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August 2017

Featured Field of Ashes Fruitful Living Lessons

The Strength of Living Open-Handed

August 31, 2017

“What are you doing out here, Gray?” Dunn said, stepping up to the stairs and sending a confused look in Ronald Gray’s direction.

Gray jumped at the man’s voice. “Boss! You like to scare the snot outta me. Where’d you come from?”

“I’ve been watching you from the barn. You just keep standing here, like you’re waiting on something. What are you doing?”

Embarrassment rose in the man’s eyes. “I was…well…I was listening to Miss Jess sing. She’s been singin’ for ten minutes, hardly a break, even though she’s working.”

Dunn raised an eyebrow. “You mean you’re sitting here being entertained while the rest of us are working?”

Gray laughed. “No. I was just thinkin’. I was going in for some coffee, and then I heard her, and I stopped to listen. How does she do it, Boss? How does she sing? I saw how tore up she was the other day. I know she’s still hurting over the man she lost and worrying about those other men. I don’t understand how she can still sing in the midst of that.”

Dunn considered the man. A rather pat answer sat on his tongue, but he didn’t feel it would be the right thing to say at the moment. At the same time, he wasn’t sure what to say.

“Probably seems dumb, me wondering about it.”

“No. Not really. But why are you wondering about it?”

Gray shrugged. “Cause I never could’ve done it. After my wife died,” …The man looked down and shoved the toe of his boot up against a clump of ice that clung to the stairs. “…I went off and drank till I woke up in jail in a town I’d never even heard of before. And I just kept running after that.”

“Have you asked her how she can sing?”

“What?” he said, jerking his gaze up to Dunn’s. “Why would I do that?”

“Because you want to know.”

“Yeah, well maybe I don’t want her to know that I want to know.”

Dunn shrugged, turning to go inside. “Suit yourself.”

“Boss, don’t do that.”

“Don’t do what?”

“Leave me hanging like that. You know what it is. I know you do.”

“Let me ask you this. What do you think she would say if you asked her?”

Gray leaned back against the wall and thought for a moment. “She told me a while back about how she used to run. Said she’d stopped runnin’ from God and given Him everything. I suppose she’d say it had somethin’ to do with that.”

“I suppose you’re right.” Dunn shoved his cold hands into his pockets. “She can’t change anything that has happened. And she can’t prevent anything that might happen. So, she’s put it in God’s hand.”

— Barren Fields, Fruitful Gardens, Book 3 (Coming Soon!)

Photo by Natalie Collins on Unsplash

Can You Sing in the Shadows?

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog called The Freedom of Living Open-Handed. After posting it, my friend Naomi sent me a private message. She’d been spending some quiet time with the Lord when she came across the blog. It went right along with the Psalm she was studying.

My friend pointed out the opening words of Psalm 107, “O give thanks.” The phrase comes from one Hebrew word, Yada, which is used 5 times in this psalm. It carries the idea of open hands, extended in confession and surrender, which reflects that original blog. As I studied it further, I saw something else. This opening of the hands allows us to sing in the shadows!

 

Hands Open in Thanksgiving

November isn’t the only month when we’re to give thanks. In fact, giving thanks appears in the psalms over and over. But sometimes, when we’re opening our hands to let God remove something, we feel the sting of loss or disappointment, and thanksgiving is the furthest thing from our minds.

But what if it wasn’t? What if every time we saw God allowing something to be removed from our open palm, we found something to thank Him for? How would it change our responses? How would it change our perspective? That’s exactly what yada is talking about.

 

Hands Open in Praise

Have you ever seen a happy mama raise her hands with fingers wiggling in excitement as she praises her child for some new accomplishment? “You colored a picture of a tree? That’s wonderful! You tied your own shoe? That’s wonderful!”

Why don’t we praise God with the same excitement? “You created the UNIVERSE? That’s amazing! You put eyelashes on my eyelids to protect me from microscopic grains of dust? How did you ever think of that! You are good! Your mercies endure for ever!”

What if as we allow Him to remove from our open hand those dreams, plans, possessions, or even people, we then lifted our hands in thanksgiving and praised Him for what He has done in our lives?

