What Should I Do With My Hands During Congregational Singing?

To raise your hands or not to raise your hands… that is the question. Or at least it is for some people.

It seems to me that raising your hands during congregational signing has become something of a ‘litmus test’ of spiritual maturity. A good or bad one? Well it depends on where you’re coming from. As a far as I can tell, there are four predominant views on the issue.

Here are the extremes:

  • Everyone should raise their hands- those who don’t raise their hands are spiritually dead, emotionless and can’t love God. Love for God needs to be expressed physically.
  • Nobody should raise their hands- those who raise their hands have been swept up in pagan experientialism and false theology. We should lower the ceiling fans to teach them a lesson.

Now most of us don’t go this far. Instead, we opt for a slightly ‘holier than thou’ mentality and suggest either:

  • Raising your hands is something that the spiritually mature do- in other words, “You don’t have to raise your hands, but you’re obviously not as passionate about God as those of us who do.”
  • Raising your hands is something that the spiritually immature do- this is the camp that most of my friends fall into. “Raise your hands if you want to, but you’re obviously into that ‘charo’ stuff and haven’t figured out real theology yet.”

Perhaps they wouldn’t articulate it quite so starkly, but scratch below the surface and it’s often what you’ll find.

So who’s right?

Neither. The Bible constantly teaches us that, “man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam 16:7). In other words, God cares very little for the ‘posture of your body’ and far more for the ‘posture of your heart’. He doesn’t care whether you raise your hands or not.

God’s people in the Old Testament were just as confused. They believed that God wanted them to sacrifice bulls and goats to him. So they did. What they forgot, however, was that God cared far more about their hearts than their goats.

God says, “Even though you offer me burnt offerings I will not accept them” (Amos 5:22). David says, “You will not delight in sacrifice or I would give it… the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Ps 51:15-16). And Jesus quotes, “I desire mercy not sacrifice” (Matt 9:13).

It is entirely possible to worship God in song and have an attitude that is totally repugnant to him. He cares about your heart, not your hands. If you repent of sin and trust in Jesus you can do the Macarena for all he’ll care. Just make sure your heart is in the right place.

So what’s the way forward?

  • For those who raise their hands– good for you. Raise your hands for Jesus and do so with joy. Just remember that it doesn’t necessarily follow that you love Jesus more than those who don’t.
  • For those who don’t raise their hands- good for you. Stick your hands in your pockets for Jesus and do so with joy. Just remember that you it doesn’t necessarily follow that your theology is better than those who do.

Question: What do you think? Are there any other views that people might have in regards to this issue? Leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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36 thoughts on “What Should I Do With My Hands During Congregational Singing?

  1. Personally, I just find other people singing with the hands up annoying and distracting – but the solution is not for them to stop but rather for me to get over myself and focus on what I’m doing ie worshiping…

  2. I’ve had a dozen convos with people about essentially this sort of issue regarding KYCK and the mosh pit up the front. 500-600 teenagers jumping about the place – arms in the air – having the time of their lives singing worship of and to our Lord Jesus. Most people love it or don’t mind either way. so we don’t hear from them. we hear from people who hate it – and they think it’s ungodly and shallow and theologically wrong.
    But of course, it’s none of those things. And it’s neve rthe teenagers complaining – just their youth pastors. And it’s only ever Anglicans.
    You know what – it’s just different. It’s not theologically wrong; ungodly or shallow. It’s just different.
    The style of how we sing and worship while we’re singing has changed a bit over the past few years. that’s not a bad thing – it’s just the way it is.
    Maybe it’d be better if we all got over ourselves and just got on with the job of rescuing a generation of teenagers who are well and truly post-Christian. fighting with each other about our physical posture while we sing is not where the battle’s at.
    That’s a style question – not a substance question.
    Let’s just make sure our substance is solid then our style can be adjusted to the situation in which we find ourselves.
    I think someone said something like this one time a while back. how did it go again? Oh, that’s right –
    i became all things to all people in order to win some.

    thanks for the post Tim – blessings brother,
    Steve

    • Love your work Steve. Love your work at KYCK too. The funny thing is that if you ever travel to another country their singing looks entirely different as well. I remember dancing in congo lines during church in Africa! As you say, a large part of it is surely just cultural.

