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.