One day Chirpy’s elderly owner decided to vacuum her parakeet’s cage. Just then the phone rang. While reaching for the phone, she inadvertently lifted up the vacuum hose and sucked Chirpy all the way through the tube and into the dust bag.
Frantically, she tore open the bag, pulled out her beloved bird and gently rinsed him off under the faucet. Not satisfied with soaking the wet songbird, she turned on her blow dryer and carefully blew him dry.
Later, when someone inquired about Chirpy, she admitted “Well, he doesn’t sing much anymore.”
Would you wonder? Sucked in, washed up, and blown dry! That’s enough to steal the song from the stoutest of songbirds.
Can you relate to that? Just when you conclude that it cannot possibly get any worse, it suddenly does. However, that seems to be when the God of the Bible appears often time, in an unexpected place with a strange name like Bethel, Peniel, or Shechem. Sucked into a crippling circumstance, we find ourselves rinsed off in a paralyzing experience, only to experience being blown dry by God’s gentle grace. Such was life for Jacob.
Jacob began his adult life by leaving home armed with a limited knowledge of family and friends. His first night out, he barbequed his goat and laid down to sleep. That was when he met God in a dream. God revealed to him in a way he understood that God occupied more of the world than Jacob previously believed.
“Surely the Lord is in this place,” he exclaimed on awakening, “and I did not know it” (Genesis 28:16).
Encouraged by his experience, Jacob made promises and commitments to God based on his new understanding. Bethel became Jacob’s house of God, the place and time where he and God met in a personal way. We all need times and places where God becomes personal to us. We leave our cocoon of family and friends and launch into a fresh, raw new life and discover that God is greater than our awareness. Thus, our renewed commitment becomes our house of God experience and God becomes personal.
I never knew a time when God was not real. I first heard him speak to me as a nine year-old. At twelve, I accepted the minister’s invitation to meet God at the prayer altar and that impacted my life for decades. The God of heaven touched me and somewhere between thirteen and fourteen what had been a personal wish to be an athlete slowly flickered into a new aspiration. Thus, a call to ministry was born.
God often meets us in strange places, far away from stained glass windows. He may find us with our head pillowed on a rock under an open sky. Sometimes he finds us wading around in a stinking sheep pen. At other times, he appears out of nowhere at a burning bush, as Moses found. Frequently, he comes in the silence of the soul, where no one sees or hears the battle rage. In one way or another, he always comes.
“Do you know what it means for someone to take charge?” An adult inquired. “Yeah,” replied the child, “that’s what the teacher does in the classroom.” She takes charge. She tells you when to sit down, when to stand up, and what to do. And, you’d better do it.”
And, that’s about it; you give God control of your life. Jacob’s education did not stop at discovering God’s presence. He was on the verge of discovering God’s interest in taking control of his life. When Jacob crossed the brook Jabbok, he encountered God again. After the deception of his early years, Jacob was finally ready to meet his brother, Esau, from whom he had stolen the family birthright with help from his mother.
Jacob moved all his people up front and across Jabbok, but he stayed behind. There, in the midnight hour of crisis, Jacob silently struggled with the conflict, wrestling with God, but refusing to let go without God’s blessing. When the conflict ended with the dawn, Jacob limping away. Although injured in the struggle, Jacob went forth a new person. Fortified in battle, Jacob moved forward with a new name, a new direction, a new commission, and a new understanding. Thus, he named his place of battle “Peniel,” because “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been preserved” (Genesis 32:30).
Jabbok’s crossing challenges our haunting specters. Pressured internally and externally, our encounter rips us apart. We wrestle with God. God struggles with us. We hang on in faith, frequently unwilling to understand with whom we grapple. At other times, we fail to understand why we battle. God shows his face to us while preserving our lives, and his Spirit reasons with us, seeking to change us. I once struggled with an experience I could not name, although it was real. With the dawning that arrived ever so slowly, there came the psychological limp and the emotional scars. Like Jacob, I carried away something about God I had not experienced before, and now I had new reason to share him.
Jabbok brook quickly faded from Jacob’s sight and soon he pitched his tent toward Shechem. One day, we read of one of Jacob’s sons reporting “Your daughter, our sister, Dinah is no longer a virgin.”
Attracted to Dinah, Shechem the Hivite had “defiled” her (Genesis 34:5). Now, we see Jacob responding with a father’s love. He recalls his earlier pilgrimages and realizes other gods had come into his life. Knowing he needs to return to Bethel, we see him wrapping his great arms around his baby and tearfully confessing “Dinah, this is my fault too. I allowed us to stay here. I allowed you to experience things beyond the maturity of your years. I didn’t protect and counsel you because I was too busy. This is my fault, too, Dinah, and we’re going back to Bethel.”
Acting quickly, Jacob moved his family back to Bethel where his commitment first became personal. There, he renewed his vows to the God of the second chance (Genesis 35:1-7). Although we may carry scars like Jacob, we serve a God who reaches down, scoops up life’s broken pieces, and carefully glues them back together again.
When I shattered my heel, the doctor made a cast for my ankle and instructed me to walk with a pair of crutches. I quickly found that ascending and descending stairs was difficult. That was when I learned the wisdom of the Therapist’s instruction: “Up with the good. Down with the bad.”
When sucked in, washed up, and blown over, however difficult the mobility, we can always move about and negotiate the ups and downs by remembering “Up with the good and down with the bad.”
Wayne M. Warner is a Retired Pastor and Freelance Writer from Battle Creek, MI.