I’m definitely much more of a thinker than a feeler. It’s easier to experience God through my mind than my heart. I do experience Him on an emotional level at times, but these are rare and honestly more often confusing than not. Intellectual analysis of a felt experience of God is, for the most part, a useless exercise and is undoubtedly missing the point. A degree of reflection may be helpful, but the attempt to understand such an experience seems borderline sacrilegious. It makes it something that it is not.
In the context of the life of the church, I more readily connect with the sermon than I do the singing. If there was just singing, I would more readily connect with hymns and other more theologically worded* songs than those that are more devotionally worded. I find that I deeply appreciate it when people refer to both the singing and the sermon as part of the ‘worship service’ because it allows me the belief that I am just as much a worshipper as the one who more readily connects with what is more traditionally referred to as ‘worship’. At times I wish I was more drawn to the musical element of the service, but I do believe God made me this way and thus I have no real reason to wish I was different. I trust that God is as accepting of one as of the other.
For most of my life, I have been in churches where the raising of one’s hands in worship is a common sight. I remember this one time, I think I was 5 or 6, I wanted something from mom when she was worshiping with her hands raised. I could tell by her face that I was drawing her away from something important, more important than what I thought I needed. There was something more significant than ‘me’ going on. This was my first recognition of the fact that worship (used here and after in reference to the musical component specifically) was something important and meaningful.
A year or so later, I remember attending chapel at the private Christian school I attended and seeing a third grader raising his hands in worship. He was a kid I really looked up to and this sight had a significant impact on me. Seeing him raise his hands and seem to mean it seemed to communicate to me that it wasn’t just an adult thing. Still, I wasn’t quite ready to try it yet; something in me seemed to think that I needed to ‘feel like it’ before I could do it.
The feeling never seemed to come, however. Eventually, I had the bright idea that maybe I just had to do it and then maybe something would happen. There came a point in church one day when it was just me and my dad in our row and he stepped away for a few minutes. I thought this was my chance to give it a shot. I closed my eyes and raised my hands to see if anything would happen. Nothing did. I kept them up for a bit until my dad came back, at which point I was rather embarrassed that he found me like that. I think it was the fact that I hadn’t felt anything that was embarrassing. It seemed as though dad thought I was having a worshipful experience, but the reality was that I was just conducting a failed experiment that left me still feeling confused about the whole thing.
It’s now some 20 years later and I think I’m still trying to figure it out. There are many things I’ve learned in the process. I know that there’s something that happens when we place ourselves in certain positions for things (such as kneeling in prayer). I recognize that worship communicates many things, both to God and ourselves, and my hands can play a part in this. At times they seem to add a certain emphasis or nuance to what I’m singing. Sometimes it’s an expression of desire or need. At others, it’s a recognition of the holiness of God in which I have no part without Christ. At still other times, it’s an expression of surrender to His will or acceptance of His goodness to me. There is also the rare occasion when I have raised my hands in response to the tangible presence of God. I gather that for some this is the more common experience.
I recognize that many people’s experiences, both felt and thought, were not mentioned, as is the case with many of my own. While I have given a few of my thoughts and experiences on raising my hands in worship, the most important one I have intentionally left out. For the most part, when I lift my hands in worship, I do so as an act of faith. I don’t know what exactly I’m doing or why I’m doing it; I’ve just never lost the impression that it’s important and somehow worth doing, despite my lack of understanding. Once in a while, God makes it clear to me that I’m right.
I have experienced moments of great emotional significance in worship to which I have raised my hands in response, but there is nothing I could have done to cause these experiences. They were simply momentary gifts that God decided to give me. As much as I desire for more of those moments, I know that raising my hands will not make God do anything. Nonetheless, I continue to raise them, trusting that somehow there is value in so doing, even when I cannot readily discern what that is.
*I use the term ‘worded’ to emphasize the difference in language used rather actually content conveyed. “I love you” and “You are Holy” can both be equally theologically and affectively accurate when sung rightly.