Living Open-Handedly

So I am starting something new.

(Well, new to me. I actually stole the premise for it right out of Ann Voskamp‘s book.)

Ann talks about living with your hand open, a metaphor for being willing to receive whatever the Lord gives – good or bad – with thanksgiving. And once He gives it, we are to keep our hands open, being willing to allow Him to take it back whenever He decides to, and giving thanks for that too.

Living Open-Handedly
image via foto76/freedigitalphotos.net

I love the image that so succinctly expresses the heart attitude of dying to self, of agreeing with the Lord, “Your will Your way.” Living open-handedly expresses to God that we trust Him. Even when things don’t make sense to us, we trust He will give us what we need when we need it, and we trust He will take away what we don’t need anymore in His perfect timing as well.

As an extension, when we have open hands, we put no demands on God to bless us in exactly the way we want Him to at the exact moment we want Him to in the exact place we want Him to. Instead, we allow Him to put whatever gifts He wants in our palms. This opens our eyes to the unexpected blessings all around us.

As simple as this concept is to explain, it is incredibly difficult to live.

I just finished teaching this idea over the last 6 weeks, and I found myself demonstrating it physically in class for my students. I would lay my hand open for all to see each time I spoke about trusting the Lord, and I would snap it shut in a fist of fear and insecurity to emphasize distrust.

I guess this gesturing while teaching got into my subconscious because a few days ago things started to get interesting.

I found myself sitting in my usual writing spot, and I felt my heart wander down a “my will my way” path. In other words, my proverbial hand snapped shut to God. I recognized this ugly feeling and decided to fight back. I literally opened my hand and laid it palm up on the table. And I prayed, “Lord, whatever You want to give…”

This small, physical act changed my heart in that moment.

God didn’t give me what I had wanted moments before. And I was okay with that. (If you know me at all, that’s a miracle in and of itself.)

I closed my computer and drove to my next engagement, which happened to be at my church. I walked through the empty hallway with my hand literally opened, whispering to the Lord, “Whatever You want to give…” I had no expectations in that moment. If you had asked me what I wanted from the Lord, I couldn’t have told you anything specific…

I went to the restroom and came back out, and there was a surprise gift from the Lord, a sweet friend I hadn’t seen in awhile. I smiled wide, not because I got to see that friend (although that was nice), but because the Lord had personally responded to my open hand.

The next day this introverted mom was feeling a little anxious about a day full of extroverted 4 year old. We went to a school function at my older daughter’s school, and on the way out, I physically laid open my hand and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord…” I pushed through the doors, and there was another friend, standing in the lobby. She said, “I was just thinking about you!” – an unexpected gift I wouldn’t have had eyes to see if I had snapped my hand closed to gifts that day on account of my day not including any “me time”.

This morning I had coffee with a friend. We planned to go to a location I don’t normally go to because it’s 5 miles out of my way (I know, first world problems). I opened my hand as I drove and said, “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” Then a text came through. My friend wanted to change our location back to my regular spot. “Whatever You want to give, Lord.” She and I had a perfect 2 hour chat, and that was gift enough, but He gave more. Another friend I hadn’t seen in a long time, whom I was missing just the day before, “happened” to come in the shop.

And I smile. Not because of the gifts He gives, but because the Giver is so lavish! So personal! So concerned with me and you and all our hearts’ desires!

As I am learning to relinquish my demanding spirit – my need to control how and when He blesses me – He is gentle and encouraging and rewards my efforts.

I may look crazy, walking around with my right hand turned palm up. And I’m sure I sound crazy, mumbling prayers under my breath. And the whole thing may be crazy, but doing this – literally living open-handedly – opens my heart to Him. It’s changing me.

And it can change you too.

Try it?

Advertisements

New Podcasts: One Thousand Gifts

This past Wednesday I kicked off my teaching series I’ll be in for the next 5 weeks, One Thousand Gifts.

As with the past two series I’ve taught, I am recording each lesson and posting them here.

image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
image via Michal Marcol at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

If you’re still considering coming to the course, give Lesson 1 a listen to see if the class might be for you. If it is, great! Come join me (Wednesday nights, 6:30p, Central Church) live for the rest of the course if you’re in the Memphis area.

If you’re unable to join me live but are still interested in the course, I’ll post the weekly podcasts here so you can study along at your own convenience.

Have questions, comments, or snide remarks about the course? Contact me below.

