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?

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Right Hands

Countless times in scripture God is depicted as holding us or leading us or guiding us by our right hands (ex. – Psalm 16:8, 17:7, 20:6). It’s curious to me that He never holds us by our left hands. I have some thoughts as to why this is.

Where are you going?

What’s that? You don’t care? Very well. 🙂

Right Hands

Ninety percent of the population is right-handed. That means, for most of us, our dominant hands are our right hands. It is with our right hands that we function best. It is easier for us to do almost everything with our right hands than with our left hands. I think the Lord considered this is the predominant reality for most people when He chose to focus so heavily on right hands in the Bible. He’s a good marketer like that.

Knowing most of us are apt to rely heavily on our right hands, perhaps God holds us by our right hands so we stop doing so much ourselves. Maybe He wants us to have to rely on Him a little lot more than we’re inclined to when we have both our hands at our disposal. If He is holding us by our right hands, we’re forced to use our left hands if we want to do anything. And, as a righty, there isn’t a whole lot I can do well with my left hand. My writing looks like chicken scratch (or, more accurately, even more like chicken scratch), my ability to throw a ball left-handed makes me appear inebriated, and so does everything else that requires coordination, for that matter.

So, if God is tying up our right hands by holding them, we can’t dominate a situation in our own strength. If we want the situation to work out well, we have to rely on Him.

Interestingly, when scripture talks about God doing something powerful, it always refers to Him as using His right hand to accomplish it (ex. – Exodus 15:6, Psalm 60:5). And this makes sense because, in the economy of hand holding, if God is holding our right hands, He is probably using His left hand to do so. And if He is holding our right hands with His left hand, that leaves His right hand free to operate powerfully on our behalves. 

Another theory I have about why God chooses to hold us by our right hands instead of our left hands is that our right/dominant hands are stronger than our left hands. Because we use them so much, each muscle is capable of gripping and squeezing the Lord’s hand with more force than the muscles in our left hands.

Maybe God holds us by our right hands because He knows it will be easier for us to hold onto His hand with our right hands. We are far less likely to tire when we cling to Him with our dominant hands.

So.

In conclusion, this is my weirdest post ever. There are no clear object lessons nor applications. Unless you want to interpret my observations and hunches as true. Then you could say, “I will stop relying on myself so much, rely on God more, and hold onto Him tightly while He does all the hard work for me with His right hand.” Or something.

Happy Saturday.

Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?

I love when the Lord asks people (us) questions in scripture. He’s never asking for His benefit; He knows all answers to all questions, being that He is God and whatnot.

No, He asks questions to spur us on to examine our thinking about Him so we can discover where we might be erring.

In Genesis Abraham and God have quite a few conversations. And in one such dialogue, God tells Abraham his geriatric wife, Sarah, is going to have a baby. Sarah is eavesdropping on this conversation and bursts into condescending laughter at the idea of her bearing a child. She even mutters to herself sarcastically, and with just a hint of bitterness, “After I am worn out and my [husband] is old, will I now have this pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12).

I’m thinking the Lord’s feelings were a bit hurt by this.

Sarah didn’t trust Him. She had heard with her own ears the Lord’s voice say she was going to have a son… but she didn’t believe Him… What’s more, she scoffed at His promise.

(I’m certainly glad I’ve never done that… I mean, how arrogant do you have to be to hear the God of everything tell you something is definitely going to happen and your response is to laugh in His face, question His judgment, basically CALL HIM A LIAR? Yup, so glad I can’t relate at all in any way… … …)

The Lord heard Sarah’s distrustful musings and asked Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?'” (Genesis 18:13).

First of all, God knew why Sarah asked that question, He just wanted Abraham to think about why Sarah asked that question.

Secondly, I find it interesting God didn’t ask Sarah directly, but, then again, she wasn’t the person with whom He was having a conversation.

Thirdly, I can hear the hurt in God’s question to Abraham. I can sense the sadness God felt at His own creation’s mocking Him.

I don’t think it was self-pity because that would mean God was feeling His own inadequacies, and we know God is not inadequate. Whereas humans would be tempted to ask this question with a “What’s wrong with me that she doesn’t trust me?” sentiment, God is sad for Sarah. God’s sadness says, “I hate that she is so broken she doesn’t trust me. I hate that for her. It was never meant to be this way. I long to make her whole that she might experience the joy of completely trusting me.”

