Posts Tagged ‘scripture’

“Kelly, can you handle this?
Michelle, can you handle this?
Beyoncé, can you handle this?
I don’t think they can handle this!”  


It’s too bootylicious.

Guilty pleasure.  What can I say?  I’ll tell you something else while I’m revealing secrets- I like Justin Timberlake too.

Who’s next?  Anybody?  Guilty pleasures confession time in the comment box, please.  BTW, save yourself: Don’t do an image search for “bootylicious.”

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This year my wife expanded her repertoire once again by making blueberry jam/fruit preserves.  We’ve enjoyed it, but I have a feeling it won’t last long. I mean- it WOULD last.  But it won’t.

* * *

11The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.
12Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses.
13Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning,
but a rod is for the back of the one who lacks sense.
14The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.
I’m going through Proverbs right now with my oldest son.  I really want to instill the value of reading the bible into my children.  Not just running their eyes over the text, and patting them down into the flesh of my heart.  I want them to pound it in, like the old type set keys punch through a ribbon and impressed themselves into the roller through paper.  I feel like I almost killed myself by only sort of reading scripture.  Sort of like a vaccination.  I had just enough “word” in my system to build anti-bodies, but not enough for it to really make me sick.  Sick meaning different, changed.
So we read one verse in proverbs, each day.  And we talk about it.  And then we pray about it.  Like, literally- about the contents of that proverb.  Which can be kind of challenging, because I have to come up with something and do it for myself before I can offer anything to my son.  We read verse 14 today, “The wise store up knowledge, but the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.”
So I asked him- how do you “store” something?  You just put it away, right?  Let’s look in the closet pantry.  Ketchup, baked beans, noodles, cereal.  I asked him, what’s in the jelly your mom made the other day?
“Uh…. blueberries?”
“Yeah!”  But how is it that we have to keep the blueberries cold before they’re made into jam, but after they’re made into jam and they’re all in jars, they just sit on a shelf?
Well, the answer is obvious if you’ve ever looked in the back of the fridge before.  It’ll rot.  Even if you keep it cold.
So to make it last, you have to do something to it.  It needs to be cooked, processed, canned- in short, before we can “store” the blueberries to be enjoyed later, it needs to be prepared and worked over a little bit.  You can’t just throw it in a jar and start stocking up.
 So the “wise” stores knowledge, and wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning.  And the mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life.
What makes one wise?  How does one be found “discerning”?  Or how does my mouth become a “fountain of life”?
Proverbs 2 says that God gives all wisdom, and that from his mouth come understanding and knowledge.  So there’s two kinds of knowledge: the kind that comes from God, and then there’s the “other kind.”  One kind is a “fountain of life.”  Then there’s the “other kind.”  Anything you’ve learned that wasn’t the wisdom of God, that wasn’t from his mouth- has no power to save you.  It has no power to lend life- to give life to others.   And if I read this right, if you aren’t a fountain of life, you’re actually a fount of the “other kind.”  And in an unfortunate twist, that “other kind” happens to be our default setting.
It says the mouth of the wicked conceals violence, and the mouth of the fool hastens destruction.  Dude.  It’s coming.  Destruction, the opposite of life.  I’m not really saying it’s coming.  It’s here.  It’s our present reality.  Order becomes chaotic.  What is born begins to die.  And selfishness reigns in our spirits.
But there’s a gem hidden in all that.
“Hatred stirs up conflicts, but love covers all offenses…”
“…but a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense…”
Encouraged?  GOOD!  I thought it would be good to end with some uplifting news.
What’s the good news?  Rod’s aren’t for *killing*.  Rod’s are for correcting.  For re-purposing, re-directing.  They’re for 2nd chances.  Shepherd’s use rods to poke the sheep back onto a safe path.  God says the rod is to make bodily the unbreakable association between sin and death.  If the question is Sin?  Then the inescapable answer is always Death.  Sin = death.  No point in correcting something that is doomed.  It’s only good to correct if the intent is to see the undesired action erased, forgotten, not to be repeated.  That’s the GOOD NEWS!  God’s correction is evidence of his love.  And his intent to repair what is broken.  Even if it’s us.
So I tell him (the boy, not God) that if we desire to experience life- if we desire to have discernment, and wisdom, and knowledge- the source will always be in God’s word.  It may not end there, but it will begin there.  And it’s not enough to trot through.  It’s best to crawl- army style.  It’s only as powerful as we understand it to be.  So I want to teach them as I myself learn to take small bites, and chew till it’s mash.  Just absorb it.  And LIVE!

