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(Part 4)


“At your right hand is the Lord”
(Psalm 110:5a)

According to the expressions of our spirituality, when we worship, we raise our hands. Now this is a very very meaningful posture. It means a lot and it says a lot. We must understand the implication of raised hands, so that when we raise our hands, it does not just become one of those automatic things we do during worship. Worship is our great privilege, when we come into the presence of the Almighty God. As we worship, and as we raise our hands, we affirm many things.

What then do raised hands during worship mean?

Looking to God

First, and this is what most of us understand raised hands to mean, it is a posture of worship. “Let my prayer be incense before you; my uplifted hands an evening sacrifice.” (Ps 141:2). We in effect are acknowledging the Lord for who He is, saying with our hands, “Hail King Jesus!”1

Second, we bless God.2 “I will bless you as long as I live; I will lift up my hands, calling on your name.” (Ps 63:5). “Lift up your hands toward the sanctuary, and bless the Lord.” (Ps 134:2).

Looking to ourselves

Now since we are in the presence of the Almighty, Omnipotent and holy God, and though God can welcome sinners, but so that we might enter more intimately into our worship, we must be properly attired and have the proper disposition to enter into the banquet.3

So we need to be clean of heart. We need to be repentant of our sins as we come before the Lord in worship.4 We come with clear consciences. We know we are striving for holiness, and expectantly anticipate the added graces to be showered upon us during our time of worship. We exit the assembly a little bit more holy than when we enter.

So third, when we raise our hands, we are showing to the Lord, and for all to see, our blameless hands held aloft. “It is my wish, then, that in every place the men5 should pray, lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” (1 Tm 2:8). Remember the nursery rhyme, “I have two hands, the left and the right, hold them up high so clean and bright”? As children of the Father, we proudly show Him our hands that are clean. Indeed, “clean little hands are good to see.”

God tells us to be holy because He is holy. Our distinguishing characteristic is holiness. So this aspect of clean hands cannot be emphasized enough. And so as the Lord taught His covenanted people Israel how to worship, the psalmists often stressed this.

David could confidently tell the Lord, “Lord my God, if I am at fault in this, if there is guilt on my hands, …. then let my enemy pursue and overtake me” (Ps 7:4-6). In the same way, God tells us to first settle the wrong that we do before we even worship. “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5:23-24).6 7

So raising our hands is signifying righteousness. This is pleasing to the Lord. “The Lord acknowledged my righteousness, rewarded my clean hands. So the Lord rewarded my righteousness, the cleanness of my hands in his sight.” (Ps 18:21,25). How do we become righteous? “For I kept the ways of the Lord, I was not disloyal to my God. His laws were all before me, his decrees I did not cast aside. I was honest toward him; I was on guard against sin.” (Ps 18:22-24). Our righteousness is about obeying God, avoiding sin, faithfulness to God’s way of life, and living in integrity.

So as we worship, which involves entering into the presence of a holy God, let us look to our own holiness and righteousness. “Who may go up the mountain of the Lord? Who can stand in his holy place? The clean of hand and pure of heart” (Ps 24:3-4a).
Let us ensure that we have clean hands, which we can raise for all to see, but especially for our God, so that we might be worthy to worship. “I will wash my hands in innocence and walk round your altar, Lord” (Ps 26:6).8 “But I walk without blame; …. My foot stands on level ground; in assemblies I will bless the Lord.” (Ps 26:11-12).

Worship draws us near to God, and worship, as we have seen, involves righteousness, which in turn involves integrity and obedience.

What is integrity? Among other things, integrity is about pure hearts and singlemindedness for God. It is loving God with our all. It is having God as our one and only priority. It is having no other idols in our lives. It is living for God alone. “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds.” (Jas 4:8).

And we need to be obedient to God. God’s law and God’s word are our guideposts to living a life of holiness. We look to God’s word, edicts, teaching, precepts, decrees, commands (Ps 119:42-47). When we worship with hands raised, we affirm our obedience to God and to His commands. “I lift up my hands to your commands; I study your laws, which I love.” (Ps 119:48). Obedience is the fourth meaning of raised hands.

Looking to our need

Hands raised in worship also refer to our posture of weakness and nothingness before the Lord. We are in terrible need of His mercy and grace, and also practical help in our distress in the world.

So fifth, hands raised during worship are our cry for help from God. “Hear the sound of my pleading when I cry to you, lifting my hands toward your holy place.” (Ps 28:2). Have you ever seen film footages of starving refugees crowding around a truck of relief goods? All are desperately crying out for help, with hands outstretched. So too are we in the presence of a holy and perfect God, who desires us to be as He is.9 On our own, we are nothing and desperately in need of God’s mercy, grace and blessing. “Here I am, afflicted and poor. God, come quickly! You are my help and deliverer. Lord, do not delay!” (Ps 70:6).