On the heels of His first question, God asks Abraham a second question, “‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?'” (Genesis 18:14).

Again, God knows the answer to this question. He asks Abraham to get him to think it through.

This question clarifies the first. Sarah laughed and scoffed sarcastically at the idea of her having a baby because she secretly believed some things, like a 90 year old woman conceiving, were too hard for God.

God asked these two questions successively to lead Abraham to realize that Sarah, and maybe himself as well, didn’t have an accurate view of the power and sovereignty of God. She was limiting God to the rules of natural law: old people don’t bear children. She trusted biology more than the very words of God.

Like Abraham and Sarah, when God asks us, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” We respond with a pious, “NO! Nothing!” so as to not give anyone a reason to believe our faith is weak. Our answer is right, of course, nothing is too hard for God.

But as soon as the words leave our lips, we feel a twinge of guilt – conviction from the Spirit – because we don’t live like we really believe nothing is too hard for God.

Instead, we live like God can do a lot of things, but He can’t deliver us from our particularly difficult situations…

God is in control of a lot of things, but He dropped the ball by letting _____ happen, and He can’t use it for our good…

He can save a lot of people, but He can’t save that lost friend that is just completely unreceptive to the Gospel…

God can provide a lot of stuff, but He’ll never find a way to help us out of our mounding debt…

God can heal a lot of illnesses, but He can’t heal our bodies.

And so on and so forth.

And just like He asked Abraham, God asks us, “Why are you laughing and saying ‘God can’t do it’? Is anything too hard for the Lord?”

He hurts for us, crippled by our lack of faith. He longs to make us whole that we might experience the joy of completely trusting Him.

What’s your “anything”?

In what ways are you not trusting the Word of God? Which of His promises do you think impossible?

Nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Lord, we believe; help our unbelief. 

How to Get Joy and Peace and Hope

There’s this idea out there that, unfortunately, I think is biblical. It’s that Christians are supposed to be marked by joy and peace and hope, no matter what’s happening in their lives (Romans 12:12, John 16:33, Romans 8:25).

You optimists are probably wondering why I find this idea unfortunate. These are rich benefits of being a believer, you might say. And while I agree, possessing these characteristics would be wonderful, most of the time, I don’t.

I am a whole-hearted follower of Christ who is rarely joyful, hardly ever filled with peace, and almost always feeling hopeless about one thing or another.

So when scripture tells me I should have joy and peace and hope, and I don’t, I feel discouraged.  

And today I think I discovered why.

Turns out it’s not my job to manufacture joy or peace or hope. I don’t have to conjure it up out of sheer will. I don’t have to “make it happen” in order to obey the Lord. I’m not expected to “look within” and find these things, like they’re being stored on the top shelf of my soul somewhere, and all I have to do is find them and dust them off.

On the contrary, it’s actually God’s job to fill the Christian with joy and peace and hope.

Paul gives a prayer/blessing of sorts to the Romans and says, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” (Romans 15:13).

Yeah, so the onus is on Him, not us. This makes me feel a lot better.

According to this verse, “all” you and I have to do is trust in Him. The “rest” – the filling with joy and peace and the overflowing of hope – that’s all God. He produces those things in us as we trust in Him.

For me, trusting God feels a lot easier than coming up with feelings of joy and peace and hope that just aren’t there. Maybe because trust is more of an action than a feeling? When well-meaning clueless people tell me to just “choose” to be joyful, I slap them in my mind. But trusting – there’s something I can choose to do.

The Bible is one story after another of how trustworthy God is. It’s ripe with verses about His goodness and His sovereignty. If there’s one thing I am convinced of, it’s His dependability.

I don’t know how to make myself feel something I don’t, but I know how to say, “Lord, I trust you with _____,” over and over again. And when I do that, feelings of joy and peace and hope will follow.

The next time you’re low on joy and peace and hope, don’t focus on those things. They don’t come from you. Put your energy into trusting God, and He will do the rest. 

