How do you use your hands to praise God? Maybe you lift your hands in worship, or use them to minister to God’s people. Or maybe you haven’t really thought about there being a connection between hands and praise, so this seems like an odd question.
Idioms involving hands abound in the Hebrew language. Being in someone’s hands is to be in their power. Putting one’s hand to something means you’re working on it. Raising your hand against someone is rebellion. Open hands express giving, and closed hands withholding, something.
Hands were lifted when making an oath to God, as Abraham did (Gen. 14:22-23). God lifts His hand when He delivers His people (Ps. 10:12). Priests stretch their hands out when they bless the people and people lift their hands when they bless God (Lev. 9:22; Neh. 8:6). Hands, and specifically lifted hands, can mean different things depending on the context.
Last week, we talked about the Hebrew word yadah (H3034), which means to confess or acknowledge as well as to praise and thank. There’s one other meaning we didn’t touch on, though. Yadah also means to throw or cast (Zodhiates’ dictionary). It’s connected with the Hebrew word for hand, yad (H3027), and as such yadah is considered the Hebrew word which “means to worship with extended hands” (see “8 Hebrew Words for ‘Praise’ Every Christian Needs to Know”).
We can think of yadah as a type of praise we “throw” to God with lifted hands as we declare how wonderful He is and confess that we follow Him. Today, we’re going to look at the ways we petition, pray to, and praise God with our hands.
Hear the voice of my petitions, when I cry to you, when I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (Ps. 28:2, WEB)
One of the reasons people in scripture lift their hands is because they’re asking God for something. Think of a little child stretching their hands toward a parent: “Pick me up, Daddy,” or “Can I have that, Mommy?”
Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches; pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up your hands toward him for the life of your young children, that faint for hunger at the head of every street. (Lam. 2:19, WEB)
When we need something from God, we can lift up our hands to Him as we pour out our hearts. You don’t have to petition God this way (people in scripture pray in a variety of ways including sitting, standing, lying down, hands up, and face to the earth), but lifted hands is one of the methods modeled. There’s something about reaching out toward God that’s meaningful to Him and to the worshipers who long to draw nearer Him.
People also lift their hands in prayer throughout the Old Testament (1 Kings 8:22, 54) and on into the New (1 Tim. 2:8). This type of prayer can be part of a petition, as we just looked at. It can also connect with confession, which is another meaning of yadah that we looked at last week.
Let us search and try our ways, and turn again to Yahweh. Let us lift up our heart with our hands to God in the heavens. We have transgressed and have rebelled (Lam. 3:40-42, WEB)
Prayer is (in large part) about relationship with God. It’s how we respond to His presence. It gives us a chance to connect with Him, sharing everything we’re experiencing with the One who wants to be our best friend. That can include confessing (and thence repenting and being forgiven) of sins that would interrupt our relationship with God. It also includes communication and offering of ourselves to God.
Now we get to the type of hand lifting that inspired today’s post. One reason that we lift our hands is in praise and worship of our incredible God. I just love the way it’s illustrated in this short psalm:
Look! Praise Yahweh, all you servants of Yahweh, who stand by night in Yahweh’s house! Lift up your hands in the sanctuary. Praise Yahweh! May Yahweh bless you from Zion; even he who made heaven and earth. (Ps. 134, WEB)
There’s something so beautiful about walking into a church service and seeing people worshiping with their hands raised to heaven, not caring what any human thinks of them because all they’re focused on is praising God. I love lifting my hands when I sing praise. It makes the music seem more like an offering (to me at least) than a performance or a rote tradition.
Because your loving kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise you. So I will bless you while I live. I will lift up my hands in your name. (Ps. 63:3-4, WEB)
Our Hands Today
You’re not obligated to raise your hands every time you petition, pray, or praise if you don’t want to. I know several people who aren’t comfortable with it, and that’s okay. God created us with different personalities and worship styles. When He tells us how to praise and honor Him, He also allows for quite a bit of variety in the types of praise He accepts.
I do have a problem, though, with people or chruch groups that say you shouldn’t pray or praise with lifted hands, at least not in public. Is there any more blatant way to say you value your traditions over God’s word (something Jesus strongly condemned), than by saying “we don’t do that here” of something God encourages us to do everywhere?
I desire therefore that the men in every place pray, lifting up holy hands without anger and doubting. (1 Tim. 2:8, WEB)
Paul wrote this to a church leader. According to him, it’s not only permissible for people to lift their hands and pray “in every place,” but it’s encouraged! This isn’t an “Old Testament thing” that we can ignore now because our worship today is in spirit and in truth. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever and He is still pleased when we lift our hands to offer petitions, prayers, and praise to Him.
Featured image credit: Edwin Andrade via Unsplash