Lifting Up Holy Hands
by Terry Wane Benton
Does I Timothy 2:8 enjoin upon men a physical prayer posture? I am not so convinced. While I agree that there are verses in the Old Testament that show this posture was sometimes used, there was no ruling that it was expected, and certainly, no set pattern that this was always the posture of prayer. Prayer was engaged in all kinds of postures, including standing with heads bowed, kneeling, lifting palms up, and lifting hands up toward heaven or toward the temple. Is I Timothy 2:8 enjoining upon all men everywhere a ruling about praying with the posture of lifted hands? It seems to me that prayer lifts our hands to the holy work of service. It is a figure of speech. Prayer is the point of emphasis, and what it contributes to in all men everywhere is the lifting up of hands of service. The metaphor is seen also in Hebrews 12:12 which makes a similar appeal to “strengthen the hands which hang down”. Strengthen literal hands? Most likely is the idea of getting those hands of faith active and strong again. He is not concerned about the physical position of literal hands hanging down, but metaphorically they had become lax in service to God and others. Get strength back into your heart of service and your instruments of service.
The admonition is to pray everywhere, lifting holy hands. That is much like what we find in the statement of James 5:14, “let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.” The prayer does the anointing. It is not saying to pray and literally anoint with literal oil, but pray over this person, and the prayer is the soothing oil. It soothes the weary heart and lifts hands into holy service. It is not literal oil nor literal hand-lifting in prayer, but prayer can soothe, anoint with oil, and lift thoughts to God, which in turn gets people who are spiritually down or discouraged back up into a better frame of mind, which lifts hands that hang down.
Now, whatever this verse is talking about, it is meant to be practiced everywhere, and it is not optional. So, while we may look to several Old Testament passages that did speak of some praying with the posture of hands stretched toward the temple when praying to God, it was not because there was a prayer posture ruling by God, but rather customs of various postures and positions were practiced according to the need or desire of the individual. There was no ruling that all must take this particular prayer posture, whether kneeling, falling prostrate on the ground, lifting the palms, or lifting hands high into the air or as a gesture of pointing to the holy temple in Jerusalem, there was a custom, but no law about one expected posture. So, I Timothy 2:8 would change the various accepted postures of prayer and impose one universal posture when praying. But this would hardly seem to be the case when we see various postures even in the New Testament age. Why, instead, did Paul kneel down and pray (Acts 20:36)? If the designated prayer posture was lifting the hands up toward the heavens, why did he break that ruling and expectation? That ruling would have started with the New Testament and Paul would not have broken that ruling as early as Acts 20:36.
I am inclined toward the view that the only prayer Paul is enjoining upon all brethren everywhere is the prayer that is sincere and meaningful enough to lift our souls and spirits so that our hands are lifted into holy service, where praying over a brother can anoint him and soothe him and bring needed help to his bothered and broken heart, and thus lift us all into a closer walk with God.
Is a person “more spiritual” if they literally lift their hands in prayer? No! Nor does lifting the hands make one less spiritual. All motives should be checked. I think there is a danger of thinking that “we are obeying this command, and you are not; therefore, we are more spiritual than you.” But the passage is not clearly enjoining this one posture in prayer as was noted above. So, give your brethren room to be deeply spiritual while not feeling like they should feel compelled to join you in that particular posture. The scriptures allow a lot of different postures in prayer. The question you have to ask yourself is whether the prayer lifted your hands into holy service. Lifting the hands physically can just be showy and empty of sincerity. It can be to get attention or to appear unto men to be holy or for the praise of men. The action may be sincere, but it is not a sign of deeper spirituality, which turns into a form of self-righteousness. Like the covering issue, you must do what you think is right, without judging that others are purposely ignoring a clear command of God. Give room for other consciences to see the passage in the light they see it and credit them with sincerity. There is nothing inherently wrong with the literal lifting of the hands, as long as you understand that:
- It is not commanded and expected,
- it is not a gesture of greater sincerity and deeper spirituality,
- it is not for the purpose of calling attention to yourself (“look at me!”), and
- you do not look down the nose at those who do not feel inclined to join in that posture.
The Lord is looking for sincerity and prayers that lift our hands into service to Him and others, not a particular posture in prayer.