Throw your hands in the air, like you just don’t care!


kids-in-churchI grew up in a typical conservative, church-going home. Sunday mornings I would test my parents sanity by slowly rolling out of bed (after multiple attempts to wake me up), take my time eating breakfast, fight with my brothers, and put my shoes on the wrong feet, before we finally got out the door. It was chaotic leaving the house, and I’m amazed my parents didn’t end up leaving my brothers and I behind. However, in spite of the chaos, when we would get to church, we’d sit in our regular pew and became the perfect church family. May hair would be perfectly slicked down with my mother’s saliva, and my dangling feet would kick the pew in front of me as they swung back and forth (but the lady in front didn’t mind, because I was so darn cute). The service would begin and periodically, my Dad would be the man responsible for leading the music. We always sang straight out of the hymnal, and our accompaniment was a sweet lady on the upright piano, and occasionally the electric organ in the corner. Each week, worship in that little church was familiar and it was consistent. There’s often times I wish life would be that simple again.

prayer-during-worship-serviceAs we would sing, no one would raise their hands, because if you did, you’d drop the hymnbook; and no one would close their eyes, because, well, then you wouldn’t be able to read the music. We would make transitions from hymn to hymn without a lot of thought, except for trying to recall which verses we were told not to sing, but those hymns were sung with gusto.

If we were to transport ourselves from the modern worship era back to those simpler days, critics might say, that we had no passion, no emotion, no real connection to what we were singing. Some might even challenge the idea that we weren’t even worshipping.

worshipSo the question is, what role does emotion play in worship? Can a Conservative Cessationist participate in meaningful worship?

The Lord has created us all with different emotional and social temperaments. Some people are introverts, some people are extroverts. The Scripture does not give us a play-by-play instruction in corporate worship, but it does command our hearts and attitudes in regards to how we worship. An exact prescription is not given as to the format, because what ministered to the pioneer families at the turn of the century, is vastly different from those who grew up on the streets of Harlem, or in the underground church in China. But the heart behind corporate worship stays the same; in whatever context and culture it finds itself, just as the Word of God never changes.

Jesus commanded us: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Of course, He’s referencing the commandment given in Deuteronomy 6:5. This is the heart of worship. It’s not an emotion, it’s not a tugging at the heart strings, it’s not how high you can throw your hands up in the air.

Now I have an honest question, (and I’d love some dialogue in the comments section) why do we raise our hands up in the air? After my conservative upbringing, I began attending more “contemporary” churches in my High School and early college days where hand raising was a regular part of the music. I participated in it, because it looked like the good and spiritual thing to do, but I always felt a little uncomfortable, because, to this day, I don’t understand why it is done. I’m not saying it’s wrong. In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul writes: “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer,” and prayer is certainly a large part of corporate worship, but this isn’t the command to be doing it in corporate worship. So just to be clear…   I’M NOT SAYING IT IS WRONG, I just want to know WHY you do or don’t do it yourself? And why you think Scripture supports your view. I think it’s good for us in worship to utilize our minds, and ask ourselves these questions. Here are some dangers I have associated with hand raising…

1. Pride. “I want everyone to see how spiritual I really am.”
2. Distracting. We’ve all seen the lady that we can’t take our eyes off of, because her arms are swaying above her head like wheat in the wind. This is does nothing to help those around her focus upon Christ, but can make for great stories (and be careful… gossip) on the way home. So yes, it can be distracting to those around you, but it can also be distracting to yourself. All of the sudden, one might become incredibly self-conscious. Am I doing it right? Are people watching me? And all of the sudden, you’re not focused upon Christ, but upon your outward actions. Which leads me to the next point.
3. Self-focused. Honestly, the corporate aspect of corporate worship is lost, because it becomes solely about the individual, without regard for those around them. Corporate worship is a shared experience, in which we should be “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:18). Often I see people floating around in their own “worship bubble,” unaware, or disinterested in those around them.

man-in-field-worship1So again, I’ll ask the question: In corporate worship, can a Conservative, Cessationist still show outward signs of emotion? It may surprise you that I’ll answer…ABSOLUTELY. Anyone who has seen me lead music knows that my heart sometimes looks like it is going to burst out of my chest (Sometimes, I feel like this guy to the right, but you probably won’t find me doing this out in a field at sunrise). God made us to be those who worship Him with our whole hearts. The Psalmist writes: “Praise the Lord! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation” (Psalm 111:1). However, is it commanded that I weep, or jump, or sway through all this time? ABSOLUTELY NOT.

