When You Are Not Sure How To Pray

Harold Sala

When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven.
1 King 8:54

While the cross is unquestionably the universal symbol of redemption, Albrecht Dürer’s praying hands have become the symbol of prayer. The story, though, behind his creation of those praying hands, makes it even more poignant. Dürer was a German painter who had a friend who also was a painter, and though his friend worked hard, he never became famous. One day Dürer, looking at the hands of his obscure friend, saw in his folded hands the embodiment of what prayer is about. Common, ordinary, unfulfilled men and women who are needy and poor in spirit, fold their hands in reverence and surrender and lift their hearts to God.

“Put your hands together as you would in prayer,” Dürer asked his friend.

Yes, that was what he wanted. “I will draw them,” he said, “so that, as they have inspired me, they may also inspire others.”

Praying hands speak for themselves. Interestingly enough, over 700 times the Bible mentions hands, and several of those passages speak of hands which were raised in prayer. Isaiah recorded God’s words which apparently reflect the fact that it takes more to impress God than hands upraised or folded in prayer, for God said, “When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen” (Isaiah 1:15).

In the New Testament Paul said, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing” (1 Timothy 2:8), but–are you ready for this? There is not a single reference in Scripture to clasping the hands reverently, as Dürer so beautifully portrayed them.

In the home where I grew up was a picture of Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane – which Luke tells about in chapter twenty-two of his Gospel. Pictured in the little 5 x 7 print, surrounded by a narrow silver frame, Jesus is kneeling at a large rock, a beam of light coming from heaven, and His hands are folded, just as Dürer pictures them.

The legalist may be quick to point out that we can’t be sure Jesus’ prayer was accompanied by His folded hands, but I can tell you one thing for certain, only those who are yielded and submissive ever bother to fold their hands in prayer and say with Jesus, “Not my will but thine be done.” So, what’s the big deal?

Actually, the Bible tells us that different people prayed in different positions. Some prayed standing up with their hands raised towards heaven, probably the posture which Jesus most often used, which Jews still use today. At times people prayed prostrated, their faces to the ground. Others prayed sitting or kneeling.   The priest who recorded Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple he built put it like this: “When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven” (1 Kings 8:54).

I’m thinking of the tail gunner whose aircraft was badly hit by enemy fire, and when he reported the damage to headquarters, he was asked, “What’s your position (meaning where are you?)? But he immediately replied, “Kneeling.” So would I if I had become a target of enemy fire.

James 5:16 says simply, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.” Does God honor your prayers more when you fold your hands, kneel, prostrate yourself on your face, or do something else? No, not to your knowledge, but He does see your heart. I, for one, however, think we’ve lost something when we refuse to kneel before the Almighty or clasp our hands or raise them to the King of kings and the Lord of lords.