Let my prayer be counted as incense before Thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.
Here is a challenge: Go to the end of the message and pray the prayer that you find at the end. When you get to the words “lifting up of my hands” lift up your hands while reciting the rest of the prayer. Pray the prayer, don’t just zip through it. Try to offer it in a prayerful way. You’ll see that it is actually pretty hard to hold your hands up for any length of time. I confess the other night, while serving the Great Compline, when I offered this prayer, I had my hands resting on the altar table, turned my palms up and didn’t really lift my arms at all. I was exhausted from some work I had done over the weekend. And as oftentimes happens, I had the idea for this reflection which is why I’m writing on this today.
In Exodus 17:10-13, we read an account of the Israelites fighting against the Amalekites. It goes like this:
So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hand grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Moses understood what the right thing he needed to do, to hold his hands up so Israel could prevail. He wanted to do the right thing. And yet no matter how much he wanted to do the right thing, he was too tired and needed help.
There are many instances in the Christian journey where truly do not know what the right thing is to do. This is why we pray for God to help us find the answer. This is why we read the Bible, why we join a Bible study class, and why we lean on a spiritual father, because we can’t possibly know all the answers. Some of us aren’t “lifting up our hands” because we don’t know how or why to.
There are also many instances in the Christian life where we know what the right thing is and we choose not to do it. That’s because the world around us is increasingly discouraging to those trying to live a Christian life. We are presented with many options that are “more fun” than following God’s commandments, and we are encouraged, if not pressured (even bullied) into taking the more fun options. Some of us are trying to lift up our hands, but those around us are trying to push them down, and instead of fighting, we just stop and go along with the crowd.
There are also many instances in the Christian life where we are holding our hands up, and are simply getting tired. I celebrated the service the other night with the right intentions, and yet I was still too tired, maybe lazy too, to lift my hands. And what I needed was an “Aaron and Hur” to hold up the arms that want to be up, that understand why they need to be up, but are just too tired to stay up. This is why we need to belong to a church community, this is why we need encouragers, to help us to lift up our hands to God when we become too tired to hold them ourselves.
There are three things that need to be at work here. The first is the desire to lift up our hands to God. The second is the humility to ask for help when we need it. And the third is having the group of friends close at hand that can assist when we ask for help, and perhaps even when we can’t or don’t, because they understand that no one gets there alone.
In Galatians 6:2, St. Paul writes that we are to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Praising God is a joy. Heavy arms, even arms that have joy but also fatigue, are burdens are to ask for help carrying and burdens we should be looking for in others so we can all help one another in raising our hands, our spirits and our souls to heaven.
Lord, Lord, who have delivered us form every arrow that flies by day, deliver us from anything that lurks about in darkness. Accept the lifting of our hands as an evening sacrifice. Make us worthy to traverse the time of night blamelessly, untouched by evil, and redeem us from every disturbance and fear caused by the devil. Grant contrition to our souls and concern to our minds about the accounting at Your awesome and just judgment. Nail down our bodies with Your fear, and deaden our earthly members, so that even in the quiet of our slumber we may be enlightened by the contemplation of Your ordinances. Keep away from us every indecent fantasy and harmful desire. Awaken us in the time of prayer rooted in the faith, and thriving in Your instructions; through the good will and goodness of Your only-begotten Son with whom You are blessed, together with You all-holy, and good and life-giving Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen. (From the service of the Great Compline, trans. by Fr. Evagoras Constantinides, 1989, Merrillville, Indiana, p. 28)
Ask for help in “lifting your hands” to God. Look for opportunities to help others do the same.