(What to do with your body)
When praying to God or worshipping, some people stand, sit, kneel, lay down, raise their hands, fold their hands, hold hands, bow their heads, close their eyes, look around or up to heaven… Why do people do these things and does it really matter?
We see a very wide variety of body positions during prayer and worship in the Bible. Here are a few of them:
Bowing – Ge 24:52; Ex 34:8; Ps 5:7
Kneeling – 1 Kg 8:54; 1 Ch 6:13; Ps 95:6; Da 6:10; Ph 2:10
Prostrate [flat on the ground] – Ge 17:3, 17; Jb 1:20-21; Ne 8:6; Mt 26:39; Re 1:17
Hands – Lifted: Ps 141:2; 1 Ti 2:8; Outstretched: Ex 9:27-29
Eyes – Looking up: Jn 11:41; 17:1; Lk 9:16
When we see a wide variety of acceptable options in Scripture without prescribed requirements, we learn that they are possible options, but aren’t required or an exclusive list. Although we can pray and worship in any situation or body position in which we find ourselves, what we do with our bodies can affect, and even enhance what we are doing.
We all know that body positions can communicate thoughts and feelings (or not). There’s non-verbal taunting in sports. There are body postures that are arrogant, welcoming, and warm. Body positions can make us feel vulnerable or safe, superior or humble. Many of these are strongly affected by social and cultural customs (we see that in Scripture with kissing as a greeting and foot washing as an act of service).
I think there can be practical reasons for the way we do things: closed eyes may help concentration, holding hands keeps kids still and is connective (fellowship), kneeling is difficult for those with physical limitations, etc. But, if we aren’t careful, these become rules to follow and we see no benefits in other ways. Of course, the opposite can be true as well: Making changes simply to feel and look more spiritual is not good either.
It can be healthy for us to do right things in different right ways. Look around during our worship to be encouraged by other worshipers. Look at God’s amazing world while praying. Bow, kneel, or lay before God. Intentionally telling God something with your body position as well as your heart shows God you are thinking about Him with every part of you. He doesn’t demand this, we can’t require it, but it can be helpful at times.