Genesis 43

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty[a] grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

“May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man… [and] as for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Jacob Wrestles with an Angel

What a moment.  I wonder if this is the moment that Jacob the deceiver, now Israel who struggled with God, has finally quit struggling.

This man’s name relates directly and explicitly to his determination to wrestle with God.  His history is one of friction, terse ambition, and conflict.  Yet he is the one who is favored.  His name will be the name of a nation of people.  His name will be known for thousands of years beyond his own life.

The picture I’ve linked to- it’s called “Jacob Wrestling with an Angel” by Gustave Dore.  I love it.  I don’t know much about painting, or criticism.  I have no idea if it’s any good, or if it’s trite.  But I love it.  So I guess it’s good.  I love how Jacob is on the lower ground, and his body looks tense, like he’s really working, but the angel has his wrists in his hands.  And his face is totally … blank.  Like he’s not really exerting himself.

Though he struggled, fought, schemed, managed, and argued, he was the recipient of favor.  There was struggle and contention within the womb of his mother.  He “grasped” his brother’s heel, even at the moment of birth.  Rather than emulate his older brother, he actually turn away from his brother’s habits and pleasures- while Esau would hunt, and boy scout about, Jacob would stay near the house, and learned more … domestic arts.

He seemed opportunistic, taking any chance to gain something for himself.  Like a claim to birthright.  Like a blind father’s blessing.  He wanted that badly enough to stand in front of a blind man and lie right to him.

When that plan turned bad, he ran away from home, fleeing to his uncle’s home several days journey from his angry brother.  There he attempted to gain a wife, and was in contention with his uncle, turned father-in-law, when his bride turned out to be somebody other than he’d agreed to.

Then his wives were in struggle between themselves, each straining for the favor of her husband.  And then his children- they too struggled between each other, jockeying for favor.  Jockeying for position in the line of succession, the line of blessing.

In all this- the story of his life up to this point, is like holding up a mirror to the race of humanity.  Struggle.  Against.  God.

And now… there’s no more energy to fight.  No more energy to struggle.  Joseph is gone, Simeon is gone, all of their food is gone, and now he struggles to protect Benjamin from a similar fate.  But there are no more alternative routes.  No more victories.  So he finally gives in.

May God grant you mercy and if I am bereaved, then I am bereaved.

I think it is more than appropriate to say that Jacob/Israel, as much as anybody, can serve as an adequate representative for the race of humanity.  And the gem is less in how Israel represents us to God, but rather how God relates to him in spite of the struggle, in spite of the constant friction.

God chose Jacob to be a special kind of conduit to the people of the world.  He blessed Jacob abundantly, taking a poor man with a knap sack and a strange dream in the desert and giving him 2 wives, at least 13 children, and more goats than you could shake a stick at.  Important to distinguish between the children and the goats- though it’s an easy mistake to make.  Both climb everything, eat grass, crap where ever the spirit moves them to, and do nothing but bleat all the time.  Moving along.

God was determined to make a way.  He had made a promise to Eve that somebody would come along who would take back the life she’d given away.  He had promised Noah that he would be a blessing to the whole world.  He had promised Abram a family that rivaled the stars in the sky and the sands of the deserts.  He actually promised Abram much more- He promised that He himself would be torn and shredded if He did not keep His promise to Abram.  God promised Jacob that he would never be alone.  Ever, no matter what.  God had a stack of promises.  Promises He initiated, promises that He was bound to.  Promises that He was BOUND to keep.

All of His promises were connected to the abundance of LIFE.  And not the striving, stressed out life that was usually happening- but a LIFE that was better.  God makes promises to us that we will gain something awesome from living His LIFE.

