“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs in the kingdom of heaven” – Matthew 5:3.
Is it wrong to have things? Is it somehow anti-Christian to own stuff or to enjoy that stuff? Some answer this question by saying that all stuff is evil and should be discarded. Some say that all stuff is a blessing from God and you should get as much as possible. Personally, I think they are both missing the point.
Chapter 2 of A.W. Tozer’s The Pursuit of God is called “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing”. I remember reading this chapter and being struck by the thought that it is not so much about the stuff that you possess but rather the stuff that possesses you. Anytime we hold on to something as being essential we are giving that thing a power over us – in seeking to possess that thing for ourselves we are also allowing that thing to possess us. The problem with this is that we already belong to someone. We were created for a relationship with God. We are His and everything we do is to be an act of worship declaring that we are His and everything we have is His.
So how can we possess stuff, but not allow the stuff to possess us? Tozer calls this “The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing” – I like to think of it as living life with an open hand. Everything we have ultimately belongs to God and is to be used for His glory. At any time He has the right in His wisdom to remove anything in our lives if He thinks it is best. If we are living life with a closed hand and seeking to hold on to everything for ourselves (and therefore being “possessed” by those things), God still can (and will) remove those things if He so chooses – but it will hurt.
When a child takes something he or she should not have and the parent asks for it to be returned, there are two options – the easy way or the hard way. The easy way is the child recognizing that what they did was wrong and offering the object to the parent freely. The hard way (and by far more common way!) is for the parent to ask over, and over, and over again until finally the parent must grab the hand of the child and take that thing out of his or her hand. This can be painful, and not just physically. When the child holds on to that object and refuses to let go, he or she is asserting their own power, their own authority, their own control. When the parent reaches in and takes the object away it is a not-so-gentle reminder that the child is not as in control as he or she thought.
It is the same way with us and God. We like to think we are in control. We like to think that if we just clench our fist a little tighter then we will never lose what is in our hand…but it is a lie. We are not nearly as strong as we think we are.
Living life with open hands means that we may have something in our hand (in our life) but we are not seeking to hold on to it. We know that it all belongs to God and that He has the right to give and to remove things at His will and according to His wisdom. We understand that when we hold these things with an open hand, it is difficult if they are taken away, but God does not have to pry them out of our hands to do so – they are freely given.
Tozer cites Abraham as a great example of this idea in Scripture. He had a great deal. He had a son who was a miraculous gift from God. But when God asked him to sacrifice that son, he didn’t seek to hold on tighter. He understood that Isaac belonged to God, not him. Abraham showed this by being willing to offer Isaac as a sacrifice and God stepped in and stopped him from following through. Now Abraham was holding Isaac with an open hand. A constant, living sacrifice to God rather than a possession of Abraham’s. Tozer writes:
I have said that Abraham possessed nothing. Yet was not this poor man rich? Everything he had owned before was his still to enjoy: sheep, camels, herds, and goods of every sort. He had also his wife and his friends, and best of all he had his son Isaac safe by his side. He had everything, but he possessed nothing. There is the spiritual secret. There is the sweet theology of heart which can be learned only in the school of renunciation. (27)
Well-meaning followers of Jesus Christ will often talk about needing to “give something to God.” I would respectfully suggest that we should instead realize and admit that it is already God’s. Living life with an open hand is a constant admission that all we have and all we are belong to God. It is His to give and take as He pleases for His glory which is also always what is best for us.
I’ll leave you with Tozer’s prayer at the end of this chapter:
Father, I want to know Thee, but my cowardly heart fears to give up its toys. I cannot part with them without inward bleeding, and I do not try to hide from Thee the terror of the parting. I come trembling, but I do come. Please root from my heart all those things which I have cherished so long and which have become a very part of my living self, so that Thou mayest enter and dwell there without a rival. Then shalt Thou make the place of Thy feet glorious. Then shall my heart have no need of the sun to shine in it, for Thyself wilt be the light of it, and there shall be no night there. In Jesus’ name, Amen. (31)photo by Fickr user moominmolly