Emotive Worship: The Spirituality of Raised Hands

I recently saw a television advertisement for the new WOW Worship 2007 album. The camera panned, capturing the singing, dancing crowds. There was one scene which burned itself in my mind. The camera zoomed past a crowd of people singing to focus on one individual with his arms raised to the sky.  It made me want to throw up. I don’t say this to be sensationalistic or overly dramatic in order to capture your attention. I fear we are selling out authentic worship for one based upon feelings and emotions. And if those feelings and emotions are not stirring us to tears, I fear we begin to believe the Spirit has abandoned us.

Scripture clearly refutes any idea that worship is tied to the emotions. 1 Corinthians 10:31 famously says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This verse is the heart of worship: Glorifying God. I won’t go into a discussion here about all “worship” entails, but suffice it to say that true, authentic worship is a lifestyle extending to every aspect of life, not just half an hour on Sunday mornings and in chapel when we sing praises. But, for the sake of space and time, I will only tackle singing in this post. The word “worship” will be used to encompass singing and any corresponding body motions. I know I’m talking about this like it’s a cat dissection, but I want to make sure there aren’t any misunderstandings with how I’m using the word “worship” below.

It is an idea in evangelical circles that true, authentic, passionate worship must manifest itself in physical actions. If there are no physical outpourings, there can be no true, authentic, passionate worship. Quite frankly, this is a lie. A raised hand, a bowed head, closed eyes, rhythmic motions, and tears are all poor indicators at best of the state of any heart before the Lord. Many godly Christians have never done any of these, and many apostates have routinely done them all. It is not what we do while we sing which pleases the Lord, but rather where our hearts stand before Him as we sing.

The problem with emphasizing emotive worship is in its fundamental reliance upon emotion.  Raised hands, tears, a bowed head all stem from an emotion welling up within the human spirit which manifests itself though a physical action. When these actions become an authentication of true worship as opposed to an outpouring of true worship, the focus is removed from adoration of the Most High God and transferred to the generation of emotion. As soon as a necessary “quota” of emotion is established in worship, worship has ceased to fulfill its function: To Glorify God. 

It is because of this that the raising of hands or tears or a bowed head is an intrinsically nonspiritual action. That is to say, in and of itself, it holds no value. When applied in conjunction with worship, it can be either a worshipful action or a sinful action. If hands are raised as an outpouring of gratitude and thanks to God for what he as done in a life, it is indeed glorifying to God and pleasing in His sight. If it is done out of a spirit attempting to generateemotion, it is displeasing to God and draws attention away His wonders. Likewise, not raising hands can be glorifying to God or displeasing in His sight. If hands are not raised out of fear of man because nobody else is doing it, this is not pleasing in the eyes of the Lord. If you desire to raise your hands in reverence and praise, then nothing should deter you. However, if there is no desire to raise hands, then let it not be done. This is holy and pleasing in the eyes of the Lord.

The bottom line is this: If the desire exists to raise hands, bow a head, or anything else out of a sincere heart for the purpose of praising God, then raise hands to the glory and praise of God, understanding that doing so does not make anyone more pleasing in the eyes of the Lord than he who does not raise hands. But, if there be no desire to raise hands, bow a head, or anything else, then do not do it, and praise God by not raising hands out of a desire to generate any false pretenses or out of a desire to fit in with others.

God looks at the hearts of men, not at external actions. John Hannah once said, “God saves people in all kinds of ways.  You never know.  Tears prove nothing.  Doesn’t mean they can’t happen or that they’re bad.  But they prove nothing.” Let the focus our worship upon God, and as we are lead, demonstrate our gratitude and praise of God through the means He has made us comfortable with.


10 responses to “Emotive Worship: The Spirituality of Raised Hands”

  1. Alexander M Zoltai says :

    Wonderful post!
    I was raised by two ministers, mom and dad, and spent many moments in my youth and beyond pondering the ways of worship.
    Bravo for you’re being brave.
    I’ve added your blog to my Google Reader.

    ~ Alex

  2. snowjunkie says :

    I agree in general with what you are saying. However, God made us with emotions intact. Our whole being (soul, mind, spirit) are linked. Surely it is ok for our emotions to be affected now and again?!

    However, our feelings should be in no way indicators of God’s presence. He has promised to be there when 2 or 3 are met together. We know that. And, worship is for Him and Him alone. Who cares if we get a fuzzy feeling or not.

    If the act of worship is put on (i.e. an act) to “look” good in front of other worshippers then that is very wrong.

    You hit the nail on the head when you say “God looks at the hearts of men, not at external actions.” He does, however, should joy of the Spirit start to interfere with our emotions it does not make it wrong.

    I assume you don’t like the Chris Tomlin song “We stand and lift up our hands…” 😉

    You went to great length to say that worship is not about emotions (feeling) then mentioned about not feeling or feeling to raise hands? If raising hands is a mark of surrender – do we need to feel like it before we raise our hands? Just thinking out loud here.