How to Trust God

John tells a story about a royal official whose son is dying in Capernaum. The official hears Jesus is hanging out in another town and decides his son’s only chance at survival is a divine healing from Jesus (John 4:46-47). According to one source, this official had to walk 20-25 miles uphill to get to Jesus in Cana. Desperate times, desperate measures.

When he found Jesus, the official put aside all his stately dignity and begged Jesus, the blue-collar carpenter, to come heal his son (John 4:47).

No doubt this official had heard of Jesus’ uncanny ability to perform miracles. And he obviously had some measure of belief that Jesus could miraculously heal his son.

Yet, curiously, Jesus responds to the official’s plea to heal his son with, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders, you will never believe” (John 4:48).

The best I can make of this reproof is that Jesus wanted people to believe He was the Messiah, not just a miracle-worker. In other words, “Believe in Me, not just in what I can do.”

Nevertheless, Jesus performs a healing miracle right then and there… (John 4:50). It’s as if He doesn’t like that we are more impressed by his performances than His heart, but that’s not going to deter Him from doing what He came to do. In fact, even though He doesn’t like it, if we need miracles to help us believe in His diety, He’ll perform them… whatever it takes to get us to understand who He really is.

After Jesus says the words that indicate the son is healed, listen to what the official does, “The man took Jesus at his word and departed,” (John 4:50).

How completely ridiculous is this situation?

All Jesus did was say, “You may go. Your son will live,” (John 4:50). Remember, the official had begged Jesus to come heal his son – not give a word from 25 miles away that everything was going to be ok. Surely a healing would require some laying on of hands, some praying over, some anointing with oil – SOMETHING.

If I were this official, I’d be asking some questions. Like, “Are you sure, Jesus? Don’t you think you should come with me just in case the miracle didn’t take? Wouldn’t healing work a little better if you were in the SAME TOWN as my son?”

But the official didn’t say anything like this. He took Jesus at his word and left! To him, the healing was as good as done, no matter how nonsensical it seemed, and he was off to see his boy. There was no hanging around to chit chat with Jesus; there wasn’t even a thank you. His love and concern for his son were the primary things on his mind.

The story goes that the son was in fact healed at the very moment Jesus said he was (John 4:53).

When you and I read this story today, we have to ask ourselves how often do we take Jesus at His word?

How often do we doubt the promises He’s given us in His Word?

How often does He speak, and we question Him?

How often does He speak, and we ignore Him?

How often does He speak, and we dawdle?

These kind of responses all come down to a lack of trust in who He is and what He can do.  The good news is there are some things we can do to bolster our faith in Him. Like read the scripture accounts of His goodness. And recount the ways in our own lives He has proven Himself faithful. And read other people’s accounts of how God has been trustworthy. And flat out ask Him to help us take Him at His word, 100%, like the royal official in this story did.

And the more we step out in faith and trust Him, the more He will prove His trustworthiness to us. Which, in turn, will encourage us to trust Him even more. It’s a beautiful cycle to get caught up in.

Let’s give it a try?

 

 

Wherein God Sounds Like a Broken Record

My 6 year old daughter attends a Christian school. Every week the students have to memorize a passage of scripture. Last week it was Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did.

My 4 year old daughter attends a children’s class on Wednesday nights at our church. Every week they have the children memorize a passage of scripture. Last week it was the first half of Proverbs 3:5, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did.

My 35 year old husband is a Christian. Every time I write a blog post, he reads it. Last week he commented on a post with Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, it doesn’t pack the punch for me it once did.

My twitter feed is full of posts by friends and celebrities that often quote scripture. Last week someone I follow posted Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

It’s a pretty familiar verse, so, sadly, the Lord has to BEAT ME OVER THE HEAD WITH IT before I pay any attention to Him. Lucky for me He’s not opposed to doing that.  And it doesn’t hurt too much. And we laugh about it later.

I like to think I’m fairly good at trusting God. It’s the “lean not on your own understanding” that gets me.

You mean sometimes I have to do things that don’t make sense to me? Or, worse, I have to do things that go against what sense I do have?

If I can’t trust the intellect I have to steer me right, I feel like I’m up a creek without a paddle. I panic. I feel paralyzed. How do I make decisions if my decision-making device – my knowledge – isn’t trustworthy?

