Why do Christians lift their hands when worshipping?

When Christians worship, it’s common to see eyes closed, hands raised high, as if reaching towards unseen God himself.  But why does this ritual occur?  Is it a modern religious practice, a tradition, or is it from genuine, spiritual inspiration?

Exodus 9

33 Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the Lord; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land. [Source]

Sometimes, when hands are lifted, storms cease.


Exodus 17

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 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. [Source]

Sometimes, when hands are lifted, battles are won.

1 Kings 8

22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven…(In the following verses, Solomon gives a lengthy and sincere prayer and dedicates the temple to the Lord.) [Source]

Sometimes, when hands are lifted, temples are sanctified.


Psalm 28

1 To you, Lord, I call;
you are my Rock,
do not turn a deaf ear to me.
For if you remain silent,
I will be like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear my cry for mercy
as I call to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your Most Holy Place.[

At times, David lifted his hands in submission while asking for mercy and rescue.


Psalm 63

4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands. [

At other times, David lifted his hands to praise God.


Psalm 143

6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land. [
And at other times, David just reached his hands out to God because he wanted Him.
1 Timothy 2

8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. [Source]

Paul calls for holy, gentle hands to be lifted in prayer.

Tradition vs. Relevancy

In the Church, there are many traditions, many (most) of which the majority of Christians no longer practice because of a cultural shift that makes the tradition awkward or unfamiliar.  Foot Washing comes to mind.  There are many churches that still practice it, but most Christians would feel uncomfortable with either doing or receiving the washing.  So, most churches don’t carry on the tradition.  Is it a bad tradition?  No.  But we live in a different era and so the tradition lacks the impact that it once had.

Another tradition is the kiss.  In the United States, kisses are exchanged most commonly among family members as a loving greeting, or between romantic couples (though this is often a very different type of kiss).  At one time, the kiss was exchanged regularly between Christians and was neither romantic or awkward.

Romans 16:16

New International Version (NIV)

16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.

All the churches of Christ send greetings.


2 Corinthians 13:12

New International Version (NIV)

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.


1 Thessalonians 5:26

New International Version (NIV)

26 Greet all God’s people with a holy kiss.


1 Peter 5:14

New International Version (NIV)

14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Peace to all of you who are in Christ.

Outside of the United States, cheek kissing is still a very common practice.  Somehow though, in the U.S. it is not common to kiss one another, even in the Church.  Should we take the numerous scripture verses that instruct “to greet one another with a kiss” and enforce that as policy at the expense of infringing on another’s comfort?  I don’t think so, that seems to go against the purpose of the kiss in the first place, which is to greet with love.

Raise your hand if you’re sure

With the exception of Paul expressing his desire for the raising of hands in 1 Timothy, there is no instruction for us to do so.  When I was younger, and even younger in my walk with Jesus, I was terrified of raising my hands in church.  I was filled with thoughts like, “What if someone sees the sweat stains under my arms?” and “Everyone else is doing it, so I refuse.”

I didn’t want to participate in some “churchy” man-made tradition.  But if I could be persuaded that there was some biblical precedent for raising my hands to God, then I would consider.  Of course at the time I couldn’t be bothered to open up the bible and start digging either.

I’ve heard the act of raising your hands in praise, worship, prayer, or petition compared to a child raising their arms up to their parent and requesting to be picked up, held, comforted, protected.  And that concept softened my resistance to lifting my hands in worship quite a bit, as I could relate to it.

I hope this is an encouragement to anyone who has felt that raising hands during worship is uncomfortable.  If you have never felt bothered by raising your hands in worship, but wanted some explanation as to its origins, then may this bless you as well.

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