    • love this comment.
      remindeds me of when David brought the ark of the covenant back to Jerusalem, and essentially gets down in front of the whole crowd in his tighty whiteys. and even then his own wife was judging him for it. he was also the one who wrote psalms about lifting his hands towards God as an expression of worship.
      what Tim says is absolutely right – the posture of your heart is what matters, and if you are so filled with joy in Him that you’ve gotta dance, I’m sure He loves that.

    • Thanks for the article Tim, great food for thought. Thankyou for clearly pointing out that God examines the heart – whether we throw our hands up in the air, or stuff them in our pockets, we can all praise God appropriately if our heart is in the right place.

      Steve, I don’t disagree with the substance of what you’ve said (leaving aside your Anglican and youth pastor bashing, which is completely unhelpful). Hands up or hands down, it doesn’t matter as long as our heart is in the right place.

      As a youth leader, I’ve been to KYCK several times now, and have ended up in the mosh pit by no choice of my own (our seats were at the front). From my point of view, the problem isn’t with the way in which the youth choose to worship through song (i.e. jumping up and down and having an awesome time). It’s so great to see them passionate, and indeed music or singing in the bible is never a dull affair! My concern is with the heart of the youth. Although this is a generalisation (though not untrue), many of the youth I observed were treating it as no more than a rock concert. They were not observing what they were singing, and were led along by bands who treat it more as a concert. In addition, a number of songs chosen by the bands are difficult to sing, or have long instrumental pieces – I don’t think that these best facilitate music in which God’s praises are sung. In my opinion, the youth are responding to the grandiose, rock concert environment which KYCK promotes, not seeking to approach God in worship through song.

      Perhaps, as you say, fighting with one another about our physical posture is not where the battle’s at. Your primary concern, rightly, is substance. My concern is that the theology of worship through song that KYCK is promoting is a substance issue, and indeed, is being represented wrongly.

  3. “God cares very little for the posture of your body and far more for the posture of your heart”.
    GOLD!
    Phew, otherwise there would be some trouble in good ‘ol Castle Hill town…

  4. Hi Tim

    Actually, I think there is a fifth view, which I have more sympathy with than any of your other four. That is the view that there is an inherent danger in a culture that encourages the third view. I wonder if hand raising (& eye closing) has some of the dangers of hypocritical fasting that Jesus attacks in Matt 6:16?

    Personally, while I heartily agree with the sentiment that we ought to just get out and reach people with the gospel, I doubt it is just a “style question”. And surely it is possible to get both our mission and our ecclesiology right, so that when people are converted they are brought into churches that are as helpful as possible to their growth in Christ.

    Just some thoughts to ponder. I’m not one to tell people not to raise their hands, but I do feel that if I did it there would be s strong temptation for me to do it “to be seen by others”. Maybe I’m just more ungodly!

    Ian

      • I don’t believe your attitude concerning this matter makes you ungodly. To me it more reveals that you likely aren’t overly demonstrative by nature. THAT’S why raising your hands feels unnatural to you and would likely come from a place of wanting to be seen by others of your forced the issue to “fit in” with what others are doing.

        By contrast, I am more demonstrative by nature, which reveals itself in more than how I worship. For instance, I would rather hug than shake a person’s hands when we first meet. When I am particularly moved by the words of a worship song it feels more natural to me to close my eyes, not because I love God more than others, but because I am attempting to shut everyone and every other environmental distraction out to focus on connecting to God, spirit to Spirit. I also raise my hands, not because I love God more than others or care to be seen as such by others, but because I am naturally demonstrative. As an aside, I also raise my hands and close my eyes (as led) when in the solitude of my home when I am worshiping alone.

        For me, it would feel unnatural and be hypocritical to force myself not to raise my hands because I understood I was being “seen by men” as immature or theologically wrong. My worship would be marred by my wrong focus, and God would receive it as such. So you see, one can also NOT do certain things during worship in a wrong spirit.

        Its curious to me how everyone is trying to spiritualize why someone chooses to raise one’s hands versus why one doesn’t . . . when it likely is more a indicator of personality–not maturity level or depth of devotion to God. We’re all uniquely and wonderfully different . . . and frankly, God made us that way in wisdom.