put_your_hands_up_in_the_air_by_varganorbert-d32d7emThere is a respect that must be applied in corporate worship. Respect for those around you, but also a respect for what you are doing and before Whom you stand. If I were to be presented before a political dignitary or someone in high standing, I would address them with the utmost respect. Worship brings us before the throne of the King of kings and Lord of lords. And while Jesus is the friend who is closer than a brother, He is still the Holy, Uncreated One, the One whom Isaiah trembled before and cried, ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).

My fear is that those who are more extroverted in their corporate worship, judge those who are not so extroverted, believing them to be not as spiritual. On the flip side, those who are more reserved, might quietly judge those who are more expressive. Both present an air of self-righteousness that has no place in worshipping Christ.

The posture and our expression in worship is important. Worship is a tremendous privilege and humbling honor that God has permitted us to take part in, and therefore, we need to think before we act, whether we raise our hands or not. Then, and only then, can we worship both in spirit and in truth.

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About Darren Wiebe

Darren is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and graduated with his M.Div. at The Master’s Seminary in 2014, where he is currently enrolled in the ThM program. Originally from Canada, Darren has served as a pastor of music and youth in Alaska and is now serving as Associate Pastor of Worship at Grace Bible Church of Bakersfield, Bakersfield, CA.
  • Jason

    I think you’re right to ask the heart question. Your corporate singing exists to exalt the Triune God (Ps. 66:2; 95:1; 96:1), teach others (Eph 5:19-20; Col 3:16) and encourage the saints too (Col 3;16). Ultimately your reasons are in secret before your Father who sees in secret, if there is no respect for Him, He knows. But if you do respect Him, he knows.

    As a worship leader, I try to emphasize these principles. I think a lot of the problems and wacky things we see in corporate worship stem from lack of leadership from song leaders and pastors. It’s our job to teach right motives while presenting the truth.

    Do you explain to those you lead why you sing? I sound like a broken record every week and plan on taking my men through a biblical view of corporate worship. But I’m open for suggestions on how to explain and shepherd people through corporate worship? Special music is one specific area where even good churches fail. I see people treat special music time as “read through the bulletin time.” I’m pretty sure that is not what the leadership intends us to do 🙂 what do you suggest?

    • Darren Wiebe

      I’m glad I’m not the only one who feels like a broken record at times. As one seminary professor would say so frequently, “Repetition is the key to learning. The key to learning is repetition.” By teaching the men of the church a Biblical view of corporate worship, you’re definitely moving towards a solution, but I think our call as Pastor’s is to never relent on keeping them accountable. So yes, I try remind them on a fairly regular basis why we sing, or at least direct the focus of the congregation to where their hearts and minds should be.

      In regards to people tuning out during special music… man, that’s a hard one. Is there a way to remind people that the act of listening is an aspect of worship? Just as they are active participants through listening during the sermon, they should be active participants through listening to the music being presented to them. As the verses you pointed out indicate, music exalts, teaches and encourages, therefore we all need to understand that we are called to be faithful Bereans, even in this area. Throughout the week, music is background noise while we drive, walk through the grocery store, or work in the office. This music we listen to is feeding us, whether we recognize it or not. What better way to counteract that barrage of junk food, than with thoughtful, Biblically-informed music, and reminding ourselves that we can actively worship through actively listening and setting this time apart from all the other multi-tasking functions of the week.

  • David Doupe

    Darren, thanks for the well-thought out presentation on worship. As a pastor I have often been asked by new people to our church if it is ok for them to raise their hands. My answer is similar to yours. The heart is the key issue and if people find their hands moving up to bless or praise or just rejoice in God’s goodness then that’s fine. My concern is when worship leaders (and I have actually seen this a number of times especially at men’s retreats) urge and even demand people to “join in worship by raising their hands.” Sad to say I am enough of a rebel that I simply refuse because at that point it isn’t about worshipping from a pure heart but just from peer pressure.

