Have you ever considered the importance of your hands? Without them, how would you touch, feel, grip, caress, hug and hold?
Technically, a hand is simply made up of a palm, fingers and thumb. But a hand can also convey so much.
A gentle hand on the back of a young child can help them stay on track, when out on a walk. Hands wrapped around a friend, who is grieving, can convey, without words, that they are not alone. A tender hand resting on the frail, paper-thin skin, of an elderly person’s hand, can remind them that they are not forgotten.
Hands matter, because hands matter to God.
The Gospel stories are full of examples of Jesus’ hands conveying care and compassion to society’s outcasts, healing and deliverance to the sick and oppressed, forgiveness to sinners.
The book of Acts is full of examples of people being filled with the Holy Spirit, or receiving gifts of the Holy Spirit, simply because the disciples laid hands on them.
But dotted throughout the Bible, we also read about ‘the hand of God’.
It’s a phrase that seems to describe God’s intangible and invisible hand – encouraging and strengthening, guiding and steering, protecting and course-correcting his people.
With this in mind, it was just recently, while re-reading the book of Ezra, that I noticed a repeated phrase, “the gracious hand of God”.
The context here is that God’s people have been living in exile in Babylon, an ethnic minority in a foreign land, ruled by a powerful empire – where Ezra has been serving them as priest. For years, they have been yearning to return to their homeland of Israel, to see the temple in Jerusalem rebuilt, and to worship God there.
Now, at long last, God’s people’s return from exile is about to happen – with the blessing of the rulers of the empire. It’s almost too good to be true!
Why? Because “the gracious hand of God” was on Ezra, their priest.
In what ways was “the gracious hand of God” at work?
- We see “the gracious hand of God” at work when the king grants everything Ezra asks for, ready for his return to Jerusalem – an abundance of silver and gold to buy all the things they need to make their sacrifices to God, but also wheat, wine, olive oil and salt. (Ezra 7:9) … In other words, God gave him favour with the most powerful person in the land – and released the resources to enable the work to be accomplished.
- We see “the gracious hand of God” at work when he sends three men to join Ezra, who gather a group of people together, to help serve in the temple. (Ezra 8:18) … In other words, God gave him a skilled and experienced team to help him achieve what he had been called to do.
- We see “the gracious hand of God” at work when he protects Ezra, and the people travelling with him, from bandits and mercenaries on their journey home to Jerusalem. (Ezra 8:22) … In other words, God protected Ezra, and the people with him, as they stepped out in obedience to what he was asking them to do.
How much do we need this too?
How much do we need the same sort of favour that Ezra had with people in influential positions? How much do we need the release of resources to do what God wants us to do? How much do we need God to bring people around us to help us achieve the tasks he has given us? And how much do we need his protection as we journey through life?
But why was “the gracious hand of God” upon Ezra?
Ezra himself reveals the reason: “The gracious hand of our God is upon everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” (Ezra 8:22)
Ezra was a man who looked to God and sought his face. He constantly sought to hear his voice and obey his commands. He was devoted to God’s word and work.
It can be the same for us; all of us can experience “the gracious hand of God” upon our lives.
But to do so, we need to look to him and seek his face. We need to listen to his voice and obey what he asks of us. We need to be devoted to his word and work.
The challenge is whether we will.
How about you? At the start of this new year, are you up for this challenge?
To what extent are you already aware of “the gracious hand of God” on your life? Can you think of any examples?
If this has not yet been your experience, why might this be? Perhaps this year could be one in which you more intentionally seek to see God’s face and hear his voice? Or perhaps there are things he has asked you to do, which you haven’t yet done, and which you might need to revisit with an attitude of humility, repentance and obedience?
As ever, constructive comments are welcome below!
(Please note: This is my ‘thought for the month’ reflection for January. (You can find all my ‘thought for the month’ reflections here.)
Photo from Jackson David via Unsplash