“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” –Romans 12:1-2 ESV
I was raised in the Restoration Movement “non-denomination.” Raising hands in worship wasn’t something I remember ever seeing until I was in my 20’s. I’m not exactly sure why, but I sort of got the idea that it was something we didn’t do. I think maybe it was considered sort of showy, or something. The thing is, scripture has a lot to say about lifting our hands in worship.
Look at your hands for a moment. Go ahead, I’ll wait.
They really are an amazing piece of engineering, aren’t they?
Who gave us these hands? Well, of course, God did.
What kinds of things do we do with our hands? Well, we work with our hands. We feed ourselves. We play. We give gifts. We receive gifts. We show affection.
We also fight with our hands. We sin with our hands.
I suppose it should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that a huge part of “presenting our hands” has to do with using them in positive ways. For helping, and not hurting. For reaching out, and not holding back. For bringing honor to God and his people, and not dishonor.
But, since our hands are so useful, and so expressive, why is it that so many of us are hesitant to worship with our hands?
Lifting our hands to God is biblical. It’s a physical demonstration of a spiritual truth. By lifting our hands to Him, we are presenting our bodies to God as a spiritual act of worship.
Yes, it’s true that expressing worship begins on the inside, with a mind and heart transformed by God. Ultimately, it is the posture of our hearts that makes the difference. In John 4:23 Jesus says that the Father is looking for worshipers who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. God wants honesty, not showmanship. It is possible to have your hands raised on the outside but to have your fists clenched in defiance on the inside.
The condition of our hearts is what truly matters. Paul says that we should “be transformed by the renewing of our minds.” But, on the other side of the same coin, if your heart and mind have been transformed…if, indeed you are kneeling on the inside…if, deep in your spirit, your will is surrendered to God…then, why not demonstrate that physically?
Worship shouldn’t remain on the inside. It’s got to come out.
There are several images that come to my mind when I think of lifted hands:
-A small child running to her dad.
-An enemy, or an outlaw surrendering to an authority.
-A person volunteering for something.
Any, or all of these, and others, may be appropriate at different times. In any case, when you worship privately, or when we come together, I encourage you to offer your hands as a living sacrifice to God.
If you’re new to lifting your hands in worship, and you feel a little uncomfortable, I have a little exercise I’d like to suggest. It doesn’t involve anything dramatic and showy, but it does involve your hands.
About eight years ago, I participated in a worship time, led by Buddy Owens, where he led us in this time of prayer. He said it was something he borrowed from the Quakers. Since then, I’ve led it myself several times in a few different settings. You could do this in your own private devotional time, or at church during communion time, or other quiet time.
Begin by extending your hands in front of you with your palms up. Imagine your burdens and requests in your hands as you present them to God. Maybe there is a specific sin there that you need to confess.
Keep your palms up as you pray something like this:
“Father, thank you for your kindness and the gift of life. Thank you for your love and faithfulness. Thank you for accepting me as I am, and for doing the continuing work of transforming me into the likeness of Christ. I’m offering myself to you right now, body, soul and spirit. I give you my strengths and my weaknesses, my successes and my failures, my hopes and fears, my dreams and nightmares, my joys and my burdens.”
Now turn your palms down and pray something like this:
“Now, by faith, I’m obeying your command to cast all my cares on you. I release them all to you and trust that you’ll do with them as you see fit. May your will be done in me today.”
It may take a few minutes for you to actually let go of this stuff, but when you do turn your palms up again and pray something like this:
“Father, now I’m open to receive all that your grace has in store for me: strength for my weakness, peace for my fear, forgiveness for my sins, and grace to forgive those who have done me harm. Guide my steps, direct my thoughts, and protect me from the evil one. Let me be an extension of your love and mercy to the people I meet today, and I look to you to meet all my needs. I’m yours, Lord, use me to bring you glory.”
Remember, the specific words are only suggestions. God is not impressed with our language skills, but he does want our honesty.
Try it. I think you’ll find it meaningful.
I owe these thoughts to Buddy Owens and his little book called The Way of a Worshiper, which I heartily recommend.