To make a point, I used an illustration that may not have hit the mark. It was a pair of questions asked for effect, and here they are:
“Would you hug your children without using your arms and hands?”
“Would you hug your parents without using your arms and hands?”
The answer to both is no; we wouldn’t. The questions are better illuminated in the context of worship, of how we reach out to God.
“I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.”
“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord.”
“Let us lift up our hearts and our hands to God in heaven…”
In his Psalms, King David had a constant emphasis on lifting hands in worship. Did David imagine reaching out to embrace God; perhaps expressing the sentiments of this chorus from Hillsong Worship,
“Here I am to worship; here I am to bow down, here I am to say that you’re my God.” (chorus: “Here I Am To Worship”)
It’s a picture of arms and hands extended with the heartfelt hope of touching the face of God. King David would never have embraced his Lord without using his arms and hands. So, why would we?
As odd as it seems, I was raised in a church culture that didn’t believe in emotions— that “emotional worship” created subjective doctrine. So, emotions were kept out.
One application was that hands in worship were for holding hymnals. There was no clapping or raising of hands, not ever. It was more than frowned upon; it was expressly forbidden. It was such a strong tradition that to clap in worship was considered sinful. Generations were taught to uphold these beliefs. We believed we were more right than other churches who had turned their worship into an emotional freefall of sinful behavior.
Resulting from more than a century of such teaching were generations of members afraid of clapping and mortified at the thought of raising their hands in worship.
Odd, isn’t it? While equipping our members to condemn the use of hands in worship, we abandoned the scriptures affirming using hands in praise. Did we cut off our noses to spite our faces? In our sincere attempt to be more right than others, we ended up being more wrong by ignoring what scripture had to say. Traditions quickly become rooted in the soil of our hearts. Once implanted, they become heritage, and heritage becomes a legacy and a defining element in our core beliefs. Those who follow may fail to see the difference between truth and tradition. At that point, something important is perilously close to being lost.
Please read carefully: Choosing not to raise hands in worship isn’t sinful. However, choosing to judge the ones who do is sinful.
“You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.”
This verse reminds me of Jesus in the last week of his life. It was Passover week, and in the temple courts, children were shouting, “Hosanna to the Highest,” in reference to Jesus. The religious legacy types took exception and essentially rebuked Jesus for allowing the children to say such things. They asked if he heard what the children were saying and implied that he should get them to stop. His response was essentially this: “Yes, I hear them, no, I won’t stop them. If they are silent, the stones will cry out.”
Let’s take note, along with the Isaiah text:
- the mountains will burst out in song
- the hills will burst out in song
- the trees will clap their hands
- the children will shout Hossana
- and if not, the stones will shout out praise
What about us? Will we remain content to sit silently and worship quietly? The heavens proclaim the glory of God, so why aren’t we? For what are we waiting?
God is waiting for us to get past our hang-ups, our inhibitions, and to put to rest the decades of unfounded rules and judgments.
Easier said than done? I know. It has been for me too. But I am making progress and enjoying freedom in my worship that I have longed for but been afraid to do.
The stones shouldn’t have to give the praise that God wants from me.
Would you hug your heavenly father without smiling, warmth, or using your arms and hands?