Lifting Holy Hands, Part Three, by Pastor Josh Larsen

holyhands3.gifThe Purposes Of Lifting Hands In Worship

          If worship is truly our response to the truth of God (and I am referring specifically to praying and singing, although I realize that worship involves much more), I would see lifted hands as symbolic of three God-ward responses. The first response would be our blessing the name of our God. If the act of blessing someone was so closely associated with the hands in both the Old and New Testaments, we should follow the Psalmist’s example when he says, “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4). Whether we are in the midst of suffering granted by God, or we are enjoying the pleasures of God, we should be able to lift our voice with Job and stretch our hands heavenward crying out, “Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21)!

          Secondly, the act of raising our hands should symbolize a receiving from God. How many of our people thirst for God so much that it literally feels like they are thirsting to death (Ps. 143:6)? I believe that if we taught them to adopt a posture before God of being ready to receive life-sustaining nourishment from the Fountain of Living Water (Jer. 2:13), worship might take on a new meaning for them. If they engage themselves physically in the act of worship, and not just intellectually, worship might be more fulfilling and an expectant meeting with God.

          A third God-ward response that outstretched arms and uplifted hands in worship should signify is surrender. “Lord, I hold nothing back. Everything I am and have is yours to control. You are worthy of more than I could ever give, so I give you all I possibly can. Take all of me.” We all grew up singing the song “All To Jesus I Surrender”, and most of our church members could sing it in their sleep. What a meaningful way to demonstrate that the song is not just coming from their minds, but from the very center of their hearts!

The Profit In Lifting Hands In Worship

          So why bother? So what if the early church lifted their hands in worship? So what if the Jews in the Old Testament magnified God with outstretched arms? So what if it symbolizes some appropriate responses to God’s revealed truth? Why should we encourage people to do this? In conclusion, I have what I believe to be two strong cases for the profitability of encouraging Christians to lift their hands in worship.

          The first reason actually just turns one of the arguments against the lifting of hands on its head. We should encourage the lifting of hands because it engages the affections of the worshiper. It seems to me that many fundamentalists (myself included) have become people who honor God with their lips, but whose hearts are distant. We have reacted so strongly against the excesses of the Charismatic movement that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater. In an effort to guard against emotionalism, we have stripped our worship of emotion. E. M. Bounds quoted Alexander Knox as saying: “ ‘There is, I conceive, in the great laws of the moral world, a kind of secret understanding like the affinities in chemistry, between rightly promulgated religious truth and the deepest feelings of the human mind. Where the one is duly exhibited, the other will respond. “Did not our hearts burn within us?”’”[1] You cannot have a response to truth that is void of emotion. John Piper writes:

The fuel of worship is a true vision of the greatness of God; the fire that makes the fuel burn white hot is the quickening of the Holy Spirit; the furnace made alive and warm by the flame of truth is our renewed spirit; and the resulting heat of our affections is powerful worship, pushing its way out in confessions, longings, acclamations, tears, songs, shouts, bowed heads, lifted hands and obedient lives.[2]

          My final argument for the profitability of encouraging the lifting of hands in worship is that it acts as a reminder of the necessity of the worshiper’s purity before God. Going back to 1 Timothy 2:8, I am left wondering why the verse must be interpreted either literally or figuratively. Is it not both literal and figurative? In light of the prevalence of the lifting of hands in the early church, could not Paul have been saying, “Make sure the hands you raise when you pray are representing holy living.” It is not a command to pray with hands lifted, it is an assumption that people already are. Even John MacArthur, who advocates the position that the lifting of hands is figurative, not imperative, says in his commentary on the passage, “The Old Testament saints frequently prayed lifting up their hands.”[3] In other words, Paul’s readers were familiar with the illustration because it was a regular practice that dated back to their ancestors. The command is to take note of the heart behind the worship so as to avoid Jesus’ rebuke, “…their heart is far from me.” We encourage partakers of communion to search their hearts to make sure they do not receive the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. Why not introduce a gesture that calls attention to the necessity of that very circumspection in all of worship? By raising one’s hands in worship, a person should be signifying that he has searched his heart before God and is lifting holy hands with a conscience void of offense.

           At the culmination of my study, I have arrived at the conclusion that not only are the arguments against the lifting of hands in worship feeble, the arguments for the gesture are substantial. This is not to say that every Christian must lift their hands when they pray or sing. A couple of cautionary statements need to be made at this point. First, people should be warned not to raise their hands just because people around them are. “Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.”[4] Secondly, I do not intend to belittle those who choose not to lift their hands in worship. Those who choose to raise their hands should not presume that they are gaining more favor from God because of their gesture, and neither should they disdain those who choose not to raise their hands. Those two warnings aside, while it is not clearly mandated in Scripture, there is sufficient precedent in both the Bible and the early church as well as ample spiritual benefit to warrant the encouraging of worshipers to lift their hands while praying or singing.

End of series.

[1] E. M. Bounds, Power Through Prayer (Springdale: Whitaker House, 1982), 74.

[2] John Piper, Desiring God (Sisters: Multnomah Books, 1996), 77.

[3] John MacArthur, Jr., The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Timothy, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 75.

[4] Romans 14:5


11 responses to this post.

  1. Great facts from Scripture. No born again believer should be against the lifting up of hands in worship. It is biblical and probably should be done more in our fundamental churches. We have allowed the fear of being called charismatics to keep us from worshippinng God freely in this way. It is as though we are worshipping God with our hands tied behind our backs, literally.


