Series: Sword of the Spirit – Course: Effective Prayer
Lesson: Prayer in the Old Testament – Topic 2: Postures of Prayer
Teacher: Colin Dye
Announcer: Welcome to Sword of the Spirit, written and presented by Colin Dye, senior minister of Kensington Temple and leader of London City Church. Sword of the Spirit is a dynamic teaching series equipping the believers of today to build the disciples of tomorrow. We pray that you find these programs inspiring, and a catalyst in deepening your knowledge of God, your relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, and your intimacy with the Holy Spirit.
Colin Dye: Hello, and welcome to The Sword of the Spirit, a school of ministry in the Word and the Spirit, and the topic we are dealing with is effective prayer. In the last program, we began to look at the Old Testament teaching on prayer. One of the things we did was look at the words used to describe prayer. There are many of them. Let me give you a few: Qara, to call upon. Palal, to pray. Paga, to approach, to please. Sha’al, to ask. Chala, to beseech. And za`aq , which means to cry out.
I like that last word particularly, za`aq, to cry out, because it reminds me of so many of my experiences of prayer in my life personally, particularly at times of urgent need, when there has been some pressure upon my life—whether it has been sickness or some need of provision, or a difficulty in my circumstance where I need some special wisdom or guidance from God.
And at times like that, I want to tell you, intellectual praying doesn’t work. It’s not as if you can work out what you should pray and then somehow pray it with exactitude and then expect God to answer. No, when you are in times of emergency or times of urgency, it is the cry to the heart that most naturally comes out, and I believe that is the kind of prayer that God really listens to.
It’s not so much intellectual praying and fine-sounding praying, but it is the simple cry of the human heart to God our Maker, to God our Creator, who then answers and helps us at our point of need.
Now on today’s program we are going to go deeper into the Old Testament teaching, analyzing bit-by-bit all that we can find out about prayer in the Old Testament. We are going to be speaking about postures of prayer.
Now postures of prayer is very important to many people of all different religious traditions, but I want to tell you that external postures do not really matter to God that much. What matters is the attitude of the heart, so whether we are talking about prostrating or bowing or kneeling, each of these things can be very powerful indications of what is going on in the heart.
But if we approach God just externally in the posture of our lives and don’t have the corresponding attitude of heart, then it’s not really effective prayer. We know that, for example, if we prostrate before God and we do so genuinely from our hearts, it’s an outward expression of an inward experience and it is effective. Well, throughout this teaching we will be focusing on the importance of the attitudes of the heart.
And now we’re going to move into a new section: Old Testament postures for praying. Now this is very informative, but before we go on, let me tell you: God is not concerned about your outward attitudes, your outward posture, your physical posture. He is concerned about your inner attitude, and we will see how some of these postures which were adopted for prayer are indications of what God wants to flow from your heart. In other words, they can be seen as signs of the attitude of the heart that God wants you to come to Him when you pray.
Now first of all, we have one attitude, physical attitude, of standing before the Lord, and in many ways, this is the characteristic way of praying in Old Testament times. They stood before the Lord. And in Genesis 18:22, we read here of Abraham. It says, “And then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.” What does this mean? It means that God invites you to stand in His presence. He invites you to be before Him, to present yourself in His presence.
Now we also know that in the New Testament Mark 11:25 that Jesus showed that He assumed that His followers would stand to pray. It says, “And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.” So it is a characteristic way of praying. Standing.
Now another one which you may be more familiar with, maybe more associated with praying, is kneeling. Now knees show the relationship between people, in some instances. For example, your knees may be bent in terror or homage to a king, in submission to somebody who is lording it over you. The Old Testament people knelt in prayer to worship God, and that demonstrated that God is the great God of the universe, that there is no king higher than Him, and we pay homage to Him and indeed, we kneel before Him as humble servants, and in that way the knees symbolize strength. As we submit to the Lord, we yield to Him our strength, and He blesses us with His strength.
Let’s have a look at Psalm 95:6. Here we have a beautiful invitation to kneel before the Lord, “O come let us worship and bow down. Let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker.” And we find that time and time again throughout the Bible, both Old Testament and New Testament, that God invites us to kneel.
In Acts 9:40, when Peter was called beside the bed of somebody who died, it says, “But Peter put them all out and knelt down and prayed, and turning to the body he said, ‘Tabitha, arise,’ and she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter, she sat up.”
So here we have Peter just saying, “Lord, I submit to you. I have seen you do this when you were on this earth. Now anoint me with the same power that you have, so that I can raise this person from the dead.” And so kneeling, here, is an expression of an inner attitude.