  • David Doupe

    Darren, thanks for the well-thought out presentation on worship. As a pastor I have often been asked by new people to our church if it is ok for them to raise their hands. My answer is similar to yours. The heart is the key issue and if people find their hands moving up to bless or praise or just rejoice in God’s goodness then that’s fine. My concern is when worship leaders (and I have actually seen this a number of times especially at men’s retreats) urge and even demand people to “join in worship by raising their hands.” Sad to say I am enough of a rebel that I simply refuse because at that point it isn’t about worshipping from a pure heart but just from peer pressure.

  • Gabriel Powell

    From what I’ve heard/read, many raise their hands as a symbol of complete surrender and self-abandonment. Certainly, raising one’s hands feels awkward because you are concerned about what others think. So there are two potentially opposite motives for doing it: 1) get attention from others, and 2) dying to what others think of you.

    We all know that contemporary music styles borrow heavily from secular music concerts (in terms of a front-and-center band with a lead singer and backup singers, etc.). There are differences to be sure, but one cannot deny the obvious similarities… especially in churches (and there are many) who dim the lights, use moving colored lights, and even fog machines. I wonder, then, if raising of hands can be compared to how people get lost in the music at secular concerts. I’m not sure… just raising the thought.

    • Darren Wiebe

      Gabe, what a great perspective on motives. It really emphasizes the necessity to check one’s heart.

  • I like your honesty: “I participated in it, because it looked like the good and spiritual thing to do….” I think this is why most people do it. 🙂

  • Dude. It’s because that’s how the Psalms portray worship. For example, “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (63:4). It’s all over the Psalter. As you mentioned, people are also instructed to pray with raised hands (1 Tim 2:8). It’s a biblical posture of worship, that has a rich tradition in the church.

    • Darren Wiebe

      Dude. Thanks!
      I hope I didn’t come across as one who believes it’s wrong or unbiblical. I’m certainly not saying that, and you’re right, it’s all over the Psalms and the rest of scripture: Psalm 134:2, Lamentations 3:41, Nehemiah 8:6. I’m not against the raising of hands one bit. My primary intent was to caution against what we may do quickly and casually in our corporate worship, and get people thinking about why we do it. How can our personal expressions of worship be an aid or a hindrance to the body as we gather together to honour and glorify Christ.

      • Dude! I understand. I just think the question should be reversed. “Why don’t you raise your hands, if the Bible portrays it as a normal expression of worship?”

        And yeah. I totally get your caution. There can be a lot of crazy-person-wave that hits me in the face and ruins my day. That’s not god either.

  • nimblenoggin

    As a teenager and member of a New England mainline denomination church, we did not raise hands in worship, although the minister would, while leading in corporate prayer. Most of us knelt in prayer whenever “Let us pray” invitations were made. To me, all this seemed normal and reverent. Later, visiting (or watching) independent, contemporary, Continuist-type churches, I noticed a common hand-raising when singing, but when praying, not so much. It seemed like they got it backwards. On the other hand, their music was often written at the fifth-grade level, so I tried to accept it that way. Now I attend a highly-theological church that does not raise hands or kneel in prayer, and certainly not while singing. This ostensibly avoids appearances of gesticulation while simultaneously inhibiting touchy-feely congregants from loud, asymmetric praise in unknown glossaries, swaying, or falling on the floor, as practiced in the Benny Hinn culture. When I retire, I’d like to attend services where the pastor prays with his hands raised, the congregation is invited to kneel or stand in prayer, and they hold their hymnbooks and learn to recite hymns and music properly.

  • Stengel99

    Hi Darren. This might be more of a testimonial than an answer to your question, but here’s my POV with hand-raising. I grew up like you in a polite church which showed little enthusiasm while music was involved. In my late teens, I experienced a personal spiritual revival and wanted to express that in worship. So when I moved away to college, I happily attended a charismatic church which was enthusiastic (to say the least) in worship. In retrospect, I understand now how much corporate confusion and chaos those expressions caused. But I still maintain the opinion that singing with one’s face buried in a hymnal does not accurately reflect the joy we should express to the Lord for His salvation. When the reformationists wrote scriptural lyrics to beer drinking songs, did they expect the congregation to look as expressionless as we often do? Maybe I’m too focused on expression and not enough on what the Lord wants, and I’m still asking some of the same questions.