Monday, January 21, 2013
Practices of Prayer in the Early Church: Kneeling and Bowing Down in Worship
“Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” (Psalm 95: 6)
Kneeling, Bowing and Falling Prostrate
One often-forgotten dynamic of biblical worship and prayer is bowing before the Lord. Especially in America we do not want to bow before anything or anyone. Therefore, we often skip over the Scriptures that call us to do so in reverence to God.
David declares that “in reverence will I bow down toward your holy temple” (Psalm 5:7). One of the key terms often translated as “worship” in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word Shachah. Literally it means to bow down. One bows down physically while worshiping the Lord. The most common term in the New Testament for worship is prokuneo, which means to bow down and kiss. Similarly in the New Testament we see kneeling in prayer. When Peter healed Tabitha in Acts 9, it states that “he got down on his knees and prayed.”
Even Jesus himself assumed this posture when praying to God the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Going a little farther,” states Matthew 26:39, “he fell with his face to the ground and prayed.”
Affecting Our Inner Attitude
Our physical attitude not only reflects our inner attitude, it also affects the attitude of our heart. Bowing down with our face against the dust floor and our fanny sticking up in the air is uncomfortable and more than a little embarrassing. In short it is humbling—even humiliating.
That is the point. When we bow down to God in prayer, it puts everything and everyone in place. God is high and lifted up. We are made low. C. S. Lewis made the comment somewhere that it is good that he prostrate himself before the Lord on a regular basis because of how it humbled him on the inside.
When we bow down before someone, we humble ourselves and lift them up. This, of course, is precisely what we need to do whenever come before the Lord in worship or prayer. We acknowledge our need and his power to meet the need. We humble ourselves and exalt him.
Ultimately all of creation will acknowledge Christ’s authority, as Paul describes in Philippians 2:10-11, “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
 Origen, On Prayer, 33:3, in An Exhortation to Martyrdom, Prayer and Selected Works, trans. Rowan Greer, CWS (New York/Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1979), p.165.
© 2013 Glenn E. Myers