        The problem we believers struggle with is that when we don’t feel particularity comfortable or led to do something (like say, raise their hands in worship, we want everyone to conform to how we do it (or don’t do it) so that we can feel everyone is on the same page . . . thus our egos are at rest because nothing then has the “danger” of being wrong or different about us. If this complete harmony isn’t seen in our worship groups, we begin to over-spiritualize until we become nonspiritual in our assessments. We reason about the possible “dangers” of why others maybe shouldn’t do things differently from us (now, notice its never why we might be in “danger” by not following the other camp’s example) – which is really a passive-aggressive manner of judging and censoring in one’s heart.

        We won’t admit this to ourselves – and I speak to all “camps” on this issue -we’ll simply justify our inner censorship and judgment by convincing ourselves that we’re merely concerned about others who may be going astray. Alas, the heart is indeed deceitful above all things!

        If we actually look to scripture (rather than our own reasoning), we see that King David clearly speaks of raising one’s hands during worship. I’m certain he wasn’t speaking of doing it only in a closet so as not to be “seen of men”. David was outwardly demonstrative by nature, so lifting his hands was a natural and heartfelt expression of his love and reverence for God. Therefore, let’s drop the misnomer that raising one’s hands in public worship could ever be “theologically wrong”.

        We also see nowhere in scripture where this behavior is a doctrinal requirement, i.e. neither Jesus nor His Apostles described raising one’s hands as the only way to demonstrate devotion in worship, nor was it ever insinuated as showing one’s deeper love for God. No one loved god more than Jesus, and scriptures never once mentioned that He raised His hands during times of worship (though He certainly might have). My point is that there is also no sound basis for thinking that hand raising is an accurate “love litmus test”.

        So, why is there controversy at all? Because too many people are looking around and focusing on the wrong things during their moments of “worship” rather than looking up and being heart-focused on God Himself.

    • I don’t believe your attitude concerning this matter makes you ungodly. To me it more reveals that you likely aren’t overly demonstrative by nature. THAT’S why raising your hands feels unnatural to you and would likely come from a place of wanting to be seen by others of your forced the issue to “fit in” with what others are doing.

      By contrast, I am more demonstrative by nature, which reveals itself in more than how I worship. For instance, I would rather hug than shake a person’s hands when we first meet. When I am particularly moved by the words of a worship song it feels more natural to me to close my eyes, not because I love God more than others, but because I am attempting to shut everyone and every other environmental distraction out to focus on connecting to God, spirit to Spirit. I also raise my hands, not because I love God more than others or care to be seen as such by others, but because I am naturally demonstrative. As an aside, I also raise my hands and close my eyes (as led) when in the solitude of my home when I am worshiping alone.

      For me, it would feel unnatural and be hypocritical to force myself not to raise my hands because I understood I was being “seen by men” as immature or theologically wrong. My worship would be marred by my wrong focus, and God would receive it as such. So you see, one can also NOT do certain things during worship in a wrong spirit.

      Its curious to me how everyone is trying to spiritualize why someone chooses to raise one’s hands versus why one doesn’t . . . when it likely is more a indicator of personality–not maturity level or depth of devotion to God. We’re all uniquely and wonderfully different . . . and frankly, God made us that way in wisdom.

      The problem we believers struggle with is that when we don’t feel particularity comfortable or led to do something (like say, raise their hands in worship, we want everyone to conform to how we do it (or don’t do it) so that we can feel everyone is on the same page . . . thus our egos are at rest because nothing then has the “danger” of being wrong or different about us. If this complete harmony isn’t seen in our worship groups, we begin to over-spiritualize until we become nonspiritual in our assessments. We reason about the possible “dangers” of why others maybe shouldn’t do things differently from us (now, notice its never why we might be in “danger” by not following the other camp’s example) – which is really a passive-aggressive manner of judging and censoring in one’s heart.

      We won’t admit this to ourselves – and I speak to all “camps” on this issue -we’ll simply justify our inner censorship and judgment by convincing ourselves that we’re merely concerned about others who may be going astray. Alas, the heart is indeed deceitful above all things!

