On the Lifting Up of Hands

I used to attend an evangelical church of around 10,000 people. (Why I attended such a church is, well, complicated). Worship services at this church are full of energy–upbeat, encouraging celebrations marked by raucous music and the lifting up of many hands.

The problem? The lifting up of hands, biblically-speaking, is a symbol for prayer–most often, supplication or intercession. Do a digital word search of the Bible sometime. The very few times the lifting up of hands is mentioned in relation to worship, it is clearly referring to worship expressed through prayer. Every other time it is clearly an expression of prayer.

So…In the past few decades we’ve had a “revival” of upbeat, encouraging, celebratory music in the evangelical church, accompanied by a new “fad” of the lifting up of hands. I’m not going to call this “revival” superficial, hypocritical, or anything of the kind; I certainly hope it’s none of those things.

What I am going to say, however, is that the lifting up of hands that we are seeing in our churches is not, strictly speaking, biblical. It is not, to put it sharply, what hands in the Bible were lifted up for. They were lifted up for prayer.

Now for the real problem. Prayer meetings in the large evangelical church I attend, as they are in most evangelical churches, are virtually empty.

The point here, then, is not to harp on whatever fad is currently occupying the evangelical church (that would be a tiresome task).  Perhaps, after all, the literal lifting up of hands in prayer was meant to pass away along with other Ancient Mesopotamian religious practices, like (that pariah of evangelical dogma) the head covering.

The point is that in light of the overwhelming importance of prayer in the Bible, the lack of attendance at our prayer meetings is an ominous sign indeed.

I’m hoping and praying for a new, undeniably biblical revival: a revival of the lifting up of our hands in prayer. Then, and only then, will we know for sure that God is with us, in our worship and everything else we do.

When Jesus and Hume Agree

David Hume, the well-known Scottish philosopher of the 18th century, was a skeptic in matters of religion, but one of the best-known passages from his Treatise of Human Nature has much to teach Christians. This principle is encapsulated in the following familiar quote: “Reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Hume’s point in this passage is that reason is not in itself capable of producing any action; it is merely the faculty by which we judge and reflect upon things. All human behavior, says Hume, is motivated and controlled by the passions, of which there are those of a more noble order (which Hume calls the “calm” passions) and others of a lesser order (the “violent” passions). For Hume, common, everyday desires and emotions dictate our actions, and reason is merely an entity in their service.

Though this notion has of course been debated, and has various and far-reaching ramifications, I could not agree more with Hume.  The point for Christians is that we must understand that we are under the control of our desires and passions at all times. When temptation strikes, we are powerless to resist unless there is a stronger, deeper passion or desire–a stronger power–opposing the one tempting us. 

Continue reading “When Jesus and Hume Agree”

Consumed by God

My second book on the Christian life, written nearly a decade ago, is entitled Consumed by God: The Calling and Destiny of Every Christian. This book, I suppose, contains the sum and substance of my spiritual burden; the central message that I humbly contend the church so desperately needs to hear.

It has been observed often of late that Christianity is in dire straits. The least sentient observer within the church, and certainly the most casual outside of it, surely knows this to be the case. Beyond the obvious expressions of doctrinal deviance that flood our Christian airwaves, even staunchly evangelical congregations are mired in the glut and trappings of this present world and struggle to involve themselves in even the most painless of spiritual causes.

What we desperately need is a return to biblical Christianity. The teachings of Jesus and his disciples are crying out to be reexamined, or at least expounded with a newfound appreciation for their significance and urgency. Again, evangelical congregations virtually en masse have to a large degree missed the essence of genuine Christianity, in my view. Millions have convinced themselves that they are true believers without manifesting the slightest real interest in the burden of Christ and his kingdom in the world.

What Consumed by God seeks to show is that the Christian message we usually hear today is wrong au fond. I do not refer to obvious expressions of heresy such as the prosperity gospel; these are easy-pickings for arm-chair theologians. What I am referring to is the gospel as it is presented in the most evangelical of contexts. What we desperately need to hear is that the Word of God calls us to a surrendering of our lives to Christ that the overwhelming majority of preachers today have never even considered, let alone propounded.

This book is available to read online or download. See the Books page in the dropdown menu above.

More on Prayer

Nothing is more revealing about our times than the prevailing distaste for hard sayings. Strangely, though, in our day one often finds the greatest aversion to such sayings among so-called Christian scholars. A prime example is the way such scholars discuss the topic of prayer.

A friend brought to my attention one such article by a scholar who occupies a somewhat prestigious place in Christian academic circles. This scholar was denouncing any exhortative approach to the subject of prayer, finding it unacceptable that someone would directly challenge fellow believers to be more diligent and consistent in their prayer lives. To this I could only respond with astonishment and dismay. My first book, which is so short and simple that it has no doubt given occasion for some to scorn, is only that: an attempt to motivate other believers to pray more fervently and persistently.

But the reason I wrote the book, of course, is that the Word of God makes it abundantly clear just how important prayer is. Because the book offers little intellectual food for thought, however, Christian scholars such as the one my friend referred to would no doubt be offended by it. Many such scholars today love to approach practical subjects like prayer in novel ways, offering mystical insights from unique viewpoints, but such approaches to practical subjects too often make a mockery of them. Though prayer, like any theological topic, is undoubtedly profound and worthy of exploration, the real profundity of prayer, biblically speaking, lies in its practice; for it is nothing other than the gateway by which the soul becomes one with God.

The true problem in such matters, I would venture to say, is that that there is an epidemic of spiritual shallowness in even the most conservative Christian colleges and seminaries. A deep and serious approach to spirituality; the treating of the spiritual life as the most profound subject of all; the passionate pursuit of God as opposed to mere speculations about him–all of which marked earlier, great scholars like Jonathan Edwards–this is what is lost in the Christian academy today, and indeed the church at large. This is, in fact, why I left a prominent seminary many years ago after attending it for a short while. The Holy Spirit, I contended then, was almost nowhere to be found in that place; no one seriously sought God, and thus he was not there.

One has to search far and wide in our day to find anyone who thinks of prayer the way great Christians in the past thought of it: that its persistent presence in the life of a believer is compelling evidence of a spiritual life that is genuine, deep, and effectual. I would argue further that those who ascertain its significance may have far more of a genuine intellectual spirit than those who do not–the spirit of the prophets, the spirit even of the poets, the spirit that recognizes that no mere intellectual pursuit, no rational speculation, is worth comparing with attaining in one’s own being the embodiment of what is virtuous and beautiful–the image of God himself, through the agency of the Holy Spirit. For such can only be born of a life that, through constant prayer, maintains that vital interconnectedness between one’s soul and the Fountain of all Wisdom.

Prayer

My first book is entitled Prayer: The Church’s Great Need. It is a short and simple introduction to the place of prayer in the purposes of God. It focuses primarily on the concept of prayer as intercession for the advancement of God’s kingdom. It is meant to be straightforward and accessible without sacrificing spiritual breadth and depth.

Prayer continues to be the strangely missing ingredient in the church today. Countless Christians in times past have testified to its necessity, and the Bible, as we all know, places eminent significance upon it. It is a labor that is foundational to every Christian grace and every kingdom endeavor. How then is it so rare today? My brief volume is a sincere attempt to address this problem.

I am quite thankful to well-known author Dr. Steven J. Lawson, who wrote an uplifting and generous foreword. To review or purchase this book, select the Books page from the menu above.