Surprisingly, less than ten individuals are on record in Scripture as kneeling to pray, most of them on only one occasion! To kneel can be a physical way to manifest humility before God when interceding, although that could be faked.
- Jesus in Gethsemane (Luke 22:41-43, New Living Translation, unless otherwise indicated)
Having led his disciples from their meal table in ‘the upstairs room’, Jesus urged them to pray so that they would ‘not give in to temptation’ (verses 39-40, as he had told Peter that he would that very night, 31-34). Then ‘he walked away about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed‘ that he himself could be spared the suffering ahead; and an angel strengthened him, before he resumed fervent, agonising, sweat-inducing prayer (41-44). Meanwhile, his exhausted followers succumbed to sleep (45-46)!
Surely this, the only recorded instance of the Master’s kneeling to pray, is a benchmark by which to assess those rare occasions when others prayed while on their knees. Hebrews 5:7 (The Passion Translation) adds the insight about this occasion: ‘During Christ’s days on earth he pleaded with God, praying with passion and with tearful agony that God would spare him from death. And because of his perfect devotion his prayer was answered and he was delivered.’ A footnote in TPT specifies that his deliverance was ‘from a premature death in Gethsemane’; as was ‘the cup’. This was ‘so that he could [survive to] be our sacrifice for sin on Calvary.’
- Stephen at his martyrdom (Acts 7:59-60)
‘As they stoned him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” He fell to his knees [TPT ‘crumpled’], shouting, “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” And with that he died.’ The following chapter tells of the ‘great wave of persecution’ that ‘began that day’ (8:1) and ‘scattered’ the church out of its comfort zone, initiating a period of its expansion both numerically and geographically.
Although Stephen crumpled in weakness, his shout of intercession was vigorous and effective.
- Peter’s heart cry for forgiveness (Luke 5:8)
‘When he had finished speaking, [Jesus] said to Simon, “Now go out where it is deeper, and let down your nets to catch some fish,” “Master,” Simon replied, “we worked hard all last night and didn’t catch a thing. But if you say so, I’ll let the nets down again.” And this time the nets were so full of fish they began to tear! A shout for help brought their partners in the other boat, and soon both boats were filled with fish and on the verge of sinking. When Simon Peter realised what had happened, he fell to his kneed before Jesus and said, “Oh, Lord, please leave me – I’m too much of a sinner to be around you.” For he was awestruck by the number of fish they had caught, as were . . . his partners, James and John.’
If Peter dreaded that he was now disqualified from ministry, Jesus’ reply reassured him. ‘Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!’ No surprise then that on reaching shore ‘they left everything and followed Jesus’ (4-11).
- Peter when praying for dead Dorcas’s restoration (Acts 9:40)
Peter, of course, was in further need of forgiveness, after he had protested with a solemn oath that he had no connection whatsoever with Jesus – during his master’s mockery of a trial. Convicted by the gaze of his Lord as he was led away to his death, and later granted total absolution by the risen Jesus, he became, from Pentecost onwards, a very effective servant of Christ.
On one occasion his itinerary brought him to ‘the town of Lydda’ where the inhabitants ‘turned to the Lord’ as a result of Peter’s healing of ‘Aeneas, who had been paralyzed and bedridden for eight years’ (9:32-35).
About this time in the nearby town of Joppa, a believer called Dorcas, a charismatic garment maker, ‘became ill and died’. The local Christians sent a couple of their men to bring Peter to the scene. He emptied the room, and ‘then he knelt and prayed.’ Dorcas awoke and Peter presented her alive and well to the grateful community.
- Solomon when dedicating the newly-completed temple (1 Kings 8:54)
‘When Solomon finished making these prayers and petitions to the Lord, he stood up in front of the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands raised toward heaven.’ That had been a public prayer of inauguration of a new era in Israel’s national worship.
- Paul knelt in a public prayer of farewell (Acts 20:17-38)
He did so in two places. ‘At Miletus’ he addressed ‘the elders of the church at Ephesus’ (20:17). And ‘when he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them. They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship’ (36-38). When the ship ‘landed at the harbour of Tyre’ (21:3), Luke recalled, ‘we went ashore, found the local believers and stayed with them a week’ (21:3-4). Then, ‘when we returned to the ship at the end of the week, the entire congregation . . . came down to the shore with us. There we knelt, prayed, and said our farewells’ (21:4-6).
From these references we could conclude that the inauguration of a ministry team’s venture, and when a ministry team has to move on, can be appropriate occasions to bow our knees in prayers of blessing for the new situations that will develop thereafter.
