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Should Christians Lift Up Hands in Meetings?

Should Christians Lift Up Hands in Meetings?

Lifting up hands to the Lord seems to carry with it a sense of yearning, seeking God. It is a natural response of the heart that desires a closer relationship with God, like a child reaching up to his father, whether in need or simply to be held.

The commands to lift up hands are always accompanied by the command to pray or to praise. The emphasis is on the spiritual activity and purity of heart (which is required to approach our heavenly Father).

Is this for today?

The very fact that we ask this question is interesting. Obviously, this practice divides some Christians. Those who do are labeled “Pentecostal” or “charismatic”. Those who don’t are labeled as stifling the spirit and freedom of worship. Which is it?

I would suggest that the issue has received way too much emphasis on all sides. Lack of lifted hands is not necessarily a sign of spiritual staidness, and lifting of hands is not necessarily a sign of “emotionalism.” What is important is that those who do it, do not become like the Pharisees who did their spiritual exercises to be seen. Lifting of hands, it seems from scriptures, was the outpouring of needy hearts, yearning after, seeking the Lord.

A natural expression

In private worship and prayer, this can be a natural expression of our childlike need of God, just as physically kneeling is a natural expression of our humility before God, and bowing our heads a natural expression of our reverence toward God.

In public, there may be times when raising of hands is very appropriate, so long as it is not done for show or in a showy way. If it is a natural response of our expression of need, then it may be appropriate. Like all outward manifestations of spiritual exercise, there is a danger of doing this for wrong reasons and in a superficial way. Some may feel pressured to “perform”, yet not live consistent life styles with what they do publicly.

Our need and desire for the Lord

Maybe more to the point, is the question of whether or not in our public worship, our hearts are truly expressing our need and desire for the Lord. If that is the focus, then the balance of hand lifting will regulate itself – neither emphasized or suppressed.

Those that lead in singing (including musicians and signers) may feel a desire to lift hands, but this should not be done in a way that makes others feel they must do likewise. The goal in leading in worship is not to draw attention to ourselves or make others feel uncomfortable. The leadership of the church should be aware of any showy or excessive demonstrations that distract others from worship.

Chuck Gianotti

Chuck has held elder and leadership roles in a variety of church and Christian organization contexts since becoming a Christian in 1972. He has been serving the Lord full-time since 1983, in both the US and Canada, serving as an elder for over 28 years, most recently with Crossroads Bible Fellowship in Rochester, NY, which he helped plant. Chuck now serves in itinerant teaching and on the board of Biblical Eldership Resources biblicaleldership.com.

6 Responses to Should Christians Lift Up Hands in Meetings?

  1. Jim Lehmann

    “In public, there may be times when raising of hands is very appropriate, so long as it is not done for show or in a showy way. If it is a natural response of our expression of need, then it may be appropriate” And that, saints is the crux of the matter! The heart issue, not the head issue… I feel we as “assembly’ believers are off constricted in our traditions in the assemblies, rather than in allowing us for expressions of spontaneous praise which might “offend”, mainly because of decades of past practices… I have not broken that mold, but think raising of the hands is fine and valid with the understanding of the sentence above! Tough to break molds scores of years in place in assemblies… I was reading of Solomon’s prayer on his knees with arms extended. Now why isn’t THAT charismatic in our eyes? And why not model it in the assemblies? We cannot flee praise modes because someone else in another denomination does it to excess. Not a way to raise our kids, nor disciples. Is it mold breaking time?

  2. Ron Hughes

    Good advice, Chuck. Perhaps I say that because I see it the same way. Especially when I’m in my home assembly, I feel free to worship hands up or hands down. I confess that when I’m travelling and in an assembly where no one else worships with hands raised, I don’t because if I’m the only one, I fear some might think I’m trying to make a point (even though I wouldn’t be so far as I can judge my own motives). I trust this isn’t stifling the Spirit.

  3. Mark Jacobberger

    After being saved I spent about a year in a Charismatic church. All I ever experienced were people being showy when displaying how “spiritual” they were, or how in tune they were to the Lord in the meetings. Yes, that was my experience and I realize that my statement is subjective but if you had been there you would know what I mean and why. That said, if the Charismatics were not doing what they do I don’t believe this would ever be a weighty issue on our hearts or our minds. It is their practice that brings this issue forward.

