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By Nate Beaird

A while ago my wife, Niki, and I were sitting with a group of friends from church, all from various church backgrounds. A question was raised by one of our group: “I’ve been meaning to ask you guys, Why do some people lift their hands during the songs?”

It’s a fair question. I have attended Pentecostal churches since I was born. Raising hands is the least strange thing I’ve seen in a church service. However, I know others didn’t grow up with that experience.

There are some very theological and even historical reasons why people raise their hands. In the Psalms, David writes about lifting hands to the Lord’s holy sanctuary (Psalm 28:2) and as an offering (Psalm 141:2). The act of lifting hands towards someone is also described as a blessing (Leviticus 9:22; Psalm 63:4; Luke 24:50), as a form of worship (Nehemiah 8:6), and as a form of surrender (Ezra 9:5; 1 Kings 8:22; 54). In Hebraic history and tradition, raising hands toward heaven was a sign of blessing. There are many reasons why raising a hand is significant even apart from worship.

My friend’s question caused me to examine why I raise my hands during worship. I developed the following list:

1. Reaching for help

Have you ever tripped while walking with a group of people? Was your first reaction to reach out for someone to stabilize yourself? Before looking to the ground or moving your hands towards the ground to brace your fall, your hands instinctively reached out to find something to grasp as a lifeline. Have you ever pushed someone into a pool? What was their first reaction? Probably hands flailing, grasping for something, anything that would protect them from their current experience. Many times this reaction of self-preservation saves us. A bystander, wall, or railing stops us from falling to the ground. We don’t think about it what we are doing; it is hard-wired into our being to reach out for help.

Sometimes life throws me a surprise push into the pool, and in the middle of my experience, my probably-should-be-more-immediate reaction is to reach out for the Lord. Sometimes during worship, I push aside the fears that my present situation brings and I simply reach out to the Lord. It reminds me that I cannot be the master of my own life, but that I must trust the Master of my life.

2. Excitement

Nate takes a picture moments after the defensive touchdown that won the game.

Nate takes a picture moments after the defensive touchdown that won the game.

In 2016 I got the chance to go to my first regular season NFL football game. My team, the Denver Broncos, was playing their divisional rival, the Kansas City Chiefs, in Kansas City. Just a short drive from my home in Iowa, this game was a chance to see my team on a Monday night, a prime-time match-up. The game was tied with 27 seconds left and overtime seemed to be on the horizon. As most teams would, the Chiefs tried to run the ball and keep the clock ticking to take their chances in overtime. Everyone in the stands was preparing themselves for the end of regulation time, nervous about how this game was going to end. I sat in enemy territory, one of a handful of Bronco fans in a sea of red and yellow shirts and mascot drums pulsating.

Suddenly the ball popped out of the hands of the Chief’s running back. There it lay on the ground!

“Get that ball!” I screamed. With mere seconds left, Denver’s Bradley Roby scooped it up and ran it in for a defensive touchdown. As we looked around to see no flags on the ground, we realized the Broncos were going to win this thing! We jumped up and down, throwing our hands in the air and reaching out to give high fives and hugs as the time ran off the clock. We were completely astonished. The game was over; the winner had been decided.

In my life, I have seen the Lord overcome astonishing circumstances to claim the victory, and those experiences fuel my faith that He will continue to do so. The Bible tells us that He has indeed already won the battle over evil and that we can rejoice in that. So sometimes during worship I simply want to praise God, not only for winning but also ensuring that I will win through his Son, Jesus Christ. I want to reach out to Him as if to exclaim, “You are victorious! You are the King of kings and Lord of lords!” I am still unsure if I want to attempt a high-five with God.

3. Sadness

We have all needed a hug at some point in our lives, someone to embrace us and hold us. There is something about that connection with a loved one that comforts us because we get the sense that we don’t have to be strong and hold it together in that moment. We have someone there with us, someone that cares enough about us to offer their shoulder. It’s an unspoken understanding that a caring person is standing with you when you can’t stand on your own, holding you when you can’t hold yourself. They will be there as long as you need them. They will mourn with you because they care so much about you.

I’ve been in places in my life where I have needed God for more than just a great parking space at the store. I’ve been in a place so low that I could actually understand why someone would take their own life. The concept of God holding us when we are devastated can seem so over-commercialized, like some sort of fluffy story people say to comfort loved ones; but if you’ve ever experienced it, you know it to be completely honest and pure. I’ve been so crushed that only reaching out to the Lord would do, and in that moment I understood He cared for me. He mourned my sadness, and He would comfort me as long as I needed him.

4. Hey you!

Have you ever planned to attend a movie with friends and arrived at the theater before they did? You find a few seats together and guard those extra spots like a lion hovering over a fresh kill. I’m just imagining that is what it’s like because I’m usually the one who is late. And when I walk down that long hallway into a theater filled with people and turn to look for my friends who are on time, all I can see is a sea of faces chewing buttery popcorn. I scan and scan and scan. Finally I spot a hand wave. Just a little flick of the wrist says, “Hey, I’m right here!” I happily make my way to the saved seat.