- A leper pleaded on his knees for healing (Mark 1:40)
‘A man with leprosy came and knelt in front of Jesus, begging to be healed. “If you are willing, you can heal me and make me clean,” he said. Moved with compassion, Jesus . . . said, “Be healed!” Instantly the leprosy disappeared, and the man was healed. Then Jesus sent him on his way with a stern warning: “Don’t tell anyone about this. Instead, go to the priest and let him examine you. Take along the offering required in the Law of Moses for those who have been healed of leprosy [Leviticus 14:2-32]. This will be a public testimony that you have been cleansed.” But the man went and spread the word, proclaiming to everyone what had happened. As a result, large crowds soon surrounded Jesus, and he couldn’t publicly enter a town [as he had been doing intentionally, see 1:38-39] anywhere. He had to stay out in the secluded places, but people from everywhere kept coming to him’ (1:38-46).
- The father of a severely demonised boy knelt to pray for his son’s deliverance (Matthew 17:14)
After Peter, James and John had witnessed Jesus’ dazzling transfiguration on a mountain summit, ‘At the foot of the mountain a large crowd was waiting for them. A man came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. So I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn’t heal him.” After reprimanding his followers for their lack of faith, ‘Jesus rebuked the demon in the boy, and it left him. From that moment the boy was well’ (Matthew 17:14-18).
- How Ezra led the restored community to reform their disobedient practices (Ezra 9:5-6)
Ezra 7:1 – 10:44 relates in detail the story of Ezra, a priest of the lineage ‘of Aaron the high priest’ no less (7:1-5), ‘who was well versed in the Law of Moses’ (7:6), and ‘had determined to study and obey the Law . . . and to teach [it] . . . to . . . Israel’ (7:10). He recruited ‘leaders’, also ‘men of discernment’, and ‘ministers of the Temple,’ (8:15-17) to accompany him on his four month trek from Babylon to Jerusalem (7:8-9). They were visiting to assess the state of those who had already returned from exile to live in the land of their forefathers. However, he soon ‘sat down utterly shocked’ in torn mourning attire throughout the day, ‘utterly appalled’ at the way the restored Jewish community had intermarried with idolaters from neighbouring pagan nations (9:3-4). Then, at ‘the time of the evening sacrifice. . . I stood up’ and immediately ‘I fell to my knees and lifted up my hands to the Lord my God. I prayed’ (9:4-6). He confessed, ‘I am utterly ashamed’ because ‘from the days of our ancestors until now, we have been steeped in sin’ (9:6-7). After detailing their gross disobedience, he ended his prayer: ‘We come before you in our guilt as nothing but an escaped remnant, though in such a condition none of us can stand in your presence’ (9:15). Then, and only then, did he take the practical steps needed to undo their rebellious situation over the next three months (10:17), including ‘the rainy season’ (10:13).
- Daniel’s daily practice (Daniel 6:10-11)
In all of these nine instances, believers knelt in prayer at some solemn point of crisis. Daniel, by contrast, prayed at three specific times of the day as a regular practice. Darius, the emperor of the new Persian world empire, promoted Daniel, the Jewish exile, to the highest political office in his kingdom. His fellow civil servants, in a jealous frenzy, decided behind Daniel’s back to flatter the world dictator into signing as law a 30-day ban on anyone from praying to any deity other than Darius. Any offender ‘will be thrown into the den of lions. But when Daniel learned that the law had been signed, he went home and knelt down as usual in his upstairs room, with its windows open towards Jerusalem. He prayed three times a day just as he had always done, giving thanks to his God’ (6:6-11). The rest is sacred history. His night with the starved lions was also shared with an unseen angel who soothed those big wild cats, until they were fed guards for breakfast when Daniel was released!
P.S. One day ‘every knee [will] bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father’ (Philippians 2:10-11). In the meantime, I sense that the Lord would wish some of us to put a brief session of kneeling in prayer thrice a day into our lifestyle. Psalm 95 offers us a picture of why, how and to whom we should regularly bow the knee:
 ‘kneel’ [in awe] ‘before the Lord’ (95:6); ‘sing to the Lord’, ‘shout joyfully’ (95:1).
 ‘with thanksgiving’ – for what he has done for us (e.g. ‘our salvation’, 95:1), and ‘psalms of praise’, 95:2) – for who he is (e.g. ‘a great God’, ‘King above all gods’, 95:3).
‘Let us kneel before YHWH our maker’ – Creator (95:4-6), Carer (95:7a –c), and Communicator (95:7d-11 – ‘listen to his voice . . . Don’t harden your hearts’).