Why do we lift our hands when we worship and praise the Lord? Both in the Old Testament, and among New Testament Christians, we see the lifting up of hands in prayer and praise. Let us look at what scripture says:
“I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting ” (1 Timothy 2:8). The lifting up of hands was considered holy, indicating a life surrendered to the Lord Jesus Christ. This instruction for “everyone everywhere” (CEV), is important, and includes us. Rather than being angry in our situations, we are to pray in faith, lifting our hands to the Lord, who is worthy and has all our answers.
I see the lifting of hands in prayer, especially in public, as a letting go of self, and what will people think, and following the Word of the Lord.
When I was first filled with the Spirit, at my very first prayer and praise meeting several days later, I heard a teaching on the subject. I felt awkward and didn’t want to raise my hands. But, I heard a still small voice in my heart say: “Are you more concerned with what other people think than blessing Me?“
Since that day over 40 years ago, I will raise my hands continually in prayer and praise and worship, only letting them down if they get too tired. I don’t do it legalistically; I do it out of love and deference to my Lord, and the witness in the spirit that it is right.
I see the lifting of hands as an important part of praise. Often, in the flesh, we don’t want to do it. That’s why it is called “the sacrifice of praise.” If we are down, praise can feel like a sacrifice, as does the lifting of our hands to the Lord. But, we chose to put Him first. We can overcome and do it through the Spirit within, “through Him,” as it says in Hebrews 13:15: “Through Him, then, let us continually offer to God the sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”
Note that it is verbal, “the fruit of our lips.” To be “continual,” that praise is to be in our hearts as well, always giving thanks. When we are alone with Him, let us practice lifting our hands to Him until it feels normal.
Often in corporate praise and worship, believers will get beyond their flesh a little and begrudgingly obey by lifting a hand occasionally (half mast, as they say), in token obedience to the Word. But, does the Word not say that “the Lord loves a cheerful giver“? And the lifting of hands is a form of giving to the Lord. It’s not about how we feel. The thankful heart will want to bless the Lord. So, let us worship freely and unencumbered by pride or fear of man.
I am not saying that the person who doesn’t lift their hands doesn’t have a thankful heart. I don’t know their heart.
It’s Not About You, It’s About God
Why then the reluctance? For new believers, it just may be that it is something they are not used to. But, they’ll get all excited at a concert or a ball game, won’t they? Is not our salvation and the Lord in our life that much more something about which to get excited? Or, one might say, it’s not my personality. But, it’s not about you, it is about God, who is worthy of our praise.
Some things come easier for some than for others, yet, if you are motivated, you will do what is right, and soon it will become easy. Practice in private will make it easier in public. Step out in faith, and the Spirit will move in to give you the joy in praise. Often reluctance comes from inadvertently listening to the lies of the enemy.
The enemy tries to play with our minds, to keep us from going out of our comfort zone to bless the Lord. He’ll plant seeds like, “What if people think I’m being super spiritual?” Or, “I don’t have to prove anything to anyone,” etc. But that misses the point. Let us not be focused on others and ourselves, but the Lord.
Pride would have us think people are looking at us. But, let’s think the best of them and trust they are focused on Jesus, where our focus needs to be. If anyone is looking at you, you are actually setting a good example for them.
The lifting of hands to the Lord is a New Testament carry over of an Old Testament practice, a timeless principle that pleases the Lord and benefits us. Here are just a few of the many scriptures from the Old Testament:
“Thus will I bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Psalm 63:4). “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the Lord” (Psalm 134:2). These tell us that it blesses the Lord, and is both for private life (“while I live“) and corporate worship (“in the sanctuary“).
“Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to You, when I lift up my hands toward Your most holy place” (Psalm 28:2). “Let my prayer be set forth before You as incense, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2). “At the evening sacrifice I rose up from my heaviness and, despite having my clothes and my robe torn, I knelt on my knees and stretched out my hands in prayer to the Lord my God” (Ezra 9:5).
We lift up our hands in prayer. It is as fragrant incense to to the Lord. Even as kneeling on our knees, we lift up our hands in prayer and praise, rising up from all the “heaviness” of the concerns of life and the world.
It is the Lord Himself within us who desires “to give to them [us] beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they [we] might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified” (Isa. 61:3). It is He that gives us “the garment of praise.” Let us put it on and see “heaviness” lift from our hearts as we realize who we are in Christ.
He calls us “trees of righteousness,” because He has given us His righteousness, in which we stand strong. We are His “planting,” planted and established, secure in Him. And, by that He is “glorified.”
What more could we ask for? We no longer sacrifice bulls and goats and lambs. Jesus was the sacrificial lamb, for us, shedding His blood to take away our sin and rising to give us new life in Him. We no longer have to try to perform to gain His favor. We already have His favor through His wonderful Grace. The sacrifice that remains is the lifting of hands in praise.
So, let us let go of prideful inhibitions, get beyond our flesh, and enthusiastically and with great joy, lift our hands to Him in praise and prayer and thanksgiving at every opportunity.