    A practical difficulty that must be faced is that the Oversight can’t see into others hearts, so what they and others might see as showy or a display of complete emotionalism, the persons themselves who are practicing may disagree completely. This potential problem is not insurmountable (if it is seen as scriptural) but trust me when I say, it is the lack of moderation and the inability to stop the display of raising hands in the meeting once or after it has been accepted that becomes the issue.

    Aaron, Moses, Solomon, Ezra, the Psalmist, and the Lord are mentioned as lifting up their hands along with a clear instruction to Timothy and other men to engage in this practice. It’s worthy of consideration that in each case it is a man and never a women. In fact when Paul was writing to Timothy on this issue he uses the greek word for a male and not a word that could ever biblically include women. This is a fact that Charismatics are unwilling to address and consequently I would argue their practice becomes “their tradition” and becomes a serious point for us to consider and shouldn’t be ignored.

    Given the fact that so few in scripture are mentioned doing this and when it occurs it is an individual male and not a mass of men and women in a meeting, perhaps our NT instruction in Timothy may be meant as a solo practice when a man prays.

    I must disagree with my good brother Jim above when he writes this lack in our meetings is about breaking molds or assembly tradition. I also believe we should think our way through this very prayerfully and carefully before we proceed. Let us make sure we are alined with our Lord’s intent and not our own desires, no matter how sincere the intention or how heart felt they may to be.

  4. Scott Leach

    There is much more in Scripture about “kneeling” in prayer than there is about “raising hands” in the meeting. Just a thought.

  5. Chuck Gianotti

    Good interaction, brothers. The relative number of references in Scripture doesn’t necessarily undermine one or the other activity. Both find precedent in Scripture. Actually, from my quick survey, there are marginally more unique references to lifting up hands in Scripture (Deut 32:40, Neh 8:6, Ps 28:2, 63:4, 119:48, 134:2, 141:2, Lam 2:19, 3:41, Luke 24:60, 1 Tim 2:8) than kneeling in prayer (1 Kings 8:54, Ps 95:6, Dan 6:10, Luke 22:41, Mark 10:17, Acts 9:40, 20:36, 21:5).

    Why is it that we (speaking rhetorically) are prone to discourage any form of outward expression of worship than quiet, somber, head bowed sitting in rows? Are we so fearful of extremes that we disregard the teaching of Scripture and the precedent of godly men in Scripture, not the least of whom is the apostle Paul (by his actions and teachings). That’s another thought.

    I too was saved through the charismatic movement of the 1970s, and saw the excesses of raised hands in the context of many other excesses. The hands were the least of the problems. The first time I lifted my hands in public worship some 30 years later was similar to the first time I spoke audible in the Lord’s supper. Awkward, fearful, self-conscious. But neither is a problem anymore, as the only audience in either case that matters is the audience of One, the Lord.

    In our fellowship this is just not a big deal, and it hasn’t led to excesses. There is freedom without pressure or judgementalism. Some occasionally lift up hands, many don’t. There is freedom without judgment. Then again, this is in the context of an assembly where the elders at every elders meeting are physically on their knees interceding for the saints in the assembly.

  6. Mark Jacobberger

    When writing it is so easy to misunderstand another’s intention as they write. In my case sometimes writing too quickly and not precisely enough. My apology if I seemed discouraging in my comments. In fact, scripturally I don’t see how we could prevent a man from lifting his hands while praying in accordance with 1 Timothy. As long as they were holy hands or I take that as examined hands, free of unconfessed sin.

    Further, my goal wasn’t to discourage “any form of outward expression”, but to question the possible adding in of the current Charismatic practice and avoid it in our assemblies on scriptural grounds. As far as form goes, some assemblies sit in a square or circle, not rows. Many times tears are shed, amens are uttered, bowing forward while sitting, smiling while looking up to heaven as we sing, etc…

    That said, I don’t necessarily see it as discouraging to shed light on the only NT verse that gives instruction on lifting our hands. So that as a local assembly we approach this area carefully and practice scripturally. Especially given the sort of over-the-top current practice that is common within Charismatic Circles. To bring that practice into the meetings would not be progress but the copying of another church’s tradition.

    I’ve never been in an assembly where during our remembrance and worship meeting singing and audible prayer wasn’t taking place so I don’t understand the comment about being “quiet” as if it was common. That said, one meaning of the word worship means to bow so I would think that to be a good thing.

    Anyway, blessings to you brothers as we all seek to honor Him Who loves us.

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