When It’s Wrong To Raise Your Hands In Worship
Why do people raise their hands when they worship? I don’t know. I suppose you would have to ask each individual what motivates them. And therein lies the most important issue: Why? Why do people raise their hands when they sing? The “Why” most certainly has a lot of bearing on whether an action is right or wrong; whether it is an act of true worship or a vain expression that may look like worship.
In the last two weeks I have been to two gatherings in which all of us were instructed to raise our hands. I did both times. The first time I did so because I wanted my son to see that I could be instructed by someone who was leading me to respond to God through Jesus with songs as a medium for honoring God. Still I wondered, “Why? Why should I raise my hands? And if it is a good thing, why don’t I do it all the time?”
The second time I did it because the guy who was leading us to worship through song actually told us what it might mean to do so. He suggested that raising our hands as we sang was a way to visibly express our need of God – our reaching out to Him for help. “Okay!” I thought. “I can go with that.” And so I raised a hand to express dependence.
Then today in my daily Bible reading I read Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.”
Now I have read the Psalms (a hymn book of prayers) many times over, but this was the first time this verse stuck out to me. Here I now had a biblical text expressing a Spirit-inspired description (2 Tim. 3:16) of someone raising their hands in a song.
But what is the Psalmist doing when he raises his hands? Just a quick glance at the context reveals that the person writing (likely David) is in a desperate situation. In verse one he is concerned that unless God helps him, he will be like everyone else who goes down to the pit (dies). So he cries out and asks God to hear his prayer for help. He is desperate. He is needy. He needs God in a bad way. And the physical expression of that very pressing reality is the lifting of us hands toward God’s holy sanctuary, which represents the presence of God.
Perhaps a picture will further illuminate what it might mean to lift our hands when we sing to worship. Imagine a child has fallen off their bike. They have crashed and it hurt and they are desperate, and maybe they are embarrassed too. So they see mom or dad in the distance and they cry out and hold their arms up in a way that basically says, “Come help me. Come comfort me. Come rescue me. I have fallen and I need help getting up. I need you.” When we raise our hands in melodious prayer, we should be expressing our need of God who is our Father, and we are desperate for Him to rescue and comfort
Do you know what it means to do something in vain? It means to do it without giving thought to why you are doing it. I suspect many of us do all sorts of things in vain and meaningless ways. If we don’t know why we are raising our hands when we sing, then we are doing it in vain and it can’t be worship because “those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24)
There may be other biblical texts in the Bible that would help us know why we should and can raise our hands when we sing to worship, but now we can worship according to the truth.