Hands Open in Worship

Gulp. I come from a very conservative background when it comes to worship. Sunday morning services are quiet with traditional hymns and a GOOD dose of solid preaching. No one raises their hands. If they do, everyone knows “they’re not from here.”

But yada raises its hands in worship. Yada takes time to see Who God is and verbalizes God’s attributes. His holiness, righteous judgments, goodness, mercy, wonderful works, and salvation are just a few of the attributes, which are paired with this word in Scripture.

And here’s something more, this word yada implies public worship. (Pastor, if you are reading this, DON’T PANIC! I’m not going to get up and stand at the front of the church, raising my arms and swaying to How Firm A Foundation.)

I haven’t done an exhaustive study on this word, but it doesn’t take long to see that it often comes along with the idea of opening our mouths and making His works known to the people around us. A lot like the idea of the mom praising her child, except here, we’re running into the market or the city gate or the church, and we’re saying, “WOW! Look. Who. GOD. IS.”

What if we responded this way? How would our lives and our relationship with God be different?

 

The Wringing of the Hands.

Yada has another meaning associated with our hands—”bemoaning” something, seen by the wringing of the hands. (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) Exactly opposite of everything we’ve just seen, this answers part of our “what if?” questions. If we don’t respond with thanksgiving, praise, and worship, the result will be dismal.

Worry.

Fretting.

Fear.

All three of these sap away our strength. They steal our joy. They nurture the feelings of disappointment, resentment, discontent, and even bitterness that comes from living tight-fisted.

Living with an open hand and then wringing them when you’ve lost what you wanted is little different than if you had held onto it in the first place.

 

The Strength of Living Open-Handed

Living open-handed, in full surrender to the Lord, brings freedom. Raising those empty hands in thanksgiving, praise, and worship brings the strength of joy that is centered on the Lord Himself.

Nehemiah told the people of Israel, “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah 8:10) This is the fuller answer to the “what ifs” above. What if we give Him thanks, what if we praise Him, what if we worship Him in those moments—in the shadows, the frustrations, the fears, and the loss? He will give us joy, and that joy in the Lord will give us strength.

 

The Glad Game

Remember the story of Pollyanna, the little girl who comes to live with her grumpy aunt and annoys everyone by playing the ”glad game”? She was onto something. Oh, I think most of her community thought she was ON something, but she had something they were missing. Something most of us are missing. She had learned to intentionally find joy by finding things she could be glad about. Replace the word glad with thanks, praise, and/or worship, and you’ve got the very thing we’re talking about.

A couple of weeks ago, some friends and I went picking chokecherries. (Had to get them before the birds, you know.) The following two days, I spent about eight hours cooking them, turning them into syrup, and hot-bathing the jars.

Nothing could ever go wrong in that process, right! Nothing like nearly spilling a pot of boiling juice on my mother and her laptop because I didn’t know she was behind me, and she didn’t know I was pulling it off of the stove. Nothing like realizing at 10 p.m. that you didn’t have enough lids for your jars, making a trip to Walmart, and finding the checkout lines ten people deep. Nothing like coming home from the store only to discover an hour later that you’re going to run out of sugar before you run out of juice. The list could go on.

But this was right about the time I received Naomi’s message and had started studying the word yada. I purposed that next morning—after dropping into bed at 2 a.m. and knowing I still had to go back to Walmart for more sugar—to do what this word yada suggests we should do. Every time something went wrong, I purposed to find something to be thankful for. The result was one of the most joy filled days I have experienced in a long time. It was full of peace even in the chaos of canning. It wasn’t thanksgiving alone that made the difference. First, that hand had to be opened and the purpose or desire let go. Then thanksgiving could begin to do its work.

I want to challenge you today to take a risk. Purpose to live open-handed. Purpose, even in the little frustrations, to find a way to thank Him, praise Him, and worship Him. Think of it as your own version of the glad game! Let me know how it goes!

 

How has gratitude, praise, or worship in difficult times made a difference in your life? Let me know in the comments!

