Pray with Open Hands

Jesus Gethsemane Duane Unruh_IMG_4941
“Jesus in Gethsemane” sculpted by Duane Unruh

Sometimes I forget what I’ve said in my preaching. That’s not unusual. But what often surprises me is when others remember what I said—and communicate how God used it in their life.

Several years ago we received a fairly large package that was unusually heavy. We weren’t expecting anything, so we were intrigued. I looked at the return address and saw it was from a dear friend, Duane.  Duane was one of the “pillars” in our previous congregation in Kansas City. A wise, gracious, deeply spiritual man. He was also a Hallmark artist and had his own “signature line” of Christmas ornaments. Quite an honor.

We opened the box and saw what you see in my (amateur!) photo above: a bronze sculpture of Jesus kneeling in Gethsemane. Look closely. Do you notice anything different in Jesus’ posture? He is most often pictured with his hands either folded or facing downward in prayer.

I have a different concept for our posture in prayer—and Duane remembered that.

Duane was in a prayer group I recruited and trained to pray during the worship services. We talked much about principles, practices, and postures for prayer. “What I remember most,” wrote Duane, “was that you prayed with your hands open and invited others to do the same. That has changed the way I pray.”

Open hands: We are empty.

Ultimately, we come to God with nothing but ourselves. And that is enough.

The Bible assures that, in spite of our emptiness, the Lord God, who rules the universe and all eternity, wants to connect with us. Psalm 8 expresses this wonder:

3 When I consider your heavens,

    the work of your fingers,

the moon and the stars,

    which you have set in place,

4 what is mankind that you are mindful of them,

    human beings that you care for them? (Psalm 8:3-4 NIV).

Those who engage with the Lord in prayer quickly see their emptiness apart from God. Don’t confuse “empty” with worthless. We are of priceless value to the Lord. Open hands remind us, however, that we do not come to God with pride, holding up our achievements as if we have something to offer that God is missing. We come in grateful humility. The lyrics from the gospel hymn, Rock of Ages, say it best, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.”

Open hands: We are letting go.

Prayer enables us to release our burdens, our regrets, and even our expectations to the Lord who listens and cares.

Time with God in prayer awakens growing confidence in God’s wisdom and power. And it loosens our grip on our preferences. We surrender because we learn that is the only way to victory. We don’t have to cling to the heavy yoke we impose on ourselves.

Open hands: We are receptive.

We are expectant.

“We must not conceive of prayer as overcoming God’s reluctance, but as laying hold of his highest willingness.” Archbishop Trench

When I prepare for any message (including this blog) I open my hands and pray, “Lord, give me what you want to give me for your people.” I am ready to receive God’s provision.

Paul reminds to expect God to work by considering what God has already done in Christ.

“He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV).

God has already given Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sin. Having invested so much in us, why would God stop now? The Lord wants us to experience the full benefits of salvation and to be equipped for continuing his work in this world.

It’s worth meditating on this verse again, this time reading from The Message paraphrase:

“If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us?”

Open your hands in humility, freedom and expectation.