It was a sweltering and sultry summer day—an unpleasant ninety-five degrees—when five local clergymen convened for an afternoon of enriching fellowship. The baking heat outdoors paled in comparison, however, to the steam in the meeting room. These residential ministers—deacons and pastors both—had begun to argue. Not long after the exchange of pleasantries and mutual spiritual check-ups, the men engaged in a respectful but conviction-driven debate about the proper way to pray.
“The proper way for a man to pray, and the only proper attitude, is down upon his knees,” said Deacon Keyes. His proposition was immediately met with retort from Reverend Wise. “No, I should say the way to pray, is standing straight, with outstretched arms, and rapt and upturned eyes,” he remarked. Elder Slow, who couldn’t bear this heresy, corrected: “Oh no! Such posture is too proud! A man should pray with eyes fast closed and the head contritely bowed.” Having heard enough nonsense, Reverend Blunt observed, “It seems to me his hands should be austerely clasped in front, with both thumbs pointing toward the ground.”
After everyone zealously preached their opinions, Brother Cyrus Brown decided to preach his experience. Leaning back with his thumbs in the straps of his overalls, he recounted, “Las’ year I fell in Hodgkin’s well head first, with both my heels a-stickin’ up, my head a-pointin’ down; and I made a prayer right then an’ there—best prayer I ever said, the prayingest prayer I ever prayed, a-standing on my head.”1
Cyrus made his point loud and clear: there is no correct physical posture for prayer. As long as you are an adopted child of the heavenly Father (Gal. 4:6), God will hear your prayers at anytime and at any place. Moreover, people in Scripture were heard by God whether they prayed kneeling (2 Chron. 6:13; Dan. 6:10), prostrate (Neh. 8:6; Matt. 26:39), with lifted hands (Ps. 141:2; 1 Tim. 2:8), or lying down in bed (Ps. 6:6). What matters in prayer is not your physical posture, but your spiritual posture—not the position of your body, but the position of your heart.
In the passage famously known as The Lord’s Prayer, but more fittingly called The Disciples’ Model Prayer, Jesus explains what the right heart position is for prayer (read Matthew 6:5-13). First, the motivation of your heart must be right. You ought not pray only for the approval and applause of others (vv. 5-6). Don’t pray to be seen by men—pray to be seen by God, who “sees in secret.” Second, the mindset of your heart must be right. God is omniscient and “knows what you need before you ask Him,” and therefore you do not need lengthy liturgical prayers and mindless religious repetitions to get His attention (vv. 7-8). Don’t try to impress God when you pray—just be humble and honest before Him. Finally, there is a model you must follow in order to orient your heart in the right position (vv. 9-13). Jesus instructed that your prayers should begin with a focus on God, His kingdom, and His will (vv. 9-10). After expressing praise to God and submission to His will, you should pray for your physical and spiritual needs (vv. 11-13).
Take it from Cyrus Brown—the prayingest kind of prayer depends, not on where you are, but where your heart is.
- This story is modified from a poem by Sam Walter Foss. Some say the poem stands by itself, some say it is adapted from an anecdotal story. This is just how I’ve told the story through the years, though it is not entirely original.
Bible Gleanings is a widely-read weekend devotional column, written for the Murray Ledger & Times in Calloway County, Kentucky.
Brandon is the founder and main contributor to Brandon’s Desk, the blog with biblical resources from his ministry. He is proud to be the pastor of the family of believers at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky. He and his wife Dakota live there with their three dogs, Susie (Jack Russell), Aries (English Shepherd), and Dot (Bluetick Beagle).