Part 4 of our series moves us from minds to hearts to voices to hands. I think that the best way to do this will be to answer two questions. We will ask:
What does Scripture say about using our hands in corporate worship?
What should we do in response to what Scripture says?
What Does Scripture Say?
In order avoid a sermon (or book) length post, I have narrowed down the texts that I will use in two ways. First, I wanted to limit the discussion to hands in the corporate setting that emphasize an upward focus. Second, I wanted to use texts that summarize the main ways that Scripture talks about our hands in worship so that we are not inundated with a lot of Bible verses that are all saying the same thing.
With that in mind, I have found that Scripture speaks clearly to the fact that we are to use our hands to express two things:
And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people, and as he opened it all the people stood. And Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered, “Amen, Amen,” lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground.
So Ezra reads the Word and everybody stands and lifts their hands. Now this wasn’t a passive, robotic-type motion. No, The people of Israel respond in the same way many of us did during the Super Bowl. We saw the game-winning touchdown and jumped up from our seats shouting, “YES!” This was a spontaneous, joyful response of praise.
Clap your hands, all peoples!
Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
Psalm 47:1 is a command to clap our hands and shout unto God. We clap in many ways. We may do it in spontaneous agreement with a particular truth of God or to show our gratefulness to God for the service of others, or more importantly, His service to us in Jesus Christ. We may clap with the beat of the song as we rejoice and sing. The key here is that we rejoice in God. Whether we clap in response at the end of a song, during a sermon, or in the midst of a song, we do it all with joy in God.
Come, bless the LORD, all you servants of the LORD,
who stand by night in the house of the LORD!
Lift up your hands to the holy place
and bless the LORD!
Psalm 134:1-2 is a command for the people of God to lift up their hands in blessing to Him. The Psalmist is telling us to come and give God the honor due His name. He is our Lord, worthy of honor and we raise our hands and joyfully bless Him saying, “worthy is the Lamb who was slain, worthy to receive honor, and glory, and strength, and blessing, and praise!”
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to you for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.
Here, the Psalmist lifts his hands toward the sanctuary of God, asking for help and deliverance from trial. When my son Caleb gets scared or hurt, he does this. He looks around through tears for mommy or daddy and comes up to us with arms raised saying, “Up! Up!” He is looking for comfort, security and deliverance. We must look to God with that same sense of desperation in our praise.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
These are the words of someone who is dying of thirst. Have you ever seen those old movies where someone is lost in the desert? They’re crawling along the endless sand dunes and they see a mirage in the distance. What do they do? They lift their hands in the direction of their perceived salvation and the whisper through parched lips, “Water! Water!” The Psalmist’s soul is only satisfied and sustained by the Lord.
How Should We Respond?
The key in all of this is that it is a spontaneous, genuine act of praise. This means that even in the commands we see above, whatever we do with our hands must be done in a true and genuine response to God.
• Don’t follow the crowd – This means that we don’t raise our hands just because everyone else is. It also means that you shouldn’t feel self-conscious about raising your hands if you’re the only one doing it. If we are truly worshiping before an Audience of One, then the actions and perceptions of others should not deter us from doing what we know is right.
• Don’t feel pressured – Genuine response to God is never about creating an attitude of legalism, so if you are worshiping passionately and you don’t feel moved to raise your hands or clap, don’t. I would be concerned if you NEVER did it, but no one is going to judge your spirituality based on your hand raising or clapping habits. And if they do, it’s not your concern.
• Don’t fake it – The reality is that there are parts of songs that people feel compelled to raise their hands, especially when a song says, “raise your hands” or something like that. It can feel very fake to raise your hands in those times, especially if you do it simply because it’s “that part of the song.” God is not honored when we are disingenuous in our praise, so we should never raise our hands or clap out of compulsion or the desire to be seen as spiritual.
• Do respond with passion – The truth is that if you are not moved to praise by the reality of God and His Gospel, there is a problem in your heart. Everyone’s response is different, and everyone will look different as they worship God. But we must do so with deep, God honoring, joyful passion in Him.
• Do pray for and practice expressiveness – Most of us are not naturally outgoing in our expressions of praise. There are only a few who are naturally predisposed to this, the rest of us need the Holy Spirit’s help. This doesn’t mean stand at the mirror and raise your hands until you get it right. But it probably means practicing expressiveness in personal worship and praying that God would give you the holy desire to respond as the Psalmist does. And it will almost definitely mean taking a step of faith during corporate worship and doing it, all the time asking that God would be honored in your desire to be obedient.
• Do encourage others to join – In the same way that singing encourages others to join, being passionately expressive helps others feel more capable of overcoming the fear of man and joining in heartfelt physical expressiveness.
The Bible is clear that God wants our hearts most of all, and when we focus on offering ourselves to God with a heart that is broken and contrite before Him, we will learn to offer our bodies to Him in a way that will honor Him, bringing Him greater glory and bringing us greater joy.