My feet begin to tingle. I curl my toes to make sure they are still there. The electricity moves to my shins. I feel them there in a way I normally do not. It’s as if I am resting on a bed of tiny pins and needles; not hurt, just uncomfortable. I slightly rock back and forth to readjust and give my muscles some breathing room. Even my arms, propped on the couch in front of me, are beginning to get weary. As I finish the last Psalm and an accompanying prayer, I rise to my feet. I feel the blood move back down my knees and legs. I feel like I just got done running a race. In a way, that is exactly what I have done.
Growing up, one of the great epiphany moments of my faith was realizing that prayer could happen anywhere and any way. I assumed it was usually done with head bowed, eyes closed, in a certain place — after all, that was the usual posture at church, at dinnertime, at bedtime, and so on. But as my Dad would pray aloud with eyes open while driving (a smart move), asking God for protection as we headed off on a trip, I learned that God didn’t really mind where or how we prayed at all.
The extemporaneous nature of prayer was something that was encouraged throughout my growing up. Certainly, it is a blessing to know that the Throne of Grace is available to me whenever and wherever I need it. I am not required to run to the temple with my requests. God will not wait to hear my prayers until I make a sacrifice. I can pray on the spot for safety while driving my car, for strength when in a difficult conversation, for patience while in line at the grocery store. Most of us know this to be true, and take advantage of this freedom.
However, I have recently wondered if a repeated emphasis on the spontaneity of prayer has actually made prayer more difficult for us to actually follow through with. Often, the verses used to support this kind of prayer are the urges from Paul to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17) and “pray everywhere” (1 Tim 2:8). These are good and right exhortations. But I don’t believe that implicit in Paul’s statements here (and elsewhere) is the idea that structured, planned prayers are to be done away with.
Perhaps in our well-meaning effort to highlight the glorious access we have to the Father through prayer, we have gotten away from a prayer life that is routine, rhythmic, and even sacrificial. Prayer has now become what we’ve always wanted it to: a convenience.
Prayer should look less like a spontaneous decision to take a walk, and more like the daily discipline to get on the treadmill. Prayer is something we need, and while it simple to come before our Lord, it is not always meant to be easy. There is a reason it is called a spiritual discipline. “Pray without ceasing” should not be a rejection of structure and rhythm, because I believe the opposite to be true; structure and rhythm actually helps us “pray without ceasing.”
There are absolutely moments that we will need to spontaneously pray. To have such access is a blessing. But having dedicated times throughout our day to go before the Lord will not only help us “pray without ceasing”; it will make us prayerful people. It will move from changing what we do to the very people we are.
That’s why, three times a day, I’m making the shift to intentional, set-apart prayer – and prayer done in the posture of kneeling. Morning, afternoon, evening. It doesn’t have to be your rhythm. But I’m finding that it works well for me. And if I haven’t made it clear enough, the kneeling is key.
There’s nothing magic in hitting my knees. But it is powerful in helping me pray. Choosing to kneel for these times of prayer is a felt reminder of the need for discipline. Of the uneasiness of the exercising of prayer. It is an easy way for me to not only pray about, but feel my weakness. As my knees turn red and my feet tingle, I am reminded that I am only human, made from dust, sustained by the Creator I pray to. In kneeling, I am experiencing humility. I am invited to draw near to the Throne of Grace with confidence, but not arrogance. Kneeling also places me in the company of thousands of years full of God-fearing men who have gone before the Father on their knees. To name a few: Peter (Acts 9:40), Paul (Acts 20:36), and Jesus (Lk 22:41).
Practicing this form of prayer has helped me mark off the rhythms of my day. In the morning, it’s usually the first thing I do, before anything else takes place. I pray a liturgy from Every Moment Holy and pray my daily Psalms readings. In the afternoon, I kneel in my office, mainly praying for three things: whoever is on my prayer list, renewed strength for the rest of my workday, and whatever circumstances have arisen from my morning. In the evening, I kneel before coming home, or once I’m there. I pray for the evening our family will spend together and that God will help me rest from my work until tomorrow.
Every time I get up from kneeling to pray, I’m glad that I did it. Not because I’ve proven yet again how awesome I am, but easily the opposite. I am broken. I am a sinner. I am not worthy to stand in the presence of the King. Kneeling prayer re-calibrates my knowing who I am and who God is.
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” (Rom 14:11)