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Featured Field of Ashes Fruitful Living Winter's Prey

The Freedom of Living Open-Handed

August 8, 2017

At the sound of his voice, a deer sprang from a thicket near the base of the butte. She leaped over the creek and darted across the open fields. Marc watched her go. She was a little like Jess, he thought, afraid and running for all she was worth.

“I know Jess is safest in your hands,” his prayer continued, “I’m so…I don’t know. I just want the best for her…and I know you want that even more than I do. Pa was right about letting go[…]”

He looked down at his hands. He had been a capable worker for a good many years now, but this was far more than his hands could do. He tightened them into fists, then as he opened them again he looked Heavenward.

“Father, she’s yours. I put her in your hands. I’m willing to trust you to take care of her, to protect her, to provide for her…and not only Jess but Mary and the other children too.”

It seemed a strange thing to do: to walk a mile, stand on a cliff, hold your fists out to God, and open them as if letting go of something. If anyone but God had been watching, he might have been embarrassed. But stranger things had happened than what he’d just done. Hadn’t Abraham traveled a long distance with his son, climbed a mountain, strapped his son to an altar, and raised his knife over him to kill him? God had asked this of Abraham to prove Isaac hadn’t become his idol, to prove Abraham’s faith. And, in the end, God had provided another sacrifice. That thought brought reassurance, even joy.

“I know you’ll be faithful. I know you will care for her. Help me to simply trust you as Abraham did. Help me to have the right attitudes. To know what to say and what not to say. Help me to show her your love.”

—Winter’s Prey

Time. Finances. Marital Status. Children. Career. Ministry. Our “Personal Brand.” The future.

We live in a culture that demands we get all of these on a schedule, develop them to the max, and present them to the world with Pinterest Perfection. But reality is often much different than the awesomeness found on Pinterest. What if that perfection is not the reality God wants for us? What if it is not the reality that will bring genuine fruit in our lives? What if fruit bearing reality for us looks more like this:

  • Busy, but not organized.
  • Single, married but struggling, divorced, widowed.
  • Children a mess, sick, or, perhaps, no children at all.
  • Laid off, fired, business failed, struggling career.
  • Struggling in ministry, unable to do what you’d like to do, limited opportunity abundance of obstacles.
  • What’s a Personal Brand?! I’m just trying to get myself through the day!
  • The future couldn’t look bleaker.

How do we reconcile what is around us—the pressures, the baubles, the constant temptations and enticements—with reality? How do we find contentment with what we have in comparison with all that is thrust at us, held up to us as a standard, and considered the status quo? How do we walk through loss when we live in a culture that minimizes it, ignores the realities of grief and pain, and expects us to rebound as the same person we were before? In fact, they don’t just want us to be who we were. They want us to be better—like the day after it happens! How do we balance all this with contentment?

We cling to Christ.

We must live in Him, move in Him, find our very breath in Him. But the only means of clinging to Him in this way is by letting go of everything else. This is where the difficulty often comes. We want His best. We want His will. We want more of Him. But it can be excruciatingly difficult to let go of those things we have held dear, those dreams, the hopes, the very desires of our heart, which we had so depended upon Him meeting.

When those desires go unmet, does it make Him any less true to His Word? No. Does it mean we are the problem? Does it mean the desire was wrong? Not necessarily.

I want to digress for just a moment. Not every desire of our heart comes true, and some of the ones that don’t are enormous. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.” Sometimes our hope is deferred, and it hurts. It makes us sad. In our culture, sadness seems to be a weakness. Sorrow is not an emotion we know how to face. We throw a trite platitude at the “problem” and assume it will go away. But sorrow of heart does not heal that way. There is, however, a way to ensure both beforehand and as we are passing through disappointment that the sorrow is lessened. The secret is found in living open-handed.

Have you ever clutched something in your hand, maybe as a child, that someone else wanted.

“Give it to me,” they say.

You, clasping your other hand over the first, mockingly retort, “Come and get it if you want it!”