Another posture which takes this further is prostrating, and at times of great reverence in the Bible people laid flat on their faces before God. We see this in Numbers 16:45, when God speaks to the leaders and says, “‘Get away from this congregation, that I may consume them in a moment.’ And they fell on their faces.”
Now you cannot fake this. You cannot say, “Well, I’m just going to get on my face and then God will believe that I am really serious.” But I want to say that there have been times, significant items in my experience, when I know that the only possible way of approaching God is to lay flat on my face in His presence to say, “Lord, you are the absolute ruler over me. You are the Lord and sovereign over all of my life. You are the great and the glorious God. I am not so worthy as to lift up my head in your presence. I humble myself before you.” And when that happens, my friends, God lifts you up and blesses you.
Do you remember when Elijah was facing the terrible situation of the prophets of Baal and he prophesied a drought, and after the confrontation of the prophets of Baal and the fire came down, it says in 1 Kings 18:42, “So Ahab went up to eat and drink and Elijah went up to Carmel. Then he bowed down to the ground and put his face between his knees,” probably in a kind of prostrate form of prostrating himself in the presence of the Lord.
Even Jesus, in His most urgent hour, prostrated himself before the Father. We read that in Matthew 26:39. There, Jesus, in the desperate need of the moment, knowing that He needed that intimacy with the Father, He needed that special communication with the Father, it says He went a little farther and fell on His face and prayed, saying, “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.”
Now we have another posture—sitting before the Lord in prayer—and it’s very popular today. In fact, we can only find one example in the whole of the Bible, only one biblical example of people sitting before the Lord and praying. It is in 2 Samuel 7:18, “Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my house that you have brought me this far?’”
Now why is it so unusual, and why is it so special here? Well, King David came to sit in the presence of the Lord because he was adopting the position of accomplishment. He had defeated all His enemies, and He was now no longer…there was nothing else for him to do to go out and defeat people any more. It reminds us of Jesus sitting down at the right hand of the Father, and so spiritually we should sit to pray, because we are seated with Christ in heavenly places.
Now again, this shows us what is more important than whether we are sitting or standing is the attitude of the heart, that we are accepting our position of rest and accomplishment in the presence of God in the person of Jesus Christ, or if you talk about standing, that we are standing firm on the promises of God. And yet, nevertheless, how we adopt these attitudes in our heart are far more important, perhaps, even than the outward forms and traditions that we have about praying.
Now the other reason why King David is sitting is because God has just promised him. He said, “Lord, I want to build you a house,” and God said, “That’s not right. In fact, I’m going to build you a house, a dynasty. Your sons are going to sit on the throne and your kingdom is going to go on and on and on.” So all David could do is just sit down and say, “Lord, I accept, I receive, I can’t make this happen. I can just receive from you what you have done for me.” And that tells us a lot about how we should come before the Lord and to take His promises, take Him at His word.
We talk about standing on the promises, but you can sit on the promises as well, because you sit in that place of just saying, “Lord, there is nothing left for me to do but to believe you and to receive from your hand.”
Now we come to another attitude…physical attitude…which we are very familiar with in Pentecostal and Charismatic circles—raising your hands. And again, it’s a good physical posture. In Psalm 63:4 it says, “Thus I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. I will lift up my hands in your name.” And so this gesture, perhaps it is a gesture of surrender to God. In other parts of the Bible this is described quite literally as spreading your hands out with upturned palms. It is what is happening in Exodus 9:29, “And Moses said to him, ‘As soon as I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands to the Lord, the thunder will cease and there will be no more hail, that you may know that the earth is the Lord’s.’”
So Moses, in dealing with Pharaoh in Egypt with these great plagues, would come before the Lord, spread his hands out before the Lord, saying, “Lord, I turn this situation over to you. I hand it to you, Lord. Only you have brought this thunder. Only you can take it away.” And so the way we express ourselves physically in the presence of God can be a real indication of what we are thinking.
Your body language really does speak. When you talk to people, you can tell, sometimes, if they are bored with the conversation. You can tell if they are interested. You can tell by their body language.
Now I’m not suggesting that we adopt these postures in order to impress God—that would go right against the teaching of Jesus in the New Testament. Of course not. But I want to say that if your heart attitude is right, you will find yourself adopting different postures when you pray. And this shows you how prayer can be interesting. And in our prayer meetings we’ve just told people to stand or kneel or sit. We should let people walk and move around and prostrate themselves and be active, physically active, because it will be a way of releasing and expressing what is happening on the inside of you.
