In the Church of which I’m a member, as I suspect is the case in many modern, charismatic churches, we’re not too big on routine kneeling. It’s quite a contrast the the time I spent, some years ago, as a regular attendee at my local Catholic Mass. There, it took me quite a while to learn the correct times to stand sit and kneel throughout the service.
Rightly or wrongly, I have tended to follow to the modern, maybe more casual practice, whereby it doesn’t really matter what physical position you’re in when you pray. I’ve subscribed to the view that posture can’t be that important to the effectiveness of prayer, otherwise there would be no hope for less physically able believers.
And I know from experience that quite the contrary is true. One of the most deeply spiritual and prayerful people I know is, as a result of his physical condition, completely unable to get out of bed and kneel. And yet his prayers for myself and others are so effective.
No, it’s not the position you’re in but that you are praying at all which is the important thing.
However, just recently, I have had the feeling that God has sometimes wanted me to be kneeling when praying. This has been especially so during the more contemplative moments of our Sunday services. I guess that if the rest of the congregation had already been kneeling then it wouldn’t have been such an issue to me to follow suit. When it’s far from the norm though….
Last Sunday, during a quiet period of worship, the feeling was particularly acute. I had a clear image come to mind of myself kneeling, arms outstretched in prayer, at the front of our church. Obviously I was none too keen to follow this through but said in my head “OK God, if this is from you I’ll do it. But please give me a push!”
Lo and behold a minute or two later, the lady leading the service took the microphone and said words to the effect of, “I get the feeling God wants some of us here actually on our knees. Humbling ourselves before him…” So taking this as my prompt to action, I walked to the front of the Church, knelt down and shut my eyes. I bottled-out on the “arms outstretched” part but I did stay there for a while, just praying. Not really focusing on any specific prayer, just being humble before God and letting the thoughts come and go.
What effect did it have? I don’t know to be honest but sometimes, when we act in obedience, we’re not given to understanding why we have to. Maybe I’m too proud (Only maybe? Really?) and God wanted to make me physically humble myself in front of other people? He’s certainly one for taking us out of our comfort zones in order to help us to grow. Maybe it was as an example for others to follow? I don’t know.
But as I knelt there, at the front of the church, praying, I began to understand something. I began to understand that the point isn’t the kneeling, any more than it is with other physical acts. The point, the whole point, is what is in your heart – the reason that you’re on your knees. It’s what Jesus meant when he said that even thinking about adultery is as bad as being adulterous. That being angry with someone is as bad as committing murder (see Matthew 5). God is more interested on what’s in your heart – the reason behind your actions – than the actions themselves.
In the context of kneeling, if it’s a mechanical act performed just because “That’s what we do round here when we pray…” then it’s of little extra value. However, if the physical act of kneeling helps you to focus what’s in your heart, enables you to be genuinely humble before God – approaching his throne with reverence, indeed fear – then I believe it does have a place in our spiritual lives.
I’m not committing to drop to my knees in front of the church every week, but as God prompts me or requires it of me, then I will. However, I will now always try to carry the humility of the penitent, kneeling Christian in my heart, wherever and however I pray.
* The title of this post if taken from a small book I have in my Kindle on the subject of prayer. It’s not known who the author is but it is a fantastic book on the importance and practice of prayer as a Christian. Well recommended.