I grew up in a church where lifting your hands in worship was a very progressive movement. My childhood church was not particularly strict, but it was a Southern Baptist church that preferred songs from the hymnal over a repeating chorus on a screen.
Even at camps and outside youth groups as a teenager, I don’t recall raising my hands during praise and worship. I do remember weeping on occasion and did not understand why until much later in my life, but I didn’t see the need in lifting my hands. I tried it once or twice and felt like a fake.
Fast forward ten years. My husband and I moved to Greensboro, North Carolina, and started looking for a church. It was the first time I would refer to “church” and not be talking about my childhood church. God was good and we found an amazing, multi-racial, multi-cultural church with a mission statement we could embrace. And the praise and worship was amazing.
Slowly I started lifting my hands in worship. Just one hand. I mean, let’s not get crazy. And initially I still felt that same sting of inauthenticity. But I was in a church full of people lifting up their hands, so there must be something to this. And after pushing through that feeling of falseness, something just clicked and it felt right. I felt like I was worshiping God more fully – with my entire being. Not just my spirit and heart and voice, but my full physical body was reaching out to him with praise.
But what does it really mean to lift your hands in worship?
Raising your hands is a universal symbol for surrender. It’s a means of telling the other party, “You win. I give up.” And sometimes when you’re lifting your hands in worship, it is in surrender. “You know best God. I give it to you.” Maybe you’re surrendering your life or maybe you’re surrendering a battle you’ve been trying to fight by your own might, or maybe you’re surrendering that moment for God to move in you.
Maybe you want to hear some science behind it. Well, lifting up your hands has been scientifically proven to improve your breathing, allowing you to take deeper, fuller, more beneficial breaths. Increasing your oxygen intake reduces stress, increases calm, and helps you focus. So, lifting your hands in worship literally gives your body a boost.
But what does God’s Word say? Just because it feels right and I can rationalize it through cultural expectations and a scientific study, that doesn’t mean it’s something directly endorsed by God. Only, this one is.
The Old Testament references the lifting up of hands numerous times. Aaron lifted his hands to bless the people (Leviticus 9:22), Solomon lifted up his hands in prayer (1 Kings 8), and many times over the people of Israel can be seen lifting up their hands to God in worship, adoration, and surrender. It was the lifted hands of Moses that acted as the conduit for Israel to defeat Amalek (Exodus 17). And David, perhaps the greatest worshipper to have ever walked this earth, writes throughout the book of Psalm of lifting up his hands toward God. If David lifted his hands in worship, then that’s really enough for me. I should lift my hands in worship too. All the time. Every time I praise God, my hands should be there too.
When we praise and when we worship God, we are acknowledging his greatness. He is greater than us. He has endowed us with power, but He is greater. And in worship we are surrendering to that greatness.
Romans 12:1 says, “I urge you , brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”
Offer your body as a living sacrifice in your worship. Sometimes I wish I could make myself taller or stretch further toward Heaven in my worship. He doesn’t just want your voice. He doesn’t just want lip service in praise or worship to him. He wants ALL of you. Start with your hands. See what happens.