How many times have you shaken someone's hand this morning? I seriously doubt many of us adults could count the number of times you without thought, habitually reached out, clasped someone's hand, and appropriately "shook their hand." I hope every adult in this room had several people shake your hand. If no one greeted you with a sincere handshake, I apologize.

The probability is high that most of us have shaken hands several times. The probability is high that you will shake hands many times this week. Hand shaking is a meaningful, appropriate gesture in Western cultures. Hand shaking is so accepted, such an appropriate act of greeting, that refusing to accept a handshake is an act of rudeness.

Why do we shake hands? Did someone in a European kingdom several hundred years ago decide that instituting handshakes as a greeting would be a good practice? Was there a conference in Europe several hundred years ago to determine the "correct way" to shake hands and "the true meaning of hand shakes"?

Not that I am aware of. Then how did handshaking become a universal form of appropriate greeting in Western cultures? Hundreds of years ago weapons were commonly carried and used. The handshake began as a practical act. When a person extended his empty hand to shake another person's empty hand, extending empty hands declared, "You have no reason to fear me. See, I have no weapon in my hand."

When you shook hands this morning, it was an act of greeting. It had nothing to do with weapons or with danger. It was merely a gesture of friendly greeting.

How do you decide if a handshake is merely a social obligation or a sincere expression of kindness? Look into the person's eyes as his or her face reflects the heart. A handshake can never say something a face and heart deny.

  1. How did prayer begin? And for what reason did it begin?
    1. If you regularly, deliberately pray as a conscious, chosen practice, prayer is likely the most ancient practice you choose to be a part of your life.
      1. From the earliest known ages, prayer has been an interaction between a person and his or her God (gods).
      2. Very early in human history, prayer was associated with offering animal sacrifices.
      3. Prayer is one of the earliest forms of worship.
      4. From its origin, the person who prayed had two basic objectives in this ancient act of worship.
        1. One objective was his or her deliberate attempt to honor God.
        2. The other objective was to voluntarily declare dependence on God. (That expression of dependence was expressed through humility and surrender.)
    2. In my awareness, this is extremely important: we must realize all teachings and examples of prayer in the Bible were given to people who lived in worlds ruled by kings or emperors.
      1. That is the historical context, the "actual life" context in the Bible regarding everything said or taught about prayer.
      2. When anyone who lived in any Bible period heard God's spokesman teach something about prayer, that person had the perspective of someone who lived in a society controlled by kings.
      3. Because these people lived in worlds ruled by kings, they heard and understood things you and I do not hear or understand.
        1. Showing respect to a king or his representative by humbling yourself was a common fact of life.
        2. They understood truths about respect, dependence, humility, and surrender that are foreign to us.
        3. The arrogance born from democracy's ideals too often blinds our hearts.
    3. In the Bible there is no emphasis on prayer posture.
      1. To assume from that fact that there is no relationship between physical posture and prayer may be an incorrect assumption.
        1. It may mean no more than the fact that everyone knew how properly to respect a king, and people did not need that instruction.
        2. They knew what was respectful and what was disrespectful before a king.
        3. Since God is the King of all kings, they understood respectful postures.
      2. The prayer postures mentioned in the Bible as people showed respect for the King of all kings included these:
        1. Sometimes prayer assumed a posture of lying face down on the ground.
        2. Sometimes prayer assumed a posture of kneeling.
          1. Many times the kneeling also included a bowing of the person's face toward the ground.
          2. But kneeling also included the face looking upward with the hands being extended toward heaven.
        3. Sometimes prayer assumed a posture of standing with uplifted hands and the face turned upward toward heaven.
    4. To assure you that this is not mere speculation by me, consider these statements from the Bible.
      1. In regard to the position of lying face down on the ground:
        1. When David's first child by Bathsheba was struggling between life and death, David lay before God as he pled for the child's life.
        2. 2 Samuel 12:16 David therefore inquired of God for the child; and David fasted and went and lay all night on the ground.
      2. In regard to kneeling, there are many references.
        1. Daniel knelt when he prayed daily three times.
          1. [Background of the incident.]
          2. Daniel 6:10 Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.
        2. In Jesus' Gethsamane prayers, he knelt.
          1. When Jesus prayed in Gethsamane, Luke 22:41 said he knelt down; Matthew 26:39 said he fell upon his face; and Mark 14:35 said he fell on the ground.
          2. From those three statements, I conclude that Jesus fell to the ground on his knees and, with his face toward the ground, lowered his head to the earth.
        3. On occasions Israel bowed before God with their faces to the ground.
          1. Nehemiah 8:6 Then Ezra blessed the Lord the great God. And all the people answered, "Amen, Amen!" while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground.
        4. But there were also times when the face was lifted to God.
          1. Ezra 9:5,6 But at the evening offering I arose from my humiliation, even with my garment and my robe torn, and I fell on my knees and stretched out my hands to the Lord my God; and I said, "O my God, I am ashamed and embarrassed to lift up my face to You, my God, for our iniquities have risen above our heads and our guilt has grown even to the heavens."
        5. And there were also times when people stood and raised their hands to God in prayer.
          1. That is what Solomon did when he dedicated the temple to God.
          2. 1 Kings 8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.
          3. That is also what Moses did in Exodus 9:33 when he ended the plague of hail on Egypt.
        6. It was a common expression of humble dependence to lift one's hands when the person prayed.
          1. Psalm 141:2 May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering.
          2. 1 Timothy 2:8 Therefore I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension.

