Pastor's Blog

If you’ve had any exposure to evangelicalism, you’ve probably seen people raising their hands or waving their hands in the air while they sing songs.  A few people at our church do that, but most do not.  So, what’s going on with that?

In the ancient Near East one could “lift one’s hand(s)” to swear an oath (Gen. 14.22; Deut. 32.40) or to take action either for or against someone (2 Sam. 20.21; 1 Kgs. 11.26;  Ps. 10.12).

Most commonly it was the stance for prayer (Ps. 28.2, 141.2 cf. 1 Tim. 2.8) or pronouncing blessing (Ps 63.4, 134.2 cf. Luke 24.50).  It was done while standing – looking to heaven, eyes open, arms spread wide and lifted above the head, palms open upward, signifying either the lifting up of one’s prayer to God in heaven or on some occasions depicting pleading, imploring, or begging (e.g. Lamentations 2.19, 3.41).

If you were raised in one of the “high church traditions” (e.g. Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglican/Episcopalian) you probably recall priests praying exactly this way.

My knowledge of history is hardly exhaustive (whose is?), but to my knowledge “lifting up the hands” was never connected with singing.  I think that’s a novelty of the late 20th century.

I guess you can do that to “offer your song to God”.  Or not.  Does it matter?

What has bothered me more than anything is that some people seem to measure spirituality or fervency for God or the presence of the Spirit of God by whether or not a person (or a church) by whether or not one “lifts up hands”.

I’ve referenced above almost every occurrence of the phrase “lift up the hands”.  It is hardly a central issue in the Bible.  If we are going to speak of the biblically prescribed posture of worship, it would seem to be bowing down, face to the ground (e.g. Neh. 8.6 – which also mentions lifting of hands in blessing to God).

On a lighter note, if you want a humorous take on this matter, check out Christian comedian Tim Hawkins’ two and a half minute YouTube video entitled “Tim Hawkins on Hand Raising”.  Sometimes laughter is good medicine.

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