What we learn too, is that sometimes God’s promises, as solid and true as they may be, aren’t necessarily what we expect, or when we expect.  Abram was promised a nation of families- but it took decades.  Decades of years passed before Isaac was born.  And Isaac was only one child.  But then Isaac had a child.  Two.  And they fought.  But then Isaac had a grandchild.  And another.  And another.  And then…

Passages like this one, and those around it, can seem baffling when taken out of the context of the whole book.  Or even out of context of the whole Pentateuch.  But what I see, having combed through everything leading up to this point, and knowing what’s coming- is a God that can be trusted even when I can’t be.

God is building his answer to the first promises and like any good builder, He’s building it carefully, using the materials He has, and the place that He has them.  And He has a plan.  The boards are warped, and full of knots.  The ground is rolling and far from flat.  The rocks are shaped in peculiar ways, and don’t stack well.  The nails are different lengths, different guages, and piled up loosely in the bottom of a cracked pail.  But this will be a mansion with many rooms when God is done.  A city of mansions.  Filled with Jacob’s who finally stopped struggling, and called on the mercy of God.  And when the struggling stopped, and the calling began, the blessings just kept coming, as they always had.  But now, all the dams were broken, all that blocked and slowed and diverted the flow of God’s word and work were cleared away, and they could finally move.  Finally run, without bends, turns, oxbows or reservoir.

On the surface, these stories appear to be about Joseph, or about his brothers, or about Jacob.  But really, this whole book, and every story in it, is about God the Father, the Creator, the Promiser, the LIFE lover, and Busted-Stuff-Repairer.  Sometimes, you just have to back up a little bit to see it.


Genesis 35:

 1 Then God said to Jacob, “Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.”

6 Jacob and all the people with him came to Luz (that is, Bethel) in the land of Canaan. 7 There he built an altar, and he called the place El Bethel,[a] because it was there that God revealed himself to him when he was fleeing from his brother.

9 After Jacob returned from Paddan Aram,[c] God appeared to him again and blessed him. 10 God said to him, “Your name is Jacob,[d] but you will no longer be called Jacob; your name will be Israel.[e]” So he named him Israel.
 11 And God said to him, “I am God Almighty[f]; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will be among your descendants. 12 The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” 13 Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
 14 Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.[g]

It’s interesting what you find sometimes, when you allow yourself the liberty and time.  I think that there is a mystical power in reading the scriptures.  Though their stories may seem commonplace, or irrelevant in their content God’s spirit is able to read our hearts, and speak into our minds when we read them.

What are your complaints about God?  If I’m honest, I feel like I’m sometimes being led around with a blindfold on.  Don’t misunderstand what I mean- I look around at my life, and I am utterly amazed at God’s goodness.  And yet there is discontent.  Is that not an amazingly incoherent statement?  Seriously.  Never happy, this one.  Always something else, he wants.  (Imagine Yoda narrating).

In this passage of Genesis, Jacob, has settled in Shechem.  He had been in Paddan Aram for 20 years when God told him to return home, to Canaan.  So he traveled the length of the Mediterranean coast from Syria to lower Israel with everything he owned, and two families.  On foot.

He endured the drama of reunion with Esau, and gained a brother.  But when invited to return to Edom with him, he settled near Shechem.  And then his daughter is raped by a gang of local men.  Two of his sons scheme and plan, gaining their revenge in a most devious way, and causing Jacob further stress and shame.

And now God says move.  Again.  To a remote place where you camped in the desert.  Why?  To build an altar.

And Jacob’s response?  Yessir.

Jacob pulls stakes, runs around and tells everybody that “this is not a drill” and get your acts all cleaned up.  And they go.  Turns out to be a good move.

Has God ever popped you on the head like little Bunny Foo Foo and told you to just get up and go?  Like right now?  Thinking back, the only time I’ve gotten lightning bolt revelation like that was when God told me to marry my (now) wife.  And granted, that was a (very) good move.  He bailed on me when I bought the ring, but that’s another story.

Jacob seems to have gotten more of these lightening bolt moments than I have, but then again, he was the Father of the nation of God’s people, and lived to be a pretty old man.  So I’ll grant him that.  God doesn’t strike us with lightening-grams very often.  So it’s good to get on board.

So Jacob gets to the place he’d been instructed to go.  And guess what happens?  God shows up to deliver another one of his lighting-grams.  I guess sometimes it pays to listen and obey.  Even if you don’t get the straight play-by-play on the why’s and wherefores.

