Scripture: Psalm 145:1-3, 10-19
Sermon: “God’s Hand: Open or Closed?” by Pastor Todd Buurstra
Is God’s hand open or closed?
That may not be a hard head question, but it’s proved to be a very difficult heart question for centuries. Take the Prayer Book of the Bible, the Psalms, whose prayers are our model prayers. There are 150 of them, and modern scholars have categorized them in at least 5 categories:
- Prayers about the Nation (Temple and Palace) 25;
- Prayers about Wisdom 8;
- Prayers about Faith 7, 40 so far;
- Prayers of Thanksgiving/Praise (of which Ps. 145 is a part), 50, so up to 90;
- Prayers of Complaining, 60!
I love how real the psalms are: even our best prayers thank only 33%, and gripe 40%, of the time. And when we gripe we are viewing God’s hand as closed. At root that’s a faith problem, and why our church’s mission statement begins, Receiving from God’s hand…
We believe God is open-handed, and if you sign on you’ll be transformed in two ways:
you’ll be grateful and fruitful.
First, grateful. Psalm 145, as already mentioned, is one of those psalms of praise. It’s 21 verses, you know why? Because the Hebrews saw the title, “Psalm 145 of David,” as verse 1, and since they have 22 letters in their alphabet, this is an acrostic psalm. A is for… B is for… Z is for… The idea being that this song/prayer was easy to memorize, and said everything about praise from A to Z. It’s the most often used psalm in the modern Jewish Prayer Book because it is so comprehensive. It praises God for being tender, v. 19, [T]he Lord… hears their cry, and saves them–God hears every whimper of your heart—and it praises God for being strong, v.12, All your works…make known to all people your mighty deeds, the glorious splendor of your kingdom! But towards the end of this prayer is that arresting image of God bending low with open hand in v. 16, You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.
But most see God’s hand as closed. If we’re successful we tend to think that we’ve, well remember these commercials?
We successful must know that God gives even our ability to earn. Then we’ll give thanks to God
When we’re in pain we act like God has closed up his hand, too. I know I felt that way in two bouts of depression in my later teens. A woman was in my office after a lifetime of being abused and assaulted by men, and told me, “I’m not sure that God cares because things continue to happen like this. What can I do?” And what did I say? I understand. But you have a choice to make: you can either choose to agree with your painful feelings that the heavens must be made of brass, and no one cares, or you can go against those feelings, and by faith decide to believe that God loves you and Jesus is with you. If you choose the former, you will live depressed. If you choose the latter, after this crucifixion, Jesus will resurrect you to happiness. I know. 30+ years ago I chose to believe that God’s hand is open, not clenched, and I have been forever grateful. It was the difference between grateful happiness or a lengthy stingy depression.
Not only does belief in the God of the open hand make us grateful people it makes us fruitful people. ABC did a segment on Thu, 9/30 on the historic demise of the Boston Red Sox. On 9/1/11 it calculated that the Red Sox had a 98.6% chance of making the playoffs. But on the last day of the season they lost in the last inning by one run, and missed the playoffs. Never has any team been 9 games ahead on 9/1 only to get beat for a playoff position. Why? The analysis went back to basic, simple psychology and spirituality: self-fulfilling prophecy, or the power of negative thinking. They began to expect things to go badly. In Christian terms, they began to believe that God’s fist was clenched, the hand was closed. And they tightened up and struck out.
Now you can also abuse this belief. Notice I am not echoing Joel Osteen that God gives prime, mall parking spaces, if you believe. We’re not nuts. Nor am I saying, teens, that positive thinking made me into a great tennis player. I tried that, too, but God didn’t give me Mark’s tennis talent. What I am saying is that if you believe in God’s open hand, and if you follow your gifts and callings, your life will blossom. Belief in God’s open hand makes you healthier, richer and more influential for God! The most critical factor in success is how you see God’s hand.
So here’s my suggestion for this week. One day, maybe today, try to make 50% of your prayers positive prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Honestly, you may have trouble sustaining that forever, but start with a day. And watch your joy-meter and success-meter rise. And you will know the power of the first half of our mission statement, Receiving from God’s hand.