  2. Posted by Josh Larsen on June 15, 2006 at 10:57 am

    I now have a funny picture in my mind of a Baptist church with all its members singing with their hands tied behind their backs. Thanks for your comment. 🙂


  3. Posted by Akil on January 27, 2007 at 8:13 pm

    I am a born-again believer myself. I have attended churches in which its members worship lifting holy hands. I do not raise my hands in worship (not all the time) and it is not because I am embarassed. Each time I lift my hands I get this feeling in my spirit , that this it is just not for me. I can’t focus. I am to still pray about this. I do know that the Bible says that let the true worshippers come before God worshipping him in Spirit and in truth. (no falseness, no hypocracy.) God does understand this and I believe that all worship expressions whether it be lifting of hands, falling on your knees, speaking in tongues, singing, dancing, jumping, yelling, closing your eyes etc. is powerful and well and good but while doing this If you dont feel anything in your spirit, if you dont worship from your mind and heart, or you are not truly moved from the inside of you to perform these outward worship expressions, as the Bible says,if it is not worship in spirit and in truth then he will not accept it. (I very much believe so.)

    Christians should never critise, judge or condone another christian if they do not raise thier hands or any other outward worship expression. We sometimes assume that they are embarassed but not always is that correct. Someone who shows little or no outward expression in worship does not necessarily mean that thier worship is meaningless or not as effective or that God does not hear it. The Bible says man can only see what is on the surface but God sees what it is in our hearts.

    In general, with regards to worship God is the only one who can truly tell those who come before falsely to those who worship him in spirit and in truth.


    Born-again Believer Akil Looby


    • Posted by Robin on November 19, 2009 at 7:26 am

      Just remember that your praise will be met by strife from the enemy…the enemy does NOT want us worshipping God…And not only that our FLESH will also fight us on the matter as well…we need to surrender to God in true worship….if something is not right in your life…you may not be able to worship and it may feel wrong to you.
      Think about unconfessed sins ect…and think about surrendering to God. I used to feel the same way about not wanting to lift hands…but i knew it was my flesh and NOT my spirit. After I totally surrendered to God and was obediant, I was able to lift hands,(YEARS LATER) sing and worship God the way I knew was pleasing to Him. I got so much out of it tooo. It was like drinking from the fountain of life!!!!


  4. Posted by Elizabeth on February 18, 2007 at 3:47 pm

    Wonderful article. I could not agree more with Derek that no born again believer would be against lifting our hands in worship. After all doesn’t the Bible state in Psalm 134:2 “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord”? I would take this as surefire evidence that if you choose to lift your hands in worship, that its a gesture towards God. Thank you for such well thought series of articles!


  5. Posted by Armand Niemand on February 10, 2009 at 7:36 am

    To Akil: Hi I am a worship leader (7 years) in a congregation in Vereeniging South Africa. I appreciate your article and it is in fact true that worship should be in spirit and in truth. However as warm believers we also have the responsiblity to challenge fellow believers in their spiritual growth and worship. You dont need to lift your hands while in church, lift it there in your room where it is only you and God. This is my challenge to you as a fellow believer, becasue i would like for you to share in a new dimension of His presence, blessings, Armand


    • Posted by Dorothy L. on January 1, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      I have been studying this today. I find scripture that seems to be saying very CLEARLY, that MEN, (not women), are to raise Holy hands unto the Lord. It is most often during prayer. I have attended the Pentecostal church for years, but have recently gone back to the Baptist Church, because of what I feel are false teachings. I just want to do what GOD says to do….”What sayest ye the scriptures”, and not rely on what WE as individuals think is right or wrong. God should have the final say. Still studying on this, but Akil, your comment is right on. I have seen enough “THEATRICS” in church to last me a life-time. I want what is GENUINE, and FROM GOD. Nothing more…nothing less. GENUINE WORSHIP is doing it GOD’S WAY!!!


  6. Posted by Marshall Hamilton on December 24, 2009 at 12:27 pm

    What your are saying is that a Baptist cannot properly worship God if he is not raising his hands. How many other examples in Scripture are there of people who worshiped God without raising their hands? I see more in Scripture the attitude of worship in people falling on their face before God and not able to stand in His presence because of His holiness. I see them bowing at His feet. When are you going to acknowledge Him in this way????


  7. Posted by Nathan Davis on January 19, 2010 at 8:08 pm

    There is no single method that God requires we must follow every time!
    Is there anything intrinsically wrong with holding up one’s hands when in prayer? No, there is not. The lifting of the hands is neither demanded, nor forbidden. There is no sin in falling upon the ground in prayer (Mk. 14:35), but would such be wise in a church setting? One must remember that perception on the part of others, and the exercise of good judgment, is an important element in Christian conduct.


  8. Posted by kathy michaels on February 3, 2011 at 9:46 am

    Very well done! Excellent points, Joshua! As your aunt, I am proud of you! (Little bit of bragging there). I have to say, you gave me a lot to chew on! Bob & I both appreciated it and have to say we’ve never
    heard a discussion on it ~ we had our own ideas, but you dug it all out of the Scripture for us. I confess that I’ve held my hands down at times b/c ‘we don’t do that!’ and now I do question why.


  9. Posted by Fred on May 31, 2011 at 3:50 am

    There is no example in the New Testament scriptures(remember that is the law we now live under) where worshipers in the assembly raise their hands especially not women! This scripture is addressed to men and the primary focus is that men should be pure of guilt(holy) before praying. Prayer is the only time of enjoining this. To center worship on the lifting of hands for all is to go beyond the instuctions of God! When one sits before God in judgment where in the New Testement will one find authority to do this throughout an assembly?


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