I was on my face. Literally. Praying face down. In my bedroom. The carpet smelled musty, and it scratched my nose. But I didn't care. My pleas were more important than my physical comfort. I was praying prostrate, a position which, years ago, I had adopted to deepen my communion with God.
My every-day prayer posture is in the sitting position: on the couch with my legs extended out, resting on the ottoman, Bible on my lap, head bowed, hands folded. Other than kneeling in church as I'd done as a child, sitting was the only position in which I knew how to pray — until I read (actually re-read) the all-too familiar story of the golden calf in Deuteronomy 9.
I've read this story many, many times before, but it was verse 25 that gave me pause and leapt off the page this particular time, as if I'd never read it before. Love when that happens! "I lay prostrate before the LORD those forty days and forty nights," it says.
The visual of Moses lying prone on the rocky surface of Mount Sinai was a powerful picture. Here was a grown man (in his 80s, no less) who desired to please God as His chosen — albeit, reluctant — leader, and who so desperately now needed His help. His prayer position was one of utter vulnerability and humility, not only physically but spiritually.
But what had brought Moses to the point of praying prostrate? What was it that had caused him to fall on his face before God, and stay that way for 40 days and nights?
Answer: intercessory prayer on behalf of the stubborn, stiff-necked people he had been called to shepherd!
The Lord had wanted to annihilate Israel. "'Let Me alone, that I may destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven. And I will make of you a nation mightier and greater than they" (Deuteronomy 9:14).
Yes, harsh word to hear coming from God, but that was His attitude at the time of this passage. The people had tested Him, provoked Him to anger, been ungrateful and whining all the way throughout their desert wanderings. Then the Israelites did the unspeakable thing that pushed God beyond His limits of mercy and grace: they created another god to worship in the form of an Egyptian calf. They provoked God to jealousy (a huge
no-no, Exodus 34:14), and His anger burned white-hot against them — and against Aaron too, His newly-appointed high priest, for allowing it to happen rather than taking the situation in hand and turning the people back to God. For this reason, God wanted to wipe them out altogether and start over again with His faithful servant Moses.
But Moses pleaded with God. And this is when he lay prostrate. On the rocky ground. For 40 days and nights. Neither eating nor drinking. Literally begging for lives of the people about to be consumed by God's righteous wrath. "For I was afraid of the anger and hot displeasure that the Lord bore against you," Moses later told the Israelites. And while he didn't know these verses (since they hadn't been penned yet), Moses knew that it would be a "dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living [and angry] God" (Hebrews 10:31) because "God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29).
With this in mind, it's no wonder he fell prone. The situation warranted it. Moses wasn't ashamed to get down and dirty (literally) in a posture of utter humility and desperation for the peril of his people. And it worked. Moses' prostrate pleas were able to stay God's holy hand; and the people were spared.
There are times when praying prostrate is necessary, although it is not Scripturally prescriptive. From Moses' example, however, it seems to be a befitting position for times of intense need and intercession, either for ourselves or for others.
And there are other instances in the Bible where it was practiced by others as well, by those who also found themselves in serious situations where they needed divine intervention by and intense intercession with their holy and heavenly Father.
— "When Abram was 99-years-old [again, notice his age], the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, 'I am God Almighty; walk before Me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.' Then Abram fell on his face" (Genesis 17:1-3).
— "And fire came out from before the Lord and consumed the burnt offering and the pieces of fat on the altar, and when all the people [of Israel] saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces" (Leviticus 9:24).
— "When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man was standing before him with his drawn sword in his hand. And Joshua went to him and said to him, 'Are you for us, or for our adversaries?' And he said, 'No; but I am the commander of the army of the Lord. Now I have come.' And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshipped and said to him, 'What does my lord say to his servant?'" (Joshua 5:13-14).
— "Like the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud on the day of rain, so was the appearance of the brightness all around. Such was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell on my face, and I heard the voice of one speaking" (Ezekiel 1:28).
Wise men (Magi)
— "And going into the house, they saw the Child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshipped Him" (Matthew 2:11).
— "And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God" (Revelations 7:11).
— "And going a little farther, He fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39).
From these examples, we see that praying prone certainly offers a beautiful and powerful option, especially for times of:
● Overwhelming awe and adoration of and for our Lord (like Ezekiel, the Magi, and the angels);
● Deep, heart-wrenching contrition and joy at being forgiven (like the Israelites);
● Intense intercession, either for others (like Moses) or for ourselves (like Jesus);
● Soul-searching and seeking to know and do God's will (like Joshua).
This is why, years ago, I had decided to adopt this prayer posture for myself, and I found myself prone on the floor on behalf of someone close to me who had made a terrible choice which resulted in some devastating, but not life-threatening consequences. Thankfully! I got on my face, pleading with God, to use the situation to reach deep into this person's heart, to refine them, to draw them more closely to Himself and conform their character to His. I felt that the situation was that serious to warrant a prone posture of prayer.
However, praying prone is purely optional. And preferential. There are other prayer postures we can certainly take: bowing, kneeling, standing, even raising our hands and arms. As Christian Blogger Tim Challies says in his article "The Posture of Prayer"
...God is far more concerned with the content of our prayers than the posture of our prayers. It is far more important to examine the heart than to examine the feet or the hands. At the same time, there is no doubt that our bodies can be an expression of our hearts...
Praying prone is simply a physical expression of a heart's inner vulnerability and humility. And that's why I decided to adopt it. Not every day. I still sit on the couch most days during my devotions. It's just when I have a more pressing need or a more urgent request, even a contrite confession that I adopt the prone position. It just seems a more fitting, given the gravity of such circumstances.
And it was strange at first, I have to admit. Awkward, really. At the back of my mind, I kept wondering, What if someone comes in and sees me like this? Would they think that something was wrong, like I had passed out, or even something worse?
But, honestly, it doesn't really matter. I'm with my LORD, in deep, deep communion with Him. That's really all that matters.
And I can't describe the feeling I have when I am praying prostrate. It's beyond explanation. Heavenly, other-worldly, in a sense. All I know is that it has taken my relationship with my Father, my Abba Daddy, to a different and deeper level. And it seems natural now.
I can't think of a better position to be in — prostrate before my God!