His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure; they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Peter 1:3-8
Imagine a clenched fist. The physical posture represents an internal state of mind. It might reveal a struggle to maintain our own control and comfort. It could involve an unwillingness to be inconvenienced in our schedules. Maybe it represents clinging to anger, bitterness, or un-forgiveness. Perhaps it involves not sharing a talent we have that would bless someone else. It could represent a heart that is hard and unwilling to be softened. Maybe a certain person comes to mind when you picture it, or maybe you think of yourself.
Watching someone with clenched fists blossom into a person who is open handed is amazing to witness. Lysa Ter Keurst describes it well: “When we surrender to Him, we acknowledge that He knows what’s best for us and that everything we have belongs to Him. Our posture is openhanded, enabling us to receive God’s many blessings- blessings that enable us to know and experience Him every day” (What Happens When Women Say “Yes” to God p. 41).
For the past year, I’ve watched this process unfold in the life of an acquaintance that has become a dear friend. I knew Debbie for years through volunteering at school, but never spent time with her until our boys ended up on a team together. Sitting on the sidelines of a lacrosse game last spring, I was taken by surprise when she asked: “So, how do you make time for church during your kids’ sports seasons?” We’d never talked about attending church before and I was happy to hear someone else on the team cared about making it a priority.
As the season continued, our conversations on the sidelines became discussions over lunch or out on a trail. Debbie was hungry for spiritual knowledge and eager to grow. She welcomed suggestions for books to read and peppered me with questions about my faith, my prayer life and my knowledge of scripture. She was a Christian, but was hungering to grow deeper in her walk with God.
Like most moms, she was extremely busy with her own activities and taking care of her husband and three kids. I felt privileged by the time she spent with me and prayed that God would soften her heart towards the idea of joining a Bible study. I sensed she was ready for it, but wondered if she would be able to make the time.
Out on a bike ride one day last spring, I brought it up: “So, I go to this women’s Bible Study on Thursdays that I think you’d like. Sign ups for the fall are starting soon, do you want to do it?” She thought for a minute: “I might be interested, but there’s a golf clinic that I might do on Thursday mornings. Let me think about it.” I started praying that Debbie’s desire to grow spiritually would be stronger than her desire to improve her golf game. Her heart had been softening for months, but I could see that her fist was still clenched around her schedule and she wasn’t sure if regular time in Bible study fit into her plan.
I prayed for Debbie all summer and waited for her to give an answer. Finally, in late August, she called: “I’ll commit to the first semester study, but not to the whole year.” Her fist was beginning to unclench. I prayed more.
Throughout the fall, Debbie came to Bible Study consistently and did her homework diligently. She was overwhelmed trying to absorb so much new information, but doing her best to keep up. The women in our group were gracious and inclusive, always affirming her for the questions she asked. She admitted to me that she didn’t “love” the study, but liked what she was learning. God was laying a foundation in her as she opened her hand and opened His Word.
By the end of our first study, Debbie had seen enough to know she wanted to continue for the rest of the year. She’d made time for God and He was giving her a desire for more of Him. As our new study began after Christmas, Debbie’s fists continued to unclench, her hands opened to receive more of Him. She would arrive at our group unable to speak, overcome with emotion about God’s goodness and all the ways He was revealing Himself to her. One week with a quavering voice and tears in her eyes she summed it up: “I’ve been a Christian most of my life, but I never really GOT it until now. I really GET IT!” She was glowing with joy as she shared how the Holy Spirit had captured her heart.
Not long after this, Debbie and I met to discuss an after school program we ran together. We were considering whether or not to continue it next year and had been batting around different ideas. With conviction in her voice, she offered her opinion: “I think our time would be put to better use sharing what we’ve learned about the Bible with other women in our community. There are so many people who need God. I can think of 10 women right now who I’d invite to an in-home Bible Study, I’d even host it at my house. Can we pray about doing that instead?”
I was humbled and inspired by Debbie’s passion. Her desire to share with others reveals God’s transforming power in her life. Rather than looking at what fits into her schedule, she’s responding to what God wants to do in and through her life.
Recently, Debbie participated in an annual golf tournament. Beforehand, she laughed saying: “I haven’t even picked up a golf club in a year, but I don’t care. I’m just going to spend time with my mom, that’s the important part.” When she returned, I reminded her about the golf clinic she almost chose over Bible Study. She paused, thinking about how the decision to do Bible Study instead has impacted her life this year: “I probably would have put a lot more pressure on myself to do well in the tournament if I’d been taking the clinic all year. Instead, I went and had fun and enjoyed the people. I would have missed so much if I’d said ‘no’ to Bible Study this year.” That sounds a lot like Lysa’s words in our study: “We need not fear what our obedience will cause to happen in our lives. We should only fear what our disobedience will cause us to miss” (p. 45).
Debbie’s story inspires me; it shows what God can do when we unclench our fists, open our hands and allow God to pour Himself into us. There are many things we can hold tightly that keep us from growing. When we focus on our own agendas, try to control our lives, fret over our finances, hold tightly to our time, or cling to past hurts, we prevent ourselves from becoming the people God wants us to be. We miss out on receiving His blessings and passing them on to others when we’re more concerned with our personal comfort than letting God work through us. The things we grasp in our hands only weigh us down and hold us back. We’ll never know how He wants to bless us until we trust Him enough to unclench our fists, relinquish our fears and raise open hands to Him in total surrender.