Posturing Prayer

by jacobjuncker

This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Sunday, October 27, 2013.

Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust: 10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11  The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12  I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’ 13  But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14  I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”

Luke 18:9-14, Common English Bible

Let’s pray.

Gracious God, in the moments to come, give me the words to speak and they the ears to hear so that together, we might be inspired to live your Word in the world starting today.  Amen.

˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚˜˚

Posture Matters.

You’ve probably heard it at some point in your life.  “Stop slouching.  Sit up straight. Shoulders back.  Lift your chin.”  However it was said and whoever said it, knew that posture matters.

In the modern life of an adult can make us want to slouch instead of stand tall: 8 hours at the office spent slumped in front of a computer, day after day hunched over your workspace, stooped down to talk to your kids, scrunched over by shoulder-slung laptop bags and ultra-chic but oversized purses – to name a few.

When you practice good posture, you give your body the shape it needs to function well, and the benefits can be felt instantly and over the long run, in your body and in your mind.[1]

Practicing good posture protects your joints, frees up your breathing, conserves and gives you energy, improves self-esteem, and it makes you look and feel healthier.

Posture matters.  Good posture supports physical and emotional well-being.  Maintaining good posture not only affects the body and mind, but also the soul.[2]  The way we posture our spiritual life matters too.  And, perhaps most importantly, the way in which we posture our prayer life affects the well-being of our souls the most.

Posturing Prayer

Scripture records many postures for prayer.

Standing.  As Moses approached the burning bush, God instructed Moses to take off his sandals, because he was standing on holy ground (Exodus 3:5).  “It is good for us to recognize that whenever we prayer, we, like Moses, are standing in the very presence of God.”[3]

Lifting the hands.  Paul instructed Timothy to teach the people to “pray everywhere by lifting up hands that are holy, without anger or argument” (1 Timothy 2:8; also see Psalm 28:2, 63:2-4, and 141:1-2).

Looking upward (John 17)
Bowing down (Exodus 34:8)
Placing the head between the knees (1 Kings 18:42)
Pounding the chest (Luke 18:13)
Sitting down (2 Samuel 7:18-29)
Lying down in bed (Psalm 63:6)
Lying down with the face to the ground (Nehemiah 8:6)
Facing Jerusalem (Daniel 6:10)

This list is far from exhaustive, but it gives you a good example of the many postures for prayer mentioned in the Bible.

Did you notice what’s not listed?  Perhaps, the most common form of prayer—hands clasped together with fingers interlaced—is never mentioned (at least to my knowledge) in Scripture.  Nevertheless, this very ancient tradition which spans multiple religious traditions has been a staid custom within Christianity for centuries.  Some have speculated that this prayer posture was lifted from Roman times when people would hold their hands together before Caesar as a sign of surrender—as if to say my hands are clasped and ready for the shackles.  And so, many Christians continue this tradition of praying with hands clasped and fingers interlaced as a sign of their surrender to Christ.

Our physical posture during prayer matters.  Just as our bodies demonstrate our emotions and either promote or hinder health in our daily lives; our prayer postures demonstrate the inner condition of our souls.  Our bodies can express what the heart and mind may not be ready to confide through words.

Our posture helps determine the quality of our prayer times.  How we act in the presence of our holy God can enhance or detract from our times of prayer.

The posture of prayer begins with the posture of the heart.  Its companions are the posture of humility, the posture of helplessness, and the posture of coming before God with a sense of awe.[4]

Jesus said it this way to a certain group of people who were

complacently pleased with themselves over their moral performance and looked down their noses at the common people: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one a Pharisee, the other a tax man. The Pharisee posed and prayed like this: ‘Oh, God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, crooks, adulterers, or, heaven forbid, like this tax man. I fast twice a week and tithe on all my income.’

13 “Meanwhile the tax man, slumped in the shadows, his face in his hands, not daring to look up, said, ‘God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner.’”

14 Jesus commented, “This tax man, not the other, went home made right with God. If you walk around with your nose in the air, you’re going to end up flat on your face, but if you’re content to be simply yourself, you will become more than yourself.”

Luke 18:9-14, The Message

Both the Pharisee and the tax collector had taken an appropriate physical posture for prayer, but the posture of their hearts were completely different.  And, in this lesson, Jesus reminds us that the posture of the heart is as (or even more) important as our physical posture.  He reminds us that when coming before the living God, we shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves.[5]  We should approach God with humility, just as we are.  We can’t fool God.  God searches the heart and examines the mind, probing through the pretense to get to the root of things.  God, writes the Prophet Jeremiah, treats us as we really are, not as we pretend to be (see Jeremiah 17:9-10, adapted from The Message).

So be honest with God about your failings, your concerns about the future, your pain, and your anger.  God doesn’t want you to offer a posturing prayer where you put yourself above and before others.  God wants you to come before God just as you are.


[1] “Why Good Posture Matters,” by Amy Toffelmire at health.tcpalm.com <http://health.tcpalm.com/healthfeature/2383/The%20benefits%20of%20good%20posture.aspx> Accessed October 25, 2013.

[2] The American Chiropractic Association offers ““Tips to Maintain Good Posture.”  Check it out at http://www.acatoday.org/content_css.cfm?CID=3124.

[3] “Biblical Prayer Postures” by Paul Cedar in The Contemporaries Meet the Classics on Prayer, compiled by Leonard Allen (Howard Publishing: West Monroe, 2003), 129.

[4] Ibid., 131

[5] Job thought too much of himself and the opinions of his misguided friends.  There’s a great passage where God puts Job in his place for thinking to highly of himself.  It’s a great passage, see Job 38-40:5.

 

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