‘This hand is your hand.Joey Tribbiani
This hand is my hand.
Oh wait, that’s your hand.
No wait, it’s my hand!’
In Acts 4, Peter and John have been released from prison. They return to the gathering of believers, tell them of the wonders God has done, and then together the church prays. It’s a powerful prayer, reflecting on God’s sovereign power and might. I recently had the joy of preaching on the final couple of verses of it.
At the end of the prayer, the believers ask God to do two things. They pray for their own work, and they pray for God’s work:
“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”Acts 4:29-30
In response, God pours out His Holy Spirit, and sends the church out on mission.
The two sides of this prayer are interesting to me – they are less distinct than we might be tempted to think. The believers first of all ask God to empower them to do what He has called them to do; speaking the good news of Jesus boldly. But then when they ask God to stretch out His hand (cheir), they are asking Him to do what only He can do. To heal, to perform signs and wonders that demonstrate His power and draw people to Himself.
The language of the hand of God runs right through the Old Testament and speaks of moments when God dramatically intervened in miraculous ways. Think of the story of Moses. Time and again God promised to stretch out His ‘hand’ or ‘arm’, performing miracles to rescue His people. For example:
‘But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.’(Exodus 3:19-20. Also 6:6-7; 7:3-5)
This is what Peter and John and the church are crying out for. Miracles, power, and salvation. For God to do what only He can do, by stretching out His hand.
But consider this. When God does stretch out his hand, what does it look like?
Turn the page, and in the next chapter, we read:
‘Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands (cheir) of the apostles’(Acts 5:12, ESV)
The believers pray “God stretch out your hand in miracles” and the next chapter the miracles come through their hands. So whose hand was it that performed the miracle? God’s or theirs? It’s both. They are two sides of the same coin.
It should be impossible to tell where the hand of a Spirit-filled believer ends and the hand of God begins, because the hand of God works through the hands of His servants.
It’s the same with Moses. God promised to stretch out His hand in miracles. How did it happen? It happened when Moses stretched out his hand. The plagues fell and the waters parted, because the hand of God worked through the hand of His servant.
I love the way this comes through in Exodus 4. God asks Moses:
‘“What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.’Exodus 4:2
Then after two miracles – one involving a transformation of the staff in Moses’ hand (v3-5), and the other about the transformation of his hand itself (v6-7) – God instructs Moses:
“Take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.”Exodus 4:17
Three verses later, Moses returned to Egypt,
‘And he took the staff of God in his hand’Exodus 4:20
No longer is it Moses’ staff, but God’s. No longer is the hand that clasps it merely the hand of Moses, but in some sense it is the hand of God, poised to work wonders.
We see this pattern time and again through Scripture. The hand of God works through the hands of His servants.
In fact, you’d be hard pushed to find any example where the Holy Spirit works in any way other than through the hands of a human. I can think of one example off the top of my head, and it’s Genesis 1, and it predates the creation of humans! From that point on, the primary way the Spirit works is through the hands of human beings.
When we are filled with God’s Spirit our hands become the hands through which His power works. Which means if we want to pray a prayer like “God, would you stretch out you hand to heal and deliver” we must be willing to stretch out our hands in faith.