      If we actually look to scripture (rather than our own reasoning), we see that King David clearly speaks of raising one’s hands during worship. I’m certain he wasn’t speaking of doing it only in a closet so as not to be “seen of men”. David was outwardly demonstrative by nature, so lifting his hands was a natural and heartfelt expression of his love and reverence for God. Therefore, let’s drop the misnomer that raising one’s hands in public worship could ever be “theologically wrong”.

      We also see nowhere in scripture where this behavior is a doctrinal requirement, i.e. neither Jesus nor His Apostles described raising one’s hands as the only way to demonstrate devotion in worship, nor was it ever insinuated as showing one’s deeper love for God. No one loved god more than Jesus, and scriptures never once mentioned that He raised His hands during times of worship (though He certainly might have). My point is that there is also no sound basis for thinking that hand raising is an accurate “love litmus test”.

      So, why is there controversy at all? Because too many people are looking around and focusing on the wrong things during their moments of “worship” rather than looking up and being heart-focused on God Himself.

  5. Good post. You’re right – it’s not a massive issue and it’s blown out of proportion. Let’s not over think it. But for the sake of discussion here are some thoughts:

    I raise my hands often, because singing Christian music and praising God is one way that I express my love for Him and the nature of my relationship with Him. It’s a relationship after all. So physical expression is good, yes? It’s not mechanical either, it happens when I feel lead, when overwhelming joy, love, amazement, or gratitude comes out. I raise my hands when singing at home by myself, it’s got nothing to do with whose around. For those who say it’s distracting, what are you focusing on? Are you judging me when you don’t know my heart?

    I also believe there’s a case for physical expression in response to meaning conveyed through lyrics. Take two examples, one from Jesus Paid It All and one from 10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman. The separate lines “Oh Praise The One Who Paid My Debt, And Raised This Life Up From The Dead” and “Sing Like Never Before, Oh My Soul” are pretty powerful aren’t they? I’m not going to say that lyrics like these require any specific physical response, but from an outsiders point of view they sure seem more genuine when not sung with arms folded and no passion at all. Are you passionate about God? Is it a bad thing that you get more excited at a footy match than at church? That you cheer louder there than you sing on Sunday?

    Lastly, can we squash the notion that hands-raising is unbiblical? King David, enough said.

    I’m not suggesting any finite rules. Each worships Gos in their own way, but I’m just throwing out some thoughts from what would seem to be the “charo” camp. Which I’m not by the way, charismatic. I go to an Anglican Church, and I’m a Bible-believing Christian.

    • “King David, enough said.”

      Er, well, actually I think more does need to be said. Jumping from what OT people did to what we should do in church is a minefield of random selections. Cultic OT worship is not the same as NT Christian gatherings. You may be right about hand raising; but it’s certainly not as simple as ‘David did it, therefore we should’.

      And what am I focusing on when I find your hand raising distracting? I’m focusing on the screen out the front where the song words are, and your hand is right in my line of sight. (I’m not kidding. This happens!)

      And no. I’m not judging you when I don’t know your heart. I’m just concerned for you because perhaps you don’t know your heart either (Jer 17:9). And I do know that my temptation is to “pretend” my love for Jesus is as deep as my expression makes it look – when my actions outside of church frequently deny the integrity of that body posture.

      Hey, I’m happy to give others the benefit of the doubt. But I know my own temptations. That’s why I am concerned about church cultures that promote it.

      • I can understand the concern of “faking it” and I think that’s a legitimate concern. However spiritual fake-ness can be found in every church, in many areas of practice. Take prayer for example, should the person leading in prayer say “please bow your heads ONLY those of you who will genuinely mean and pray this prayer of repentance/thanksgiving/etc?”. Because that’s a reality as well. You can fake your faith in any situation. Removing an action that is a potential outlet for someone to fake it, will not make them anymore genuine. A fake Christian will remain fake regardless of whether they raise their hands or not.

        • Yes, that’s quite true, James. Although I think there are different degrees of risk. The power of music to carry people’s emotions along makes it, in my opinion, far more risky in this area than in other areas – even unwittingly.

          Also, I think because this practice has tended to be popularized in recent years (decades?) by charismatic churches which have at times had a very different theology of church and music, there are also some dangers of that theology unhelpfully coming in with the practice. If churches are actively teaching on this area, I am less concerned. But I think most ministers are too nervous to say anything, because nobody likes people who say anything negative about apple pie, motherhood, and what is (apparently) passionate church singing.

