Methodists, by and large, have usually received the holy sacrament while kneeling at an altar rail. Only the few who were unable to kneel were given the elements while standing.
The virus madness has changed all that. These days some pastors deliver the sacrament through a car window during a “drive by” communion service. This serves to remind us that what matters is not the position of the body, but the attitude of the soul as a believer partakes of this means of grace.
Growing up a Methodist, I did not perceive kneeling to receive the sacrament as kneeling to pray. But on Sunday nights, the pastor often “opened the altar for prayer” by inviting one and all to come kneel and pray while quiet music was played.
Though doing so was often meaningful to me, that was about the only time I ever saw people kneeling to pray.
When our children were small, I often knelt beside their bed to pray for and with them. But my kneeling was not so much out of reverence as it was simply a convenient way to be near each child while praying.
Then God began showing me that earnest prayer born out of great need may often drive us to our knees in prayer. I hasten to say that what matters most in prayer is the attitude of the heart, not one’s posture in prayer. Even so, there is something about praying on our knees that symbolizes reverence, humility and our desperate desire for the help and mercy that God alone can provide.
Three times when I was in desperate need myself, God sent men to pray for me, and every time, each man dropped on his knees beside me to pray. Neither man knew the nature of my need, only that God had told them to go pray for me.
The sense of God’s presence was an overwhelming blessing as God met my need. Joy flooded my soul. I began to believe that God wanted me to go to my knees more often in prayer, especially when I was praying for individuals who had come to me with a great need for God’s mercy and guidance.
The Bible gives us several examples of men praying on their knees.
In First Kings, we find King Solomon crying out to God for Israel in a powerful prayer, the kind of prayer we should be praying for our nation. When Solomon finished praying, “he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands stretched out toward heaven.”
In another poignant scene, we find the reformer and prophet Ezra, so ashamed of the disgraceful sins of Israel that he fell on his knees praying “with my hands spread out to the Lord my God.” His stirring prayer of repentance is yet another example of the kind of prayer we Americans should be praying for our country.
When Daniel learned that anyone who prayed to any god other than King Darius would be put to death, his faith did not cave in to fear. Instead, the Bible tells us, three times a day Daniel “got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before.” Though he was thrown into the lions’ den, Daniel’s faith was rewarded when God’s angel “shut the mouths of the lions.”
In the New Testament, several people knelt at the feet of Jesus, begging for help or healing. Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out and touched them. Blind men were blessed with sight. Lepers were healed. The lame began to walk. The deaf began to hear. The mute began to speak. The response of Jesus reveals the compassion of God since Jesus, in his own words, was doing what his Father had sent him to do.
These stories suggest a few questions: Have you ever felt so desperate for God’s help that you fell on your knees praying? Or have you ever felt such shame for the sins of our nation that you fell on your knees praying? Or have you ever felt so stirred by the love of God that you fell on your knees praying? Or have you ever felt such gratitude for the grace of God that you fell on your knees praying?
Two dear friends of mine found their son dead in his bed at age 34. When they called on me to help them, I fell on my knees praying that God would heal their broken hearts. In time, God did that, gloriously. I fell on my knees thanking the Lord for that healing work of grace.
When a tornado killed a young lawyer’s wife and four children, he renounced his faith in God. The next day, a friend of mine drove 300 miles to tell the young lawyer that he loved him. My friend said that when he walked into the lawyer’s home, the man’s faith “came rushing back” when he saw my friend’s face.
Tears streaming down his face, the lawyer said, “I knew instantly that only God could cause a man to come so far to share my sorrow.” When my friend told me that story, I felt like falling on my knees to praise God.
I can see C. S. Lewis falling on his knees praising God for his salvation on the day he became a Christian. Lewis said, “I was probably the most surprised atheist on the planet when suddenly there was someone else in the room – and I knew it was Jesus!”
He would later describe his conversion as being “surprised by joy.” So many times I find the joy of the Lord so wonderful that I feel like falling on my knees praying.
I felt like that one day when I met Dewey in the rain forest of Ecuador. Dewey, one of the Waodani tribesmen who killed five American missionaries in 1956, had been won to Christ by the widows of those missionaries.
Less than 5 feet tall, Dewey was now a Christian and pastor of a little church there in the rain forest. We shook hands, but could not understand each other because of the language barrier. But when I said the word “Jesus,” Dewey grinned, pointed to the sky and embraced me. We were brothers – through Jesus! I felt like dropping to my knees on the grass and thanking Jesus for such a moment.
Peter must have felt a sense of desperation when the disciples called him to Joppa the day Tabitha died. When Peter arrived, they took him into the upstairs room where the woman’s dead body been washed and placed. What could he do Peter must have thought.
The woman is dead. But Peter knew he served a great and mighty God, so with no hesitation he got down on his knees and began praying. Soon, to the amazement of those who had been crying, Tabitha was up on her feet, alive and well. Peter must have felt like falling on his knees again, to praise God for answering his prayer.
In Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians is one of the most beautiful prayers in the Bible. After reminding his Ephesians friends that through faith in Christ they may approach God with freedom and confidence, he begins his inspiring prayer with these words: “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name.” Evidently Paul found it needful sometimes to fall on his knees praying.
The Apostle Paul tells us in his Letter to the Philippians that one day we will fall on our knees to acknowledge what God has done. These words are part of Paul’s marvelous tribute to Jesus in chapter two: “For this reason also, God highly exalted him, and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
In the meantime, we can rejoice that our great and mighty God is saying to us today what He said to Israel years ago:
“If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
Surely the time has come for God’s people of all races to treat one another with love and respect and do some “down on our knees” praying, and praying with the attitude that meets God’s requirements for the healing of our land.
Walter Albritton is a Methodist minister and writes a weekly column for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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