Welcome! I am excited to be beginning a new four-part message series this morning entitled “Come to Worship” as we prepare for Christmas. And I am believing that through this series God is going to increase our understanding and expand our hearts to know him more intimately as we come to worship him. The title for this series comes from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 2, verse two, when Magi, wise men came from the East and asked King Herod in Jerusalem, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have (What, can we say it together?) Come to worship him” (Matthew 2:2). We have come to worship him!
This is important, because much of Christianity today has been reduced to what God is going to do for us. You know, like “I am going to worship and serve God… as long as he answers my prayers and does what I want.” And somehow, especially in America, many people have adopted the attitude that God exists to make your life better. But the reality is that God does not exist for us, but we exist for him and were created to glorify him, to worship him, and to make him known.
What I love about the wise men, is that they did not come to get something from God, but came to offer worship to him. And I think, as a church, that God wants more of us in worship, that we can improve our intimacy with him by learning to be worshipers not just on the weekends, but seven days a week. Because worship isn’t just something we do, a worshiper is who we are, and we were created to worship God. So for the next few weeks together, we are going to cultivate a desire to know him intimately, and to create an atmosphere where we will experience the powerful presence of God as we come to worship him. And so, we’re going to look at four different postures of worship. Next week we’re going to talk about bringing our gifts, then we are going to talk about pouring out our hearts, and lastly about kneeling before him, but today we’re going to start with lifting up our hands to God in worship.
Now if you didn’t grow up around the Church and you walked in and saw people with eyes closed and their hands raised to heaven it’s a little different right? You know, it’s almost awkward, like watching somebody make out, right? So what I want to do is show from the Bible why we lift our hands to God and what it accomplishes. Comedian Tim Hawkins once talked about this, you can see it on YouTube, you know, if you search “Tim Hawkins on hand raising” and he talks about different forms of worship. He says, there is the “carrying the television” form of worship. Then, there’s the “big-screen” type of worship. There’s the “this is how big the fish I caught was” form of worship. There’s a few I made up: like you know the “Jesus is number one” worship, the “high-five Jesus” worship which for basketball fans is the classic “block the shot” worship. But you know they’re all different ways to worship with your hands. And so, what I want to do today is to look at the Bible and let it come to life for us as we seek to gain a deeper understanding of why it is that we do something with our hands as a reflection of what’s actually happening in our hearts. And so I want to start in Psalm 63, looking at verses 1 through 4, looking at a time when David was in hiding and at a very low point in his life.
In verse 1, David cries out to God, and maybe this is where you are right now this morning. He says, “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you. I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalms 63:1-4).
I wonder, how many of you right now are in that place in your life where it feels kind of dry. You’re in the wilderness, maybe alone, rejected, and afraid and you’re not even sure how you got to that place. That’s where David is! He’s in a bad place, and yet he says, “I will praise you as long as I live.” He’s not praising God, because things are going so well. He’s praising God, because God is still good even though his circumstances aren’t. And then he says, “In your name I will lift up my hands.” In other words, “In your name, because of who you are, I will lift up my hands to praise and glorify you.” And so it’s an act of worship.
Now I’ve told you all bits and pieces of my story when I became a follower of Christ, that glorious moment when the Gospel connected my mind to my heart, and when the grace of God became something I knew and felt deep in my soul. It was as if I had found an oasis of water in the desert, I was face down before God, just crying out in surrender, giving my life to him, when suddenly the weight of all the sinful stuff that I’ve ever done was lifted off of me. I certainly can’t explain what happened, but I knew what happened, and so I got up on my knees knowing the loving presence of God so powerfully that I just lifted my hands as a natural response to the grace of God. It wasn’t even something that I had seen or experienced growing up in a Catholic church. You know, for me the only time you raised your hand in church was when you had to go to the bathroom, yet at that moment I felt the grace of God so powerfully my soul responded by reaching out to God in worship. And there are those of you here who know what I’m talking about, because you can’t experience the grace of God without showing gratitude in some way. When you truly understand who he is and what he’s done for you, you want to express your thankfulness in worship. And that’s what happened to me at that very moment.
Now I discovered later that that was normal and even commanded in the Scriptures. In the New Testament, Paul was instructing Timothy how to help Christians take a posture of worship. And in 1 Timothy chapter 2:8 Paul wrote, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer...” Now, it’s interesting to me that Paul said, “I want the men to do this” because in my experience, men are often the last to do this. Maybe it’s because of pride, maybe because it feels awkward, but for whatever the reason, Paul says, “I want the men to lift up holy hands to God.” And I’m guessing based on my understanding of the Bible that it is because God wants men to set the standard of worship. God wants men to be leaders in their family. God wants the children to see the fathers seeking God in worship. And so men, you’re to set the tone, you’re to seek God, you’re to be men after God’s own heart. And if you want your children to seek God, you need to be seeking God yourself, and so you don’t let your wives out worship you, you don’t let your children out worship you. Before anybody else you set the tone, you set the standard, we’re going to be worshipers in this house, we’re going to have a heart for God in his Church. And now I can’t prove this, but I believe that God, our Heavenly Father, absolutely loves when his children lift their hands to worship him, when we show him our affection by lifting our hands.
