Q: #187. Why do some Christians raise their hands in worship?
By: Steve Shirley
A: There are various reasons why people raise their hands during praise/worship songs in church or at Christian concerts. Among the reasons are: to show surrender, submission, humility, or dependence to God, to give God reverence or adoration, to give their all to God, to be filled by God, or to raise their hands to Heaven. There are even some churches and Christians who teach that raising hands in different ways means different things.
*** Note: There are two great examples I read in studying for this that I love: First, what is the universal act that a person is surrendering? It is to put both of your hands up in the air. Second, there is the picture of a child lifting both of his arms above his head for his father to carry him.
Raising hands is actually a controversial topic amongst different churches and denominations. Some churches hold that raising one's hands in worship is distracting or irreverent. Since the raising of hands is often associated with Contemporary Christian Music (CCM), most of the churches coming out against it are ones that play mainly hymns in their services and believe only hymns should be played in church.
(The topic of worship is a huge one and I do not want to address that here. If you wish to study this more in depth, please see my study: Becoming A True Worshipper.)
While there is certainly not a thing wrong with singing hymns in church, I find it sad that some of these Christians would attack others for the songs they choose to worship to or the method in which they they choose to worship. Speaking for myself, I grew up in a hymn playing church and I am now in a CCM church. I much prefer CCM to hymns, and I cannot imagine going back to a hymns playing church now. I have been to hymn playing churches since I was saved and I find it difficult to enter into worship. However, others are able to do so and I say "wonderful." This is one reason why we have different churches.
The Bible says that God looks at the heart of each person (1 Sam 16:7)(1 Chr 28:9)(1 Kin 8:39)(Acts 1:24). I honestly don't think God cares one bit if a person is standing in place, arms at side, or raising hands and moving around. He doesn't care if we are worshipping with hymns or CCM. He DOES care if we are TRULY worshipping Him or not, and He knows if we are.
In defense of hand raising in worship (and prayer), there are numerous places in the Bible that speak of this: (Neh 8:6)(Ps 28:2)(Ex 17:16)(Ps 134:2)(Ps 63:3-4) (Ps 141:2)(Ps 119:48)(1 Tim 2:8)(Ps 143:6)(Lev 9:22)(Lam 2:19)(Lam 3:41)(Ps 88:9)(2 Chr 6:12-13)(Lk 24:50). There are even places that show people dancing (2 Sam 6:14-16)(Ps 150:3-5)(Ex 15:20-21)(Ps 149:1-3)(Ps 150:4) and clapping while singing (Ps 47:1).
*** Note: Interestingly, the primary Hebrew word used for "thanksgiving" in the Old Testament is "towdah," which Strong's defines as "an extension of the hand." This word is primarily connected with worship.
In fact, for those who would criticize those who wish to raise their hands, I might ask, "where does the Bible show anyone worshipping by just standing at attention with their hands at their side?" (Again, if you choose to worship this way in reverence, I say "great!") Much of this "religious" stuff is simply man-made traditions which can extend to other things as well: i.e. where does the Bible show people folding their hands in prayer or closing their eyes?
The Bible says that there will be praising (Rev 19:5) and singing (Rev 5:9) (Rev 14:3)(Rev 15:3) in Heaven. Now, this may be just me, but I cannot picture rows of people just standing still, hands in pockets (will robes have pockets?), singing songs in Heaven. I picture all kinds of joyful singing and dancing with musical instruments (i.e. See David's worship in 1 Chr 13:5-8, 1 Chr 15:25-29), but I may be wrong.
This being said, I should add a few caveats. If your worship is drawing attention to yourself, this is wrong. There are those who go so far overboard that it causes others to be unable to worship because you are so distracting. For example, I have seen people running in circles around the church or up and down the aisles. I have been in a church where there were quiet moments of worship and a lady in back was moaning VERY loudly. There are other examples too. The point is that the Bible says that God wants things done in an orderly and proper way (1 Cor 14:40) and God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor 14:33). If your worship is so far out that it is causing distractions, that is wrong.
There are also those who worship in a more outgoing way in an attempt to make themselves look more "spiritual." The Bible tells us not to judge a persons motives, so we may not know those who is doing this, but clearly this does occur. In fact, Jesus criticized the Pharisees for this very thing, doing "religious acts" so that they would receive the praise of men (Mt 6:2,5,16)(Mt 23:1-7).
*** Note: If I might offer a bit of advice, when I have faced this distraction issue, my simple solution is often to just close my eyes. Sometimes I know the songs well enough to sing with my eyes closed, but if not, I simply try and listen to the words and kind of make them into a prayer. At times, this can be wonderful to do even if there isn't a distraction.
As I stated earlier, God looks at OUR heart in worship. Do not be concerned with how others are worshipping. He is looking for those who will worship Him with a humble and contrite heart (Ps 51:17)(Isa 57:15). He is looking for those who are willing to sacrifice themselves for Him (Rom 12:1). Is this you?
Let me close with 2 humbling verses to keep in mind:
(Isa 29:13-14)(NASB) Then the Lord said, "Because this people draw near with their words and honor me with lip service, but they remove their hearts far from Me, and their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote, (14) Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people, wonderously marvelous; and the wisdom of their wise men will perish, and the discernment of their discerning men will be concealed."