How to Deal with Pain Well

It’s not often I read the same book twice in a year’s time, but it happened this year. Partly because it is an excellent book. And partly because I am quick to forget what I “learn”. (Have we really learned something if we forget it?)

If you’ve read this blog before, you can probably guess the book is Ann Voskamp‘s One Thousand Gifts. I may not know you, but I know you need to read this book. Which says more about the book and human nature than it does about my arrogance.

The summation of the book is this: Life goes so much better when we remember we are not entitled to ANYTHING; all is grace, all is gift.

I forgot this for a few days around Christmas. And in crept a spirit of sadness, emptiness – a sense of just how broken this world is and how it won’t be fixed until Christ returns. I dwelt on that too long, developing a discontent rooted in the idea that I deserve perfection now.

I went down this rabbit trail: I feel pain because I lack something. The lack is bad because it causes pain. Fix the lack, fix the pain. There is no fixing the lack permanently in this broken world. Hopelessness.

Do you see the entitlement in this thinking?

I’m not entitled to not feel pain this side of Heaven.

Nowhere in the Bible is this mentioned. In fact, the opposite is harped on quite a bit. There will be pain, there will be trials, there will be suffering. A pain-free existence is incongruent with how the world works.  It’s a logical impossibility. Therefore, feeling entitled to such bliss is absurd.

That’s a kick to the gut.

We cannot have a continuously pain-free life, no matter what we do, what god we worship, or how well we serve Him.

It’s almost enough to make you want to give up on the whole thing… religion… God… life.

And that’s what Satan would have us do. He would have us zoom in on our present lives and dwell on the hopelessness of now.

But God zooms us back out so we can consider the eternal value of our present perseverance.

The author of Hebrews puts it like this:

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Hebrews 10:35-39)

There is an eternal reward for those who continue to serve and obey the Lord in the middle of the hopeless feelings of our painful lives. Salvation – eternity in a pain-free Heaven – awaits those who believe and press on.

We are not entitled to anything, least of all a pain-free now. Count all as grace – as gift – and it will help you press on through the pain and take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of you. 

 

 

Eyes to See

I like God’s sweet reminders that He is intimately involved in, and, indeed, arranges the details of my life.

Last night I read this out of that fabulous book I recommend to all people everywhere:

I have to seek God beauty. Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to seek out something worthy of worship? Every moment I live, I live bowed to something. And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down to something else.

Ann Voskamp‘s words rung true as I read them. Yes, we are made for worship. Will we worship the created, or do we have eyes to see past the creation to the Creator of all that takes our breath away? The Creator – He is what actually deserves our worship. The beautiful creation is only beautiful because He made it so. Without Him, there would be nothing to arrest our wonder.

I put down the book, finished with that thought.

Well, was finished. But God wasn’t.

He smiled to Himself, excitedly anticipating my joy when He would bring up the subject again 13 hours later – His not-so-subtle, personal message to me that He is always with me, ordering my days, looking for ways to tell me, “I love you so.”

Sitting in the corner of my usual coffee shop, desiring to write but lacking a subject, I thumbed through my Bible. I’m 9 days behind in my read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan. I’ve been behind all year – 30+ days behind at times.

But our sovereign Lord knew I’d be x days behind long before it came to pass, and He has continued to meet me just where I was throughout the year.

This morning was no exception. Having writer’s block, I decided to read my prescribed chapters, 9 days late.

Galatians 4. Paul is speaking to believers and says, “God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father,'” (Galatians 4:6).

The Holy Spirit in us has one cry – Father! The Spirit has one job – to point the believer to the Father.

Thinking, slowly, the Spirit connects the dots for me. The words from last night’s reading of Ann’s book come back to mind. We are made for worship. We all worship something all the time. But we get to choose what or whom receives our praise. Will it be the created or the Creator?

The Spirit, living inside each believer, cries, “Creator!” – a synonym for Father, but no less biblical.

My heart fills, warm, and God’s smile is wide. He brims with joy as He watches me realize He has ordered the reading of that chapter of that book on that night, the night before He has ordered the reading of that chapter of Galatians, 9 days late, the very next morning.

The Holy Spirit gives me the eyes to see Abba, Father, when I’d otherwise miss Him. I need the supernatural lens to see the supernatural work of the Lord in my life.

Thank you, Lord, for the gift of the Spirit that has enabled me to see your personal love for and joy over me today. Help the readers see You in their details today, and may they be filled with joy when they do.