Our raised hands are meant to catch God’s attention,10 to ask to be remembered in our need, to plead for timely help. If we truly understood our sorry condition before a holy God, then it would became a desperate plea for help. “On the day of my distress I seek the Lord; by night my hands are raised unceasingly; I refuse to be consoled.” (Ps 77:3). “All day I call on you, Lord; I stretch out my hands to you.” (Ps 88:10b). Our desperate longing for God’s love and care is like the situation of one in the wide desert desperate to satisfy his great thirst. “I stretch out my hands to you; I thirst for you like a parched land.” (Ps 143:6).

Considering our great need and helplessness and our total dependence on God, our raising of our hands in worship indicate, sixth, our total surrender. When a soldier surrenders to the enemy, he indicates this by raising his hands high. When a criminal is cornered by a police officer with a firearm, the former is ordered to raise his hands, indicating acceptance that he has come into the power of the latter.

We are called on to surrender our lives to God, so that He can fully form us and care for us, according to how He knows best. In worship with raised hands, we acknowledge God for who He is, accept that He is the best Person to care for us, abandon our control over our lives, and place ourselves entirely in His hands.

When we humbly acknowledge our need and surrender ourselves to God, then He not only tosses us the relief goods (mercy and grace), but He in fact takes hold of our hands. This is the seventh aspect of our upraised hands in worship. He initiates or deepens a personal relationship. He makes us one with Him, through such an intimate contact. He firmly takes hold of our lives. “Yet I am always with you; you take hold of my right hand.” (Ps 73:23).

As the Lord takes hold of us, then there He will stay, if we let Him. “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade at your right hand.” (Ps 121:5). Remember the thirsty man in the desert? God not only provides living water, but He provides shade as well. When God takes hold of our right hand, we are assured of His total care. “By day the sun cannot harm you, nor the moon by night. The Lord will guard you from all evil, will always guard your life. The Lord will guard your coming and going both now and forever.” (Ps 121:6-8).

God is there, just waiting for us. When we worship with hands raised, the whole process of God taking over our lives begins, and with subsequent times of worship, deepens. What a great privilege and assurance this is for us. “I keep the Lord always before me; with the Lord at my right, I shall never be shaken.” (Ps 16:8). With our right hand clasped by His right hand, we can rest secure. “You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (Ps 16:11).

Affirming our relationship

When we raise our hands in worship, one other thing that we are doing, the eighth aspect, is to pledge our allegiance to God. In effect we are giving God a salute, affirming our loyalty and submission.11 We affirm that we belong to Him. We are His to dispose of as He wills.

Ninth, we testify to God’s love. When we are a witness in a courtroom, we are asked to raise our right hand and to swear to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth. So in worship with raised hands, we testify to the truth about the One whom we are worshiping. We affirm God for who He is. And we affirm that we are telling the truth. This is the opposite of those who lie, whose “mouths speak untruth; their right hands are raised in lying oaths.” (Ps 144:11b). Thus to raise our hands in worship is a serious gesture or posture. We are proclaiming to the world that the Lord is King, that we have given our allegiance to Him, that we belong totally to Him. If this is not so, then our right hands are raised in lying oaths.

Tenth, when we raise our hands in worship, we affirm our covenant with God. God has entered into covenant with us, primarily as His people that make up the universal Church, and secondarily as CFC-FFL. When we come before the God who called us and appointed us to our task, we are affirming and renewing our covenant. We are promising, with His help, to live it out more fully.

Being ready for battle

Another very significant aspect, the eleventh, of our raising our hands in worship is that we are saying, “Here I am, Lord, use me.” First we affirm that we are indeed with Him, that we are not the enemy within. We raise and show our hands to be clean, that we “had not worshiped the beast or its image nor had accepted its mark on (our) foreheads or hands.” (Rv 20:4). Then our raised hands indicate or readiness for mission.

Readiness for mission necessitates proper training. Mission means spiritual warfare. We need to be prepared to do battle. We need to power of the Spirit. So twelve, we raise our hands to be examined by God to show our mission readiness. Just as the soldier would show his weapon to his officer to examine if he is battle-ready, we show our hands to God to show the same thing. In this spiritual battle, God “trained my hands for war, my arms to bend even a bow of bronze.” (Ps 18:35). It is God “who trains my hands for battle, my fingers for war” (Ps 144:1). It is God who checks our weapon as we worship, “with the praise of God in (our) mouths, and a two-edged sword in (our) hands” (Ps 149:6).

