In the writing of this material in 2014, I inserted this extra day in order to contemplate the question raised in our last Psalm. Here is the question – “Should we lift our hands in worship & prayer?” I am not talking about personal preferences or church styles, I want to discover the biblical response to that question. What does the Bible give as examples or commands? Is it simply something that certain individuals in the Bible chose to do or does Scripture actually command that we do it? Depending on your religious background, this may have been something very common or it may have been a rare occurrence. Let’s be honest, we often filter our practices through what we have practiced! But what does the Bible say about this?
(GotQuestions.org is a good site for getting some insight on a topic. It’s not exhaustive in its treatment of a topic, but you’ll get some good verses and ideas on the topic. I pulled the material below from that site and then added a summary of my own below).
Scripture commands that we worship God, that we exalt His name and offer Him our praise. There is biblical precedent for both the lifting of hands and the clapping of hands as an act of worship.Psalms 47:1says, “Clap your hands, all you nations; shout to God with cries of joy.” In this instance, both clapping and shouting out joyful worship to God are urged. In 1 Timothy 2:8, we read, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.” The emphasis of this verse is the attitude of the heart; however, we see that lifting hands is an appropriate posture for prayer and worship. Having these biblical precedents, we can safely conclude that both of those expressions can be an act of worship.
What we need to ascertain is if those expressions, or indeed if any specified expression, is an actual requirement for worship. In examining specific acts of worship in the Scriptures, we see there are a variety of expressions and postures. We’ve already seen the command to clap our hands and shout to the Lord. “The trumpeters and singers joined in unison, as with one voice, to give praise and thanks to the LORD. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals and other instruments, they raised their voices in praise to the LORD and sang: ‘He is good; his love endures forever.’ Then the temple of the LORD was filled with a cloud” (2 Chronicles 5:13). So we see that singing praises and playing instruments were also appropriate expressions of worship. Singing as worship is also found in Ephesians 5:19, “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord.”
The postures of worship include standing, kneeling, prostrating ourselves, eyes lifted up, eyes cast down, and hands raised. We do not see one specific posture universally required in worship, and neither do we see one specific “authorized” expression of worship. We can conclude, therefore, that the raising of hands and/or the clapping of hands during worship is an appropriate expression of worship, although neither is required for worship. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” Worship is a spiritual event, and true worship comes from the heart. If our worship is not heartfelt, it doesn’t matter what posture or expression of worship we use. If our worship is from the heart, God accepts our worship.
Summary of Article: I think this article does a good job of exposing the variety of expressions of worship that we find in the Bible. I love the inclusion of John 4:24, because that gets to the heart of it all. John 4 forces us to dig deeper down into the motivation for our worship. Is it truly the expression of our heart? That’s the real issue.
Now…back to the original question… “Should we lift our hands in worship & prayer?” My response – yes, and probably a lot more often than we observe in most churches. As one commentary stated on Psalm 28:2, “Lifting up hands was a common gesture for prayer, perhaps related to the image of showing that one’s hands were clean and therefore motives were pure before the Lord”. So it’s an outward symbol of an inward reality. That’s one great example and if we keep on looking for examples like that, we find lots of them (Ex. 9:29; 1 Kings 8:22; Psa. 28:2; 63:4; Is. 1:15; Luke 24:50). As I do a quick overview of those examples, it seems to me that there is a constant emphasis not on the hands lifted up but the heart that is being represented by those hands. If that’s true, we recognize that it’s totally possible for me to have my hands uplifted in worship and be totally focused on me and vice versa. The point is this – it’s all about the heart.
Lift your hands in worship to the Lord – it’s a biblical example. But don’t get caught up in the physical action. Instead, pursue the spiritual action of yielding your heart and life to the Lord in worship, and if raising your hands will lead you to that reality – follow the Lord’s leading and don’t worry about the perception of anyone around you!