the pray-er. Beyond Davis’ comment that our spiritual posture ought to be one of a beggar before the throne of grace, it should reflect our thankfulness of the mercy and forgiveness we have received through the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, our posture has relevance for how we pray the psalms. When we pray through the psalms that curse our enemies, we should not deny or ignore the curse elements in the psalms, e.g. Psalm 137, because it would make light of the real injustices and persecutions that are experienced by many of God’s people. But when we pray these psalms, we must do so from the spiritual posture of prior enemies of God.

A vivid example of how this works out in reality is found in Luke 9: “And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. 53 But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?’ 55 But he turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:52-55 ESV). James and John reacted with self-righteous indignation and not from a posture of pity or mercy, and so our Lord rebukes them for their posture.

To apply this discussion of the posture of prayer to our day, this can help us to pray for the crisis in Ukraine. While we are certainly right to pray for peace to prevail, we should not pray for fire and brimstone to hail down on Russia. Rather, we should pray for Christ to seize this moment and its leaders and to break the power of the devil on this world, just as he has done in our own hearts.

[1] Dale Ralph Davis, The Message of Daniel: His Kingdom Cannot Fail, BST (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013), 88. [2] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 88–89. [3] Davis, The Message of Daniel, 88 n. 12.

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