Our human hands are also what God uses to transfer His power for mission. Thus we pray over those who will serve and who will do mission. In appointing assistants, the community of disciples chose seven reputable men, and then the apostles “prayed and laid hands on them.” (Acts 6:6). In sending Barnabas and Saul off for mission, the disciples fasted and prayed, and then “they laid hands on them and sent them off.” (Acts 13:3). As Simon the magician observed, “the Spirit was conferred by the laying on of the apostles’ hands” (Acts 8:18). But this was not just a human gesture or ritual, something that Simon thought could be bought by money. Rather, Peter told Simon that his “heart was not upright before God” and directed him to “repent of this wickedness” (Acts 8:21-22). Here again we see the proper posture of repentance and holiness before our God. We are to be holy warriors. We are to go forth into battle “in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness at the right and at the left” (2 Cor 6:7).12

Upraised hands in worship

Whew! There is much to upraised hands in worship than most of us thought, or did not think about. Now we know. It is a very serious and meaningful posture, which practically encapsulates the fullness of our life in Christ!

We should praise God for the privilege of worship, and mean everything that raised hands signify.

* * *

As a postscript, let me add something about the proper posture of raising our hands.13

Normally it is hand raised, palm outward to God. Having our palm pointed inward towards us is proper to petition and of course is part of our time of worship. But the normative posture is palm outward. We are addressing God.

When we raise our hand, it can be low, medium or high (for lack of better terms). Our arm14 can be bent at the elbow, forming a “V” with our elbow pointing to the floor. Or our arm can be raised higher, with our arm bent at the elbow at a right angle to our body, forming an “L” with our elbow pointing horizontally (our upper arm15 parallel to the floor). Or our arm can be raised fully, with the arm not bent but straight.

We can raise either our right hand or both our right and left hands. Normally, if we raise only one hand, it will be the right and not the left.16

Understanding the important of raised hands should also mean that we do not just clap our hands when we sing during worship. While there are certainly times for clapping our hands while singing, clapping is more proper immediately after the song, when we also shout out our praises to God. Clapping is certainly part of worship and pleasing to God, but if it keeps us from raising our hands to God, then we will be missing a lot.

1 For a fuller treatment of this, see On Worship (Part 1).
2 For a fuller treatment of this, see On Worship (Part 3).
3 For a fuller treatment of worship as a banquet, see On Worship (Part 2).
4This is why at times the worship leader leads the congregation into repentance. However, such repentance should already have happened individually before we even enter into the period of worship. This is why, if we have not entered into it even before we arrive at the venue, it is good to take a little time just to sit in silence at our place, as the congregation settles down and prepares to start the worship. The same is true at a Eucharistic celebration.
5And women of course.
6Recalling if a brother has anything against us involves an examination of conscience. If we find that indeed we have done an unrighteous act against the brother, then this applies. However, it is possible that a brother has something against us though we are blameless. In this case, our conscience is clear and we can continue with our worship.
7We certainly can act on this literally. However, right before the time of worship or a Eucharistic celebration, if we recall such unrighteousness against a brother on our part, we can just resolve to rectify the situation soonest possible, and continue on with our worship.
8Versus dirty hands. “Their hands carry out their schemes; their right hands are full of bribes.” (Ps 26:10).
9Jesus says, “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt 5:48).
10Not that God needs to be prodded to attend to us. This is about our proper posture and not God’s. So perhaps we need to consider that if we do not raise our hands in worship, God might not notice us in the milling crowd, and we would not get our share of help and blessings (note to footnote: God will of course always notice us. Again this is about our posture and not God’s).
11A good visual image is that of the Nazi salute to Hitler. Right hands and arms are fully stretched out. Our analogy here of course is just in the manner of salute.
12Precisely because we engage in spiritual warfare with righteousness, then sending brethren off on mission necessitates looking into their spiritual condition. As laying on of hands imposes God’s power and authority for mission, then those who do so need to be prudent and discerning. “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins.” (1 Tm 5:22).
13Technically we raise our arm and our hand.
14The arm is the human limb between the shoulder and the wrist.
15Shoulder to elbow.
16There are many Biblical passages about the importance of the right hand, especially when referring to God. In many cultures, interaction involving hands (whether shaking hands or handing an important document over) is done with the right hand. Swearing in for the Presidency of a country or in a courtroom is done using the right hand. On a lighter note, if you saw the movie Slumdog Millionaire (I hope you see it), there is that amusing scene where one was told not to eat with his left hand because that was the hand used to wipe his ___ (oh, go and see the movie yourself).

* * *

Discussion starter for household meetings:

What have you learned about raising hands during worship? How can you now more properly respond to our times of worship?

(June 13, 2009)

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