Thursday, November 16, 2006

Standing For Prayer

Lacking today and conspicuous by its absence is the fear of God in this nation. Sadly this has increasingly been seen in many churches today. Services have become times of great entertainment, when the minister, or others participating in the service have led in a light hearted and causal manner. All this has consequently led to a lack of reverence in the worship of God

There is a great need for Reformation today. Reverence is needed in the worship of God. The Psalmist writes in Psalm 89: 7 “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints, and to be had in reverence of all them that are about Him.” We are to have a right view of God, thus when we come to worship God we are to mindful of Him the one we are coming to. The prophet Isaiah writes “For thus saith the high and lofty One that inhabiteth eternity, whose name is Holy; I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” Isaiah 57: 15. In seriously considering who He is, the worshipper should possess a due respect for God; there is to be care taken in approaching to God.

This of course is to be seen prior to the service. The congregation should be there quietly preparing their hearts to worship God. Yet what do we see so often today, congregations engaged in talk. The scripture make it plain in this area. In Psalm 65 : 1 we read, “Praise waiteth for thee, O God, in Sion:” The word waiteth in the Hebrew means ‘silent’ The people ought to be silently waiting for God; showing their respect for God, preparing their hearts, considering that they are about to meet with God in a special way.

Leading on from this there is to be, secondly, a respect for God in the service itself.

Recall the words of the Psalmist again “God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints”. The psalmist makes it plain here, that there is to be this fear, this reverence in a time of worhip. Yes there is to be joy; the psalmist says in Psalm 66: 1 & 2, “Make a joyful noise unto God, all ye lands: Sing forth the honour of His name: make His praise glorious”. This joy is to be real, flowing from our hearts; however such joy must be accompanied with a real deep respect for God. I have often questioned what brings me the joy I desire to know in the worship of God? Is it something that is said that makes the congregation laugh, or, it is that joy which is heaven sent; joy that is known in true communion with God, joy that though I am such an unworthy sinner, in Christ I am accepted and having fellowship with my Lord.

Respect for God is to be seen in the service itself by what we do; we as the Church are to be mindful of our King.

Our Lord said to His disciples, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.” They were to teach what the Lord had commanded, thus the scripture is our rule. We are to, and must look to, the scriptures in what we do in worship. When we come to worship, we must question, is this time of worship fitting for the King? Rev John Duncan said ‘We should fear, for Jesus is present, walking amidst the candlesticks to inspect'. Our Lord said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20 Christ is in the midst, God is in the midst! We must never over look this truth. In Hebrews 2: 12 we read this of the Saviour; “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church will I sing praise unto thee.” The Lord is with us, we must show our respect to Him. Out of a respect to Him, the scripture shows to us we are to stand at certain times. Standing, as we shall see, is a sign of respect.

In Leviticus 19: 32 we read “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honor the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” In one rising up, it showed respect. Annexed to this was the fear of God. If we are to show respect to the old man how much more ought we to show respect to in God, He who is the ‘Ancient of days’ (Daniel 7: 9) It is good and proper that we stand at certain times.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples “And when ye stand praying, forgive…” Mark 11:25 He is considering a time when they would be standing in prayer. It is plain then that this subject can not be overlooked, for the King has spoken about it. The Church therefore must examine the subject of posture whilst praying. It should not be left to our own preference in the worship of God. We are told that the Rev Kenneth Macrae (Minister of the Free Church of Scotland) condemned the stand that said, ‘scriptural worship was a matter of preference, rather than a principle’.

Standing for prayer is a practice well grounded in scripture.

Firstly, Hannah in 1Samuel 1:26 said to Eli, “Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD”. She, on an earlier occasion had gone to Shiloh with her husband, and there on a particular day was found at the tabernacle standing near to Eli the priest praying. She bares testimony to this here unto Eli.

Secondly, at the consecration of Solomon’s temple we are told in 2 Chronicles 6: 3 “And the king turned his face, and blessed the whole congregation of Israel: and all the congregation stood.” Solomon then speaks to them in verses 4 – 11, after which he prayed kneeling on the floor with his hands stretched out toward heaven. The congregation remained standing till the end of the prayer.