    Food for thought.

  3. brooksnj says :

    I would completely agree with you about the Spirit and emotions. That’s what I was trying to say with the line, “If hands are raised as an outpouring of gratitude and thanks to God for what he as done in a life, it is indeed glorifying to God and pleasing in His sight.”

    The Holy Spirit does at times work through (or in conjunction with) emotions. Paul is moved to tears regarding the wayward Corinthians, moved to joyful prayer for the Ephesians, and Christ wept bitterly over Jerusalem and Lazarus. It is the same in worship. I’ve wept during a song, then sang the exact same song the next day without the tears. Neither was more spiritual than the other–the Spirit simply moved me to tears one day and not the next.

    If we are given to raising our hands, I believe we need to have a truly submissive heart before the Lord. There needs to be a desire to be submissive, otherwise what purpose does raising hands serve? But also, realize that many people who have a submissive heart do not raise their hands. It really is a matter of personal preference, which, as believers in Truth is often hard to accept.

    I like Chris Tomlin’s song after the first line, I just struggle with songs which presume upon anyone a certain action reflecting a heart attitude.

  4. snowjunkie says :

    I think we agree in more ways than I first thought. Apologies. I don’t mind songs like Chris Tomlin’s (I like that one in particular), as long as the worship leader is not putting pressure on the congregation to follow through with actions.

    People should not be in an environment where they feel forced to praise/worship God in a particular way. For example… “OK, everyone, close your eyes and lift up your hands… I said everyone…”

    Sometimes, however, we do need to be delicately prompted out of our comfort zones. It’s a very interesting topic this. 🙂

  5. brooksnj says :

    Glad to hear it, Brother.

  6. Moose says :

    AMEN, I have been saying this for years. Worship is not in the actions or the emotions but in the heart.

    “You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'”
    (Mat 15:7-9)

    The Bible emphasizes the heart and if people emphasize anything else they are being like modern day Pharisees (That maybe too strong). That is what the Pharisees did. They were making rules that were not in the Bible (the whole sermon on the mount was directly for them).

    God does not listen to men’s worship when they hold people to a standard other than God’s word. This is saying that they are running through the “motions,” but they are not really even worshipping AT ALL because worship is for the purpose of glorifying God. Here we see that glorifying God through worship is made possible through a heart for God.

    Just like Jesus had to remind the Pharisees of the fact that it is the heart that God looks at so now two-thousand some odd years later we STILL need to look at the heart.

    I personally do not think that I can raise my hands and dance around while praising God because if I am the only person doing so I would feel like others are looking at me; in that moment I have lost the whole purpose of worship because I am concentrating on myself instead of God. If anybody can do all those things and keep the focus off from themselves “GO FER IT!”

    That is all I have to say about that.

  7. Dean Shareski says :

    I agree with your premise about the emotions and worship but raising hands in particular doesn’t have to involve emotions. We are asked to this just as we’re asked to sing praises. Not out of emotion but obedience. God likes, isn’t that enough? I also don’t think it makes you more spiritual or is in anyway a measure of much other than perhaps obedience.

    I wrote about this a bit but would encourage you to listen to the podcast for a better analysis.


    Thanks for the conversation.

  8. guitarmanvt says :

    Thanks for the 1 Cor 10:31 ref. I’m going to lead a worship set tomorrow, in which I am introducing the idea of raising hands, kneeling, etc. during worship. I’ve found these actions to be valuable in helping me worship, but I want to be careful not to impose any sort of expectation on my fellow believers. Rather, I wish them to understand that they do have freedom to worship with their hands, as well as their voices.

  9. Karen Comeaux says :

    I was so grieved by the judgmental tone of your article. I spend so much time cautioning young people to spare their judgment of others’ worship styles. Like you, I associated raising of hands as an “emotive” worship for so long. It was a conviction of the Holy Spirit that woke me to the judgment I was casting when I thought it was just for “show”. I now realize that like salvation, we cannot judge the condition of ones heart for choosing to raise their hands in worship. I have had the privilege of seeing teenagers let go of their need to be like everyone else and have a worship experience one on one with God in the midst of hundreds. I realize you ended your article with a clarification to worship God out of sincerity of heart, it was the crushing judgment of your first paragraph that caught my attention. Resting in God’s grace…Karen

  10. brooksnj says :

    Karen, maybe I wan’t quite clear enough. I’m trying to say in this post exactly what you said; that “we cannot judge the condition of one’s heart for choosing to raise their hands in worship.” The problem with the TV ad that I referenced in the first paragraph is that it does judge the condition of the heart based on physical appearances. The camera zooms past the people worshipping the while standing for a close up of one individual, hands held high, swaying back and forth to the rythem of the music. That’s using authentic worship to sell a product, and Jesus didn’t like religious profiteering very much.

    I wrote this article trying to counter the idea that people who are more emotive in worship are more spiritual and more in touch with God. I think you’re coming from the opposite perspective. Hope this helps clarify!

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