SHOULD I RAISE MY HANDS IN “PRAISE AND WORSHIP?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
Have you ever been in (or seen) a local church setting in which people lifted their hands up high in “praise and worship?” Maybe they also sang in an “unknown tongue” or spoke in some “angelic language.” Perhaps they swayed from side to side, or waved their arms. Perchance they even leapt and danced, supposedly “moved by the Spirit.” These actions are especially popular in Charismatic (“spiritual gifts”) churches. While these activities are becoming increasingly commonplace in various denominations, some Christians are uncomfortable with such behavior. Should we be raising our hands in “praise and worship?” Let us see what the Scriptures say.
People in church who raise their hands in “praise and worship” commonly appeal to Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 2:8 as proof of their “scriptural behavior”: “I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.” Various other verses are used as well:
- Exodus 17:10-12: “ So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.  And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.  But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.”
- 2 Chronicles 6:12: “And [Solomon] stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the congregation of Israel, and spread forth his hands…[he prays from verses 14-42].”
- Nehemiah 8:6: “And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God. And all the people answered, Amen, Amen, with lifting up their hands: and they bowed their heads, and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.”
- Psalm 28:2: “Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.”
- Psalm 63:4: “Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy name.”
- Psalm 134:2: “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD.”
- Luke 24:50: “And he [Jesus Christ] led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them.”
Certainly, as we saw, the Bible talks about believers raising their hands. You will notice, however, that the New Testament is almost silent about lifting up hands. Most of those verses that talk about lifting up hands relate to Israel’s system of worship under the Mosaic Law. Strictly speaking, the Jews worshipped in respect to the Temple in Jerusalem. If we want to follow the Jews’ verses in lifting up hands, we would have to do so concerning a nonexistent Temple in Jerusalem (the Romans destroyed that Temple 2,000 years ago?!).
While “hands-lifting” people quote 1 Timothy 2:8, they are not actually following the whole verse. Oftentimes in religion, people only quote the part of the verse that appeals to them. Firstly, 1 Timothy 2:8 says that only men are to do it (note how verse 9 and following address women). Whenever I see a woman lifting up her hands in “praise and worship,” that immediately tells me that God’s Spirit has not led her to do it. The Bible, 1 Timothy 2:8 (the verse that would apply to us), only commands men to “lift up holy hands.” This is not saying women cannot pray (see 1 Corinthians 11:13)—1 Timothy 2:8 is saying men are to lead in public prayer. Men are to lead the prayer life of the local assembly. Secondly, 1 Timothy 2:8 says that lifting up of hands is done regarding prayer. It is not merely done in “praise and worship” and is not in reference to singing, dancing, et cetera.
Anything that appears spiritual is seen as spiritual. Hands-lifting is seen as “spiritual,” so people do it to look good. Friends, this is a deceptive notion. Remember, lost people at concerts lift their hands. Non-Christians lift their hands to praise their false gods and goddesses. Drunken people and those high on drugs raise their hands, move side to side, sing, and speak incoherently. Are we so bold as to say that the Spirit of God is moving these people? See, beloved, the lifting up of physical hands is not necessarily “spiritual.” There is no merit before God when we lift up our physical hands. Otherwise, anyone and everyone (regardless of religion) lifting up hands would be praising and worshipping the God of the Bible. As mentioned earlier, the lifting up of hands in Scripture is connected with prayer. God is not interested in the physical posture but rather prayer from the heart. As Lamentations 3:41 says, “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” Who among those lifting their hands today are doing so along with their hearts?
Modern-day lifting up of hands in church does not seem to be conducive to the local assembly’s testimony. I have personally found it very distracting when someone in a local church has stood by me and reached for nothing in the air. Eventually, we lose sight of the Lord Jesus Christ and we start worshipping form and posture. We are not thinking about God’s Word and the truths therein anymore. We are just concerned about kneeling, swaying, dancing, “speaking in tongues,” raising up hands, tapping our feet, clapping our hands, et cetera. These activities, while assumed to be “spiritual,” are not necessarily so. Often, “praise and worship” becomes a flesh carnival, an emotional experience, something that pushes the Bible aside and exalts self and flesh. The ritual or ceremony becomes the issue instead of the Bible text and the Person it honors. False religion creeps in ever so slowly, dear readers, and we need to be on guard that Satan not use it to deceive us!
