I Am Exploring Several Issues Related To Worship. What Are Your Views On The Biblical Understanding Of Kneeling To Pray? Why Is This Important?

This is a topic that will become more relevant as we approach the return of our Lord (Rev. 14:6, 7). The marketing of religion to increase church attendance, as well as the invasion of psychology and sociology into the realm of church services, is slowly displacing God from the center of worship, making it more human-centered. Emotionalism is taking over in an attempt to quiet dissatisfaction with the generally weak condition of our spiritual lives. Humans prefer listening to prophets of peace to listening to the Word of the Lord. But I digress.

Kneeling is a wonderful posture for believers.

One of the more common words in the Old Testament for kneeling down is karac, which means “to bend one’s knee, to bow down, to kneel down.” In nonreligious contexts, it is associated with the position of a woman during childbirth (1 Sam. 4:19) and with sexual activity (Job 31:10). Among the more specialized usages are the following:

1. An expression of honor and submission. Fearing for his life, one of the captains sent by King Ahaziah to arrest Elijah “went up and fell on his knees” before the prophet, saying, “Man of God . . . please have respect for my life and the life of these fifty men” (2 Kings 1:13).* He was showing respect and submission to the prophet. When Xerxes promoted Haman, the officers working under Haman were to show respect and submission by bowing/kneeling before him (Esther 3:2).

2. A symbol of defeat. When individuals were mortally wounded, they collapsed on bended knees, falling and dying (Judg. 5:27; 2 Kings 9:24). The psalmist praises the Lord because his adversaries “bow at my feet” (Ps. 18:39). The prayer of the righteous is that God may cause the adversary to bow/kneel down defeated, by the Lord (Ps. 17:13). The idea of defeat is clearly expressed in Psalm 20:7, 8: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.”

3. An expression of adoration: Prayer to God is most often made standing, but there are cases in which people knelt to pray and to worship the Lord (2 Chron. 7:3; 29:29; Ezra 9:5; Eph. 3:14). Kneeling before the Lord is a voluntary act of honor, submission, and adoration. The psalmist invites us to “bow down in worship,” to “kneel before the Lord our Maker” (Ps. 95:6). The reason for kneeling before Him is that He is the Creator. The Lord pointed to a glorious future when every knee will bow, recognizing that salvation comes only from Him (Is. 45:22, 23; cf. Phil. 2:10). However, the Lord will cause rebellious sinners to bow down to die (Is. 65:12).

In the context of worship, kneeling is the “ritual” expression of a deep personal conviction that controls the daily life of the worshiper. Those who fall on their knees are going down to the ground, to the dust (cf. Ps. 72:9). We were taken from the dust, and it is our fate to return to it (Gen. 3:19). Our return to the dust is not usually a voluntary act; it is, in fact, something human nature tends to resist.

But, in worship, something wonderful happens. By kneeling down, we are, in fact, voluntarily returning our lives to the Lord, acknowledging Him to be the very source and ground of our being, the Creator (cf. Acts 7:59, 60). This actedout ritual of self-surrendering is the outward manifestation of the inner commitment of yielding the totality of our lives to the Lord. We are saying, “You are my Creator and Redeemer; and in gratitude of love I am voluntarily handing my whole life to You. You do not have to wait until I die to receive it back. Today I am releasing it to You.” It is through self-renunciation that our life is preserved and enriched for service (cf. Luke 5:9-11).

Next time you kneel in worship, you are, in fact, making a nonverbal statement: “Lord, here is my life; it is Yours. Take it and use me as You please.”

Shall we kneel?

* Scripture quotations in this article are from the New International Version

Ángel Manuel Rodríguez is retired after a career of service as a pastor, professor, and theologian.