  2. When Jesus, in his ministry, taught his disciples and people in Israel about prayer, he emphasized attitudes, not postures.
    1. The attitude of prayer and the posture of prayer must be consistent.
      1. If the posture says humility but the attitude says pride, the prayer fails to honor God.
      2. If the attitude says humility but the posture says pride, the prayer fails to honor God.
      3. If God is honored, what must the posture and the attitude declare?
        1. Both declare humble vulnerability before God.
        2. Both declare total dependence on God.
        3. Both reflect respect and honor.
    2. In my understanding of Jesus' teachings concerning prayer, I recommend you consider these basic concepts.
      1. First, the only reason that you and I can approach God in the complete confidence God both hears and understands us is the fact that Jesus is our intercessor and mediator.
        1. Just before Jesus died, he made this statement to his twelve disciples:
          John 14:13,14 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.
        2. In my understanding, that was a promise Jesus made to the apostles.
        3. Years later Paul wrote this to Timothy:
          1 Timothy 2:5,6 For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time.
      2. Second, our basic objective in prayer is the same basic objective Jesus had.
        1. That objective: harmony with God's will.
        2. Prayer is always the humble declaration, "God, I trust you. I trust the truth that You know what is in my eternal best interest."
        3. We tend to be consumed with the "right now" view of life; God is concerned about "the long view" of life.
      3. Third, because God know hearts, God knows when we are trying to manipulate Him and when we are humbly surrendering before Him.
      4. Fourth, if you are in Christ, whatever your posture, if your heart is humble before God, God hears and understands you.
        1. No matter what your posture, if your heart is not humble before God, He will not hear you.
        2. Every sincere prayer touches God.
        3. Sincere prayer always respects and honors God.

Six times the book of Revelation states that the twenty-four elders fell down before God or the Lamb (Revelation 4:10,11; 5:8; 5:14; 7:11; 11:16; 19:4). Twice it specifically states they fell on their faces.

Of Jesus, Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:
Philippians 2:9-11 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.

Of Christians, Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome:
Romans 14:10-12 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written,"As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God." So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.

We who are Christians need to be very careful about judging the hearts and motives of other Christians. We who are Christians need to give great attention to our own hearts and motives. We who are Christians must learn to humble ourselves before God now in the full understanding that whatever we do now, we will without exception bow before God and Christ in judgment. And as we are on our knees, we will personally give God an account of our hearts and our behavior.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 6 January 2002

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell