Thursday, November 8, 2012
Practices of Prayer in the Early Church: Standing before God
“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?” (Ps 24:3)
When we think about Christians during the first several centuries, persecution and martyrdom are probably the first things that come to mind. Their radical commitment to Christ and bold witness offer a model for contemporary Christians, and they challenge us to live a life of uncompromising faith.
Early believers also present us an example of fervent prayer. Prayer was the very pulse or their relationship with the Lord. Indeed, during times of persecution, prayer is essential. These Christians either pursued God with their whole heart and life, or they quickly renounced their faith and chose to fade into the pagan world.
Although information on the prayer of the early Christians in sparse, we know that for them the standard posture of prayer was standing. In writings on prayer—as well as etchings on early Christians grave stones—we consistently see them standing before God when they prayed. Instead of sitting comfortably in a chair during prayer, as so many do today, the early believers got onto their feet.
This makes sense. Since most of the first Christians were Jews, they simply followed the practices of the Old Testament. Prayer and worship in the Old Testament were active, to say the least. “Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,/ who stand by night in the house of the Lord!” (Ps 134:1 RSV). Indeed, if we visit Jerusalem today, we see devout Jews and Christians alike standing and offering prayers at the Wailing Wall.
Attitude of Attention and Respect
What is the significance of standing? First, standing is a sign of respect. Our culture has lost much of this. One setting where standing in respect has continued, however, is in the courtroom, where everyone is still required to stand out of respect for the office of the judge and she or he enters the room. How much more, then, should I show respect to the Judge and Creator and Ruler of the Ages?
Standing is likewise a position of attentiveness. Sitting in a comfortable chair, how easy it is to let my mind wander. When I stand at attention, however, I am more alert and engaged. My posture declares that I am fully present and ready to move as God gives direction for my life.
Over the past couple months as my wife and I have read about the early Christians and their practice of prayer, it has challenged me to stand before the Lord in prayer during morning devotions and at night before bed. Certainly we can pray any time and any place and in any position—and I will continue to do so throughout the day. However, when I have the opportunity to stand before God in prayer, I want to do so as a statement of my utter awe and respect for him and as a posture of attentiveness, listening and engaged presence.
© 2012 Glenn E. Myers