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Lifting Up Holy Hands

By Wayne Burger

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It was an exciting day when Israel gathered for the dedication of the temple of God in Jerusalem. For about five or six hundred years their place of worship had been a tent. As one would think, this dedication involved prayer (1 Kings 8:22). The text seems to indicate: that Solomon began his prayer while standing and somewhere during the prayer he fell to his knees (1 Kings 8:22, 54; 2 Chron. 6:13). Stretching his hands toward heaven was also one of his body positions during this prayer (1 Kings 8:22, 54; 2 Chron. 6:13).

Many Body Positions

Have you noticed how many different body positions during prayer are mentioned in the Bible? I haven't counted them. I've heard one Bible student say that there are about fifteen. As Solomon prayed that day, he mentioned people praying with their body positioned toward the temple (1 Kings 8:29-30, 35), toward Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:44), and even toward the land of Israel (1 Kings 8:48) when they were outside their homeland. Jehoshaphat stood as he prayed (2 Chron. 20:15). In this same context it says that he bowed his head and face to the ground and worshiped (assuming prayer as part of worship).

The Bible tells us that David and Nehemiah sat while they prayed (Neh. 1:4-11; 1 Chron. 17:16). Ezra fell on his knees and stretched out his hands to God (Ezra 9:5). Hannah prayed silently while her lips moved (1 Sam. 1:13). A familiar one in the New Testament is where Jesus "fell on his face and prayed" (Matt. 26:39).

Does the position of one's body really affect his prayer? Is kneeling more reverent than standing? Do the hands lifted to heaven draw God's attention more than when one lies face down on the ground? Is there a preferred position for public prayer? How about private prayer? Solomon built a bronze platform from which he prayed (2 Chron. 6:13) while others fell on the ground (2 Chron. 20:18; Ezra 9:5; Matt. 26:39) and others went to the Lord's house (1 Chron. 17:16).

It seems that Solomon answered this question as to the value of body position when he said, "[H]ear Thou in heaven Thy dwelling place, and forgive and act and render to each according to all his ways, whose heart Thou knowest, for Thou alone cost know the hearts of all the sons of men" (1 Kings 8:39). It's not the position of the body but rather the position of one's heart and the life of the petitioner that counts (Prov. 15:9, 29).

What About Today?

In more and more assemblies, more and more people are lifting their hands during worship. The question which the worshiper must ask himself is: "Why?" The question is not whether it's right or wrong to raise hands. Scripture shows that this was done by some of God's people. The real question is: Why are the hands being raised? Is it out of deep emotion which calls for this position or because one feels that this is a more holy position or is it to be seen of men? Is it deep spirituality which causes the hands to be raised or synthetic spirituality? Jesus warned against synthetic spirituality (Matt. 6:5-8).

Promoters of hand raising may point to 1 Timothy 2:8 as their example. Does this really justify it? If this is the proof text then only men can raise hands because the Greek word for "men" in this passage means male only.

Is it not interesting though, that most of the hand raising being done today is not during the prayer but during the singing? Again, why? What does it say? What is the benefit?

With all prayers, one should examine his/her heart rather than the position of the hands. Holiness is to be found in the heart and demonstrated in one's ways.

(Editor again: This piece first appeared in The Rocky Mountain News. We thought it so excellent and thought provoking that we asked special permission to reproduce it.)

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