In this morning’s service, several of the worship songs shared the lyrical theme of raising our hands heavenward in praise. Pastor Aaron gently but firmly asked us to consider the Scriptures that speak of God’s people lifting up their hands, reminding us that many of us already do so in other contexts, as when we celebrate a victory for the home team. Without making that a mark or guarantee of superior spirituality, he encouraged us to ask ourselves whether God deserved the same devotion, and to respond accordingly.
I, for one, am glad he did so.
Not that I’m generally a hand-lifting kind of guy. By temperament, I’m the engineering type. You don’t usually worry about uncontrolled outbreaks of emotional enthusiasm in a roomful of engineers. Moreover, I have been raised in the Asian wisdom that “the nail that sticks up is the one that gets hammered down.” You stick out when you raise your hands (literally!), at least in a congregation like ours. Stand out, be conspicuous? Ewww.
But it’s often troubled me that we would sing lyrics like this with our hands firmly clamped to our sides–and that’s to say nothing of lyrics like, “We bow down and worship you Lord.” Why is it that for so many of us, worshiping in spirit so easily becomes something that doesn’t involve our bodies? I realize that we can use the language metaphorically, submitting our hearts in worship even if we don’t literally lift our hands or bend the knee. And that’s fine if it’s true that our hearts are in fact surrendered.
But speaking for myself, I know that one of the things I have to surrender is my own self-consciousness, the over-concern about what others might think (“Hey, I didn’t know it was that kind of church”). Is it enough that lifting our hands to God is a (not “the”) biblical thing to do?
As Pastor Aaron noted, some passages seem to suggest that we are commanded to do so, as an act of worship and praise:
Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord. (Ps 134:1-2, NIV)
But other passages suggest that lifting our hands is a natural sign of entreaty, of reaching out to God for his saving mercy:
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (Ps 28:2, NIV)
The lifting up of hands can itself be offered as a sacrifice by one who seeks God’s aid:
I call to you, Lord, come quickly to me; hear me when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice. (Ps 141:1-2, NIV)
And praise and petition can be joined:
You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you. (Ps 63:1-5, NIV)
As Psalm 63 suggests, raising our hands to God is not praise or petition, one or the other. It is both, two mirrored forms of surrender.
When my kids were toddlers, they would come to me, faces upturned, arms outstretched. “Up-up?” was the code for me to reach down and pick them up. Sometimes they wanted to be carried; sometimes they needed protection, affection, or both. They didn’t stretch their hands up to me because someone told them to, nor because they thought it would somehow make them better kids. They did it because it was a natural expression of what was in their hearts.
And sometimes, for us engineering types, reaching up to the Father is what it takes to discover what’s in our hearts.