Lift Up Holy Hands and Praise the Lord
Lift up holy hands in prayer,
and praise the LORD.
When I was a boy, verses like Psalm 134 worried me. Scripture seemed to be clearly calling me and my fellow believers to lift our hands in prayer, but we Presbyterians didn’t do it. That was for “other people,” especially those of the Pentecostal variety who made us Presbyterians very nervous. We tended to view raising your hands in worship as an inappropriate display of emotion. Never mind the fact that Scripture, in both Old and New Testaments, calls us to lift our hands in prayer (see 1 Tim. 2:8, for example). For some reason I couldn’t understand, those passages didn’t apply to us. But, as an introverted and nondemonstrative sort of person, I was glad I didn’t have to raise my hands in church. I may have worried about it, but I certainly didn’t want to do it.
Fast-forward 40 years. Today, it’s not uncommon for worshipers in all sorts of churches to lift their hands in worship. This gesture is not just for the Pentecostals and Charismatics anymore. It has become increasingly common among Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Independents, Catholics, and, well, you name it. This is especially true for folks under 30, for whom raising hands in worship seems to be almost commonplace. Although I still lean in the direction of nondemonstrative worship, I’m glad God’s people have discovered greater freedom to worship with all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength. I’m even more pleased that we feel the freedom to do that which Scripture commends in our prayer and worship.
But I’m also happy that some of the “super-spiritual” pressure associated with things like raising hands in worship seems to have dissipated. For a while, as Christians in my tradition were resisting hand raising, others were insisting that such actions were necessary expressions of deep spirituality. Thus, the traditionalists were judging the hand-raisers and vice versa. Such disputes did not deepen the worship of God’s people. Rather, arguments about things like hand raising tended to create resentment and division. More worrisome, they took our focus off the Lord and put it on ourselves. Nothing gets in the way of genuine worship more than undue self-absorption.
In my job with Foundations for Laity Renewal, I worship in a variety of churches and other contexts. It appears that, for the most part, Christians today feel freedom to lift their hands or not. This, it seems to me, is mostly indicative of health in the body of Christ. But it does leave unanswered the questions I asked as a boy: If the Bible tells us to lift our hands in prayer, shouldn’t we do it today? Is it really okay for us not to do what the Bible teaches?
I’ll address this question briefly in tomorrow’s reflection. For now, however, I want to end by focusing on the main point of Psalm 134:2. The lifting hands part wouldn’t have received much attention when it was written since this was a common gesture for prayer, much as some of us learned to pray by folding our hands. The purpose of Psalm 134:2 isn’t to commend a certain gesture, but rather to call God’s people to praise the Lord. No matter whether we do this with hands raised or standing or on our knees or lying on our faces, it’s always right to praise the Lord, to focus our attention upon God and celebrate his greatness. So, do with your hands whatever seems appropriate, but by all means praise the Lord!
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: What have been your experiences and impressions of hand raising in worship? Is this something you feel comfortable doing? Why or why not?
PRAYER: Gracious God, it’s amazing and distressing to think of how easily we can lose touch of what really matters. When it comes to worship, what really matters is you, your glory, your praise, your holiness, your love. We are called to worship you with all that we are, to love you with heart, soul, mind, and strength. But when we get wrapped up in ourselves and our actions, we can become distracted from you and the worship you deserve. Forgive us, Lord.
Help me, O God, to praise you with my lips, with my body, with all that I am and all that I do. May I offer my whole self to you as a living sacrifice.
All praise be to you, glorious and gracious God! Amen.
Here’s how . . . .
This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God (www.thehighcalling.org). You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.