April 24, 2023

Lifted Hands

associate pastor

associate pastor

Ken Rathburn


I do not have the most aesthetically pleasing hands. My fingers are a bit boney and crooked (my mother will tell you that’s from cracking my knuckles, but I don’t really buy it). I also have the seemingly impossible-to-break habit of nail biting (I know, I know). I’m told I talk with my hands (and I continue to wonder whether that is in any way a compliment). Nevertheless, these hands I have are mine. God gave me these hands and he gave you yours.

Our hands belong to God.

Have you ever thought about how important our bodies must be to God? He created us not as disembodied minds or souls, although he could have done so. Instead, he created us both physical and spiritual, a physical body and a spiritual soul joined together by our Lord and crafted in his image. He made us from dust (body), and also breathed life into our nostrils (spirit) (Genesis 2:7). This connection is not incidental, but intentional and inseparable throughout this life. One bears upon the other. This means that not only our souls but also the entirety of our bodies belong to God, including our hands. In the very first charge given to the first human, God put Adam in the Garden “to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15) He told the man and the woman together to “fill the earth and subdue it.” This mandate was for their good and for God’s glory, and it required the intentional and strategic use of their hands.

Hands doing evil against God.

Despite this clear mandate, the hands of humanity were promptly used for a very different, sinful purpose. The first human hands were used in the Garden to take the forbidden fruit after believing the Devil’s lies. (Genesis 3:6-7) It has been a precipitous fall ever since. Cain murdered Abel with his hands in a jealous fit of rage that could not be undone. (Genesis 4:8) The people built the Tower of Babel, putting their hands to work for their own glory, attempting to make a name for themselves instead of praising the name of the Lord. (Genesis 11) King David “sent” for Bathsheba and “took” her as desirous lust in his heart led to an adulterous act in his hands. The soldiers “laid hands” on Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to seize him and take him to his execution. (Matthew 26:50) And it doesn’t end there, but continues into the daily lives of each and every human. Our hands can put sinful thoughts into action, guiding us into deeper and deeper sin. But it should not be that way. When we recognize that our hands belong to God, by his grace we can use them not for evil but for good. This takes many forms.

Hands to labor for God.

That first mandate was a call to put our hands to work to God’s glory. There is a sense of accomplishment that comes from the work of our hands—hard, consistent, protracted labor. I remember building a playhouse in our backyard for our daughter when she was much younger. Okay, so it was mostly following the directions of a kit, but I had to prepare a foundation and spread out gravel, assemble the wooden walls and roof, and install the little window grates, plastic flow boxes and door hardware. At the end of any project we can stand back and gaze upon the work product. This is built into us, as far back as Genesis 1&2. We bear the image of a creative, hardworking God who rested on the seventh day to simply enjoy what he had accomplished. When we work with our hands to God’s glory, we should feel a God-glorifying joy that comes from doing things we were made to do.

This should certainly be true in service to our Lord in the church. We can volunteer to set up or tear down on Sunday morning, greet people coming into worship, volunteer in the office, teach and disciple others, pray over those who are hurting, build VBS scenes, prepare FCA meals, and on and on. All these things involve using our God-given hands to labor for our God’s glory. While these tasks can feel burdensome at times, we must also rejoice in the accomplishment they bring.

Hands of dependence upon God.

Laboring to fulfill the Lord’s commands should also cause us to hold out our hands in dependence upon our great God.

Laboring to fulfill the Lord’s commands should also cause us to hold out our hands in dependence upon our great God. In Scripture, there are many instances of this. Aaron placed his hands on animals before offering them as sacrifices for sin before the Lord. (Leviticus 4-16). In a crucial battle in the conquest of the Promised Land, Moses sat on a hillside and simply raised his hands toward heaven. “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.” (Exodus 17:11-13) Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms to keep them held up to God. This wasn’t some sort of magic trick to commandeer God’s power, but a living picture that apart from dependence upon our God we will fail to follow his commands and accomplish his purposes. This is why we practice the laying on of hands in prayer and it is why we hold out our hands to receive the benediction blessing. The position of our hands and bodies speak to the posture of our souls. They work together. 

Hands of praise to God.

Finally, dependence upon God and labor for God should erupt in praise to God. When the Temple was completed and the Ark of the Lord brought into the Holy of Holies, King Solomon blessed and prayed over the people of Israel. (1 Kings 8:1-21) Then, he “spread out his hands toward heaven” praying to and praising the Lord, giving God glory for who he is and what he had done. As Christians today, how much more should we do the same? When we raise hands in worship—whether in anointing prayer or in singing hymns and songs of praise—our hands should go out from ourselves and be held high toward God (at least give it a try sometime). This is not a showy practice but a Biblical one. We receive God’s blessing and we point back to the God who blesses us, for he alone is worthy of all glory, honor and praise.

Holy hands held out for us.

I know, this is a lot of theology about one body part. It is necessary to think about these matters because the actions of our hands speak to the condition of our heart. But even more so, it is good to recognize that our hands are gifts to be used in response to the holy hands of Jesus Christ our Lord. You see, we serve a God who is neither distant nor disconnected from us, nor is he unfamiliar with the struggles of this life. The hands of our God, who is pure Spirit (John 4:24), created us and now sustain us. But those same hands of pure Spirit took on flesh in order to save us (John 1:14). The hands of Jesus Christ healed the afflicted, embraced the broken, cast out demons, and flipped the tables. In total dependence upon the Father, Jesus carried and endured his cross. His hands were pierced with nails and spread wide in sacrificial grace to welcome you and me to eternal joy (Luke 23:34). His holy hands accomplished what our hands, sinful and marred, never could. And following his glorious resurrection by the power of the Holy Spirit, our Lord lifted his hands to heaven and blessed his followers before he ascended to his throne at the right hand of God (Luke 24:50-51).

Brothers and sisters, let us use our God given hands to our God’s glory. May we do so each day, in big and small ways, until our Lord returns and we see with our own eyes his nail-scarred hands as we rejoice and worship him face to face.

With lifted hands,

Pastor Ken