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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Prayer Allows Us To Participate in the Work of Trusting God

Genesis 32:9 And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Being able to see the Gospel in the Old Testament has become something that has brought me much joy over the last year. The more I recognize the great love of God in the Old Testament, the richer my understanding and appreciation becomes for the faith that I am beyond privileged to be a part of. This passage exemplifies the necessity for God's love in our lives.

Jacob had not seen Esau since He had taken Esau's blessing from Isaac and departed from his family to take a wife from his his hometown. This stealing of the blessing is highlighted as one of the most contentious points in the book of Genesis between two brothers (possibly only second to the story of Cain and Abel). We know this because Esau in bitterness, married a Canaanite woman simply because it would go against his father, Isaac's, desires. For at least 20 years, there had been no interactions between the two of them and as Jacob had matured in his own trials with his in-laws, he grew in his understanding of the gravity of his actions toward his brother. He knew Esau had settled in the land of Seir, so as he left Laban (his father in law), he headed in the direction of his brother and sent messengers ahead of his camp to inform Esau that Jacob was coming bearing gifts for him. His messengers returned to Jacob with the news that Esau was en route to meet with Jacob with 400 men. This put Jacob in a place of panic, remembering all that he had done against his brother by stealing his birthright and deceiving his father Isaac to receive the blessing that was intended for Esau.

Jacob quickly divided his camp, his flocks, and his servants into two parties with the mentality that if his brother destroys one, the other will be able to survive the attack through retreat. Then he turned to God in one of the most beautiful prayers displaying the desperation that only comes to those who recognize that they need God much more than He needs us.

We are always confronted with perceived and real threats, dangers, and fears. Because of sin in this world, we don't have the ability to isolate ourselves from pain in this world. If we try, we end up battling depressions that come with loneliness and solitude of prolonged measures. This means that something will always try to oppose us, to get in our way, to make our lives difficult, and to attempt to torture us. However, this is not the end of the story.

In this story, we see that Jacob turns to God as his savior. He is clearly a smart man, dividing his camp into two so that his economic and social engines would be left in tact if one of the camps were destroyed by his brother, but he takes it in a direction that only a man who understood where true salvation could come from would by praying. Jacob's prayer reveals that there was confidence that Jacob had in the faithfulness of God.

In moments of crises, people naturally turn to the thing that they believe will save them. Urgency trumps everything else and blinds us from being able to sort things out calmly. We become erratic and everything looks more difficult and daunting than we can handle. We sometimes try to talk to ourselves, sometimes we take deep breaths, and sometimes, we call someone we know can help us calm down. For many situations, these things work because we have faced them before or have heard of people overcoming them, resulting in a fine outcome. However, few of us are placed in circumstances (at least in my circles) where we are running for our lives from someone who we believe is actively trying to kill us. In these crisis moments, the thing we turn to, whether it is an internal mechanism or an external source is our functional savior. The thing we turn to in the most trying of circumstances is the thing we truly believe will be able to rescue us from this pain that is coming at us at 100mph. We can say we cling to God, but from personal experience, I think if we are filled with anxiety in the times of calm, then in the storms of life, we may collapse because we actually don't trust in the God who calls us to trust Him.

Trusting God is tough, but I think we make it more difficult than it really is. Faith is not something we muster up on our own accord, it is a gift from God. This reality automatically puts everyone in a place where we cannot get angry or frustrated or feel superior with those who lack it. This realization also places us in a position where we cherish it if it is real. If faith is a gift, not something we do on our own, but an expression of dependency that is directed at an object that can actually pull through, it can only be experienced in conjunction with love. Love is much of the stuff that God is and it is when we feel loved that we can place our faith in the object that we are loved by. Trustworthiness comes through the understanding that the thing we place our trust in is both good and able to be trusted. That means that there is a capacity that allows what is best for us to be actualized in our lives.

What we see in Jacob's prayer are three things:

1. Jacob latched onto God.
Immediately after separating the two camps, he turned to prayer. He didn't devise a retreat strategy, nor did he come up with a way to trap Esau before he approached. This was the ultimate sign of his dependency and desperation on God.

2. He remembered God's consistency and constancy through the covenant.
There is no doubt that the covenant is what separated Abraham and his descendants from the rest. Something about God's enduring faithfulness stuck with Jacob even after he had just been conned by his father in law for 20 years, working far more than he should've for the wages he received. I believe it was through this struggle that Jacob was able to recognize God's favor in his life (Gen 30:27-30). This gave Jacob more than enough reason, after hearing about what had happened in his grandfather Abraham's and his father Isaac's life, his tank of faith stories had been full enough to recognize that God was working in a unique way with his family.

3. He understood that the outcome wasn't in his control.
His plea for help displayed his understanding that his perceptions of control were fleeting. Although this doesn't give us the confidence we desire when we are in the circumstances, we are reminded over and over again throughout the entirety of the Scriptures that the outcomes aren't as important as the God we give up our outcomes to.

So, how then does this call us to live?

Cling to the Gospel - God is the Gospel. Christ is the Gospel. The Cross and Resurrection are the Gospel. The Gospel is not advice for how we should live, think, or behave, but what actually is. It is the breaking through of an earth shattering news that literally changes the histories of all that it impacts. It is the source of life, the source of confidence, the source of hope, and the source of joy.

Remember His promises - Spending time to remember the faithfulness of God in the scriptures and our own lives are critical if we don't want to reinvent the wheel of our personal faith over and over. There is something about taking the time to remember what God has done and how He has been so faithful to bringing us to the point where He offers us access to Himself as the ultimate source of fulfillment in life that brings healing and calm to our existence here on earth.

Pray His Promises - Praying the promises of God is a way you can exalt God's goodness and power while leaning on His faithfulness. Prayer is the point where we express our dependency on God and it is the point at which we can participate in bringing God's kingdom to earth. He is faithful to fulfill the promises of His Word.

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