Then the battle ensues. They pull at your arms, struggle around your legs, grab at your fingers and start peeling them back one at a time, trying to break your grip. You would not admit it in the moment, but the truth is—it hurts. It hurts to fight against their efforts. It pulls at the tendons and muscles in your hands. It even stretches things clear down into your wrists and forearms. Holding on hurts.

The same is true in our walk with Christ. God wants all of us.

  • He doesn’t want the part that commits to serve Him without the part that says, “whether I’m married or single.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that is willing to serve in the nursery without the part that says, “Even if I never have children of my own.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that says, “I’ll live by faith, trusting you for everything” without the part that says, “Even when I don’t feel secure.”
  • He doesn’t want the part that says, “I’ll give up my ideals for the future,” without the part that says, “I’ll trust you in the present.”

He wants all of us. When we offer Him part in one hand, but clutch something in the other hand, He’s very likely to say, “But I want what’s in the other hand.” The tighter we hold on, the more painful and more difficult the struggle to have peace in our relationship with Him.

Corrie Ten Boom said, “We must hold everything loosely, because when I grip it tightly, it hurts when my Father pries my fingers loose and takes it from me.” I remember thinking when I first heard this, “Why stop there? Why hold onto it at all. If He has simply to reach down and take it from my open hand, then my hand is available to take hold of Him.”

Sometimes, when God asks us to let go of something, especially in our culture of amassing things, notoriety, accomplishments, and status, it’s easy to say, “But, Lord, why do you ask this of me? Why don’t you require this of them?”

  • Why must I be single, when that person who has wasted their life has both a husband and children?
  • Why must I be childless, when there are so many ‘underserving’ who have more children than they can keep up with?
  • Why must I live in poverty, while those who are lazy in their faith live extravagantly?
  • Why must I let go of my hearts deepest desires, while they squander what they have been given?

Remember that you are not alone. Remember Abraham, who waited a hundred years for a son, and who was then asked to lay him on an altar. Remember Job upon whom God had showered blessing, and then who lost everything. Job who said, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Remember Paul who had reason above any other to boast of his position, his lineage, and his education, and yet who laid it all aside, counting it but dung for the knowledge of Christ. There is a secret freedom and power in living open-handed. In doing so, two things happen:

  1. When we let go of our desires, we are better able to take hold of Christ and what He has for us.
  2. When we let go of our desires, we put them into His hands, which are far more capable of properly handling those desires than we are.

This gives us the freedom both to know Him better and to live free of worry, concern, and fretting over things we cannot control. And when we discover that a desire may not be fulfilled, half the battle (or perhaps more) is already won because it was no longer held in our grip.

Surrender is the enemy of pride. Our pride wants to hold on, to fix every problem, to reach every goal, to attain the things we long for. Pride fears poverty of some sort, not realizing the poverty we fear most is that which comes from living with our fists clenched. Surrender says, “Lord, I give it to you. I trust you to handle it wisely, to bring it to pass, or to exchange it for something better.” And it chooses to trust Him that the “something better” really is better, even when it appears to be filled with pain and sorrow and rejection. Surrender chooses to follow His leadership and to trust Him to manage our affairs.

As Paul said, “I count not myself to have apprehended.” I’ve failed in this area more times than I can count. It has taken me days to write this because I had to search my heart to make sure it was right. Perhaps, you never struggle in this area. That’s wonderful. But if I am to be honest, then I must admit, at times I’ve gotten my eyes off of Christ who is my hope, and put my hope in people or plans or projects. I have held desires in my heart, thinking they had been surrendered, only to find them dashed once more when an unexpected trial comes. But that is the beauty of our Savior. When we see something has not been fully given, or perhaps that needs to be given once more—He is there, waiting patiently, lovingly, wisely. Waiting for us to allow Him to take it from our hand, and more importantly, waiting for us to slip our open, empty hand into His.

What are you holding onto? In my experience, things sneak in without me seeing them. Hopes. Desires. Plans. Things that aren’t necessarily bad, but things I haven’t placed in His hands. What do you need to let go of in order to free your hands to grasp Him more tightly? Take a few minutes, or maybe a day or two, and ask the Lord to show you what you need to release.

 

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