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.