Living Open-Handed

Last week, the organization I work with had a retreat for all the staff on the island. It was a great few days away – despite the fact I wasn’t terribly excited to be there at the start. 

One of the things I felt I should do to get my attitude right and be able to hear all God wanted to say to me during the time was surrender everything I brought with me. So, Wednesday night, I spent time laying everything down before God – my book, singing, my life in Ireland, ministry opportunities, and other dreams and promises I felt He’d given me. I told Him I only wanted to bring home what He gave me back during the days of the retreat.

During the next two days, I struggled with some of the hopes and dreams I’d placed on the altar of surrender. There were items – like my book – which I expected to be returned and received back fairly quickly. I still don’t know how God will use Live Your Story to impact lives, but I believe He will bring Himself glory through the message. I trust Him with how that will look without specific expectations, so it was easy to accept that item back from God.

Other hopes and dreams were more difficult. One promise in particular kept finding its way back into my hands and heart. Each time I discovered I was holding it again, I would put it right back down on the altar. While I believe the fulfillment of this promise could bring God much glory, it is not so much a “ministry” promise as a personal one. Because of this dynamic, it was much easier to believe that I was picking it up again because of my own desire for it.

By Friday morning, as I spent time listening to God and writing in my journal, I felt God was saying, “Thank you for surrendering your desires and hopes, but you now have to be willing to receive back the gifts I want to give you.” I felt He was saying that He had been trying the whole time to give this promise back to me, but I was refusing to accept it because I was afraid of turning an “I wish” into a “God said.”

I realized once again that surrender really means living open-handed before God. Hands that are open release things, but they also receive. Just as I don’t know what future ministry opportunities will look like or the impact my book will have, I don’t know how the fulfillment of this particular promise will come about or what it will bring. But I have chosen to leave my hands open to receive all that God wants to give and surrender all that isn’t from Him; I have chosen to trust His faithfulness. He is a good Father who delights in giving good gifts to His children. I may not feel worthy of the gift, but He gives based on His character – not mine.

What is God trying to give you today? Sometimes accepting and hoping for the gifts He offers requires courage because hope brings the risk of disappointment, but the hope He gives is always worth the risk. He is trustworthy. Open your hands.

What’s in your hand?

This past Saturday evening, I got to spend time with a group of ladies who came together to worship Jesus and encourage one another. We heard stories of God’s leading and provision, sang a couple of songs, prayed for each other, and listened to a word that one of the ladies shared.

She told pieces of stories about several people in the Bible who were faithful with the seemingly insignificant things they had available, and they saw God work miracles in their lives as a result. She was sharing with us that while others may seem to have so much to offer compared to our meager offerings, we all have something to contribute, and God can do amazing things when we offer whatever we have to give. (See the stories of Moses, a widow on the verge of losing everything, and David for more details.)

The speaker shared about how easy it is to look at the people who are doing the visible, up front ministry tasks (like leading worship or speaking) and think that the ability to encourage or be a friend to someone seems pretty small in comparison with the impact those more “visible” people can make. But as she was talking, it was hitting me that those in the more visible roles of ministry often have the same feelings of insignificance.

I have had people say to me how great it is that I can play the guitar and sing and lead in worship. Some have said they wish they could write or teach or even just hear from God like I do. I sat there on Saturday night feeling like a couple of the women there were thinking I would likely gain nothing from the speaker’s encouragement because they see me as offering the more significant – or at least more visible – gifts to God and His Body.

The truth is, though, that I needed that encouragement to offer what’s in my hand. I was scheduled to lead worship at church the next morning, and I was feeling completely inadequate to the task in that moment. I’m grateful for the gifts of teaching, singing and writing that God has given me, and yet far too often, I see them as almost useless to God. I wonder how many people really read my words or whether the music and teaching really touch anyone. How could these things that might as well be a stick, a tiny measure of oil, or a few stones and a sling ever be enough to deliver a nation, save a family, or bring down a giant?

Of course, the answer is that in our own strength, they can’t be enough to make much of a difference. When offered to God, though, they can make all the difference in the world! As we allow Him to empower us to use the things He has placed in our hands, the world can change in ways we have not dared to dream!

What’s in your hand today that God might want to use for His glory?

Insulted God Lately?

Have you ever done something – painted a picture, sang a song, written a poem, cooked a meal, sculpted something, or anything else – you’re really proud of? Has your creation then looked at you and told you that you messed it up? Think for a moment how that would feel. (Let’s ignore the fact that none of those things could actually speak to you…) If you can’t picture that, think how it felt if someone else has ever told you how badly you screwed something up.

So, when was the last time you did that to God? Have you ever told Him that He made a mistake when He designed and knit you together? Maybe you haven’t told Him that directly, but perhaps you have told yourself how ugly you are or how you are a failure or that you can’t do anything right? Do you realize that in those moments when you talk about all the flaws you see in yourself, you are telling your Creator He messed up?

Growing up in the church, I got the idea that in order to avoid the sin of pride, I had to avoid acknowledging the good things in myself. When someone would compliment me on my singing, I would deflect the comment somehow, feeling awkward at accepting any kind of praise. The same went for comments about my looks, skill with kids, intellect, or any other talent or aspect of myself that a person might bring up. It felt prideful to agree or even to express gratitude at being recognized for anything I did.

Then one day, during a teaching I was listening to, the lecturer briefly mentioned Romans 12:3. “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.” The teacher highlighted the words “sound judgement” and encouraged us not to sell ourselves short. He said that false humility is as prideful as arrogance.

Recognizing the strengths, gifts and talents God has given you is not equal to being prideful. It is not arrogant to simply say ‘thank you’ when someone remarks how well you do a specific activity. If you can sing, sing loudly and use that gift to glorify the one who gave it to you. The same goes for any talent you have. Don’t bury your talents in fear of falling prey to pride, thank God for them and use them to bring Him praise and glory.

Next time you look in the mirror, instead of looking for flaws and things that must be covered up, thank your Creator for the beauty that He put in you. Look for reasons to thank Him for designing and forming you the way He did. Let’s look at ourselves through the eyes of our Creator, and in all humility, thank Him for making us the way He did.