Now is our Time for Grief

My kids and I talk about Heaven a lot.

My 3 year old is just trying to wrap her brain around the concept of Heaven. She knows it is a place where God lives, and if you love Jesus, you get to go there. When I remind her of these facts, she inevitably says, “I love Jesus! When can I go to Heaven?” I always tell her the same thing, “When God decides it’s time.” And she always tells me the same thing, “I want to go right now…”

My 5 year old has more complex thoughts about Heaven. She mostly wonders what it will be like. She wants to know details and  wishes God had given us more descriptions of Heaven in the Bible. She wonders if we will all live in one big house, or if there will be lots of houses… She wonders if the houses will be made of gold… She wonders if we will walk or float in Heaven… She wonders if we will be singing praises to God all the time or just some of the time… She wonders if there will be Burger King in Heaven… I don’t tell her that would be my version of Hell.

I like my older daughter’s imagination. I like how she daydreams about eternal life with the Lord. I can’t tell her for sure what Heaven will be like other than Heaven will be all good and no bad (which is why I’m pretty sure Burger King won’t be there…).

I am more on my younger daughter’s plane, longing for Heaven, no matter what the details are. I know it’s good, and I want good now. I know it is pain-free, and I want pain-free now (Revelation 21:4).

But it’s not time yet.

Jesus was talking to His disciples right before his murder, and he told them, “I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy… Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy,” (John 16:20,22).

The immediate context of the passage is Jesus describing the Jews’ joy over finally killing the “blasphemer”, Jesus, while the disciples grieve over the gruesome loss of their Friend and failure to understand the spiritual victory that was taking place. Jesus is telling the disciples their grief will turn to joy on the third day when He rises and proves Himself God by defeating death.

The broader context, I suggest, is the modern world enjoying their sin while the modern believers grieve over the state of brokenness we find ourselves in. People are broken. We don’t work right. Bad stuff happens. Pain is the norm. And believers grieve because we know in our hearts and from the scriptures THIS IS NOT HOW IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE!

But just as Jesus told His disciples, He tells us today, “Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice.”

The believer knows Jesus is coming back. We’ll either go to Him or He will come to us, and our joy will be unbounded!

But it’s not time for that yet. Sure, we can experience joy today while we daydream about Jesus coming back. But that joy is limited. Bounded. By the confines of broken people in a broken world.

No, now is our time of grief. Expect it. Accept it. But don’t get stuck in it.

Instead, learn to view the pain differently.

I’m learning by revisiting One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

Now is our time for grief, and we will not waste that grief. We will use it to experience the Father more deeply.

A Journey to Joy

image via onethousandgifts.com

A lot of folks have been talking about a book called One Thousand Gifts, by Ann Voskamp.

I didn’t read it for awhile.

For whatever reason, I am usually behind the times by a year or two on reading the latest craze books.  Maybe I figure if they are really that good, people will still be talking about them a year later, at which time I will recall I’ve been meaning to read those books…

This is one of those books.  My bookstore lady showed it to me many months ago, but the dust jacket didn’t intrigue me.  Then a friend started referencing it a lot on Facebook.  Then a different friend asked me if I’d read it because her mom loved it so she was considering leading our small group through it… the friend, not the friend’s mom.

Sigh.

(I took about 30 seconds thinking of a clearer way to write that last sentence, and it just never came to me.)

Moving on.

After God put that book in front of me at least three different times, I decided I’d look into it some more.

(Is God like that with you?  He is constantly repeating things to me three times in order to get my attention.  It’s like the song says, three really is a magic number…  Or maybe it has something to do with the Trinity…  Oooooo…)

And so I’ve now read 3 chapters (3!).

The main question Ann is trying to answer: are gratitude and joy inextricably linked?  Does more thankfulness yield greater joy and fulfillment?

Even deeper, does greater thankfulness lead to greater intimacy and peace with God, no matter the circumstances?

As Ann rolled these thoughts around in her noggin, a friend challenged her to write out a list of one thousand things she was grateful for.  As she began to record simple details of her day to day life for which she was thankful – a gentle breeze, an afternoon nap, etc – she began to feel more joyful.

And that’s as far as I’ve read.

The small group girls and I are penning our own lists of one thousand gifts.  It’s a neat little experiment, and I’m interested to see how it does (or doesn’t) transform us.

Want to take the challenge with us?