And the reason I say that is because of the image of God in us. You know, the moment that one of my children would sit up, would try to crawl toward me, roll a ball toward me, or say “Da-Da” my heart would melt. I still remember the first time Matt, my oldest son, began taking steps, learning to walk, and he came toward me saying “Da-da!” lifting his hands to me. You know, it just melts your heart. Even now, when Olivia, my youngest, puts her hands up toward me, my heart goes toward her.
And so I can just imagine the love of our Heavenly Father. There is no loving father on earth who would reject the outstretched hands of a child and I believe our Heavenly Father loves when we lift our hands toward Him. I believe, that when our hands move toward God, he leans down and draws near to us. He loves when we lift up our hands in affection to worship Him.
In fact, James chapter 4:8 says this, “Come near to God and he will come near to you.” Did you get that? “He will come near to you.” As we draw near to our Heavenly Father, as we lift our hands, saying, “God, I can’t reach you, but I love you, I want you, and this is the best I can do. I’m lifting up my hands in an act of worship” As we come near to God, he will come near to us.
So we lift our hands in worship, in affection, because God loves it, and it can also be an offering of praise. You know, just like you might give money in an offering, the lifting up of your hands can be an offering to God. In fact, this is what Psalm 141, verses 1 and 2 said. David once again was dealing with some tough stuff, he was at a low point in his life, and he says, “O Lord, I call to you; come quickly to me. Hear my voice when I call to you. May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice” (Psalms 141:1-2).
Some of you today, may have never lifted your hands in worship. Let it be a sacrifice of praise. If this is the first time you’ve ever given an offering of lifted hands to God, it may feel a bit awkward at first, it may feel like you’re pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, but you just lift them up anyway and say, “God, I’m humbling myself, I’m offering my heart to you, I’m offering my praise to you, and I’m giving myself to you.” And maybe you don’t even feel like praising right now, but you offer him your praise anyway, not because of what you see, but because of who you know he is.
You see, God will be pleased. We lift our hands in worship because God loves it. We lift our hands in affection because it’s an offering of praise to our God. We lift our hands because when we do he will come near to us. And so we’re reaching out to Him in dependence because we need him.
We may lift our hands to God because of the hopelessness of our situation, we need him, and we’re dependent upon his help. There is a very real battle, a dark place, and if things don’t change you don’t know what you’re going to do. And so you lift up your hands in Jesus name and declare battle totally dependent upon the help of our all-powerful God to battle for you. You lift your hands in dependence.
The Bible gives us a wonderful example of this in Exodus chapter 17. The Amalekites were attacking the Israelites and Moses told Joshua to choose some men for the battle. He said, “God has gotten us this far and we’re not going to surrender, we’re going to resist, and we’re going to push back.” And so the next day as Joshua heads out with the troops, Moses goes to a vantage point where he can oversee the battle, and he lifts his hands to God and prays.
Verses 10 and 11 tell us: “Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Exodus 17:10-11).
Did you hear that? Isn’t that awesome? As long as Moses held up his hands what happened? The Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands what happened? The Amalekites were winning. So hands up to God and they’re winning. Hands down and they’re losing. When Moses hands are lifted up, acknowledging the sovereign power of God, God’s people were winning. But when he lowers his arms, no longer acknowledging the power of God, God’s people started losing.
And some of you right now, you’re in a battle, and maybe you feel like you’re right on the verge of losing. It might be time for you to lift up your hands and tell God that you trust him no matter what. And that you’re going to lift up your hands and praise him no matter what you see, no matter what you feel, no matter what’s going on you’re just going to continue to praise him. Today you’re going to lift up your hands, declaring that the battle is the Lord’s, and that you’re going to trust him, depend upon him, and you’re going to declare that by faith, by lifting your hands, knowing that the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world, that no weapon formed against you will prosper, and if God is for you who can be against you. I will lift up my hands.
What’s interesting is verse 12, “When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up — one on one side, one on the other — so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (Exodus 17:12-13).
You see, even a great man like Moses can’t leave his hands up for hours on end. So we need Christian brothers and sisters to come alongside of us like Aaron and Hur did, to do what? “They held his hands up” right? “One on one side, one on the other – so that his hands remained steady until sunset. So Joshua overcame….”
In fact… I’m not going to put anybody on the spot, I was going to but I’m not, because there are people here actually holding up my arms all the time, praying for me and supporting me. When I’m battling, when my load gets heavy, when I’m stumbling under the burden, they hold up my hands. When I get tired, they pray for me. When I’m discouraged, they’re there for me. They stand with me in prayer, they stand by my side, and they continue to hold up my arms in battle. And that’s why coming to church matters, that’s why we worship together, because we don’t just worship God by ourselves, we worship him as the body of Christ. We stand together, leaning on one another, lifting each other’s arms, seeking God together, pressing in together, and being there for one another.
Some of you this morning, you are in a battle right now and you’ve been struggling alone in the battle, but today it’s time to declare, “God I need you.” As we close, were going to sing and I want you to do an experiment with me. Just sing at the top of your lungs, lift up your voice. I want you to worship, as a declaration of praise, as you reach out to God, as an offering and a battle cry and watch Him reach out to you. Would you join me in prayer as we worship God? And at the right time, maybe for the first time in your life, lift up holy hands, in an act of worship to our God.
Pastor John Talcott
Christ's Community Church
303 West Lincoln Avenue
Emmitsburg, MD 21727
November 29, 2015