Sometimes I feel like God is looking at a sea of faces, and I need Him to see me. Sometimes I raise my hands as if to say, “Hey, I’m right here and I need you!” Obviously God always knows where we are and always sees us. And He is never late, even to movies. But there are times we feel like God can’t see us and even a flick of the wrist doesn’t seem to grab His attention. David wrote about this type of experience in Psalm 13:1 (NKJV):

“How long will you forget me, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

If David, described as a man after God’s own heart, could feel like God didn’t notice him or was simply choosing not to see him, then it is not out of the realm of possibility that we would feel the same way.

5. Surrender

This one can seem upside down to people because surrender is usually a bad thing. It means you’ve lost, at least in the context of a fight. It means you are cornered and out of options. Why would anyone ever want to surrender?

In my life I’ve done a pretty great job at getting cornered, running out of options. When I run my life my own way, it always happens. It’s not that I’m completely clueless about how to live and make decisions; it’s just that I’m making decisions and choices without all the information. Anyone can tell you that if you make decisions in that manner you will not make the wisest choices unless you get really lucky. I am Irish, but none of that Irish luck ever seems to show itself when I need it.

When I surrender (again) to the Lord, I refocus myself on His Word and His Holy Spirit. I begin to understand. I begin listening. I begin living my life according to His promises, according to His principles, and according to the victory He says I have when I surrender to Him. There really is freedom in surrender. What a powerful summation of our walk with the Lord.

So sometimes when I raise my hands during worship, I’m surrendering my life back to Him. Carrie Underwood got it right when she sang, “Jesus, take the wheel!”

6. I know the answer

We all knew what to do in school when we knew the answer: we raised our hands and the teacher would call on us.

I don’t always know how to find the “x” in an equation, but here’s something I do know: the Lord is for me and not against me. He rallies for me and cheers me on. He goes before me and prepares my path, always protecting me from the schemes of the devil. He is my fortress, my strong tower. He is the rock on which I stand. He has guided my life and blessed me beyond belief. What I have I do not deserve. And what I deserve I did not receive. He is faithful.

You see, I know the answer to the struggles we go through. It is and always has been the Lord. Sometimes when I’m worshipping, I want to raise my hands to Him and praise Him because the answer is so sure in my Spirit. I want to raise my hands boldly and proudly as if to say, “Not only do I know You are the answer, but I am confident You are the answer. I will follow You all the days of my life.”

7. I will go

In an old movie called The 13th Warrior, there is an evil in a far-off land that must be defeated, but only 13 men can go. One by one, the men proudly volunteer to go fight, and they are celebrated for their bravery.

I too want to volunteer for the Lord’s service. Sometimes when I worship, I raise my hands as if to say, “I’ll go, Lord. Send me. Use my gifts and resources to do whatever You need to do.”

8. Trust jump

My three-year-old is an adrenaline junkie. She always wants to jump off things, climb things, and to be tossed up in the air as high as I can throw her. But she wasn’t always like that. I remember waaaaay back when she would barely jump only a few steps into my waiting arms. She would look at me, look at my hands, bend her knees, and stick out her arms like she was going to jump. I would stand close to her at first and then gradually move farther away as she learned she could trust that I would catch her and as she began to trust her own abilities. In reality it didn’t matter if she could make it on her own power or not; I would catch her. I will always catch her. Each time I do, I tell her how amazing she is that she could jump that far. (We also have an understanding that she only attempts these things when Daddy is around.)

Sometimes even though I’m willing to go where God wants me to (reason #7), I need to work on the trust part. I “stand on the step” after the Lord has asked me to jump. I want to – I mean, I volunteered, right? But I stand on the step with my knees bent and arms out, judging the distance. So at times when I lift my hands in worship, I am going through this “trust jump” with God. Regardless of my abilities He always catches me and He will do the rest.

9. Receiving

One time I was putting my little girl into her car seat when she suddenly realized she didn’t have her favorite blanket. She was immediately struck with the fear that she didn’t have it and she needed it. She began crying, very concerned that we would leave without it. I reassuringly placed my hand on her leg, and while she looked at me with eyes full of crocodile tears and a quivering bottom lip, I gently said, “I’ll make sure you have it, just like I always do.”

Sometimes when I worship, I am asking for more. I’m asking God to show me and my family His glory, to touch us with His Spirit. I’m asking for healing, for wisdom, for direction, for forgiveness. I’m asking for His protection of my children and that He would use them to show others who He is. I’m asking Him to bless my wife and our marriage. I’m asking that He would give us more faith and help us in our times of doubt.

During those times of worship I can almost hear Him reassure me, “I’ll make sure you have what you need, just like I always do.”

I’ve noticed that every one of my reasons for raising my hands during worship circles around relationships. Our context with God is – wait for it – a relationship. Thus we can draw parallels in how we extend our hands in other relationships in our daily lives to reasons we raise our hands during worship. Worship is more than just reading words on a screen and singing three fast songs and then three slow songs. It’s a time to connect with Him.

The next time someone asks me why I raise my hands during worship I know what I will say: I simply want to connect.

About The Author

Nate Beaird
Digital Media Manager

Nate Beaird is the digital media manager for Open Bible Churches. He and his wife, Niki, have two young children.