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by Dalton Key
for the week of November 29, 2020

     Fads come and fads go and not all of them are confined to the world of fashion.  The church has certainly endured her share over the years.  Among the more recent:  congregants holding in the air, and often waving about, their “holy hands” as prayers are offered and selected songs are sung.

     Justification for the practice is said to be based in part upon the words of 1 Timothy 2:8:  “I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”  It does seem strange, though, that we have not been encouraged to embrace a literal application of Paul’s words until recently, as a number of denominational groups (charismatic, as a rule) have begun hand-waving as part of their circus-like praise fests.

     It is true that the 1 Timothy passage calls upon those praying to lift up “holy hands” in prayer.

     Consider as well Ephesians 3:14, which speaks of bowing the knee in prayer.  While assuming a kneeling posture in prayer was once in vogue among many brethren in years past, the practice has largely been forsaken.  In most congregations, the fad has long since run its course.

     But there is more.  The publican, whose prayer allowed him to go “to his house justified”, prayed while smiting his breast.  (Luke 18:13,14.)  I have yet to hear of any “breast smiting” congregations.

     And what of Stephen, who accompanied his final prayer both with kneeling down and looking up “steadfastly into heaven”?  But then I suppose we would need to hold one hand in the air while keeping the other one free for breast-smiting.

     Actually, one’s posture in prayer is not the important thing, nor is the positioning of one’s hands.  A cleansed and sincere heart is what matters.  The phrase “lifting up holy hands” is but another way of saying what James taught:  “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”  (James 5:16.)  The “holy hands,” by means of a figure of speech known as metonymy, denote “a righteous man.”  A similar usage may be found in James 4:8:  “Cleanse your hands, you sinners.”  The hands here are meant to represent the whole of one’s life as well.

     We would no doubt be better served during prayer concerning ourselves more with our hearts than with our hands.