Reaching Out for Mercy

By Mark D. Roberts

February 14, 2016

Hear the voice of my supplication,
as I cry to you for help,
as I lift up my hands
toward your most holy sanctuary.

Psalm 28:2

A child raising his hands in worship; overlaid with praise music & lyrics.In the church where I grew up, most people didn’t raise their hands in a worship service. Every now and then I’d see someone raising his or her hands while we were singing. It seemed oddly out of place in our stately Presbyterian sanctuary. We “decent and in order” folk didn’t do that sort of thing.

Yet, in the 1980s, more and more Christians began lifting their hands in worship, even daring Presbyterians. This created quite a stir in some places, with church leaders frowning on such “emotionalism” while hands-raising worshipers spoke of an enhanced sense of God’s presence. I remember participating in many discussions, some quite heated, about whether this practice should be tolerated or even encouraged.

I was curious about what the Bible taught about lifting hands before God. After studying carefully, I was surprised to find that this practice was common and commended. Psalm 134:2, for example, reads, “Lift up holy hands to the holy place, and bless the LORD.” In 1 Timothy 2:8, Paul says that ” men should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or argument.” I never before realized that such things could be found in the Bible.

But my biblical investigation revealed that raising hands in prayer, a common posture for Jews in biblical times, was not just a way of expressing praise to God. In fact, lifting ones hands was often associated with neediness and supplication. That’s the case in Psalm 28:2, where David lifts his hands as he cries out to the Lord for mercy.

There are times in our lives when we are so desperate for God’s help that we might even lift our hands to him, like a child needing her mother’s help. The physical gesture isn’t required, of course. But, like kneeling or bowing our heads, raising our hands in prayer to God might just help lead our hearts before him.

The main point, however, is not what we’re doing with our hands, but what’s happening in our hearts. We yearn for God’s help. We ache for his gracious intervention. We need God’s mercy and cry out for him to hear us and save us. We pray like this when our personal lives are troubled. But we are also free to cry out for mercy when our work is messy, or when we have so much of it that we feel like we’re drowning.

Part of the good news of Psalm 28 is that we can be free and unguarded as we cry out to God, just like David. More good news comes with the affirmation that God hears our pleadings (28:6). When we trust in the Lord who is our strength and shield, we are “helped” and our heart “exults” (28:7).


Can you think of times when you desperately cried out to God for mercy? What happened?

How free are you to pray about your work? Does it seem right or wrong to pray about the details of your work? Why or why not?


Gracious God, thank you for the freedom you give us to approach you as needy children, yes, perhaps even lifting our hands before you. Thank you for hearing us, for your merciful and compassionate response.

Help us, Lord, to bring our whole lives to you in prayer. May we trust you with everything, including our work.

All praise be to you, O God, because you are indeed our strength and shield. Amen.

P.S. An earlier version of this devotion appeared on The High Calling. It is used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

Mark D. Roberts

Senior Strategist

Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders,...

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