what’s with their hands?

Last updated on April 2nd, 2024


their hands raised

In some churches some people might lift up their hands during times of worship or praise. In like manner, they may pray with one or both of their hands held out in front of them or raised ‘toward heaven’. Thus, questions arise, why would anyone do such a thing? What is the idea (meaning) behind such actions?

In this post, rather than give a personal opinion I thought the best way to approach this question was to simply see what is recorded in the Bible, if anything, regarding hand/s when talking to Creator God

So, to save you time I searched my online copy of the Scriptures. Then I sifted the results (over 500 of them) selecting a few of the many concerning conversation with God

Not only do you get the idea from the verses (below) but, for maximum benefit, I suggest you take a moment to “picture” the scenario (context). Together they will hopefully inform you of the use of hands in communicating with God in a broad variety of circumstances

The following Bible quotes come from …. 
The Holy Bible, New International Version®. 
The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984

People Using Their Hands:-

When Moving in AUTHORITY

Exodus 9:29, 33 – over the weather
Moses replied, “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail, so you may know that the earth is the LORD’S …
33 Then Moses left Pharaoh and went out of the city. He spread out his hands toward the LORD; the thunder and hail stopped, and the rain no longer poured down on the land.

Exodus 17:11 – over a battle
As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 
15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner; 
16 He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD…….”

As an aside, we do not read that Joshua’s hands were tired in fighting but that Moses’ hands were heavy in praying – Matthew Henry (Bible commentary) proposes that the more spiritual any service is, the more apt we are to ‘fail and flag’ in it.


1Kings 8:22 – of the temple:- praise and requests
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in front of the whole assembly of Israel, spread out his hands toward heaven  
23 and said: “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth below ………”
54 When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the LORD, he rose from before the altar of the LORD, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven


Ezra 9:5-6 – repentance and intercession
Then, at the evening sacrifice, I (Ezra) rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the LORD my God and prayed:

Lamentations 2:19 – for your children
Arise, cry out in the night, as the watches of the night begin; pour out your heart like water in the presence of the Lord. Lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint from hunger at the head of every street.


Psalm 28:2 – for mercy & help
Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place.

Psalm 77:2 – for help 
When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands

Psalm 88:9 – for help 
my eyes are dim with grief. I call to you, O LORD, every day; I spread out my hands to you.


Psalm 119:48 – loving delight in His commands
I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love, and I meditate on your decrees. 
        Some translators wrote “I reach out for your commands…..”

Psalm 143:6 – soul thirsts for Him
I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land


Psalm 141:2 – asking for protection and help not to sin
May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice

1Timothy 2:8 – in worship
I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing;


Zephaniah 3:15-17 – with thanks
…….The LORD, the King of Israel, is with you; never again will you fear any harm. 
16 On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp
17 The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save…

Nehemiah 8:6 – proclamation of belief
Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the LORD with their faces to the ground.

Psalm 63:4
I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands.

Psalm 134:2
Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the LORD.

It should also be noted that the Hebrew word yâdâh (pronounced yaw-daw) meaning let your hands be raised / to revere or worship with extended hands appears in the King James Version 53 times as praise and 32 times as give thanks. It occurs 67 times in the book of Psalms alone in the King James Version. I refer you to a separate post “… what’s the Bible mean by praise?” 

Reflections – the hands

outstretched hands

Searching the Scriptures I found a surprising number of references to people spreading out their hands or lifting their hands when praying, exhorting God to act or when praising Him. Consequently, the depth of passion expressed in their words and the time spent, challenged me. Indeed, reading through the verses made me reflect on my style and duration of communications with God

Obviously, in some instances there was a specific outcome to the action – …“As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.” (Exodus 17:11)

On the other hand, in some it is not so clear – “When I have gone out of the city, I will spread out my hands in prayer to the LORD. The thunder will stop and there will be no more hail,” (Exodus 9:29) – would the thunder and hail still have stopped if Moses did not lift a finger?

Most references to hands in prayer or praise don’t mention any particular effect but we can surmise that the ‘use’ of the hands was just a normal part of praying or praising God 

Whether there is a direct outcome or not Paul’s expressed desire for “men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer” (1Timothy 2:8) says the practice existed post Calvary as well. Nor was it  unusual since he saw no need to explain nor justify the lifting of their hands. Thus, historically, people raising their hands happens to be the longstanding, traditional stance (spanning a few 1000 years) and the historically recent posture of hands beside the torso may only be a modern trend

Personal Reflection …

Interestingly, hand gestures can be generally, easily understood in any culture. They form a type of global, uniform ‘language’. For example, arms outstretched with palms facing forward = surrender, submission, yielding …… a perfectly acceptable gesture toward the Lord one would think. Outstretched arms or even just from the elbows but with the palm facing upward = a request for something or more of something. Another acceptable gesture for a child of God to make toward their heavenly Father who often tells us to ask …….

Consequently, consider your circumstances – how often and how physically do you communicate with God? What determines how you relate to, communicate with, the Lord?

Notably, John Piper comments that “we are all equally vulnerable to hypocrisy and artificiality and judgmentalism. 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”


We tend not to think of raising our hands to God as a sacrifice. If we don’t feel like it, like in the midst of some seriously dark times, we might just not think to do it. Or, we might feel judged or likely to be criticized or mocked if we did. Whatever our perspective King David’s thoughts seem to be uncommon in our popularist Christian culture. In the opening of his prayer for deliverance from the wicked and their evil ways (Psam 141), David asks the Lord … “may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalm 141:2b New International Version)


Therefore, in our day, some may, albeit occasionally raise their hands in similar expressions to those recorded in Scripture, moved by similar motives when engaging with their Lord and Saviour. But of course, there is no rigid formula to “successful” prayer or praise. After all, it is simply a conversation with God or a proclamation of His awesome Goodness and an expression of our thankfulness. However, we may consider someone raising their hands as if for show. Maybe for some other apparent reason. Whatever the case, we must not let anyone else’s motives, perceived or otherwise, determine how we ourselves relate to our mighty Saviour and awesome God

Moreover, as a friend reminded me, whatever the posture, what really matters is that we fully express our love of/for the Lord, our reaction to His overwhelming Glory and Majesty and our gratitude for His Love, Mercy and Grace. In fact, even our heartfelt imploring of the Lord should be authentically real as the Psalmists and prophets clearly demonstrated

CONSEQUENTLY, A SECONDARY ISSUE ARISES which is much more important than people raising their hands or not. That is, ….. those who don’t ‘use’ their hands may be tempted to mock or criticize those who do raise their hands and maybe vice versa. In any case, whatever our posture, we must be careful not to judge those who may relate to the Lord in a different manner to us. Remember, the Body of Christ contains many different parts (1Corinthians 12:12-31) that will of course relate with and respond to the Head in different ways. Most certainly, it goes without saying, the exception would be anything that contravenes Scripture or is in any Scriptural terms, blasphemous 

… just sayin’

Bibliography –

  • The Holy Bible, New International Version®. Pradis CD-ROM Grand Rapids: The Zondervan Corporation, © 1973, 1978, 1984. 
  • Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary – 1708-10 (Public Domain)
  • Photo 1: by madeleine ragsdale on Unsplash
  • Photo 2: by Alex Woods on Unsplash
  • John Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org

1 thought on “what’s with their hands?”

  1. This is so excellent. There has been such strife in churches at times, over the raising of hands. I appreciate your clarity of presentation.
    I especially liked your sentence in Conclusion stating that we should not be influenced by any other person’s motives in our own relating to Father God. Thanks again.

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