Raising Hands in Worship?

February 13, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - NT - Luke, Bible - OT - Exodus, Bible - OT - Leviticus, Bible - OT - Nehemiah, Bible - OT - Psalms, Ecclesiology, Liturgy, Meditations, Worship
1 Timothy 2:8 (NKJV)
8 I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
In the last few weeks we have explored various traditions that our elders have established to guide our corporate worship – singing the psalms, publicly reading Scripture, reciting the creeds, kneeling for confession, etc. Every church has such traditions and it is important that we regularly evaluate them to make sure that they reflect, not undermine, biblical principles.
Today I want us to consider the practice of raising hands in worship. I raise my hands to assure the congregation of forgiveness and to pronounce the blessing of the Lord; we all raise our hands to sing at the end of the service. Why do such things? Why raise hands at all?
The answer to this question is supplied by the Apostle Paul in our text today: Paul wants us to raise hands. Paul writes to Timothy, I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands… (1 Tim 2:8). If Paul wants holy hands to be lifted up in prayer, then we need to come up with ways to obey him.
So what are the circumstances in which Scripture records the raising of hands by the people of God? First, God’s leaders often raise their hands to bless the people of God. In Leviticus 9:22, Aaron “lifted his hand toward the people [and] blessed them….” Aaron’s action was later imitated by the priests as they blessed Israel. Most significantly, Luke records that after the resurrection of our Lord Jesus, Jesus “led the [disciples] out as far as Bethany, and He lifted up His hands and blessed them” (24:50). The lifting of hands in blessing communicates visibly to God’s people the reality of the blessing that is being pronounced. In our service of worship, this action corresponds to the assurance of forgiveness following confession and to the benediction at the end of service.
Second, God’s people often raise hands to worship or bless God. The psalmist declares, “Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips shall praise You. Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name” (Ps 63:3-4). In Nehemiah 8:6 we are told that “Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands.” So as we prepare to leave the sanctuary each week, having renewed covenant with God, the entire congregation lifts up holy hands to praise the Lord. Indeed, at certain times of the year, we summon one another to raise hands as we sing in Psalm 134:2, “Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, And bless the Lord.”
Finally, God’s people, especially the men, often raise hands to lift their prayers into God’s presence. David prays in Psalm 28:2, “Hear the voice of my supplications When I cry to You, When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary.”Similarly, the psalmist prays in 141:2, “Let my prayer be set before You as incense, The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” One of the most memorable stories associated with the raising of hands and prayer is Israel’s battle against the Amalekites. So long as Moses’ hands were lifted in prayer the Israelites had success; but whenever his hands wavered, Israel began to be defeated. So Aaron and Hur got on either side of Moses and held up his hands until Israel achieved a complete victory (Ex 17:8-16).
It would appear, therefore, that lifting hands in worship is pleasing to God. However, while it is a good and lawful action, it is possible to do it wrongly; we can perform a faithful action unfaithfully. For example, our elders would argue that raising hands haphazardly in corporate worship rather than decently and in good order is problematic. And Paul, in our text today, wants men to lift up holyhands without wrath and doubting… He wants us to raise our hands in a particular way. So what does this mean? Consider that by lifting our hands to God we declare two things: first, we declare that our hands are clean, that they are holy, free from wrath; second, we declare that we trust Him, without doubting. “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart…” (Ps 24:3-4a). If we lift up hands that are covered with filth, then this is not pleasing to God; likewise, if we lift up our hands but our hearts are far from the Lord, then this is not pleasing to God. We are to lift up holy hands without wrath or doubting.

So reminded of why we lift hands in worship, let us confess that our hands are often not holy but polluted with guilt and in need of the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ. And as we are able let us kneel as we do so. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the 

The Public Reading of Scripture

January 16, 2017 in Bible - NT - 1 Timothy, Bible - OT - Nehemiah, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Tradition, Word of God
Nehemiah 8:5, 8
“Ezra opened the book [of the law] in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it, all the people stood up. . . . They read from the book, from the law of God, translating to give the sense so that they understood the reading.”
Every church has traditions. They are unavoidable. They span from the type of music used in worship, to the clothes the preacher wears, to the time the Lord’s Supper is celebrated. Every church has traditions.
This realization should cause us some concern. For when we read the Gospels we know that Jesus issues some severe admonitions about the dangers of tradition. He warns that our traditions can become subtle or not-so-subtle ways to disobey the commandments of God.
It is refreshing, therefore, when we read the Word of God and behold faithful traditions which have been established by the people of God in the past–traditions which do not violate but rather uphold the commandments of God. Such are the traditions in our text today from Nehemiah. There are three.
First, Ezra read from the book of the law. The law or Word of God, we are told repeatedly, is our wisdom, understanding, and life. It is this Word that conveys to us the truth of God and that is used by the Spirit of God to enliven us spiritually. Therefore, what better way to testify to this life transforming power of God’s Word than to read the Scriptures publicly in our worship?
Second, notice that in reading the Law, Ezra read it is such a way that the word was “translated to give the sense.” Have you ever wondered why we don’t read the Old Testament in Hebrew and the New Testament in Greek during our Sunday worship? Have you ever wondered why the Reformers objected to the Roman Church’s practice of reading the word of God exclusively in Latin? Here is your answer. When the law is read aloud, it is to be read in a manner which the people of God can understand. We must not erect traditions of language which preclude the people of God from accessing His Word. And so, our tradition is that we read the Word of God in English translation.
Third, notice that when Ezra opened the book of the law, the people of Israel stood up. Standing communicates respect, attentiveness, eagerness, and determination. It is, after all, at the most intense moments of an athletic competition that the spectators stand on their feet, on their tiptoes, straining to see the action. And when we stand for the reading of the Word we are communicating that here is one of the most central moments of worship. God is speaking to us—not through the frail mouth of the preacher, not through the symbolism of the sacrament, but through the living words of the text directly.
The tradition of reading the Word of God week in and week out, therefore, upholds the centrality of God’s Word in our worship and lives. The Word of God is that which gives us focus, meaning, and direction. Apart from it we are no more than a rudderless ship. So Paul commands Timothy, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching” (ESV, 1 Tim 4:13).
What then is to be our response to the reading? First, we are told in Nehemiah 8:3 that “all the people were attentive to the book of the law.” And this is our first obligation. We should be straining our ears to hear the words of the living God. Our ears should be attentive; all our being should be focused on God’s revelation of Himself.
Second, we should determine to give heed to that which we hear. We are told in the 12th verse of this same chapter that “all the people went away to eat, to drink, to send portions and to celebrate a great festival, because they understood the words which had been made known to them.” Having read the law’s regulations on the Feast of Booths, the people immediately set out to obey it. The people understood the law and gave heed to it.

This reminds us that we often fail to give heed God’s Word as we ought. Our attention is often distracted when it is read. Our own opinions often intrude. Our heart often refuses to obey when we have heard. So let us draw near to God and ask Him to cleanse us of our faults.