catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 6, Num 21 :: 2007.11.16 — 2007.11.30


Open hands

Hand tree
My son made this not too long ago. And I think it’s beautiful.  Bright green, simple. Hands waving, outstretched to heaven in a posture of…what is it?…giving?…receiving?

I find it interesting how similar “giving” and “receiving” look when compared to each other: to do either you need to open your hands.

Many, many times when the Bible tells us that God performed some kind of wonder (like blessing a person or healing a leper or delivering a nation or creating a world) it describes the action with the image of God stretching forth his hand, reaching out gracefully. See, it’s in God’s nature to give.

This is why Jesus boils down the Christian’s ministerial task to one very simple principle: “Freely you have received, freely give.”

Now, that sounds like a simple enough idea, but, believe it or not, the violation of this principle lies at the root of our problem as a human race (and, even, as Christians!). Somehow, we’ve gotten it into our heads that our goal in life amounts to the mere accumulation and retention of blessing. Now, don’t get me wrong, we wouldn’t actually say this to anyone, but our actions confirm as much. Our problem is: we want to receive but we don’t want to give. We want to hold on to what we feel is “ours,” but we don’t want to let go of what is really God’s. We live life with clenched fists but God wants us to live with open hands.

Maybe our problem is that we think about “what belongs to us” and “what belongs to God” all wrong.

I’ll confess: I love my apartment. I love our large living room, and our comfortable couches. I love our balcony, especially the hammocks out there. I love our bed. Whenever we come home from a trip away, we sigh in relief: “Ah, home! Our own bed at last!” Now, the fact is: I love all these things so much that, were God to ask me to give them up, I would be quite angry. “How dare you ask me to do something like that?! What kind of God are you? To take what’s mine!”

I even think that way about my job. I love my job (most days). I love being able to live in Spain. I love the fact that we can walk our kids to school. I love the fact that I have the wherewithal to provide for my family. I rest secure in that. But, if God were to ask me to leave Spain behind, and all that goes with that, I would be upset, perhaps angry. “How dare you ask me to do something like that?! What kind of a God are you? To take what’s mine!”

But, were I to say that to God, he could respond: “Um…excuse me, but have you not heard? ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’. Who can take a breath without me giving it to them? ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who gives him sight?’”

And perhaps God would begin weeping over the tragedy of my ingratitude as he says: “Can you raise your voice to the clouds and cover yourself with water? The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. What do you have that you have not received? Is there anything you have that has not come from my hand? Everything finds its source in me and everything will find its summation in me.”

Now, of course, I wouldn’t like what God said to me. It would sting, but, let’s face it…would I have any argument to return in my favor? I mean: the earth really is the Lord’s and everything in it. What’s mine is really God’s and the only reason it appears to be “mine” (for the time being) is because God is good enough to give good gifts to me.

Maybe that’s our basic problem: I don’t think we understand the extent to which God blesses. If we did understand this, maybe we wouldn’t have so much trouble letting go of things. Maybe the Scriptures constantly remind us of all that God has done for us because we keep forgetting.

Further, consider this: God is not only the source of everything that we have, he is also the source of all that we are. In God, we are given even our very identity. “Who made you man? Who is it that made you woman? Who gave you your hands?” Put another way: God gives you “you.” 

You think those fingerprints on your hand are yours? Did you make those? Even our hands are God’s. And this means that even our ability to receive is from God.  Truly, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”

Now, since we have received so freely and so abundantly, Jesus asks us to give. Okay, fair enough. But, give what?  Biblically speaking, the place to start is by giving thanks. This requires that we open our hands in gratitude. When God gave us hands, it was never his idea for us to close our hands, for to do so is to close oneself off from receiving and giving. Fists are not God’s invention, they’re ours. Clenched fists signify entitlements. Open hands say: “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Everything that I have and everything that I am is God’s. Freely I have received. Thanks.” “Thanks” is a beautiful word and gratitude is the antidote to entitlement.

In Isaiah 49, God says: “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…” Because of this, we are called to do likewise: “One [person] will say, 'I belong to the LORD '; still another will write on his hand, 'The LORD's.'" (Isaiah 44:5)  We can write God’s name on our hands because God has engraved our names on his hand. We are his because he is ours.

Freely you have received, freely give.

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