Sunday, February 12, 2017

Raising Hands in Worship?

1 Timothy 2:8 (NKJV)
8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;

In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship – singing the psalms, publicly reading Scripture, reciting the creeds, kneeling for confession, etc. Every church has such traditions and it is important that we regularly evaluate them to make sure that they reflect, not undermine, biblical principles.

Today I want us to consider the practice of raising hands in worship. I raise my hands to assure the congregation of forgiveness and to pronounce the blessing of the Lord; we all raise our hands to sing at the end of the service. Why do such things? Why raise hands at all?

The answer to this question is supplied by the Apostle Paul in our text today: Paul wants us to raise hands. Paul writes to Timothy, I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands… (1 Tim 2:8). If Paul wants holy hands to be lifted up in prayer, then we need to come up with ways to obey him.

So what are the circumstances in which Scripture records the raising of hands by the people of God? First, God’s leaders often raise their hands to bless the people of God. In Leviticus 9:22, Aaron “lifted his hand toward the people [and] blessed them….” Aaron’s action was later imitated by the priests as they blessed Israel. Most significantly, Luke records that after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, Jesus “led the [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (24:50). The lifting of hands in blessing communicates visibly to God’s people the reality of the blessing that is being pronounced. In our service of worship, this action corresponds to the assurance of forgiveness following confession and to the benediction at the end of service.

Second, God’s people often raise hands to worship or bless God. The psalmist declares, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Ps 63:3-4). In Nehemiah 8:6 we are told that “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.” So as we prepare to leave the sanctuary each week, having renewed covenant with God, the entire congregation lifts up holy hands to praise the Lord. Indeed, at certain times of the year, we summon one another to raise hands as we sing in Psalm 134:2, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the Lord.”

Finally, God’s people, especially the men, often raise hands to lift their prayers into God’s presence. David prays in Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my supplications When I cry to You, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.” Similarly, the psalmist prays in 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” One of the most memorable stories associated with the raising of hands and prayer is Israel’s battle against the Amalekites. So long as Moses’ hands were lifted in prayer the Israelites had success; but whenever his hands wavered, Israel began to be defeated. So Aaron and Hur got on either side of Moses and held up his hands until Israel achieved a complete victory (Ex 17:8-16).

It would appear, therefore, that lifting hands in worship is pleasing to God. However, while it is a good and lawful action, it is possible to do it wrongly; we can perform a faithful action unfaithfully. For example, our elders would argue that raising hands haphazardly in corporate worship rather than decently and in good order is problematic. And Paul, in our text today, wants men to lift up holy hands without wrath and doubting… He wants us to raise our hands in a particular way. So what does this mean? Consider that by lifting our hands to God we declare two things: first, we declare that our hands are clean, that they are holy, free from wrath; second, we declare that we trust Him, without doubting. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps 24:3-4a). If we lift up hands that are covered with filth, then this is not pleasing to God; likewise, if we lift up our hands but our hearts are far from the Lord, then this is not pleasing to God. We are to lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting.

So reminded of why we lift hands in worship, let us confess that our hands are often not holy but polluted with guilt and in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. And as we are able let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the 

Friday, February 10, 2017

Bodily Postures in Worship


“The inward attitude certainly holds first place in prayer, but outward signs, kneeling, uncovering the head, lifting up the hands, have a twofold use. The first is that we may employ all our members for the glory and worship of God; secondly, that we are, so to speak, jolted out of our laziness by this help. There is also a third use in solemn and public prayer, because in this way the sons of God profess their piety, and they inflame each other with reverence of God. But just as the lifting up of the hands is a symbol of confidence and longing, so in order to show our humility, we fall down on our knees.” 

John Calvin, Commentary on Acts 20:36

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Why kneel in worship?

1 Kings 8:54 (NKJV)
54 And so it was, when Solomon had finished praying all this prayer and supplication to the LORD, that he arose from before the altar of the LORD, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread up to heaven.

In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship. As we have noted, every church has traditions – and those who claim they don’t are trying to pull the wool over your eyes. It is important, therefore, that we regularly evaluate our traditions to make sure that they reflect and not undermine biblical principles – and it is this that we are doing with our exhortations.

Among the traditions we have as a congregation, one of them is kneeling when we confess our sins. In just a moment I will invite you to kneel with me as we confess our sins to God. Many people, visitors especially, find this practice uncomfortable or objectionable (physically challenging is okay!) – in fact, many have refused to return and worship here because we kneel during our service. The preaching is fine; the music is acceptable; the fellowship seems sweet – but why do you kneel?

This question often causes me to scratch my head and wonder what in the world is happening in the church. What is it about kneeling that bothers us? Some say it reminds them too much of Roman Catholicism. But, of course, if we were to reject whatever the Roman Church practices, then we’d have to eliminate Scripture reading, prayer, and public singing as well. So I’m not sure that’s the real issue. I think the real issue is deeper.

Kneeling is an act of humility; it is to bow before another and acknowledge that that other is greater than I, more important than I, and hence worthy of my respect and honor or even my adoration. Kneeling is also sometimes a visible expression of wrongdoing, a plea for mercy as it were. Hence, there are times when kneeling is inappropriate. Mordecai refused to kneel before Haman; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego refused to kneel before Nebuchadnezzar’s statue; God reserved 7,000 in Israel who would not bow the knee to Baal. There are times when kneeling is compromise and sin.

But there are other times when kneeling is glorious: all Israel bowed the knee to King David; a leper kneeled before Jesus begging to be healed; a man kneels before his beloved and asks for her hand in marriage. There are times when kneeling is the right thing to do.

So what about worship? Is worship an inappropriate or appropriate setting for kneeling? Well, let us consider: we have entered the presence of Almighty God, the Creator of Heaven and earth, the High and Holy One – the One whose power governs all that occurs; the One whose holiness must judge all sin and wickedness; the One whose love compelled Him to send His only-begotten Son to bear the punishment that our sin deserved – how could we imagine that to kneel in this One’s presence is unfitting or inappropriate? Uncomfortable at first? Maybe. But inappropriate? Never.

So in our passage today, we see that Solomon – the Son of David, the King of Israel, and the wisest of men – kneeled before God to make supplication and prayer. And Psalm 95 summons us, O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our God our Maker! And note that this isn’t a summons to private but to public kneeling – O come, let us kneel ­– let all of us together bow before God for He is worthy! And so the four living creatures and the 24 elders in the book of Revelation fall down before the Lamb and they sing a new song saying, Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and strength and honor and glory and blessing!


So this morning, as we consider that we have entered into the presence of Almighty God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sin to the Lord.