Pastor John Piper was recently asked on his podcast, Ask Pastor John, about whether or not all people should lift their hands during worship.
A worship leader submitted a question to Piper’s podcast inquiring if everyone in a church congregation should lift their hands during worship, referencing Scripture like 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and Psalm 95:1-2 which speak of bold praise. He said, “When I read verses like 1 Chronicles 16:23-31 and Psalm 95:1-2 it makes me wonder why not everyone lifts their hands when we sing together at church.” He continued asking if everyone singing joyously out loud together was enough?
Piper responded by telling a story of a chapel service he attended while he was a college professor. He said, “I was sitting beside another faculty member who, during a prayer, simply laid his hands, palms up, on his lap.” Piper said witnessing his fellow faculty member do that made him feel “almost disgust.”
He continued, “I don’t remember what was going on in my soul at that time, but what I feel now is nothing but shame and remorse at such an arrogant and judgmental attitude.”
Five years after this incident, Piper had left teaching to become a pastor and he recalled that he, during an all-night worship and prayer session with twenty to thirty parishioners, found himself lifting his hands up in praise of God.
He said, “Suddenly I found my hands lifted in the air, and it was as though I was watching myself rather than doing it. I had never, in 36 years of my life, lifted my hands in song until that moment.”
He continued, “To this day, I cannot explain what happened, except that it bore fruit in what felt and feels to me now like a release from a very significant bondage.”
The reformed theologian and former lead pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in St. Paul, Minnesota, said he understands that hand raising during worship can make people uneasy, so since that day, he has strived to create an environment where people can feel comfortable to or not to lift their hands in worship.
“Coerced or constrained demonstrations of heart worship are self-contradictory. Either it comes from the heart and is valuable as an expression of the heart, or it is a performance and has no worship value at all,” Piper said.
“I wouldn’t, as a worship leader, ever say, ‘Come on, people, get your hands up. We just sang a song that said, ‘Our hands are lifted up.” I wouldn’t scold people like that at all. It creates an unbelievably hypocritical crisis for them because they’re going to do what you say when they don’t feel like it. And it will ruin authentic worship.”
Gateway Church in Dallas, TX pastor Robert Morris, however, seems to imply that this approach could work. In a 2016 sermon, Morris referenced the first time he ever lifted his hands in worship saying he remembered being at a service where a worship leader said, “let’s all lift our hands to the Lord.”
He said he remembered thinking, “No, let’s not all lift our hands to the Lord. Let’s just all the people who feel comfortable lift our hands to the Lord.”
Nonetheless, everyone around him began to lift their hands, so he too turned his palms upward. He recalled hesitating at first and feeling awkward to stand with his palms up saying, “I remember thinking: ‘Everybody is looking at me. everybody thinks I’m a charismatic now.’”
But then, he said, “something in my heart flipped.”
Morris said, lifting his hands despite his lack of comfort made him lose his inhibitions and he implied that being asked to lift his hands, even when he was not necessarily wanting to, made him more comfortable in worship. He added, “I remember thinking, I don’t care what anybody thinks anymore. I don’t care. I’m going to worship God.”
Piper, however, urges people to think about their motivation when lifting their hands.
“Hymns can be sung with just as much inauthenticity as worship songs. Organs can be played with just as much hypocrisy as guitars. Hands can be kept down for motives just as defective as motives for lifting them up,” he said.
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