          • Ian I love what you’ve said. “If churches are actively teaching on this area, I am less concerned.”
            This to my mind is the main issue. Most people are too afraid to talk about it. Thank you for taking the time to raise some VERY helpful issues. You’ve flagged some issues that go deeper than a blog like this can deal with. Perhaps I need to write another one.
            For those who are interested,I can’t recommend “Engaging With God” by David Peterson highly enough. It’s an outstanding biblical theology of worship and very helpful in thinking through some of these issues more.

            • Thanks Tim.

              Let me finish my contribution by referring to a very helpful article by Tony Payne about what “praise” means…

              “In the New Testament, then, praise is somewhat similar to evangelism.”

              “It must also be said that many churches today fail to recognize the basic nature of praise, in the Psalms and in the NT. Praise is not making beautiful music for God. It is not a personal, mystical encounter with God. Nor do we praise God by saying, ‘We praise you God, thank you Jesus, Hallelujah’.

              “Praise is advertising. It is remembering and declaring who God is and what he has done. It takes place in his hearing, but it is done by telling others. It is boasting about God, speaking well of him, broadcasting his virtues and excellences. It springs from salvation, from what he has done for us. Praise is the testimony of the redeemed.”

              http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/1996/02/confessions-of-a-teenage-praise-junkie/

              Worth reading the whole article, I think.

              In the end, I suspect there is something of a personality issue involved in all of this. I am quite conservative and introverted by personality. I understand that others are more outgoing and expressive of their emotions (like the example of our African brothers and sisters cited above). But if those extroverts/expressive types aren’t also more expressive outside the church in advertising God to their non-Christian friends, then that personality trait probably doesn’t account for the difference between them and me inside the church.

          • Well Ian, I hope that Ministers and Pastors will be engaging these topics more, in an informed and thoughtful way. There are increasingly more Christians in various Churches today who have diverse ways of worshipping/singing. While charismatics may have popularized raising hands, doing this action doesn’t make you charismatic and should not be an indictment on your theological beliefs. Creating space for a clear dialogue and communication of these topics is the only way to address it in a truly loving way.

            • Yeah, so I’m glad Tim gave a little forum for a little dialogue.

              There certainly is a diversity amongst Christians. That doesn’t make what I do right. And it doesn’t make what you do wrong. We could both be wrong! We just have to engage with what Scripture is saying and use our God-given wisdom. Hopefully dialogue helps us gain wisdom from each other.

              Thanks for being gracious in listening to what I’ve had to say.

  6. Good article mate. I heard a great sermon from Louie Giglio that I think outlines three occasions where humanity raises their hands:

    1. In victory! In exclamation! eg “Go the Wallabies!” *fist pump*
    2. In surrender. eg those moments humanity raise their hands above their heads in surrender, whether it be at war, in a hold up or if you’re “under arrest”… the natural response is to raise our hands in surrender.
    3. In desperation and sheer hopelessness. eg when you see those pictures after disasters, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes, war, etc… you see the people walking through the streets with hands raised crying out in desperation.

    I don’t know about you, but:
    1. God has won the victory! *fist pump*
    2. I’ve surrendered my life to God.
    3. In times of hopelessness and desperation, I rely on my God because he brings hope to the hopeless.

    I’m raising my hands in worship.

    Thanks Louie for sharing this in my life!

  7. From my experience and the conversations I’ve had with many others, the “those who raise their hands think that they are more ‘Spiritual’ ” idea comes from those who don’t do rather than from those who do…
    Those who don’t raise hands (in my experience) often condemn those who do, claiming that they believe they are more Spiritually engaged. I for one have never heard ANY person I know who raises hands claim this for themselves.
    That suggests to me that it is a fear (however irrational it may be) of those who don’t, rather than a true attitude of those who do.

    I also know a number of people who do not physically engage in worship themselves, but are encouraged when others do, so maybe there should be a category for them too?

    There definitely needs to be more open discussion about this within churches. I for one am not really super-pro or super-against hand raising, but as Ian pointed out, the bible gives us a lot of guidance on this issue too. In particular, the Psalms.

