He Who Has Clean Hands

By Francis Frangipane

It's time to examine what flows out of our hands in ministry.

The call was from a pastor I'd known for years. I had always appreciated his heart. Every Sunday during communion he would pray and gently lay his hands on each person's head. Now, however, his voice was troubled. He asked if we could meet at his church and I agreed.

As we sat in his office he confessed, "I started smoking. No one knows, not even my wife. I only smoke when I'm by myself in the car."

"Well, I've heard worse things," I answered, relieved that he wasn't confessing a real sin."

He continued. "I know smoking is wrong, but that's not what's troubling me. Within three weeks after I lit my first cigarette, I was approached on four separate occasions by different people I had prayed for. It was incredible--each person privately confessed they had suddenly developed a craving for cigarettes! As I laid my hands upon them to bless them, I had also been imparting to them my sin."

This, indeed, was more serious. If four people out of a church of 200 were willing to seek help, how many more might be struggling with the same problem but not reaching for help? We prayed together and I encouraged him to be honest with the church about his smoking. I added, however, that if he wasn't going to tell the congregation, the least he should do is stop laying his hands on their heads.

That event occurred over 16 years ago, but it isn't isolated. Another incident occurred with a sister in Christ who was ministering to a man in our church. Recently divorced, this fellow was new to the things of the Lord and, though he was now regularly attending church, he had yet to receive the Holy Spirit's gift of speaking in tongues. One evening, under the pretense of wanting to pray for him to receive "the baptism," she took him to her home. After encouraging him to trust her, she laid her hands upon his head and prayed. In a little while, he indeed, began to pray in tongues. Yet, two hours later he found himself in bed with the woman.

A couple weeks later, the woman candidly confessed her sin to my wife and me. Not only did she admit she had seduced this young man, she said she could actually tell when her thoughts degenerated to lust and the exact point when a spirit of lust passed through her hands and entered the man!

I can't explain theologically how such a thing can happen. I know that pure water passing through a rusty pipe will be stained. Regardless, it frightens me that a Christian can lay hands on someone's head and impart evil.

Let me relate one more incident. Seeking to upgrade my marriage to a higher level, I once asked a minister friend to pray for me. He laid his hands on my head and prayed a perfectly "Christian" prayer. The result, however, was that a flood of impure thoughts also entered my mind through his hands. I hadn't immediately discerned the origin of this warfare until, three days later, I asked the preacher if he had been struggling with an unclean spirit. He admitted he was and together we broke the power of this battle. I then warned him to never lay hands on anyone while unrepentant sin was active in his heart.

The Bible identifies the act of laying one's hands upon another's head and praying as an important part of Christian ministry (see Mk 16:18;1 Tim 4:14; Acts 8:17;13:3). This form of blessing was first practiced in the Old Testament (Gen 48:14; Ex 29:10; etc.). In fact, the Hebrew word translated "ordain" means "to fill the hands."

Today, with renewal and revival breaking forth in many places, the ministry of "laying on of hands" is more visibly a part of evangelical Christianity than any time in the last century. While I do not want to restrain the work of the Holy Spirit, I believe we need to carefully prepare ourselves, as ministers, to represent Jesus. For whatever is in our spirit, whether good or bad, has the potential to flow through our hands.

Entering the Holy Place

We need to do more than just qualify people in our churches for this ministry; as leaders, we ourselves must walk holy and humbly before the Lord, allowing the Lord to upgrade our standards of personal integrity and honesty.

The psalmist wrote, "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord and who may stand in the holy place" of God's presence? The answer is plain: "he who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood. . ." (Ps 24:3-4). "Clean hands" implies that we have not touched what is unclean; that is, we have not reached out toward sin. One of my favorite Scriptures comes from the book of Job. Eliphaz tells Job that God will "deliver one who is not innocent, and he will be delivered through the cleanness of your hands" (Job 22:30).

In the New Testament, however, our purity does not come simply from not touching what is impure. Our righteousness must originate from a higher level; we must receive our virtue from Christ Himself.

Thus, Jesus tells his disciples, "if I do not wash you, you have no part with Me" (Jn 13:8). Our righteousness is never based upon what we do, but upon Who Jesus becomes to us. He is the Living Vine from which we draw our virtue and power (Jn 15:4). This is vital to our success, for plainly the question rises in every honest heart: "Who among us is so pure as to not impart one's sinfulness"?

Over the years, in addition to my personal life with Christ, I have developed a "ministerial preparation" patterned after the high priest in the Old Testament. Of course, I substitute New Testament spiritual realities for their Old Testament counterparts, but by applying the high priest's activities prior to his temple service, I too can deal honestly with my personal imperfections while simultaneously allowing God to use me. I follow the priestly procedure every time I minister to God's people. And when I do it, I am as serious as the high priest entering the temple of Yahweh.

Let's look at what the basic steps the priest took prior to beginning his temple service. First, he had to cleanse himself in water. For me, the water symbolizes the word of God (see Eph 5:26; John 15:3). So, I wash in the Lord's living word, asking him to speak to my heart and reveal where I need cleansing. As He shows me where I have fallen short, I consciously ask for forgiveness.

Next, the priest removed his common clothes and put on the beautiful and costly priestly garments. Similarly, I "put on Christ." I remind myself that I am a new creature, created in "the likeness of God, in holiness and righteousness of the truth" (Eph 4:24). I step out of my soul's limitations and climb to the higher ground of the nature of Christ. This is not a "put on," but a putting on of that which God says I am. I bear the dignity and power of this new nature as I step toward the holy place.

Just as the high priest would then offer a sacrifice for his sin, so I recount the eternal sacrifice offered for me: I gaze upon the Lamb of God. With the sacrifice of Christ central both in the Father's mind and, once again, in my own, I boldly come to the throne of Grace.

Finally, the priest would anoint his head with a specially fragrant oil. Likewise, having prepared myself through repentance, through putting on the new man, through the blood of Christ, I then ask the Holy Spirit to anoint me with His liberty and power.

I do this little procedure every time I minister. It rarely takes more than 15 minutes, yet I can clearly recognize that my dependency has shifted from reliance upon myself to a conscious drawing upon the provisions, power and virtue of God Himself. Whether I am "in season or out," I am confident that what comes through my hands will have first passed through the cleansing Presence of the Almighty.

What If You Were Defiled?
Jesus said, "He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward" (Matt 10:41). God places unique and powerful gifts in His ministers' lives, and all we have to do is receive them as being sent from God and we will reap a spiritual reward. So, the last thing we want to do is become overly suspicious of those who are praying for us.

At the same time, the Lord does not want us to receive a demonic hitchhiker into our spirits during the process. Without becoming overly cautious, neither should we become totally naive. As was stated, there may be times when something unholy is imparted to us through the hands of a minister. What should we do? As a precaution, before we come forward to receive prayer, each of us should ask the Holy Spirit to filter anything that will not make us more like Jesus.

Yet, our coming for prayer should never be a substitute for our personal devotion to the Lord. It is here, in our intimacy with Christ, that the "reward" of another's spiritual gifting is cultivated; and it is here that God can reveal to us any unclean things that may have been imparted. If, after receiving ministry, you recognize that you are now struggling with impure thoughts, imaginations or passions, renounce them. And, if you are fairly sure something unholy was imparted to you, you might privately talk with the individual who prayed for you.

In this time of renewal and blessing let us reach for the best that the Holy Spirit is giving, but let's also strive to make sure its the Holy Spirit we are receiving. Let us walk with clean hands and a pure heart so that Christ will be fully exalted in our midst.