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We Stand Tallest On Our Knees

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler
2019 1 May

A man kneels on the beach, praying, with calm water behind him.

I’ve been praying for most of my life. Prayers for healing, rescue, relief, provision, salvation, wisdom, success, deliverance, mercy, forgiveness, patience, and peace. I’ve prayed for old people, infants, mothers, fathers, physicians, foreigners, poor people, smart people, disabled people, politicians, criminals, teenagers, neighbors, celebrities, pastors, policemen, soldiers, nurses, clerks, and folks who’ve knocked on the door asking for a handout. If you could string my prayers together, they might form a cord long enough to stretch from Earth to Neptune, the furthest planet in our solar system. Truly I have prayed a lot of prayers, and probably so have you.

But for prayers to be effective they have to reach a destination far further than the expanse of our solar system. Our prayers have to rise to the ear of the One whom Scripture describes as the “high and lofty one who lives in eternity.” The prophet Isaiah paints a picture of a God who is transcendent, who is enthroned above it all. But in the same breath he says something rather startling, that this majestic God is close to “those whose spirits are contrite and humble.”

I was struck by a photo I saw recently of a young Asian boy. He is sitting cross-legged on the ground, his back to the camera, whispering reverently into a giant ear belonging to a statue of a reclining Buddha. That photo made me think of the universal desire we humans have to pray, to ask for the help of someone bigger than ourselves.  Isaiah, of course, would have had no patience with Buddhas, reclining or otherwise. The prophet pictures instead a great and magnificent God who draws near to the lowly and contrite.

One of God’s titles in the Hebrew Scriptures is El Elyon, God Most High. He is the exalted one, highest in every realm of life. In the New Testament Jesus is called Son of the Most High while the Holy Spirit is described as the power of the Most High. Jesus himself tells us that in order to become “children of the Most High” we must act as though we are “most low,” lending without expecting something in return, doing good to others, being kind and merciful both to the ungrateful and the wicked. Why? Because that’s how the Most High God conducts his business.

The great paradox of prayer is that attitudes of lowliness have the power to put us in touch with the most exalted Being in the universe. As someone once said, “we stand tallest on our knees,” able to touch heaven through our prayers.