Well, for one thing, I don’t think this verse is declaring my own understanding completely null and void. God gave us intellect to help guide us in life. The Bible encourages us to search for wisdom and pursue knowledge.

But I think this verse is trying to communicate that we shouldn’t only or primarily depend on our own understanding.

First and foremost, we are to trust in God – to lean on Him

We put our weight – the bulk of our confidence – on His understanding. When our own understanding – our logic and experience and observations – is complementary to God’s understanding, we gain additional support from ourselves. But when our own understanding conflicts with God’s understanding, if we are trusting in Him, we won’t fall despite the noticeable absence of our own understanding.

He is strong enough to support us with or without the help of our intellect. Let’s trust Him.

Some Truths About Your Purpose

Every year about this time, at summer’s end, prepping for another school year, another year of ministry, I question my “purpose” and my “calling”.

Truth be told, I hate those words. Mostly because I struggle to pinpoint what my purpose and calling are. God hasn’t given me the blue print to my life, so I frequently wonder what He’s up to.

image via Suat Eman/freedigitalphotos.net
image via Suat Eman/freedigitalphotos.net

The Bible teaches all believers are “called” to certain things – He called us to salvation (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; 1 Peter 2:9); He calls us to peace (1 Corinthians 7:15); He calls us to have hope in Jesus (Ephesians 1:16-20; 1 Peter 5:10); He calls us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20); He calls us to love Him and one another (Matthew 22:36-39); He calls us to use our gifts to build up the church (Romans 12:4-8).

These are “general” callings. God doesn’t have to speak them directly to each one of us for us to know they are for each one of us. He wrote them in the Bible to save Himself some time. He’s smart like that.

But what about “specific” callings? Like God calling Abraham to leave for a new land (Genesis 12:1-4)? Or God hand-picking David to be Israel’s king (1 Samuel 16:10-13)? Or God calling Jonah to go to Nineveh (Jonah 1:2)? These callings aren’t for all believers; they were specific callings for individuals in history.

I often wonder what my “specific” calling(s) might be…

By virtue of the fact that I am married, I am called to be a (good) wife. Similarly, because I possess children, I am called to be a (good) mother.

If I consider my gifts of teaching and prophecy (commitment to the truth, not foretelling the future), I am called to use those somehow some way for the edification of the Church. In a way, that’s specific, but, on the other hand, a lot of details on how to use those gifts are lacking. Does the how even matter? Will God be happy with me using my gifts in any number of ways as long as it is done for His glory (Colossians 3:23)?

I don’t know the answers to these questions. And sometimes that fact trips me up.

I want to know which Bible courses He wants me to teach, what plans He has for this blog, if He wants me to take a staff position at my church, if He wants me to invest some time in developing a speaking career, if He wants me to go get a Masters of Divinity, if He wants me to write a book, etc., etc., etc.

Sometimes I get so caught up in what I don’t know, I am tempted to not do anything

Satan likes to try to paralyze me with thoughts like, “Did God really call you to teach this specific Bible course, or did you volunteer on your own accord?” and “God isn’t really using this blog – maybe you should hang it up.”

But what Satan fails to mention is that if I do nothing, I won’t be obeying the general calls on my life. Problem. 

As for the specific callings, Psalm 138:8 reads, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me…”

The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me… I don’t have to work it out; He will.

The Lord will fulfill HIS purpose for me… I don’t have to create my own purpose; He already has one in mind for me.

The Lord will fulfill his purpose for ME… I don’t have to wonder if He has a specific call on my life; He does.

The Lord WILL fulfill his purpose for me…. Whether I know what that purpose is, whether I cooperate with Him or rebel against Him, whether I feel inadequate or my weaknesses seem to get in the way, God WILL have His way with and through me.

This is great news. Namely, I can’t screw up God’s purpose for me! No matter what path I choose, He won’t let me walk down it unless it contributes to His purpose for me.

Recognizing this fact doesn’t provide me anymore of the details I wish I had… but it does provide me freedom. While Satan would have me freeze in the face of uncertainty, the Lord says, “Go ahead and try to use your gifts however you want; make a plan. Do not be afraid. I will redirect any misguided ideas you have to lead you into my purpose for you.”

The author of  Proverbs 16:9 agrees, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the LORD establishes their steps.”

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