Someone once suggested that the reason why people raise their hands in church is not to follow the Bible, but rather to grab the blessings that God drops down to them. This is probably true. In religion, people indeed constantly beg God for “this” and for “that.” Perhaps they are raising their hands to reach out and take God’s blessings. They treat God like a little child treats Santa Claus. If they are doing this, they have not appreciated God’s grace. Beloved, we should not return to a weak and beggarly system of works. The entire book of Galatians deals with that very issue. Legalism (asking God for blessings based on what we do) will get us nowhere. It only condemned Israel and it will only condemn us. God already gave us in Christ everything He could give us. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Why are we still begging God for acceptance and blessings? Why must we be so fixated on Israel’s program?
I once read someone’s first-hand experience with a “hands-lifting” assembly. His account typifies the dangers of modern-day hands-lifting. The poor man admitted that he always questioned his salvation because of the “worship” service at his local church. While everyone else hollered, raised their hands, and shouted, he wrote that he felt bad because he merely sang. He concluded that since he was not doing what other “Christians” were doing in the room, he must not have been a genuine Christian. He acknowledged that he would raise his hand a little out of fear of being different.
Dear friends, could this be why so many individuals raise their hands in local assemblies today? Could it be someone other than the Holy Spirit moving these people? Are they by faith following 1 Timothy 2:8, or could it just be something coerced? (Just like aisle-walking, sin-confession, and altar-kneeling?) Could it be that most of them are raising hands just to fit in with the crowd? Are they doing it out of a heart of faith (following verses), or are they just doing it to appear religious and spiritual? Dear friends, let me remind you that artificial behavior in Christianity will profit us nothing in eternity.
Notice what Isaiah chapter 1 says: “ To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the LORD: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats.  When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts?  Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting.  Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them.  And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood.”
God actually said that the Jews were “spreading forth [their] hands” (verse 15). They appeared to be “praising and worshipping God,” did they not? They would lift their hands and pretend to be praying sincerely, but it was just a waste of time and breath. God said He would hide His eyes—He could not stand to look at such insincerity. I fear that Christendom finds itself in the same predicament today. They appear to be spiritual, but they are not. They have all their ceremonies, rites, and rituals, but there is no faith. If they were “spiritual,” they would follow the Lord’s instructions in Paul’s epistles, Romans through Philemon (1 Corinthians 14:37). Yet, 99 percent of Christendom does not care to realize the special nature of the Apostle Paul’s ministry. Had they embraced Paul’s ministry, there would not be a single denominational system on Earth today! There would be no Roman Catholics, Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Lutherans, et cetera.
It is important to remember what was occurring during Isaiah’s day (about 700 B.C.). The Jews were acting religious in the Temple in Jerusalem (the Babylonians did not destroy Solomon’s Temple until 586 B.C.). Israel offered their animal sacrifices as Moses said. They came to the Temple and behaved as though they were “spiritual.” They held their religious gatherings and festivals. Yet, God said He was sick of their bogusness, wickedness, and mindless repetition. He was weary of their hypocrisy, their half-heartedness. They would follow Moses’ writings while also embracing pagan idols and other forms of heathenism! The Jews would steal and kill, and then say, “Praise God!” They were not worshipping JEHOVAH with all their activities. It was vain ceremonies and rituals. They were just “going through the motions.” The same could be said about most of today’s “Christianity!”
Friends, as always, we do not have dominion over your faith (2 Corinthians 1:24). You are free to do and believe whatever you like concerning hands-lifting, but you need to make an informed decision. Personally, I do not focus on physical posture when it comes to prayer. When I fellowship with other believers, it is not about me and it is not about how loud I can sing, how fast I can sway, how well I can dance, how high I can lift my hands, and so on. I do not fellowship with believers to be entertained and to exercise. I meet with God’s people to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ using His rightly divided Word, the Holy King James Bible.
When 1 Timothy 2:8 says “lifting up holy hands,” the verse is talking primarily about an attitude and a spiritual activity rather than physical activity. It is talking about men leading the local assembly in prayer. Furthermore, these “holy hands” are not common human hands being raised up. It is talking about a sincere and doctrinally pure prayer life. “Holy” means that it is not associated doctrinal error, perversion, or apostasy (refer back to the false religion in Isaiah chapter 1, which we discussed earlier). More than anything, we need to concentrate on the sound Bible doctrine being communicated. We should not be fixated on fleshly actions, emotions, physical activities in “worship,” et cetera.