    ”So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” Psalm 63:4

    “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary” Psalm 28:1-2

    “Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you” Psalm 88:9

    “Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the LORD!” Psalm 134:2

    I would assume that these are not prescriptive verses, but they are descriptive of the way that others have in the past worshipped God, and the way in which they would encourage others to.

    The bible never demands we raise our hands, neither does it praise those who don’t.

    But lets not for a second even suggest that it may be unbiblical, and if it is unhelpful because you can’t see the lyrics on the screen, may I suggest doing what I know others have done, and simply sitting in the front few rows of church. That way, there is no risk of distraction unless you turn around frequently when singing, and no risk of you being unable to see the screen.

    • “But lets not for a second even suggest that it may be unbiblical”

      Well, for the record, I don’t think I have suggested that it is ‘unbiblical’. I may have some doubts about the wisdom of a culture that promotes the practise. But that is not the same thing as saying it is ‘unbiblical’ or wrong.

      However, as I said earlier, simply showing that people might have lifted their hands in the OT doesn’t make it ‘biblical’ for Christians. There are lots of worship practices that we don’t follow from the OT (sacrificing animals, feasts, avoiding certain foods, circumcision, etc). We need to think hard about our rationale for saying which ones continue and which don’t. You may think it’s obvious that hand lifting continues. Maybe it does. But why? How does the gospel transform OT worship? If Jesus is the true worshipper, what does this mean for how we “worship”? Is worship in the OT sense now unnecessary, like sacrifices? Has Jesus fulfilled it, and by our union in him it is no longer necessary? That’s so radically countercultural for us as Christians it may sound like a heretical idea to most of us. But is it? If worship continues, is it in the same sense as in the OT? Or is it really just another word for faith?

      I’m just looking for some deeper theological reflection, brothers and sisters. I don’t have it worked out. But I think it is more nuanced than we think sometimes.

      Forgive me for my somewhat flippant comment about seeing the screen. Although it has happened to me in a situation where I had little choice about where to sit. Maybe hand lifters on the left of the church aisle and non-lifters on the right would solve the problem. 😉

  8. Appreciate this article Tim.

    I am thinking through your statement:

    “God cares very little for the ‘posture of your body’ and far more for the ‘posture of your heart’.”

    That sounds more like Plato than Jesus: as though our body is this neutral or worse evil thing that we have to ignore or escape into the spiritual realm.

    The body is part of the good creation God made, and he invites us to use it in worship. What we do with our bodies do matter, as very often it reveals the posture of our heart.

    Checkout Paul’s discussion of the body in 1 Corinthians 6.

    So what we do with our bodies as we worship Jesus during congregational singing matters. We ought not to devalue our Lord by the disposition of our bodies.

    If I were to go on a romantic date with my wife, and didn’t look at her once, sat hunched over my meal, and walked 5 meters ahead of her while on the way home, she wouldn’t say, “thats ok love, I care more for the ‘posture of your heart’ than the ‘posture of your body’.’ She wouldn’t because the posture of your body reveals the posture of your heart.

    So “should we raise hands in congregational singing?,” I don’t know, but I suspect an indifferent slouch reveals an indifferent heart.

    Thus Jonathan Edwards:
    “When you praise him in prayer, let it not be with coldness and indifferency; when you praise him in your closet, let your whole soul be active therein; when you praise him in singing, don’t barely make a noise, without any stirring of affection in the heart, without any internal melody. … Surely, if the angels are so astonished at God’s mercy to you, and do even shout with joy and admiration at the sight of God’s grace to you, you yourself, on whom this grace is bestowed, have much more reason to shout.”

    • Our congregational singing is not just vertically orientated (I.e. addressed to God), it is also horizontally orientated (I.e. singing to each other). So what does that say about our physical posture? I’m not sure that closing my eyes, lifting my hands, and focusing on God is necessarily the appropriate body posture for reflecting the horizontal dimension, is it? So what body posture would reflect both dimensions?

      • Hey Ian.

        I am not sure what body posture would reflect both dimensions, nor am I arguing for any posture in particular. Rather I am arguing that the posture matters. Whatever it is it ought to be a posture that communicates affection for others and for God.

