Traditions are funny things. I don’t know how many baptisms I have witnessed in my life. But in all of them I remember seeing the person doing the baptizing raise his hand as he spoke before baptizing the candidate in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. In artist renderings of the baptism of Jesus, John the baptizer is often shown with his hand raised as he prepares to baptize Jesus. I was just looking at a picture of a recent baptisms that took place in Africa and there it was again, hand raised before the
I know of no verse in scripture where we are told that we should raise our hand, nor do I find an example where this practice is described, yet this tradition has crossed oceans and cultures as it has traveled around the world, especially among our tribe.
As I reflected on this tradition we practice at baptism I thought how it has not been a tradition among us to raise our hands when we
pray or sing. In fact in some circles people are thought to be strange or weird if they do. I have even heard folks say, “It makes us look like the Pentecostals”, as if that were a bad thing. I see a contradiction here. And what makes this contradiction more odd is that the people who often pride themselves in being a people of the book, who “speak where the Bible speaks and are silent where the Bible is silent”, don’t practice something that the Bible says a lot about.
“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.” (Ps. 63:4) “I call to you, O Lord, everyday; I spread out my hands to you.” (Ps. 88:9) “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.” (Ps. 134:2) “Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, ’Amen! Amen!’” (Neh. 8:6) “Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” (Lam. 3:41 KJV) “I fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God and prayed.” (Ezra 9:5-6) “Solomon knelt down before the whole assembly of Israel and spread out his hands toward heaven.” (2 Chron. 6:13) “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 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. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword … Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, ’For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord.’” (Ex. 17:11-16) “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer.” (1Tim. 2:8) “Every day,” David says in Psalm 88:9, “I call to you and spread out myhands to you.”
Buddy Owen in an article adapted from his book, “The Way of the Worshiper” said, “Look at your hands. They aren’t going to hurt you; just look at them for a moment. Magnificent aren’t they? Who gave us our hands? God gave them to us. What do we do with our hands? Well, we work with our hands. We feed ourselves with our hands. We play with our hands. We give gifts and receive gifts with our hands. We show affection with our hands. We also fight with our hands. We sin with our hands. Why are we so hesitant to worship God with our hands Lifting our hands to God is a biblical posture of prayer. It is another physical demonstration of a spiritual truth. Just as we bow our hearts when we bow our knees, so we lift our hearts when we lift our hands (Lam. 3:41). By kneeling before God and lifting our hands to him, we are presenting our bodies to God as a spiritual act of worship. “
When we lift our hands with palms open it is a physical display of openness. As with kneeling in prayer, another Biblical practice lost by us over the years, lifting our hands is simply a posture of devotion that expresses humility and worship. David said, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? And who may stand in His holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood and has not sworn deceitfully.” We understand that David was not speaking of physically clean hands. When hands are open it is a gesture of openness and expresses we have nothing to hide. It is also an appeal for help. It reminds me of the child that comes to his or her parent with arms out stretched open wide and hands lifted up.
Regardless of what we do with our hands before a baptism or in a time of prayer and worship it is the condition of the heart that is most important. I am not arguing for or against any tradition. But for me personally there is something freeing about physically and outwardly expressing what is going on in my heart. At first it was awkward and uncomfortable, because it was different and I wondered what others would think. It became freeing when I kept my focus on the ONE I was worshiping and it became a very natural expression of praise and worship.
I began this article by saying, traditions are funny things. Today when someone lifts their hands in worship some may feel uncomfortable, but if we could be transported back to the early church or even further back to the Old Testament period, I think we would be very uncomfortable if we did not raise our hands.
Traditions are funny things.