A psalm of David. When he was in the Desert of Judah. O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. {2} I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. {3} Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. {4} I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. (Psalms 63:1-4)

The psalmist David speaks here of being desperately thirsty for God’s presence and power in his life. Can you relate at all to this spiritual condition? Have you ever been desperately thirsty for more of God in your life? Are you there right now? If so, I encourage you to read on … and to do so with an open mind.

It’s with a desperate need for more of God at work in his life that the psalmist speaks of lifting up his hands. I want to suggest that while this prayer-and-praise posture can be one which a worshiper might assume in a thoughtless rather than thoughtful manner, it can be much more. The uplifting of our hands in praise or prayer can also function in a powerful, sacramental manner, helping us make a spiritual connection with the God we’re so desperately thirsty for.

That said, the theme of this blog posting is that maybe the lifting of our hands in prayer and praise is more important to our walk with God than even the most charismatic Christian ever imagined. Could it be that those of us who want more of God in our lives should be more careful than we might have been in the past to follow the lead of the psalmist and lift up our hands in praise and prayer?

This bold, perhaps provocative thesis is based upon the following observations:

First, the actual frequency with which the Bible refers to the devotional practice of lifting one’s hands is actually somewhat startling.

Here are some examples of biblical passages where the lifting on hands to the Lord is referred to:

When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven. (1Kings 8:54)

Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God {6} and prayed . . . (Ezra 9:5-6)

Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” . . . (Nehemiah 8:6)

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

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands and my soul refused to be comforted. (Psalm 77:2)

. . . my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you. (Psalm 88:9)

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

I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land. Selah (Psalm 143:6)

Furthermore, in several places the Bible actually exhorts God’s people to be careful to engage in this particular devotional practice.

I have in mind here such passages as:

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD. (Psalms 134:2)

Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children . . . (Lamentations 2:19)

Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven, and    say . . . (Lamentations 3:41)

I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing. (1Timothy 2:8)

Finally, there is a fairly solid theological argument to be made for the idea that this particular devotional practice might function sacramentally, helping us experience more of God’s presence and power in our lives.

This theological argument runs like this:

First of all, we know that the attitude of our hearts is a crucial factor when it comes to prayer and worship.

A careful read of the scriptures indicates thats it’s not just any kind of prayer and worship that gets God’s attention and elicits His blessings. How we approach God will make a huge difference in our devotional experience.

  • According to 1 Samuel 2:30, God will only respond to those worshipers whose intent is to truly honor him:

“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and your father’s house would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. (1 Samuel 2:30)

  • According to Jeremiah 29:13, we find God in prayer and worship only when we seek him with a deep sense of devotion and sincerity (if not desperation):

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. (Jeremiah 29:13)

  • According to James 4:6-10, we succeed in receiving God’s grace only when we approach him with an attitude of genuine humility in place:

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” [7] Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. [8] Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [9] Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. [10] Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:6-10)

Secondly, keeping the passages just referred to in mind, it shouldn’t be difficult to see how the act of humbly lifting our hands toward God during prayer and worship can reflect the kind of heart-attitude God is looking for from His people.

Lifting our hands toward God during prayer and worship can have the effect of honoring Him while humbly demonstrating our desperation. It’s no wonder then that the Bible refers to this practice so often, and, in at least one place, suggests that it is tantamount to the offering of an acceptable sacrifice!

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

Thirdly, there are passages in the Bible that suggest that God really does notice when His people do certain things during prayer and worship, and that He responds accordingly.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Do you remember how God responded with grace and mercy when Hezekiah turned his face to the wall with tears of repentance?

I have heard your prayer and seen your tears; I will heal you…. (2 Kings 20:5)

  • Do you remember how God responded when he saw the repentance manifested by the king and people of Nineveh?

When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he had compassion and did not bring upon them the destruction he had threatened. (Jonah 3:10)

  • Do you remember the story of that famous battle between the people of Israel and the Amalekites that took place just after the people of Israel had escaped their Egyptian bondage? How Moses’ devotional posture seemed to make a difference in the outcome of the battle?

As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. {12} When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up–one on one side, one on the other–so that his hands remained steady till sunset. {13} So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword…. {15} Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. {16} He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD….  ” (Exodus 17:11-16)

These are just three of many stories that seem to suggest to us that God sees and responds to the things we do when we approach him in prayer and worship. Could it be, then, that lifting our hands toward God in prayer and worship can be a way of signaling to him how desperately thirsty we are for his presence and power in our lives?

Well then, here’s my bold proposal: I am humbly suggesting that it’s possible for us to think of our lifting our hands to toward God during prayer and worship as a sort of sacramental action that, because of the heart-attitude it reflects, helps us experience God’s presence and power in a special way.

Here are some analogies that might help:

  • Raising our hands during prayer and worship is like hoisting a sail by which we can catch and be driven by the wind of the Spirit.
  • Raising our hands during prayer and worship is like raising an antenna that can help us tune in to God’s speaking voice.
  • Raising our hands during prayer and worship is like raising a banner that draws God’s attention to our situation and invites Him to fight our battle for us.
  • Raising our hands during prayer and worship is comparable to what a child does when it wants to be held, or what a lover does when he or she longs to be embraced, or what a friend does in order to signal welcome, acceptance or affection to another.

The bottom line is that perhaps, just perhaps, the practice of our raising our hands toward God during prayer and worship is more important to God and more helpful for us than we ever imagined.

Should we be more careful than might have been in the past to follow the lead of the psalmist and lift up our hands in praise and prayer?

Something to think about.