“What on earth are these people doing and is this a cult?”. This was a question I found myself asking during a time of musical worship when I first went to church in 2014. There were a couple of people raising their hands and belting out some song about Jesus.
“Don’t they know that lifting their hands doesn’t make them any more holy? We’re saved by grace, lifting hands does nothing”.
A question I found myself asking after attending church for a few months.
But I did wonder if there was something biblical behind it all. After doing some research and reflecting, I think the case for lifting our hands in worship can be boiled down to two verses, despite saying nothing about the topic at all.
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.” - Mark 12: 30-31.
Love the Lord your God
I was surprised by just how much scripture there is on lifting up our hands to the Lord, throughout testaments old and new. There wouldn’t be enough space to include them all here, but here are two of my favourites.
"I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes." - Psalm 119:48
"And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground." - Nehemiah 8:6
What God’s word is not telling us here is that the raising of hands is a requirement, otherwise that verse in Mark mentioned earlier would say “Love the Lord your God by raising your hands in worship every time”. There’s plenty of scripture where God is worshipped without hands being lifted. But what the Bible does tell us is that it is good. Lifting our hands is a way of loving God and his commands, of being united in worship and of reaching out to heaven.
Love your neighbour
When I was judging those Christians for lifting their hands in times of worship, I was not loving my neighbour. In fact, there are so many people at church who feel judged in how they use their body to worship. The Spirit may move them to lift hands or kneel down, as so many key players in the Bible do, but the enemy tempts them away from that through fear of judgement. Some may want to just sit in silence and reflect, but fear that they’re not looking “holy” enough. Some may want to get on their knees and cry out to God, but fear this will look very strange in a crowd full of standing people.
So, what if we showed our support by kneeling with them, sitting with them, dancing with them or lifting hands with them? We can show our church family, God and the enemy that we are united in worship and we love each other in whatever physical form that takes. Church is a place of unity and love. Let’s not forget that simple and freeing truth.
You may remember my opening question of “What on earth are these people doing and is this a cult?”. I felt really uncomfortable as a non-Christian seeing this weirdness. So, perhaps there’s an argument of turning non-Christian’s off church and Jesus because of this. Well, I’d start by saying that as weird as I found it, obviously it didn’t turn me away from Christ. God is bigger than that. I do think that it’s not always appropriate. For example, in an intimate setting with people exploring the faith. I can’t really provide a rule or checklist of when it’s appropriate, and the good news is I don’t need to. We have a very good friend to help us with that, and his name is the Holy Spirit.
Before coming to worship God, ask the Spirit to respond through you. You could pray “Spirit, use my body to sit, kneel, stand, lift hands to glorify God now. Help me to love the Lord my God and to love my neighbour as myself”. The Holy Spirit knows what’s best and you can give him all of your trust. Surrender to him. Be curious about what he’ll do through you.