An old African proverb I once heard raises an interesting question – one I’ve been pondering as we make our way through the early stages of 2021.

It is said a certain village was having an issue with troublesome monkeys which would regularly break into homes and brazenly snatch bananas, peanuts or various types of other food.

Frustrated with the occurrence, the village elders came up with a cunning plan – strategically placing half-buried jars around the perimeter of the village.

In the jars they would place some of the items that the offending monkeys so eagerly desired.

But here’s the catch – the opening at the top was only slightly bigger than the monkey’s hand.

And this meant one thing – something the monkeys in our story never quite figured out. 

Whenever a monkey saw one of the jars and reached its empty hand into one, it would fit with no problem.

However once the monkey grabbed the food, and its hand became a fist, it was stuck.

Try as it might – so long as its hand clasped the food – the monkey could not be freed. 

The opening of the jar was simply not large enough for the clenched fist to get out.

In the proverb, it is said that the monkeys’ unwillingness to release the food would keep them stuck and allow the village elders to make their way around, gather up the seemingly stranded animals and remove them from the village. 

The truth is the monkeys did possess the means to escape the trap – if they did one simple thing.

Freedom was found in letting go of whatever it was they were holding onto – whatever was keeping them ‘stuck’ and held captive.

Interesting analogy isn’t it? So, here’s what I’ve been pondering in prayer and reflection that I hope might be an encouragement.

As we head into a new year, I’ve been asking God if there are some things in my own life that He’d have me let go of and release to Him. 

I’m asking Him if there are things I have been holding onto that are keeping me ‘stuck’ – even unknowingly?

Along these lines I read a passage of scripture recently which really helped.

It was the story of Jesus calling some of His disciples along the shore of the Galilee, found in Matthew 4:18-22. When I read it , it helped me purpose something in my heart.

To act promptly to His calling.

The passage of Scripture in the NIV tells us that “…as Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.  “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed Him.

They followed Him ‘at once’.

Going on from there, Jesus saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

Notice again that when called they went ‘immediately’.

My prayer is that my heart would reflect that – when Jesus calls I follow, no hesitation.
No doubt these disciples had goals, dreams, aspirations – perhaps a trajectory they felt their lives taking.

Yet, at the call of the Master, they were prepared to ‘let go’ of all of those things – quite literally in this case their livelihoods and families – in pursuit of Him.

Sometimes we’re faced with a similar decision – to let go of how we thought things would go – and trust His plan.

How will we respond?

We can find security in jobs, where we live – or quite literally anything that maybe we haven’t yet fully surrendered to Christ .

In my case, things that I can identify that may keep me trapped if I do release them to God could be feeling inadequate at times, perhaps even fearful.  

Carried around for too long though, these things become burdens  – and not burdens God would have us hold on to. 

It goes without saying that holding onto things we should instead release to God keeps us capped, or limited. 

Those incorrect beliefs can quite literally keep us trapped.

I certainly don’t want that.

Like many of us I’m sure, I want everything God has for me. But we might have to be prepared to release some things.

May He help us in that area if that is the case.

As mentioned regarding our story, ‘freedom was found in letting go…” Jesus sets us free when we surrender to Him.

I’m reminded of the words of Jesus in John.

In John 8:36, He says, “…so if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed…” and in John 10:10 Jesus says “…I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full…”

Ephesians 3:20 says – ”Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us.”

It is Christ’s life in and through us – not in our own strength.

Of note too is that while we’ve talked a lot about letting go and laying down, there might be things that God would have you pick up, or lay hold of, this year.

As I prayed about and considered writing this piece, our editor Dave picked up on this and directed me to a passage of scripture to ponder. He raised an interesting point.

Found in Exodus 7, is the account of Moses and Aaron speaking to Pharaoh. As instructed by God, Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials and it became a snake.

Scripture tells us, “Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts. Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.” (verses 11-12).

Dave’s observation – and it was a good one – was this.

The miracle we see in this passage happened after the ‘throwing down’, of Aaron’s staff. God’s command was to release the staff – only then would it become what God said it would be.

“What if Aaron had decided to keep hold of the staff?,” Dave asked.

“Maybe the outcome would have been different”.

And consider too if the disciples too had not left their nets and boats and followed Jesus when He called? How different their lives would have been.

One more story might help – the story of the flea and the jar.

In the wild, if you will, when fleas jump they shoot up as high as 38 times their body length – or about three inches.

Relative to our size, if we, as humans did that it would be the equivalent of us jumping the length of seven football fields from a standing start.

Here’s the thing though, if you place a flea in a jar with a lid on it, they will begin jumping, hitting the glass lid and falling back down into the jar. 

If you leave them in there long enough, they will begin to get used to the glass lid and learn to jump only as high as just below that lid – so as not to hit it.

After some time, even if you then remove the lid, that flea  – for the rest of its life – will only ever jump as high as the lid would have let it.


Because the flea has learned to limit itself from jumping beyond the height of the lid because it has been conditioned to the fact that they cannot escape from the jar.

As mentioned earlier though, they are in fact capable of so much more – but they never again live as though the lid is off.

Someone once said to me, “if you argue for your limitations long enough, you’ll have them.”

When it comes to God’s plan for my life, I want to be sure I live to the full extent of what He has for me – no limitations.

Might I ask this question as I end this little encouragement –  in our own lives, are there areas in which we are living as though we are capped or limited? Are there things we’re holding onto that we can purpose to either release to Jesus or pick up afresh as we walk in Freedom this year?

Let’s not live as though the lid is still on.

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By Jeremy Smith

About the author

Jeremy Smith is the assistant editor of Authentic Magazine

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