We also know that, with respect to raising hands, in 1 Timothy 2:8 Paul gives us instruction very clearly. He says, “I desire, therefore, that the men everywhere pray, lifting up holy hands without wrath and doubting.” So in other words it describes the whole reason and purpose for praying in this posture—lifting your hands.
And now we want to look as we can, over the next few minutes we’re going to do a survey of prayer throughout the whole of the Old Testament. I will not be able to cover this in detail, but it is all there for you in the manual. But it is very important that you see how the prayer life of the people of God developed throughout the Old Testament time, covering a period of many hundreds of years. How God took the people of God and brought them in those very early days, when they first began to call upon the name of the Lord, to the highly developed forms of prayer that we find in the later parts of the Bible in the Exilic Period and the Post-Exilic Period, in the Prophetic Period, and all of the things that happened in between.
So we are going to begin with prayer in The Pentateuch. Those are the first five books of the Bible. Now the Jews frequently call this the Book of the Law; we call it The Pentateuch. Now one thing you notice when you go to those first five books is there doesn’t seem to be any specific teaching about prayer. There are no detailed rules and regulations about prayer. But when we look at the prayers in The Pentateuch, we find there are six different kinds of prayer that are recorded there.
First of all, the simple conversations with God. Interesting, isn’t it? Many of the prayers made in Old Testament times and the time of The Pentateuch are conversations between God and His people. And two-way conversations, not just a monologue. Have you ever got stuck with somebody on the phone and they did all the talking? Have you ever listened to somebody answer the phone like that? It’s “Uh-huh, m-hmm, m-hmm, m-hmm, mmm, yeah, yes, yes, m-hmm, oh, oh, oh, really? Yes.” That’s boring. Boring for you and boring for God if you talk to Him like that. Let Him communicate with you as well as you communicate with Him. That’s what a conversation is.
Now these are times we find in the Old Testament and The Pentateuch, characteristically, when God comes to draw close to His people, to talk to His people. It is very often, in these examples, that God initiates the conversation. Have you noticed that?
For example, in Genesis 15:2-8 we read about it, but it is kicked off when God appears to Him and says, “This is who I am. I want to talk to you.” And then Abraham says, “O Lord God, what will you give me, seeing I go childless?” There is a conversation that he begins to have with God because God spoke to him and God initiated it. And characteristically, we will come back to this passage again at some stage.
In Genesis 18 it’s a full passage from verses 23 to 33 when Abraham came near and said, “Would you also destroy the righteous with the wicked?” Here we have God revealing himself to Abraham and saying, “I am going to destroy Sodom,” and so God initiates the conversation. He invites Abraham to speak to Him—Abraham His friend—to speak to Him at a friendship level, and Abraham, of course, is thinking about Lot, his nephew, who is there in Sodom, and he says, “Lord, are you going to destroy the righteous with the wicked? What about my nephew?” That is what he is talking to God about. It is almost like a negotiation that is taking place here as he says, “Well, Lord, will you destroy it for 50 righteous people, or for 45, or for 30, or 40, or 30, or 20, or 10?”
And God said, “No, I won’t even destroy it, not for 10 righteous people, but you understand this, Abraham, that not even Lot and his family make up 10.”
And we then know that God answered Abraham’s prayer and rescued Lot out of Sodom before it was destroyed. But all that was initiated by God wanting to have a conversation with Abraham. And I want to tell you that God wants to have a conversation with you. He wants to have frequent conversations with you. He wants to draw alongside you and say, “Shall I hide this thing that I want to do from my friend?” You—that is. No, God will want to talk to you. He will want to share with you. He will want to converse with you. So you will have to give Him time and opportunity to do it.
Then when we read further in The Pentateuch we discover that there are many important intercessions that take place; many important intercessions. We’ve just…we are just looking at one in Genesis 18. We were just talking about it under this other section. That was an important intercession. The conversation that God initiated moved into an important intercession, and this is something you have to really grasp: God speaks for a reason. When God draws near you to talk to you, there is a reason behind it. Yes, He wants to have fellowship with you, He wants to bless you; He wants to communicate with you. He just wants to talk to you!
But there is a reason why He does: because there are very important issues in our lives that need addressing; very important issues in our churches that need addressing; very important issues in our nations and in the world that need addressing, and so when God initiates a conversation with you, it’s often because He wants to bring you into a period of important intercession.
That’s what happened in Genesis 18. God spoke to Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Abraham begins to intercede, and we find again, repeatedly, time and time again, important intercession is made when God initiates conversations, and we find Moses frequently interceding for Israel time and time again in the Old Testament, in The Pentateuch, because of some important intercession that God is indicating needs to take place.
