Attitudes in prayer
I am sure that many of you will be familiar with images of devotees within Islam at prayer in their mosques. They kneel and at various points they prostrate themselves on the floor of the mosque as they progress through their prayers. But did you realise that this mode of praying was actually derived from the practice of Christians many centuries ago? In looking at the theme of ‘attitudes in prayer’ I am looking at the posture that the person who is praying decides to adopt.
As a little boy, my parents took me to an Anglican church. Like many Anglican churches, there was a wooden shelf at the front and base of each pew and this was put there for people to kneel on during times of corporate prayer during the service. Sometimes ‘cushions’ were to be found placed on this rail – small, rectangular padded cushions about three or four inches deep – so that the person in prayer could kneel on these cushions to prevent the distracting discomfort of kneeling on the hard wooden surface.
But when I was a bit older, I did not go to an Anglican church ‘Sunday school’ but to a local Congregational Church. As a ‘non-conformist’ church it placed less emphasis on rituals and ceremonies. Perhaps the congregation would stand during communal prayers – I can’t actually remember now. But that was about as formal as a conventional worship service got. When this church joined with a local ‘Mission’ an even greater informality was introduced – we would usually remain sitting and simply bow our heads and clasp our hands together during communal prayer led by the Overseer.
I lay great store by the ‘boldness of access to the Throne of Grace’ that we have as Christians through Jesus. Many times I have been thankful to God that in order to speak to God and pray, I do not have to seek out or find an intermediary such as an Overseer or Priest. At any time, in any place, I can offer up a silent prayer to God because of my standing in grace through Christ. I used to love taking solitary walks in a quiet local park so that I could use this time as a time of prayer. Fresh air, exercise and prayer – a good combination! Alas, I no longer live near such a park. But I used to walk around that park regularly, in earnest prayer. In a similar way, I think nothing of simply sitting in a cosy armchair at home and engaging in prayer. It is almost like talking with a long-standing friend who I have known for years who has come into the room. There is something very special and precious about having such an informal friendly relationship with God through Christ. And yet……
The other side of this is that such an attitude in and to prayer can be too relaxed, too informal – even to the point of losing a sense of God’s Majesty and a sense of myself as one who is the role of obedient servant. I live in England and if the Queen walked in, I wouldn’t sit in my chair having a cosy chat or have a stroll around the local Park with her. Even if I was a person who frequented the Royal Court and had regularly met the Queen over many years, I still wouldn’t act and speak as though we were ‘mates’. I would still be expected to bow, to show reverence, to follow Royal protocol and to speak at the right time and in a certain way. Now if this is the case with a national monarch, then how much more should it be the case before God?
So lately, when I am alone and I want to come before God in prayer, I have taken to adopting a similar attitude – a similar posture – to that shown by Muslims at prayer in their Mosques. I do this most especially when I want to remind myself of the Majesty and Holiness of God, when I want to bring to my mind the Transcendent Otherness of God, or nurture my sense of Jesus as King and Lord. I adopt this posture when I want to remind myself of or nurture a sense of my humbleness and ‘lowness’ before my Supreme Lord, when I want to remove some of my all too present pride. I adopt this posture when I find myself becoming aware of my shortcomings and failures as a member of God’s Kingdom – so that I am not too quick to dismiss my sins and transgressions as being dealt with by Christ.
I rejoice in the boldness of access that I have to the Throne of Grace and in the fact that I can speak to God, albeit silently sometimes, at any time and in any place. I celebrate the fact that I do not have to go through particular rituals and ceremonies, meet up with religious ‘authorities’ or adopt rigorous specified postures in order to pray. But sometimes I let go of my informality of approach and prostrate myself like the Muslims and the early Christians – to remind myself of God’s Holy Majesty and Lordship together with my relationship to Him as a poor and unworthy servant.