And Ezra blessed the Lord, the great God. Then all the people answered, “Amen, Amen!” while lifting up their hands. And they bowed their heads and worshiped the Lord with their faces to the ground. Nehemiah 8:6 (NKJV)
Today I want to share with you my “Lifting Hands” story. I grew up in a Presbyterian Church where beautiful organ music, a talented choir, and often a university orchestra accompanied every hymn. The congregation stood solemnly, singing the traditional songs from the hymnal. You could sing as loudly as you wanted because the organ would drown-out any wrong words or off-key notes. But you would never think of moving as you stoically clasped your hymnal like the rest of the congregation.
When I met Jesus in college, I attended a group called the Baptist Student Union. A few of the students there would lead us in singing, one playing the guitar and others leading the choruses. I realize now that all the songs we sang were Bible verses, for when I read those verses today, the BSU songs immediately come to mind and I hum them the rest of the day. The words were cast on the wall with an overhead projector and we were free to sit or stand and bump arms with our friends.
From there I went to work at a Lutheran summer camp where God’s Word and songs became more alive for me. I learned songs with actions that kept the campers and counselors active. We sang tunes like “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, Oh, baby, let my people go!” while doing the actions of an Egyptian hieroglyphic. We sang “Jesus is real, He’ll never fail,” while casting an imaginary fishing rod into the lake and reeling it in. And, of course, we learned to “march in the infantry” and “ride in the Calvary” and “shoot the artillery” and “soar over the enemy” because we were in the Lord’s army! Singing to Jesus became a fun time of laughing and movement.
My first job after graduation was teaching sixth grade at a Lutheran Day School where I was also required to join the Lutheran Church. There we learned and enjoyed the singing liturgy of the Lutherans, the good old hymns, and the joy of being in a congregation filled with children. The Day School held a service every Thursday morning. Once a month they recognized the children who had been baptized during that month with a song that runs through my head yet today… we are baptized, I am baptized, we have passed through the waters and that’s all that matters, I have passed through the waters, oh thanks be to God! Yet still we sang traditional hymns as we stood in the pews.
When we moved to a new town, we joined a Methodist Church because my husband had grown-up Methodist. It was also a traditional church, but without the singing liturgy. A dedicated choir marched up the center aisle every Sunday in their red robes, inspiring us all to join them in praising the Father. As I juggled young children and a hymn book, I tried to join them in singing. It was truly a Spirit-filled congregation, for there we often sang, “Here I am, Lord, is it I Lord,? I have heard You calling in the night, I will go, Lord, if You lead me, I will hold Your people in my heart.” We received our calling into church camp ministry and they laid hands on us, praying and sending us forth.
From there, our family moved to a United Methodist Church camp. Our first summer, we had only a handful of counselors and none of them were song leaders. Over and over we sang a favorite one young man remembered, “He’s my Rock, my Sword, my Shield, He’s the Wheel in the middle of the Wheel, He’s the Lily of the Valley, He’s the brightest Morning Star, doesn’t matter what you say, I’m gonna get on my knees and pray, I’m going to praise Him till the day that Jesus comes – Hee, haw!” This was accompanied by appropriate hand motions, of course! We prayed for a guitar player the next year, and soon our campers were enjoying a variety of new and old songs at the morning outdoor chapel with fun arm movements lead by the counselors.
God called us to a new church camp in Montana in the year 2000. One summer, a group of volunteers created an outdoor chapel on the hillside where we could hold Sunday evening worship services. One week, a volunteer, a retired Methodist, told me about his call to lift his hands in worship. Why did he tell me? The Lord must have put it upon his heart. As a Methodist, he had never lifted his hands at church, but one day he was reading Psalm 134:2. and the Lord spoke to him, telling him this is what he should do. And so he did! And God put the desire in my heart to do the same.
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,
And bless the Lord. Psalm 134:2 (NKJV)
At the time we were attending a Methodist Church and a closer Lutheran Church, both with choirs and traditional hymns. As the desire to raise my hands increased, I would grasp the pew in front of me, keeping my hands down during the hymns, not wanting to be different or cause a stir. When I would go home to my parents’ church, I would again grasp the pew ahead of me, knuckles turning white as I resisted the urge. For 10 years I did this, even after we started attending an Evangelical Church so our kids could partake in the youth group.
Finally, one Sunday, I let the Holy Spirit take over and I raised my hands as we stood in the back of this Evangelical Church, noticing a few others scattered around the sanctuary were also raising their hands. Finally, I followed the example in God’s Word, the desire of my heart, and the call of the Holy Spirit, reaching my hands up to our Father in heaven as I magnified His Name in song. And now we attend our Sabbath home church and a fellowship group where most hands are raised. And for me, as the good old hymn “I have decided to follow Jesus” says, there’s “no turning back, no turning back.”
…“Stand up and bless the Lord your God
Forever and ever! Blessed be Your glorious name,
Which is exalted above all blessing and praise!
You alone are the Lord;
You have made heaven,
The heaven of heavens, with all their host,
The earth and everything on it,
The seas and all that is in them,
And You preserve them all.
The host of heaven worships You. “You are the Lord God… Nehemiah 9:5-7 (NKJV)
Today’s TEA CUPP: What is your posture when you are praising the Father? Are you standing in the pew, singing with the congregation? Are you curled up on the sofa with pen in hand, writing in your prayer journal words of adoration? Are you sitting with head down, hands clasped, heart beating for the Lord? Are you prostrate on the ground, bowing in honor? Are you standing with hands up high, exalting, lifting the Name of Jesus, reaching toward His throne in heaven? However you position yourself, Our Father God sees you, knows you, loves you and is so blessed by your love and praise. Keep exalting Christ our Lord, dear sister!!!
If you would prepare your heart,
And stretch out your hands toward Him… Job 11:13 (NKJV)
Thus I will bless You while I live; I will lift up my hands in Your name. Psalm 63:4 (NKJV)
Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice. Psalm 141:2 (NKJV)
My hands also I will lift up to Your commandments,
Which I love,
And I will meditate on Your statutes. Psalm 119:48 (NKJV)
Hear the voice of my supplications
When I cry to You,
When I lift up my hands toward Your holy sanctuary. Psalm 28:2 (NKJV)
Scripture from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson