Following God with Open Hands

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Few phrases evoke more emotion in my soul than, “The cabin doors have closed.” For most of my adult life, I have invested in guiding hundreds of people on short-term mission projects. When I hear these words at the beginning of the trip, I breathe a sigh of relief. Prior to departure, the tireless work of recruiting, training volunteers and preparing for the project fills every waking moment. Once the cabin door closes, I can do nothing else to ensure the trip’s success. I surrender my work and am restrained to hours of cramped legs, turbulence and peanuts until we reach our final destination. My life is in the hands of the pilot.

The prep work of a mission trip ends when the cabin door closes. Furthermore, when I hear these words at the end of a project, I experience satisfaction. My team has worked hard, and we have seen God’s work among some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. Home is on the horizon, but once again, I place my trust in the pilot. I’ve done my job, and now I can pass the baton. Once the cabin door closes, I release my grip on control and agenda. I work hard before the door closes, but I rest assured after.

We often find ourselves in similar situations in life and ministry. Unlike the airline pilot, God is always with us. He is present as we work hard. Certainly, we are not perfect, but God is faithful to use us. He’s often gracious to allow us to see the fruits of our labor. Then, we reach a season of increased surrender. God longs to teach us that life is most abundant when we meet each day with open hands. At first, we fight to keep our white-knuckle grip of control over our families, our ministries and our circumstances. But God invites us to let go. Do we have confidence to trust God during these seasons? Can we take him at his word?

God longs to teach us that life is most abundant when we meet each day with open hands.

With Open Hands

Living life with open hands is not easy or instinctual, but God is faithful to meet us as we yield ourselves to his plan. I currently find myself in a season of surrender, and here are three truths that I am learning through relinquishing my agenda.

1. Open hands lead to freedom.

Freedom exists as open hands release people, plans and expectations. Disappointment comes when we hold too tightly to any of these. Open hands are not capable of holding on to anything — including past hurts. To live a life of surrender, we must make amends with our past. We find freedom when we forgive others. We must bear with one another and forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13).

Many of us struggle with expectations that we have for other people that inevitably lead to frustration when they go unmet. We must ask ourselves, “Are we seeking validation from other people instead of from our heavenly Father?” The past has a way of paralyzing us, but it is also an invitation to trust God more.

2. Open hands lead to trust in God.

Trust in God thrives as open hands receive his sovereign path. As we surrender people, plans and expectations, we remember that every good act and gift comes from above (James 1:17). We can trust that God is always orchestrating events for our good and for his glory (Romans 8:28). God’s story for us is usually not the same one that we would have written if we were the authors. He often uses suffering and challenges along the path to grow us in the likeness of Christ. In his book, Absolute Surrender, Andrew Murray writes,

It is when we sink down in utter helplessness that the everlasting God will reveal himself in his power. Then our hearts will learn to trust God alone.

Our trust in God grows as we fully submit our lives to his will. With open hands, it is easier to receive God’s blessings, but even suffering can find us easier in this posture. Will we trust that God knows how to best use our lives to glorify him? Can we praise him even when we don’t understand what he is doing?

3. Open hands lead to worship.

Worship is enhanced as open hands praise unhindered. Once we have embraced freedom and trust as our new companions on this journey, our worship is intensified. Our white-knuckle grip of control is often the very thing that stifles our worship of the king. God asks for our absolute surrender, and the result is more glory for himself. We don’t often worship with clenched fists. Raised, open hands is a more common posture in worship. As we reach for our creator, we open our hearts to worship him freely.

God is looking for people who are wholeheartedly devoted to him (2 Chronicles 16:9). His desire is to work in us to will and to do his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He must increase, but we must decrease (John 3:30). As we present ourselves as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), we must also remember that it is no longer we who live, but Christ in us (Galatians 2:20). We have been crucified, and even crucifixion can’t happen without open hands. These verses are flooded with an invitation to surrender.

The past has a way of paralyzing us, but is also an invitation to trust God more.

A Life of Surrender

I recently happened upon an inactive, cloistered convent — Capuchinas in Antigua, Guatemala. This life of seclusion was fascinating and strangely appealing to me. A small hole in the wall separated the nuns from the rest of the world. A nun would have to crawl on her stomach through the hole, leaving behind everything and everyone of importance to her. I can’t imagine the humility this required. With this surrender, the things of this world would surely grow strangely dim.

Capuchinas in Antigua, Guatemala

Capuchinas in Antigua, Guatemala

She would emerge from her crawl, strip down both literally and figuratively, and arise to her new life of surrender to Christ. I imagine her empty, open hands releasing everything familiar on the other side of the wall. Perhaps she had mixed emotions about her new, secluded life surrendered fully to receiving the will of her father. She was probably encouraged by her moments of unhindered worship during this time. This is the epitome of surrender.

Even though I’m speculating on the thoughts of the young Guatemalan nun from two hundred years ago, I think we have been given similar invitations. Release the past. Be willing to trust God more. Fully worship our creator. Father, not my will, but yours be done. May I learn to rest in your arms, with open hands. Amen.

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Sara Beth Fentress

Sara Beth Fentress is the founder and executive director of 127 Worldwide, a non profit that helps Christians tangibly live out James 1:27. God has grown a passion in her heart for orphan care, advocacy, education and discipleship. She lives in Raleigh, NC and is a covenant member of Imago Dei Church.

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