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Why Do Some Worshipers Raise Their Hands?

Updated on November 3, 2017
Kathleen Cochran profile image

Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.


Have you ever been in a church service and during the music or prayer portion of the service one person or several people raise their hands in the air, as part of their expression of worship? Why do they do this?

Let's assume you are a believer in the tenents of faith of this same church or denomination. Let's say you actively participate in worship in the same services as these people. Why do some people do this and some don't? Is it a matter of some being more spiritual than others or having more faith?

Nothing is more revealing about a person's experience and personality than how the individual expresses him or herself to God. Wouldn't it be amazing if some insightful person developed a Myers Briggs-style test for worship? Are you an INTJ or an ENTJ? A ISTJ or an INFJ when it comes to worship?

Are you all business when it comes to the one who could spite you with a plague of frogs? Are you emotional to the point of tears from the opening strains of the doxology? "Praise God from whom all blessings flow . . ." Are you more the religion by osmosis type? If you just sit there and sleep through it, you'll get as much out of it as anybody?

We approach God in all manner of ways. Like the author of "Eat, Pray, Love", Elizabeth Gilbert, who wrote the first time she ever prayed she was well into adulthood. Her first thought in prayer was, "Nice to meet you finally, God. I'm a big fan of your work." Or the character, Cookie, in the movie, "City Slickers", whose prayer over the trail boss' grave was short and to the point, "God, we give you Curly. Try not to piss him off."

Many of us first call on God with a simple, "Help me please" because a crisis of such catastrophic proportions has befallen us, we literally have no one else to turn to in that moment of abject fear.

Some of us said our first prayer about the time we took our first step. "Now I lay me down to sleep. I pray the Lord my soul to keep. Keep me safely through the night, and wake me with the morning's light." And for some of us, that's the last prayer we have ever spoken.

There are many devout people of every imaginable faith who pray and worship on a daily or weekly basis whose range of spiritual expression runs the gamut from complete silence to violent jirations and indescernable shouts. Does God prefer one form of expression over another? There is no way to know. I'd like to think, if he created each of us in his own image, then he will be as pleased with one person's response to him as another person's.

All this discourse brings me back to my initial question. People who, as part of their public worship, raise their hands - what are they trying to express?

When my children were small, hardly old enough to walk, probably under the age of two, I remember being exhausted most of the time. I loved being a new mom, but the physical demands, the lack of sleep, the catch as catch can diet, left me drained of energy, physical - emotional - spiritual - more often than not. But when I think back and recall memories from those years, (some thirty years ago) there is one that is vivid and heartwarming.

I was a stay-at-home Mom until my kids were middle school and high school aged. So I didn't leave them with others very often, except for church, and we attended quite regularly. In our demonination, most churches had nurseries for pre-schoolers. We went through the normal stages of separation anxiety early on, but for the most part my children loved the activities in their classes and having time to play with their friends.

But it never failed, when they were toddlers, I would show up at the dutch door to the nursery and my child would eventually stop what he was doing for a second and spot me. Whatever he'd been playing with would immediately be forgotten, and here he would come, full speed ahead, with arms raised, knowing I would pick him up, hold him close, and take him home, or to lunch, or wherever I was going to go next. Didn't matter. I was there to pick him up and be together with him once again. Our fellowship was restored, parent and child.

I'd like to think that is what is happening when people raise their hands in worship. They are saying, "Do you see me here, God? I see you. I know you are here to pick me up, hold me close, and take me with you wherever you are going." Just like a father. Just like a mother.

Whether this expression is within your comfort zone or your realm of experience or not, it is a beautiful thing to see, a sweet thing to feel, awesome to behold. At least it is for me as someone who was once a parent of a little one. I know just how God feels - when one of your children comes running back to you - with arms raised.


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    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Vinaya: Even within one country, different cultures exist. Thanks for commenting and welcome to my hubs.

    • Vinaya Ghimire profile image

      Vinaya Ghimire 

      4 years ago from Nepal

      Different cultures have different ways of worshiping. Thanks for this interesting article.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      6 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Marcia: Welcome to another Marcia (my given name - Kathleen is my penname.) Hope you enjoy more of my hubs. This one means a lot to me.

    • profile image

      mours sshields 

      6 years ago from Elwood, Indiana

      Very well said! We are regular church-goers and Christians, and have been in many of these types of services. It's an awesome thing (to see and participate)!

      Marcia Ours

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Very well done - balanced, reasonable, thoughtful. As one of those inclined to raise their hands (I am sure doing so has slightly different meanings,feelings, purposes for different people), you have found a very good and useful analogy. Raising one's hands does reveal trust and openness and the solace one finds when someone greater and safer than you are, chooses to love and comfort and care for you.

      Another analogy or comparison has also worked well for me. The praise/appreciation/recognition/acknowledgment of something great, lovely, moving, or beautiful when worshiping God is not unlike the similar response often seen as a music concert.t

      Don't know if this makes intellectual sense or not, but experientially it does makes sense. In both cases there is a striving upward, an awareness of something special or worthy, and a desire to be part of that moment or experience. Not that everyone who raises their hands thinks it through logically at the time, but often it is those feelings and aspirations that are involved. I really appreciated your Hub.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      DavePrice: Welcome to my world! Thanks for the read and the comments. Hope to read more from you also.

    • DavePrice profile image


      7 years ago from Sugar Grove, Ill

      First hub I came to when I discovered you. Looking forward to enjoying much more, your style is very comforting to read.

    • Kathleen Cochran profile imageAUTHOR

      Kathleen Cochran 

      7 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      2patricias: Thanks for your comments and for taking time to read my hub. Good to meet you.

    • 2patricias profile image


      7 years ago from Sussex by the Sea

      I love your suggestion of a Myers-Briggs analysis of worship and prayer styles!

      There are many different ways to prayer or worship, but I don't think that any of us can judge as to which is best.


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