        Toby

      • I reckon a smile smeared across your face is a start to reflect both dimensions.

        Singing truths like “and as he stands in victory, sins curse has lots its grip on me” could see our faces to light up with a smile, while even throwing a ‘how good is our God’ glance to the neighbour in your pew.

        And if you are adventurous perhaps introducing some happy clapping to the smile. 🙂

    • Thanks for checking in Toby. Love that Edwards quote by the way. Putting it in Evernote right now.

      There’s plenty more to be said on the issue, and if this string of comments is anything to go by I think our churches need to be teaching on these types of issues more explicitly. Just like the Lord’s Supper before the reformation, a lack of teaching on any issue can leave many with mystical and confused ideas about things that should otherwise be edifying.

      Perhaps a second article, or one day a more lengthy work is in order.

      In the mean time, I still want to hold to the position of Christian Freedom I’ve outlined above. Obviously thats a freedom expressed in a way that loves others, but it is freedom none the less.

      As soon as we try to stipulate THE posture of worship, we open the door to pride and hypocrisy. Pride because I am doing it the “right” way and others aren’t, and hypocrisy because I can do it the “right” way and still be repugnant to God. Obviously we could make the same argument about a whole range of things, but on this issue I’m not convinced that the Bible gives us any warrant to say what THE posture should be.

      So although I agree with what you say about the overflow of the heart’s emotions to the body, I think it’s dangerous to go from that observation to any specific recommendation. So the Spirit moves some to raise their hands. Groovy. I think he probably moves others to stick their hands in the pockets. Thats cool too.

      Thus my conclusion: heart more important than hands. 🙂

      Feel free to come back at me. As Ian says, deeper theological reflection on these issues is needed

  9. Thanks Tim,
    I especially enjoyed how you showed both the “hands in” and “hands up” crowds can be both judgmental and condescending. Unity should be paramount here! Paul may call us “Corinthians” otherwise :).

    However I would like to point out that the issue at heart seems to be hypocrisy. So that in Amos and PS 51 the problem is that true justice is left undone, hence sacrifice is meaningless not in that God doesn’t want it, rather he doesn’t want it devoid of whole justice.

    In other words the division seems to be between the options of real justice vs hypocrisy. Therefore I just wonder if the division between heart and action is the right leap. Yes the heart needs to “get right” but not at expense of outward action. So God cares about heart and hands in alignment – hating hypocrisy.

    Now whether someone raises hands or not (so what right) but I warm to Toby’s sentiments simply because my experience of church singing is so often seeing people’s dour lifeless expressions like they would rather be anywhere else, of course there are many exceptions.

    Hey I appreciate this is not a fully rOunded post as you mentioned earlier
    V helpful categories thanks

  10. Hi guys,
    Thanks for the discussion. It’s close to my heart as I am wrestling with these things in a real way myself.
    A related question is the issue of singing. As I looked around my church on Sunday just gone I noted that roughly half of the congregation weren’t singing. They simply weren’t engaged in an pro-active sense. They were reading the lyrics on the screen but either mumbling quietly or not moving their lips at all. I mentioned this to my minister. He remarked that it is probably a cultural issue. While I think I agree with that I wonder what our response should be. Is that simply ‘okay’? And is not the issue of physical expression and body language in our singing simply an extension of those same personal/cultural influences and preferences?
    I can’t help feeling that God has gifted us with all things for his glory – including those that we may not feel comfortable or familiar with expressing. And so I must wonder – if physical expressiveness is primarily cultural, when are Christians called to be counter-cultural because of the greatness of the God we worship?
    Additionally, the picture of worship around the throne in Revelation 4-5 – as it will be when we are fully and finally free of the hinderences of sin – and faced with the magnificence of His glory is a picture of what we will be. It is a picture of a passionate outpouring of praise, worship and overflowing joy and awe. Every facet of a person’s makeup – physical expression, emotional engagement, cognitive clarity, all meet together in a unified expression.
    Should we not be aiming to be NOW what we surely will be THEN?
    To hell with the culture (literally) that holds us back from using all of the means that he has gifted us with to worship Him.

