raising hands in worship: it’s about obedience, not emotions

Zac HicksUncategorized4 Comments

modern worshipMy church is large enough where there are some who just “observe” me without knowing me.  I’ve learned that, in larger churches, people often feel comfortable with making assumptions about the up-fronters.  I recently heard from a friend one of the assumptions made about me:

“Zac is a touchy-feely guy.”

Ha!  That would probably the first time I’ve ever been accused of that.  The comment was made in the context of the way I lead worship.  I try to be an active worship leader, engaging not only my heart and my soul but my body as well.  Whether I’m singing an organ/choir-led traditional hymn out of the hymn book or a rockin’ Hillsong worship ballad, I’m going to be lifting my head, raising my hand(s).  (Frankly, I’d raise my hands a lot more if they weren’t wrapped around a guitar.)  I guess that those outward expressions make me a “touchy-feely” guy.  Ironically, people who know me well observe that I’m quite cerebral—often to a fault—and can be directive and dog-headed. 🙂

So why is the assumption made that if I’m an eye-closing hand-raiser that I’m touchy-feely?  Perhaps it’s because we often observe that modern worshipers are, with a broad brush, generally more outwardly expressive with their emotions.  A previous post of mine, where I talked about Matt Redman and so-called “girly” songs, can be a defense to this point.  And I’ve experienced it, too.  There’s a rush of emotional connection that often happens when one engages one’s body with things like hand-raising, dancing, swaying, or moving.  People who do that often appear to be in some emotional euphoria, some ecstatic other dimension. 

But I want to make something clear about myself and about Scripture, with regards to bodily worship.  While the emotions are a plus, they are not the reason I do things like raise my hands.  Principally, I engage my body in worship because SCRIPTURE TELLS ME TO DO IT.  When I made the switch from being a pure “inner heart worshiper,” I did so, principally on biblical conviction, not emotional drive.  Just on the subject of lifting hands:

Psalm 28:2: Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.

Psalm 63:4: I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.

Psalm 119:48: I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees.

Psalm 141:2: May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

These are just the Psalms, some time do a Biblegateway search of “lift hands,” and you’ll discover a host of worship-related instances.  Lifting hands seems to be a worship expression associated with penitence, need, praise, joy, submission, and obedience.  Now, I am a firm believer that there is emotional benefit to engaging one’s body, and that that emotional benefit is a good thing.  God designed us as whole people.  This overly sharp divide between body and soul is ultimately a Hellenistic/Gnostic notion, not a biblical one.  While body and soul are clearly distinct, there is an important link between them—even if the link is elusive and uncanny. 

I’m going to take a jab here.  If one’s reason for not engaging one’s body in worship is, “I’m just not that kind of worshiper…it’s not my style…I’m not that kind of person”  I think the majority of you are kidding yourselves.  God made you a whole person.  People often talk about “heart worship” being an inner thing.  However, if we’re thinking through the filter of a thorough biblical anthropology, we know that “out of the overflow of the heart” the body will do things.  In fact, I see a lot of heart-overflow from self-proclaimed “heart-only worshipers” immediately after Sunday morning worship, when they’re sitting in front of a television watching their favorite football team play.  A touchdown is scored, and they’re jumping up and (get this) raising their hands, shouting for joy (shouting…another biblical command [e.g. Psalm 100]).  Hmm…suddenly your heart worship has overflowed into bodily praise!  Yet those same people say, “I’m just not that kind of worshiper.”  

My challenge to you: perhaps you’re not the touchy-feely type…read some passages on bodily worship and open yourself up to Scripture’s injunctions!  And you just might find some blessed by-products after having taken that first step.

4 Comments on “raising hands in worship: it’s about obedience, not emotions”

  1. Zac,
    You’ve given us a great reminder of how God made us whole people to be wholly engaged with Him in worship. Thanks!

  2. Great discussion Zac!
    I’ll add another thought to the question of "why worship by lifting up your hands?" – I find that by lifting my hands in worship it allows me to take it to the next level… doing it for God (out of obedience to scripture as you pointed out) and getting past the thought of "what will those around me think about me?". It is an act of personal surrender to God – obeying Him rather than limiting my worship to the peer pressure from others around me who I feel are silently criticizing. It is totally mental but allows me to surrender myself to the Lord alone rather than the "society" immediately around me. Until our church is more comfortable with this style of worship it won’t come natural and will takes inward courage at first during each worship service.

  3. Zac,
    You have convinced me! I would be one of those people who say "I’m just not that kind of worshipper." But the football analogy hit home. It turns out I am that kind of worshipper and I apparently am trying to restrain it or be disobedient to the Bible.

    Thanks- Dave S.

  4. The football analogy got me too! And John’s point above about putting God before peer pressure speaks to me too.

    But the scripture passages you mention seem to *assume* the lifting up of hands rather than prescribing it, so I’m still not totally convinced that biblical obedience is at stake.

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