Lift up holy hands

In 1 Tim 2 Paul longs that prayers be made for all people, including those in power (since they have a direct impact on how we live) because God desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. There’s enough depth and truth in just the first four verses to dwell on though often it is eclipsed by the latter half of the chapter.

For me today, what struck me was verse 8.

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarrelling.

  • What’s the significance of lifting up hands when praying?
  • What are “holy” hands?
  • Why in the same sentence talk about anger or quarrelling?

I take the lifting of hands in prayer to be a cultural practice, just as I was taught as a child to close my eyes and fold my hands when I pray. An act of focus. Prayer is not ritualistic or magic incantation where we try to control some spirit or power, rather we come as a supplicant to almighty God, in humility. Matthew records Jesus teaching the disciples how to pray. While the words of the “Lord’s Prayer” will be familiar to many, Jesus precedes that prayer template with instructions of the attitude you should have when you come to pray in Matt 6:5-8, which speaks of praying privately in quiet humility so that your intended audience is God, not men.

I think for many years I probably glossed over the phrase “holy hands” as some spiritual jargon, without thinking about it much, but I think Paul is very deliberate in using this phrase (and that’s the key to my third question about mentioning arguing).

The Jews were very familiar with being ceremonially clean in order to participate in any spiritual rituals, including prayer. They would have had to have had clean hands. But clean hands were symbolic of clean hearts, as we read in James 4:8

Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded

And in James 5:16 we read

Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.

It is the prayer of the clean hearted that is powerful.

And this is why Paul links the lifting of holy hands to an absence of quarrelling and anger. While the letter is written to Timothy (rather than the church as a whole), Paul addresses issues affecting their church services. It seems that disputes and arguments are interrupting their gatherings, with both men and women in conflict and arguments. These arguments quite possibly stem from the influence of the false teachers mentioned in chapter 1.

But holy hands are the hands of the humble and righteous believer, with a clean heart who forgives others. That’s why Jesus says in Mark 11:25

And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

If you have ongoing conflict or a broken relationship it will hinder your prayers.

As you pray today, make your hands holy by confessing your sins of argument and stubbornness and broken relationship. Forgive those you need to forgive. Restore with those with whom you have a broken relationship, and come before God with a humble heart. Then, in your prayers, seek the things of God who desires that all should be saved, by praying for all people everywhere, that they might come to the knowledge of the truth.