Prayer as Posture
What comes to mind when you think of prayer? Talking to God? Listening to God? The Lord’s Prayer? Other prayers that you learned and recited? Off-the-cuff prayers? Saying grace before a meal, or a desperate “Help!” in a crisis?
All of these things are or can be prayer. For my part, while I know that prayer can be wordless – just being in God’s presence and waiting or resting there – most of the time when I pray, it’s words. That’s not a bad thing. Jesus modeled prayer for his followers using words. Psalms is a whole book of prayers put down in writing. Church liturgies contain written and spoken prayers that have been passed down through generations. Maybe some people find that too formal and predictable, but others find it connects them with believers and with the story of God’s work through history.
One thing I don’t think God ever meant prayer to be is a formula where you plug your requests into the blanks or say the right words – or enough words – so that God has to produce the desired result. I know that. You know that. But let’s be honest. Don’t we all – at least sometimes – find ourselves praying that way? Like if we just say the right words, or spend enough time praying, God HAS to answer, and answer the way we want.
I read something the other day that got my attention. Lately, I’ve been re-reading A. W. Tozer’s book, The Knowledge of the Holy, because I wanted to start this year off by focusing on who God is, and on pursuing a relationship with God for who he is instead of for what he can do for me. In the chapter on God’s goodness, Tozer writes, “Prayer is not in itself meritorious. It lays God under no obligation nor puts Him in debt to any. He hears prayer because He is good, and for no other reason.”
Meritorious means “deserving reward or praise” according to Oxford Languages. What is Tozer saying? He’s not saying that God doesn’t care about our prayers. God welcomes them. He preserves many human prayers in the Bible, his word. Jesus modeled prayer and taught his followers how to pray. But prayer isn’t something we do so that God owes us something for our time and troubles. God’s posture toward our prayers is God’s goodness. God doesn’t listen to us because he has to or because he owes it to us, or because it’s in his job description and he’s on the clock. God listens to us because God is good in the very essence of his nature and therefore he’s also good to us. I mean, think about it – the God of the entire universe paying attention to your prayer, to my prayer. How amazing is that?
That got me thinking about what my own posture in prayer is – not just the words I use or don’t use, or the methodology. Underlying everything else about the way I pray at any given time, what’s my mindset? The attitude of my heart?
When I was a kid in public school, we started off every day with the national anthem and the Lord’s Prayer. Even kids who never set foot in church could recite the prayer, and we’d all rattle it off without really thinking much about it. I’ve since come to value it much more as something precious Jesus taught us, a way of coming to holy God as our Father. I’ve become more mindful the different parts of the prayer as they guide me in important aspects of talking with and being in relationship with God. But after reading what Tozer wrote about prayer, it hit home that I still often come to prayer with the mistaken idea that if I just get it “right”, God will answer. If God’s posture in listening to prayer is goodness (wow, that’s me totally oversimplifying it, but hear me out), what’s mine? And is the Lord’s prayer just about the words we pray, or does it have a lot to teach us about being mindful of our posture when we come to God in prayer?
Looking at the way Jesus taught his disciples to pray, as it’s recorded in Luke 11 and Matthew 6, I think posture is a big part of it. Look at it, piece by piece:
- “Our Father in heaven” - A posture of reverence for our holy God in heaven, who’s so much “other” than and above all that we are and that we can comprehend. But at the same time, a posture of approaching him as a Father who deeply loves and cares for each one of us personally.
- “Hallowed be your name” - A posture of honor and worship. We should never diminish our perception of who and what God is by the way we think about or talk about God or by the way we act.
- “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” - A posture that seeks God’s kingdom first. Our prayers shouldn’t just revolve around us. Our mindset needs to include God’s kingdom now - and to come, but especially now – and our responsibility and privilege of participating in its becoming reality here and now.
- “Give us this day our daily bread” - A posture of total dependence on God. We don’t like feeling dependent on anyone. Oh, well. We need to get over it. We are utterly dependent. And that’s actually more than okay when we think about how infinite God is and how finite we and our resources are.
- “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” - A posture of humility. Of repentance for our sins and failures, and of willingness to forgive others because we recognize the grace and forgiveness God gives us.
- “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” - A posture that recognizes our own vulnerability and that wants to follow Jesus rather than play with fire and then beg to be pulled out of the flames. A posture that recognizes that following Jesus now might lead to sacrifice and hardship, but that relies on God’s promise of victory and eternal life.
- “For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory for ever and ever” - A posture that recognizes God as the one it’s ultimately all about, and that worships him alone.
Words are good. They’re how we communicate. How we organize our thoughts and feelings. How we express our needs and a big part of how we worship. I love that Jesus modeled prayer for us, but I’m also grateful that when he did so, he didn’t hand us a formula or an incantation. He not only gave us words to get us started. He taught us the posture of prayer – the posture of heart and mind that brings us deeper into relationship with our Father in heaven.