“Let us lift up our hearts and hands to God in heaven” (Lamentations 3:41)
Bodily expressions of worship matter for the way we worship God together. We recognize important expressions such as singing, clapping and kneeling in prayer.
However, I’ve noticed that there is one mode of expression that people can be particularly uncomfortable with.
I’m talking about the raising of hands.
While I don’t think hand-raising is absolutely necessary for faithful Christian worship, I do believe the practice itself has profound biblical significance, and can powerfully impact the way we worship God together on the Lord’s Day.
So let’s think through this together. Here are five biblical reasons why we raise our hands in worship.
(1) It blesses God.
The Bible often associates the lifting of hands with the pronunciation of a blessing. For instance, in Luke 24:50, Jesus lifts His hands to bless His disciples. Both in the ancient world and today, it’s customary to lift ones hands when speaking a blessing over a person. It makes sense, then, that God would have us incorporate hand-raising into our blessing of His name. In Psalm 63:4, the psalmist says, “I will bless you as long as I live. In your name, I lift up my hands.” Additionally, Nehemiah 8:6 highlights this when it recounts how Ezra blessed God in the assembly of Israel and all the people lifted their hands and cried “Amen! Amen!”
(2) It builds up the church.
In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul encourages Timothy to see to it that hand-raising is practiced in the church, particularly among the men: “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands…” The context of these words is significant. Paul is talking about how the Gospel of Christ impacts the way a church conducts its life together. He understood that men leading out in the raising of hands was an important way the church can be built up toward godly living.
(3) It indicates our reverence for God’s commands.
As Christians, we must cultivate a deep reverence for God’s Word. The Bible reveals God—His will, His ways and His wisdom. Without Scripture, we cannot glorify Him in any meaningful way. His commandments must form how we live, think and worship (2 Tim. 3:16). Therefore, the psalmist says, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments which I love” (Ps. 119:48). Considering this, I’ve often wondered why we don’t lift our hands more often when the Word is being read aloud on Sundays. After all, God is present and He is speaking.
(4) It symbolizes that all victory belongs to the Lord.
In Exodus 17, Israel goes to war against the army of Amalek. Verse 11 says that whenever Moses raised his hand, Israel prevailed in battle. Conversely, whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek’s troops prevailed. This story reminds us that the victory belongs to God. The raising and lowering of Moses’s hands is used as a powerful symbol of that reality. And Micah 5:9 echoes this when it tells us that God’s “hand shall be lifted up over [His] adversaries.” So when we raise our hands in worship, we’re boasting in the triumph of King Jesus whose hand is stretched out mightily over His (and our) enemies—Satan, sin, death and hell.
(5) It demonstrates that our physical bodies are created (and will be re-created) for God’s glory.
God fashioned our bodies for His glory (1 Co. 6:20). So when our hands are raised in worship, we’re using an important aspect of our physicality to magnify the God who created us in His image. But not only that, hand-raising also helps us to long for the bright future God has promised—a time when we will glorify God in our bodies perfectly. In the age to come, the tragic effects of our sin will no longer frustrate our desire to bring honor to Jesus. Rather, we will have new, glorified bodies (1 Co. 15:44). That means we’ll have new hands, which we will raise at the throne of our risen and reigning King for all eternity.
I wonder what you think. Are you an avid hand-raiser? Have you found that lifting your hands is a powerful way to engage with God? Or perhaps you’ve remained reluctant about hand-raising. Does it feel awkward to you? Are you concerned with what others might think?
I don’t know how you’re going to answer those questions. But I do know this: God wants to fill our gatherings with a greater sense of His presence and power. And hand-raising, when practiced out of a faithful love for Jesus, is one way we can make our hearts more receptive and responsive to His grace among us.