    And yes – it is all about loving each other as we journey together but I hope and pray that we will at least consider the reasons why we are so often apparently unmoved in our singing and physical expressiveness.
    It saddens me when I see men at a football game – fully engaged with all thier senses – vocally, physically, emotionally……… and then at church – where the Hero, the victory and prize far outweight that of the football, it appears to them so bland.

    • I agree v disheartening to see half the church singing! for me this raises the broader issue of passivity in church services. For example it would be great to hear a hearty “Amen” at the end of prayers etc. Do you agree with the prayer or not? Show it and encourage others in the process.

      It seems a funny twist that music at times may encourage an emotional response but then if combined with a slickness factor this only perpetuates a consumer/entertainment/passive attitude to church.

      II am still far from striking that balance between encouraging we give God our best in music (and in Sunday services in general) and encouraging involvement of all in the response of the people to God to who he is and what he has done in Christ.

      Sorry maybe too far off topic now, I am chewing over a lack of call and response (liturgy) in contemporary services and trying to remedy somewhat.

  11. After spending 12 years in a penti church and the last 17 in a sydney anglican church, the issue of raising of hands or not is one I have had to come to terms with.

    For me the raising of hands during singing is one an emotional response to the words I am singing and to whom I am singing them to. In my penti days the style of song leading was done I believe to make this response a given. Singing in a block rather than squeezed in between prayer, bible reading and news. Songs start off fast and slide towards the quiet more reflective type. Each song sung somewhat repetitively.

    There was some concern from the ministry team when we first started attending our local Anglican church as to the effect we would have on the congregation esp the youth. We simply don’t do it and never have here. I still have the emotional urge from time to time and have to put my hands some where ie in my pockets, on the pew in front but this is just from habit. I don’t need to raise my hands for the Lord to see the complete surrender of my heart at that moment and for the sack of the comfort of my brothers and sisters around me I abstain.

    I know there are just as many people on the planet at any given time in churches both singing and or raising there hands for both the wrong or right reasons. We live in a sinful and fallen world.

    If we are ALL thinking about the comfort of those around us, does it really matter if a hand is raised or not? It’s really Gods job to worry about (or judge) the state of my heart not anyone else isn’t?

    In ministry aren’t we supposed to live Godly lives, bringing glory to Him and prayerfully move forward in ministry being guided by Him? If someone else’s ministry endeavours is different than ours isn’t it our job to pray for them even if we wouldn’t do it like that?

    Just saying….

  12. Good words Tim.

    Personally, over the years I travelled from hands in my pockets to hands in the air.

    I used to look down on those who rose their hands. I thought it was a “Look at how Godly I am” posture. Which just shows how little I actually understood worship. The fact that I was casting judgements on those around me rather than singing praises to God is indicative of my limited understanding at the time.

    However, having spent time in other countries and watching the way people in the global church worship, I think I have come to understand the desire to “get my charo on” a little more.

    Two things changed for me:
    Firstly, I began to acknowledge the spirit of God and its presence within me. More specifically, I allowed the spirit the possibility of moving my heart rather than just reasoning with my head. This led me to times when my recognition of Christ, the lord of all, was a deeply moving experience. It is in these reflections of his power and my need for grace that I am compelled to raise my arms towards him.

    Secondly, worship for me has become a very personal experience now. I once went to a church in the USA where they turned the lights out in the auditorium during worship. Coming from a Sydney anglican that was flooded with light, this was a very different experience. The worship I had grown up with was a corporate affair. We all stood together, sung in the same key but not for too long.
    Whereas this different worship was a more personal response. It enabled one to focus on the words and the music. To sing as if before the throne rather than surrounded by human eyes.

    Now I think I sit somewhere in between. During worship, I will raise my hands if I feel compelled by the spirit but I don’t believe I am spiritually poorer if they stay down all night.

    • Thanks Eric, good stuff. I wrote this article on singing more recently which you may find helpful. As I say, my convictions haven’t changed it’s just a slighlty more well-rounded piece in my opinion. Bless you mate

  13. An excellent thought provoking article.
    I agree with 90% of all that is written but…
    I just cannot buy into the idea of sticking your hands in your pockets and earnestly praising God.
    Those who do stick their hands in their pockets while addressing their God and Creator and asking for forgiveness, would not ,I would guess, stick their hands in their pockets while addressing some arrogant little CEO during a job interview!