When Ezra read the book of the law to the assembled people, it says he “4stood at a wooden podium which they had made for the purpose. And beside him stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah on his right hand; and Pedaiah, Michael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah and Mechullam on his left hand. 5Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people for he was standing above all the people; and when he opened it all, all the people stood up. 6Then Ezra blessed the LORD the great God. And all the people answered, ‘Amen, Amen!’ while lifting up their hands; then they bowed low and worshiped the LORD with their faces t the ground.” Nehemiah 8:4-6.
I have preached many years and have never seen such a response from the people in the church. Why? There is nothing unholy or distracting about the response of these people who shout and lift their hands.
I sense that the church is so on guard against the very real threat of emotionalism that runs over the truth and over the commanded order that any visible expression is hushed. While we in the church admit that what the mind knows, the heart feels, we communicate that the expression of joy must be curtailed to a minimum lest we fall into error and turn the worship into a circus.
The emotional response of the people in Ezra and Nehemiah’s day showed reverence to God’s Word by standing at the reading of the Scripture, and they knew the proper moment to speak so that all together they said, “Amen! Amen!”
This response isn’t orchestrated. Being raised Catholic, sort of, and being familiar enough with being told everything to say, and when to kneel, stand, and sit, I’m familiar with shows of religion that have nothing to do with the natural, heartfelt, and spiritual response to God.
What about the lifting of the hands? First, I dislike very much anything that becomes orchestrated and showy. And I’ve visited denominations who make a big show of their religion in this way. However, the raising of the hands as an expression of faith is as natural as a child lifting his arms to a parent. It is as natural as lifting the eyes to heaven. It is as natural as dropping to the knees in humility. It is as natural as prostrating oneself before God in prayer. There is nothing unspiritual or unscriptural about someone lifting up their hands to God.
The danger. With all such shows of faith, shows of expression, there is always the danger of it becoming nothing but show which conceals a heart that is not being lifted up to God. We have seen people come forward at the end of the sermon and it is with tears and sorrow for sin. This isn’t wrong. It is good. But there’s never a guarantee that the expressions are genuine. But we don’t tell people to not respond because such things might be fake. There’s always a danger of fakery. God will deal with that.
The title of the lesson here isn’t about lifting the hands or shouting “Amen”. It is about responding in a very real way to the Word of God. It seems the church has become comfortable with hearing the Word of God that it elicits no response at all. The preacher has poured his heart into the lesson and has most likely shed a tear and prayed deeply to God by being personally touched and convicted by what he’s studied. But then he stands at the podium as Ezra did and he makes his final appeal and then sits down. All the while, the people are stone silent. To my core, I can’t explain it, but I think something is wrong.
Does God need to shake the mountains to make us quiver? Does Jesus need to make a whip to bring us to repentance? Or does the Word of God still touch you and move your spirit to say, “Thank you! Thank you! O my Lord, Amen to You!”
I offer this humbly, Dan Mayfield