Mark D. Roberts

Reaching Out to God for Mercy

Listen to my prayer for mercy
     as I cry out to you for help,
     as I lift my hands toward your holy sanctuary.

In the church where I grew up, people didn’t raise their hands in a
worship service, except for the pastor when it was time for a
benediction. But, as time passed, every now and then I’d see someone
raising his or her hands while we were singing. It seemed oddly out of
place in our stately Presbyterian sanctuary.

In the 1980s, more and more Christians began lifting their hands in
worship, even in decent and orderly mainline churches. This created
quite a stir in some places, with church leaders frowning on such
“emotionalism” while hands-raising worshipers spoke of an enhanced sense
of God’s presence. I remember participating in many discussions, some
quite heated, about whether this practice should be tolerated or even

I was curious about what the Bible taught about lifting hands before
God, and was surprised to find that this practice was common and
commended. Psalm 134:2, for example, reads, “Lift up holy hands in
prayer, and praise the LORD.” In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul says that he wants
“men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God.” I never before realized
that such things could be found in the Bible.

But I also learned that raising hands in prayer, a common posture
for Jews in biblical times, was not just a way of expressing praise to
God. In fact, lifting ones hands was often associated with neediness and
supplication. That’s the case in Psalm 28:2, where David lifts his
hands as he cries out to the Lord for mercy.

There are times when we are so desperate for God’s help that we
might even lift our hands to him, like a child needing her mother’s
help. The physical gesture isn’t required, of course. But, like kneeling
or bowing our heads, raising our hands in prayer to God might just help
lead our hearts before him.

your hands before God in prayer? In what contexts? What does this mean
to you? How do physical expressions impact your communication with the
Lord, if at all?

PRAYER: Gracious God, we know that physical postures
and expressions don’t impress you, since you look upon the heart. We can
look very spiritual from the outside, but turn our hearts from you on
the inside.

Nevertheless, you have made us as whole, integrated people. And
sometimes what we do with our bodies helps to move our hearts. So teach
us, Lord, how we might come before you in prayer, holding nothing back.
Give us new freedom to pray and to worship with all that we are, loving
you with heart, soul, mind, and strength.

And when we are desperate, may we approach you as needy children,
yes, perhaps even lifting our hands before you. Reach out to us, Lord,
to embrace us in your love and grace. Amen.


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This devotional comes from The High Calling: Everyday Conversations about Work, Life, and God ( You can read my Daily Reflections there, or sign up to have them sent to your email inbox each day. This website contains lots of encouragement for people who are trying to live out their faith in the workplace. The High Calling is associated with Laity Lodge, where I work.

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