Kneeling and standing

When I was a young lad in the Netherlands, I would stand during the congregational prayer. Not alone, mind you. All members of the male population would rise during that prayer once they were old enough to stand for any length of time. The congregational prayer was not a short prayer, of course. Various illnesses, especially of older members, claimed attention for elaborate supplication. God must have smiled from time to time. He knew more than we did about the people we prayed for, and he must have wondered at times whether we knew enough. But God is not a fault-seeking listener, fortunately. He is more interested in our desire to connect with him than he is in knowing whether we have our prayer ducks in a row.

I don’t remember whether it was customary in the beginning of our immigrant worship experience in Canada for male members to stand for the long prayer, but it was soon a thing of the past. In some people’s minds it may have looked as if we had scuttled the primacy of the male species. Of course, today there are times during the worship service when those who are able are asked to stand for a prayer or a hymn. But not for the long prayer.

I must tell you though that some ten years ago Alice and I found ourselves in a conservative Reformed church in South Africa where the men were still expected to stand during the long prayer. It was interesting because, even though this denomination had been in South Africa for a few hundred years, they still had managed to hang on to the strict worship format that I was used to from the days of my youth.

He is our God
Back home in Canada we have a few times worshipped in an Anglican or Catholic church where worshipers do not stand but kneel during the congregational prayer. Kneeling is one practice I wish our Calvinist churches had maintained after the Reformation. I don’t know why some Protestants dropped that appropriate sign of submission. Was it because they did not want to supply kneeling benches or was it because they started worshiping in barns or sitting rooms? Or was it a conscious decision to avoid any overt sign of devotion lest we focus too much on appearances? Whatever the reason, standing or sitting during prayer does not prevent us from submitting to God, of course, but there is no more universal and powerful sign of submission than to kneel before the most supreme being of all.

In that regard, nothing can inspire us more effectively than the words of Psalm 95:6 & 7 ringing out with joy and conviction: “Come let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” The stated reason for kneeling sounds convincing and irresistible: “for he is our God.”

In biblical times to bend one’s knee before God was a profound act of worship. Bending your knees stated boldly yet simply that God is the source of all power and that the one on bended knee is ready to place his or her life and energy at the service of the Lord. Kneeling for prayer is not something that needs to be approved at a denominational or classical meeting. Any council can introduce such a practice, except, such a decision requires constructing costly kneeling benches. And what if the church uses moveable chairs instead of benches?

Maybe singing praises while standing is the more practical decision to make. God provided most of us with strong enough knees and legs to make that upward position possible. And no carpentry skills and expenses are needed to make standing rather than kneeling a suitable option. It even makes showing a hint of joy with slow movement of the body possible . . . eh . . . as long as we keep in mind not to overdo it.

Not to overdo it? Hold on a minute, you cautious, mild-mannered, timid praise whisperers. Let Psalm 98 speak please. “Give a shout for the Lord and play music on the harps! Blow trumpets and horns and shout to the Lord. Roar sea and every creature in you. Clap your hands, you rivers; you hills, sing together with joy before the Lord.” Let’er rip, people of God!


  • Bert Witvoet is a former educator and editor of various magazines, including the Christian Courier, who lives with his wife, Alice, in St. Catharines, Ontario.

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