But there are also, in The Pentateuch, prayers of personal requests; not just these great issues of life and nations, but personal requests, and we find again and again God allowing His people to come and make very simple, personal requests. Abraham prayed for a child. Eliezer prayed for a successful journey when he was going to bring back a bride. Jacob prayed when he was frightened. Moses prayed when he was perplexed and when he was frustrated. God wants you to come and express these things to Him during times of distress.
Another category of prayer that we find in The Pentateuch is family blessings, and this is something we can learn today. My book, Household Salvation, deals with family blessings and how we can pray. We find that a father can bless his son. In Genesis 49, we have the incident of one of the early patriarchal blessings when we have God putting on Jacob’s heart the blessings for his sons and Jacob called his sons and said, “Gather together that I may tell you what shall befall you in the last days. Gather together and hear you, sons of Jacob, and listen to your father, Israel your father.”
And then he begins to prophesy over each of his sons. Some of them are rather mixed blessings, in some respects. When you read it, it is kind of amusing when you read it through to see how God visits each and every one of these sons. Now these are essentially prophetic visions for the person who is being blessed or being communicated in this way, and so God will lead us, even today, to pray like that.
Another category of praying in the Old Testament Pentateuch: oaths and vows. The Pentateuch describes several people making oaths and vows. Abraham made an oath in Genesis 14:21-24. We read of Abraham speaking after the slaughter of the kings and the King of Sodom said to Abraham, “Give me the persons and take the goods for yourself. Here is the spoil after the successful victory at battle.” But Abraham said to the King of Sodom, “I have raised my hand to the Lord God Most High, the possessor of heaven and earth that I will take nothing from a thread to a sandal strap, that I will not take anything that is yours, lest you say, ‘I have made Abraham rich.’ No.”
He makes a vow and an oath in the presence of the Lord, and we can do that. It’s a very, very sacred thing to do. It’s part of praying. Can you see, when dig into these Old Testament prayers, that there is a variety of praying that is missed out in our modern prayer vocabulary? That is why our praying gets boring. We don’t understand this great range and variety and the breadth and the depth of praying, and we’ve only just begun to dig into a few chapters of the Old Testament.
Another one: sacrificial prayer. Sacrificial prayer. Prayer was closely connected with sacrifice in The Pentateuch. Very often, people would offer a prayer in the context of making a sacrifice and suggests…the sacrifice suggests that in doing that, they are abandoning themselves totally to God. It’s not as if they are persuading Him by the sacrifice, “Lord, I’m giving you a gift. You better listen to me.” But they are saying, “Lord, I am giving myself completely to you.”
Genesis 13:4, “To the place of the altar which he had made there at first, and Abraham called on the name of the Lord.” Abraham went back to the place of the altar where he called upon the name of the Lord, and he did it again. Why did he go to the altar? Because he was making a sacrifice in his praying. So the offering of a prayer suggests, as we sacrifice, that we are giving ourselves completely to Him.
Now we ought to also see that in the Old Testament Pentateuch where prayer is not mentioned, even in the bringing of sacrifice, that sacrifice without prayer was more usual. So, in other words, people were making their sacrifices not necessarily every time making the sacrifice as if they were saying, “Lord, here is my prayer, along with that.” But it does teach us something, because that sacrifice in itself was a prayer. It was a prayer in and of itself.
And so this reminds us, as we bring this first session to a close, this reminds us that prayer is a lifestyle issue. It is how you live. The whole of your life can be lived as a prayer. For example, you who have come out to study in the Sword of the Spirit series—that’s a prayer. Your being here today, your watching this video, your watching this telecast today is a prayer, because by your action you are saying, “Lord, I want more of you. I want you in my life.”
And if you thought about your whole life like that, every time you attend a church service, every time you get on your knees, every time you open your Bible, every time you help somebody, every time you do something to bless somebody, these actions are part of a lifestyle which is a lifestyle of prayer. Your whole life is a prayer lived before God, because your actions are calling upon Him to help you and to bless you and to be with you. Amen.
Well, there is the opening session as we look at the Old Testament and after the break and we come into the next session, we will be moving on exactly from here. So God bless you, and we will see you next time.
Dye, Colin. Effective prayer
Kensington Temple, 2008
Hagin, Kenneth E. The art of prayer
Faith Library Publications, 1992
Renner, Rick. Dressed to kill: A biblical approach to spiritual warfare and armor
Teach all Nations, 2007
Bounds, E. M. The complete works of E. M. Bounds
Wilder Publications, 2009