4 Reasons to Stop Judging Those who Lift Their Hands in Prayer

Wes  —  August 21, 2014
  • Sumo

I want to make a confession to you, I have always been judgmental toward those who lift their hands during worship. It isn’t so much the practice itself that I have judged, but the motives behind the practice. I have thought to myself, “How selfish. That person is obviously just trying to draw attention to himself.” Or, when an entire congregation seems to participate, I’ve thought, “This group has gone off the deep end.” But I’m wrong on this, friends. I have absolutely no right to judge someone for the position of their hands; and neither do you. Here’s why…

Lifting Hands

1. There is no required posture for prayer.

In Scripture, people pray standing, kneeling, prostrate on the ground, with their eyes lifted up, with their heads bowed, and with their hands raised. The posture depended more on the content of what was being prayed, and the situation surrounding the prayer, than on anything else.

When I insist that other Christians conform to my traditional posture for prayer, sitting with hands folded, I am wrong and I’m showing my own ignorance of Scripture. In fact, I would love to see the passage of Scripture where someone folded their hands in prayer. I haven’t seen that one yet.

2. It’s biblical to lift hands in prayer.

As I said in the previous point, raising ones hands toward heaven is one of many biblical postures for prayer. Consider three examples of godly men who lifted their hands in prayer:

  • David (Psalm 28:1-2; 141:1-2)
  • Solomon (1 Kings 8:22-54)
  • Ezra (Ezra 9:5-15)

3. A proper understanding of 1 Timothy 2:8 doesn’t disqualify the practice.

In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul wrote, “I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling.” When this passage is used to justify lifting hands in prayer, some will argue, “That’s not really what Paul was talking about.” I agree, the emphasis of this passage is on being holy and living at peace with one another.

When Paul says, “holy hands” he is probably using a figure of speech known as synecdoche, where a part represents the whole. We might say, “Check out my new wheels,” when showing someone a new car. We don’t mean only the wheels are new, we mean the whole car is new. Paul didn’t mean to say only a person’s hands were holy, but that the person himself – in his entirety – is holy. We use the term “red handed” in the opposite way.

However, just because we properly understand this, certainly does not mean a person cannot lift his hands when he prays. In fact, this passage would seem to indicate – at least at some level – that it is quite biblical to do so. And isn’t ironic that we have completely ignored the fact that Paul said, “without anger or quarreling” and we’ve turned the lifting of hands into something we angrily quarrel about?

4. It only gives a negative impression if we let it.

Many say, “Yes, I realize lifting hands is biblical, but it gives the impression that a person wants to draw attention to themselves or that a congregation is caught up in emotionalism.” Although I’ve been guilty of saying things like that, it is simply not a fair argument.

What if people started saying, “Yes, I realize there is nothing wrong with wearing a tie, but I think it gives the impression that you’re trying to flaunt your wealth. Therefore, it is wrong to wear a tie and I will not fellowship anyone who wears a tie”? Who gets to decide what “impression” every practice gives? Where do we get the biblical authority to tell someone they cannot do something simply because it is our opinion that it gives the wrong impression?

This kind of judgmental attitude has to be kept in check. Who am I to sit in judgement of my brethren for doing something; especially when it was clearly done in Scripture? Who am I to say what kind of impression it makes? If it makes a poor impression on me, then perhaps I’m the one who needs to change and not the person lifting his hands while he prays.

Will I Start Lifting My Hands in Prayer?

Listen, I have no desire to lift my hands in prayer – especially in the public assembly – for many reasons. One reason is that I couldn’t do it without being self-conscious. I would be thinking about my posture and what others might be thinking if they saw me, rather than on my heavenly Father. I also will not do it because I don’t want to be a stumbling block. Just because we have the right to do something, doesn’t mean it is expedient to do it. I will not knowingly cause someone else to stumble because I want to exercise my rights.

Romans 14:15-18

For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

But just because I cannot – in good conscience – make a practice of this, does not mean I have a right to judge and condemn my brethren for it.

Romans 14:10-12

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

If you know the lifting of your hands might make someone else uncomfortable and distract them from worship – for their sake – please don’t do it. Or if someone else lifts their hands, and it bothers you, please don’t rebuke them for it; change your own heart, don’t break theirs.

There are already plenty of issues that divide us, please don’t let this be another one.

I love you and God loves you,

Wes McAdams