Posted on: March 7th, 2023
Written by: Thomas Kilian, Chaplain
Photo by: Daler Usmonov - "Solitude"
Awareness, or being in a state of knowledge, is the first step in the normal Christian life. Without it, you’ll live as the master of the pigpen or the slave in the field. Apostle Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Romans 6:6). Knowing is the attainment of thought. It’s not an intellectual pursuit. Knowing is the opening of your eyes to see what Christ sees. I have never known any Christian that has done it by merely obtaining intellectual knowledge upon entering the ordinary Christian life. Each will relate their first-hand experience with Christ. I don’t mean the sinner becomes a Christian by experience because that would go against God’s Word. I mean that each Christian who has ever gone deeper into their sanctification (set-apartness) has encountered Jesus in a uniquely intimate way paired with His Word. It’s the rediscovery of the person and work of Jesus, with whom we come to feel and not only understand the way He loves and lives. It’s why Apostle Paul prayed for the Christians in Ephesus: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might (Ephesians 1:17-19).
The Sons of Korah wrote the song “God Is Our Fortress,” recorded in Psalm 46. In verse ten of the psalm, the voice of the Lord calls out to us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word translated as the verb “be still” is a dynamic verb (†רָפָה [rāp̄ah]). The action word is a command to slacken something. It carries with it the idea of relaxing, withdrawing, refraining, letting go, dropping, and doing nothing. But it’s not the only action word. It’s followed, actually introduced, by another Hebrew verb, a commanding action, “to know” (יָדַע [yāḏa’]). We may read the verse in Hebrew as, “to gain knowledge of God through every sense, you must relax your grip.”
God tells us to “loosen up!” Some of us have such a firm grip on life for fear of losing it that we choke the life out of it. With clenched fists, we stand in the world whenever we try to be in control. Author Henry Nouwen describes this image of tightly clenched fists as “the desire to cling tightly to yourself, a greediness which betrays fear."
There's a story of a woman in a mental ward who went wild and clung to anything in her path. Doctors tore from her hands what they could, except for a tiny coin she clasped in her hand. As she was unwilling to release the coin, two nurses had to pry open her strong but withering hand as a doctor recovered the coin. “It was as though she would lose her very self along with the coin. If they deprived her of that last possession, she would have nothing more and be nothing more. That was her fear.”
We, too, have clenched fists whenever our pride instructs us to prove a point to someone instead of leaving it up to God. Getting the last word in during an argument is a clenched fist. Demanding your way to be embraced as “the way” is a clenched fist. Resentment and hatred will form your hands into tight wads quicker than anything. Clenched fists of the spiritual and emotional kind are often reflected on occasions when our physical hands draw closed. Clenched fists are on display when you pound on the steering wheel after being insulted. It appears in a conversation with that person you're wary of when you have your arms crossed and hands folded tightly. No wonder the clenched fist symbolizes power, defiance, and liberation worldwide! Clenched fists are, at best, an act of self-preservation. It's experiencing hurt and rejection and closing ourselves to further exposure that may result in more wounds. It's also about scorning yourself and denying affection because “you’re unlovable.” Finally, it fears being touched, seen, or known. Adam and Eve had to have clenched fists in their grabbing of the fig leaves to keep themselves covered. As we do in a card game, we hide our hands not to reveal our position.
While clenched fists reveal fear of losing what we hold, spreading our hands widely shows we accept the truth of who we are, dropping the false realities we have about ourselves. To receive life and strength, God gives us the means to let go of the “life” and “strength” we may feel while viewing pornography. Let go of the lies we may use to manipulate and control people, processes, and outcomes when we feel powerless. Oddly, surrendering our ways in pursuit of “life,” “strength,” and “belonging" feels like losing everything and becoming nothing.
After several traumatic experiences, I remember how my body would close itself to the world. I couldn't leave home without shaking and my body becoming stiff. I noticed how I would have clenched fists under the pillow as I tried lying down for the night. After dreams of rejection and ridicule, I woke up to tightly bound fists. At times, I gazed into space, reliving trauma or pondering in resentment how someone treated me. In those times, my hands grew closed, often with white knuckles. I clung to the past as if I could change it or learn how to prevent something in the future. Soon, I saw all relationships as threats. Because they forced me to allow someone other than myself to walk into the center of my being and possibly touch things I would rather keep untouched.
Having intimacy was dangerous, so I was on the defense.
The bitterness, the hate, the jealousy, the hurt, the disappointment, and the desire for revenge are not just feelings but “treasures” we clutch in our hands, not knowing what to do if found without them. You hold onto them for dear life because to give them up would mean losing your very self. It would seem that to lose your hatred, victimhood, retaliation, or your cherished habit of self-gratification is to lose yourself. So we stand in a world with balled-up fists, closed to the One who wishes to help us and place blessings in our hands.
Our question, therefore, becomes, “How do I open my hands?” Not by force. Neither will it be done by God. It’s not repeated and artificial citations of prayer. Nor is it merely a decision. No, it’s a long spiritual journey of trust founded in prayer that dispels the layers behind each clenched fist that took years of tension to build up.
As prayer seems painful and frightening, to be led to pray, it would help to listen carefully to the words of God spoken 70 times throughout time to every person needing to approach Him:
“Do not be afraid… I am your reward. I have heard you, I am with you; I will bless you, keep you from sinning; I will protect you. Give me anything too hard for you, and I will fight for you. I won’t leave; I will see that you don’t die; the battle is not yours but mine; because of Me, you will go out to face tomorrow. I am your power; I will help you. I have chosen you—no humiliation or shame here—I will rescue you; it will go well, I am the response to your questions; I am your strength, I have determined to do good for you; I will deal with things at the appointed time. No need to fear men, I am Alive; you will see me; I hear you, I have good news for you; I give to you; I don't give as the world gives, for I, your God, graciously give”
(see Genesis 15:1; 21:17; 26:24 // Exodus 20:20 // Numbers 14:9 //Deuteronomy 1:17; 7:18; 31:6, 8 // Judges 6:23 // 2 Chronicles 20:15, 17; 32:7 // Isaiah 41:14; 44:8; 54:4 // Jeremiah 1:8; 40:9 // Daniel 10:2, 19 // Zachariah 8:13, 15 // Matthew 10:26, 28; 28:5, 10 //Luke 1:30; 2:10; 12:32 //John 14:27 // Acts 27:24).