Thirdly, King Jehoshaphat offered up prayer in the house of the LORD. In 2Chronicles 20: 5 we read; “And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD, before the new court.” It was not just Jehoshahphat who stood, but the whole congregation as well; we read in verse 13, ‘And all Judah stood before the LORD, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.’ Dr John Gill writes “…looking towards the most holy place, where the ark of His presence was, in a humble and submissive posture.”

Fourthly, In Nehemiah’s day, on a certain occasion recorded in Nehemiah 9, the people who had assembled were told; “Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever: and blessed be Thy glorious name, which is exalted above all blessing and praise….” Why was this said? Back in the beginning of the chapter, verse 3, we read; “And they stood up in their place, and read in the book of the law of the LORD their God one fourth part of the day; and another fourth part they confessed, and worshipped the LORD” The word worshipped in this verse has the meaning to ‘depress, to bow, to prostrate. They had stood to begin with, but it is plain to see, that under a great sense of their shame, and the Holiness of God, they had fallen on the ground. The Levites seeing this, moved by the Spirit told them to, “Stand up and bless the LORD your God for ever and ever:”

Fifthly, In Matthew 6:5 the Lord speaks of certain hypocrites; “And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” Here is reference that in a place of worship, that being here the synagogue, the worshipper stood whilst engaged in prayer. It is plain, in light of Mark 11.25 that our Lord here is condemning their hypocrisy, why were they standing, rather than the posture itself.

Sixthly, The Lord plainly speaks of His disciples standing in prayer. “And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Mark 11: 25

Seventhly, our Lord spoke a parable, rebuking those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous. Luke 18: 9ff, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.” Remember, the Lord in speaking this parable is condemning self-righteousness; He is not condemning the posture. This can be easily seen. The one that was justified was standing in prayer, he stood out of real respect; he had considered the holiness of God in his heart. The other stood, but his heart was filled with pride believing what he had done made him righteous. He had no real respect for God; though he was standing that respectful posture.

Eighthly, The Early Church was accustomed to this principle in times of public worship. In Acts 2: 46 we read ‘And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart,’ Besides being in certain other places they still continued for a while to meet in the temple after Pentecost. There in the temple it is clear from what our Lord taught in the parable in Luke 18, those believers would have still continued to stand for prayer out of a respect of God. Some may object and say that they only stood because they were in the temple that Holy place. However we note our Lord spoke of those who stood praying in places outside of the temple; the Lord mentions the synagogues in Matthew 6: 5. It is clear, that it was not the place but the principle that was and is important. The early church when they came to worship in places other than the temple, they would not have thrown to one side such a principle as this. Though it was not the temple they would have stood for prayer at those appointed times of worship. At such times they would have been mindful of what the Lord had taught!

The overwhelming evidence of scripture is; that it is good and proper to stand whist we are praying in the public worship of God.

Let us remind ourselves of the words of the Saviour again in Mark 11:25 “And when ye stand praying” In hearing these words there will be some who will say, “yes that is what He said then, but we do not need to do that now”. Some will maintain this but can offer no scriptural support, others will attempt to find scripture support; they may even quote certain verses which seem at a quick glance to justify their position. The verses which are commonly used need to be considered, it is proper and just that we do this.

Firstly in 2 Samuel 7: 18 after Nathan had spoken to David we read,

“Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?”

in 1Chronicles 17: 16 we have similar words

“And David the king came and sat before the LORD, and said, Who am I, O LORD God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me hitherto?”

The word in the Hebrew, which is translated here as sat, has the meaning of; to sit down at its root, but it has the implication of, to remain, abide, to dwell in. In light of this, we see the truth that David was there, but we cannot go further than this and say that he was sitting when He was actually praying.

Continued at Standing for Prayer (Part 2).

Edit: A revised and updated version of this post has now been published in booklet form.