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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

open hands or clenched fists?

I don’t know how God usually speaks to you, but he usually speaks to me in themes.  And it is usually the fourth ,or fifth, or sixth, or thirtieth time something happens before I catch on and begin to think, “Hey, wait a minute!  You’re trying to talk to me aren’t you?”  Well that has been the case this week around the images of open hands and clenched fists.

First it was a quote (Nouwen) and then a book (Discovering Our Spiritual Identity by Trevor Hudson); then a Scripture (Mark 12:41-44), topped off this morning by another quote (Albert E. Day).  And finally I began to see the streams converging…I know, I’m a bit slow sometimes.  Luckily God doesn’t shrug His shoulders and walk away in frustration, wondering if I’m ever going to notice that He is speaking.

The Nouwen quote contains a powerful image; the image of an old woman in a mental health facility.  She has a small coin in her hands that she is so terrified someone will try to take away from her that her fists are clenched so tightly that the circulation in her fingers is almost completely cut off.  She holds on so tightly that no one could possibly pry her fingers open to see what it is that she is so terrified to let go of.  Controlled by her fear, she hangs on for dear life—as if the coin were more valuable to her than all the treasures of the earth combined.

The book is one I have been journeying through with some college friends once a week.  As its title indicates, it is about the process of discovering who God really is in such a way that it allows us to deconstruct the false narratives we harbor (and thus live by), of both God and ourselves, and allow God to transform us (and our identity) from within.  The fourth chapter is called Receiving the Kingdom and talks about the process of opening our clenched fists in order to be able to receive the gift of God’s kingdom.  It points out the fact that nothing can be received from God (our true identity) until we let go of our clenched-fisted approach to life and relationships (particularly with God) and open our hands to whatever He desires to give us (or make us into).  Clenched fists represent a refusal, a resistance, an unwillingness to trust.  They distance us from the intimacy God desires both for us and with us.  The bottom line is that clenched fists say no to God.  In order to be truly transformed, repentance (change of mind and heart and direction) must come about.  We must move from clenched fists to open hands.  Open hands say yes to God.  They abandon agenda and control.  They show a willingness and desire to receive Him and all the gifts of life with Him.  The book encourages the daily (and often times minute-by-minute) process/discipline of moving from clenched fists to open hands.

The Scripture has to do with the widow’s offering, and again, reveals contrasting pictures of two distinct ways of living.  Jesus is sitting across from the temple treasury, watching carefully as the people come forward and put their money into the offering box.  The rich come forward first, one after another, and place large sums of money into the treasury.  From the outside, it must’ve look fairly impressive, but Jesus always sees deeper than that—he sees the heart.  He sees, within them, not only a misguided pride in how much they were putting into the offering, but also, beneath that, a clenched fist.  Although they were giving large sums, there was a definite limit to what they were willing to give—to how much they were willing to sacrifice.  Their offering, although big, cost them very little.  It didn’t affect their comfort level; it didn’t call them to trust anything or anyone but themselves.  The true test of their dependence upon, and affection for, Jesus was not how much they gave, but how much they kept.  That was the thing that revealed the true state of their hearts—what they were willing to let go of.  Then the poor widow came forward and put in only two small coins, worth only a fraction of a penny.  Again, Jesus sees to the true core of the situation and speaks the truth.  What He sees in the poor widow’s case is totally open hands—she willingly gives all she has to God.  A truly open hand holds absolutely nothing.  It simply lies open, waiting to receive whatever God chooses to give.

Finally, the quote from this morning topped it all off.  It was about the idea of “possessiveness” and how lethal it is to the life of the Spirit within us.  Possessiveness involves clinging tightly to our own stuff, or our reputation, or our agenda.  When our hands are so tightly wrapped around our own way, it squeezes the life right out of our soul—which was created to be filled by God and God alone.

So today, finally, I began to get a sense that God was indeed speaking.  And so I listened…and began to start trying to connect the dots.  And with the dots I have been able to connect so far, a question is becoming more and more clear.  Where in my life am I living with clenched fists?  And what would it mean to open those clenched fists to God?  And finally, what would it look like to live my life with completely open hands?


  1. Thanks for this post JB. The repetitive theme I'm hearing is something similar. I've been referring to it as surrendering. All four things above encourage me to keep moving towards letting go. The scripture especially moves me to let go with boldness even though discomfort follows.

  2. Going through the same thing. Thanks for the insight. Glad to have stumbled on your blog.

  3. I read this and am both thankful for you sharing it and sad that I see it but don't get to hear it.

    This is the journey I currently find myself on... understanding that the Lord desires for me to let go of the false notion that I'm in control of anything in my life, understanding that he wants me to relax the white-knuckled grip with which I hold onto the things I value about my reputation or about the things that make me significant to others, and understanding that I'm not sure that I have any idea how to do so. It's an exhausting battle right now, but I'm struggling to relinquish control and trust Jesus. And I find myself here, reading these reflections, knowing somehow that I need to hear them from a familiar voice. And I'm grateful at your sharing and ministering in this way.

    Miss spending time with you. Thankful for you in ways you probably are unaware of. And really thankful for this post.