And then God speaks deeply into Jacob.  He repeats that same promise that he’s made all along the human journey, to be blessed, go out and multiply, fill the earth, and I will make you a community of nations, and the whole earth will be blessed by your family.  Your obedience.  But what’s awesome?  Is that God promises to bless Jacob, now Israel.


Not because of this or that.

Not because he came here, or did that.  God says I am the God of your father, and of your grandfather.  And you are part of their blessing.  God promised something to Abraham.  Swore it.  Made a covenant about it.  God bound himself in unbreakable oath to something He himself had made.  And that kind of promise sticks.  SO Isaac was part of it, and so Jacob, the liar, schemer, passionate one, is part of it too.  It’s about God’s promise, not about Abraham’s obedience, or Isaac’s obedience, or Jacob’s obedience.

But Jacob did have to go someplace.  God did lead him to that place to deliver that message.  You have to think that maybe God’s message might have been more garbled had Jacob not gone to the place God called him to go to.

So Jacob gets this awesome message, this mind-blowing message.  God changes his name.  Changes his identity.  His past, though it is still his past, becomes part of a different identity.  His new identity is totally tied to the promise God has just made.

And the promise that was just made is totally tied to the identity of the promiser.  It begins with “I am God Almighty.”

You know what I think is pretty fascinating?  God’s altars.  They are made from simple objects.  In fact, later on, he’ll demand that altars not be adorned or cut.  Plain things.  Humble things.  Things that are accessible to anybody- not just the wealthy.

Jacob builds an altar out of a rock.  He turns it up, anoints it with oil, and presto-chango.  No Crystal Cathedral.  No carved mountainside, or 30 foot tall carved boulder.  No Taj Mahal.  Just a rock.  And some olive oil.  The presence of God.  Things such as these make for the finest altars.


Genesis 33:

1 Jacob looked up and there was Esau, coming with his four hundred men; so he divided the children among Leah, Rachel and the two female servants. 2 He put the female servants and their children in front, Leah and her children next, and Rachel and Joseph in the rear. 3 He himself went on ahead and bowed down to the ground seven times as he approached his brother.

4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. 5 Then Esau looked up and saw the women and children. “Who are these with you?” he asked.   Jacob answered, “They are the children God has graciously given your servant.”


10 …For to see your face is like seeing the face of God, now that you have received me favorably. 11 Please accept the present that was brought to you, for God has been gracious to me and I have all I need.”

16 So that day Esau started on his way back to Seir. 17 Jacob, however, went to Sukkoth, where he built a place for himself and made shelters for his livestock. That is why the place is called Sukkoth.[a]
 18 After Jacob came from Paddan Aram,[b] he arrived safely at the city of Shechem in Canaan and camped within sight of the city. 19 For a hundred pieces of silver,[c] he bought from the sons of Hamor, the father of Shechem, the plot of ground where he pitched his tent. 20 There he set up an altar and called it El Elohe Israel.[d]

Jacob left his home quickly, and with nothing.  He had snaked his older brother for both his birthright and his father’s blessing.  He had been at odds with Esau his whole life- literally from the moment they were born, Jacob had been nipping at Esau’s heel.

The fortune that was Jacob’s was that the younger would rule over the older.  The older would serve the younger.

But in this scene, Jacob returns, with all his wealth as a gift for his brother from whom he took everything he could, and all his pride is set aside as he bows low to the ground.

The passage begins with the solemn and foreboding words “Jacob looked up and there was Esau.”  He had been traveling for days, behind slow-moving herds, and children, and women, all unaccustomed to days upon days of walking.

I imagine he passed those days in contemplation- wondering if Laban would really leave them alone.  Wondering if his herds would survive the trip.  Wondering if his mother and father were alive.  If they would receive him back.  Wondering if Esau, his brother, would   acknowledge him?  Or kill him?  Playing that moment over in every possible way, over and over again.  Wondering.

And then, he looks up from his wondering, and it is time.  There in the distance, in the shimmering desert air is a small army.  Is Esau here to kill him?

He separates his family, putting his beautiful Rachel and his precious Joseph at the rear, and goes ahead of them, bowing low to this gruff bear of an older brother.  Though he might have remembered the blessing, he might have remembered the fortune, today he would bow low.

And as he approaches Esau, the man rushes to him.  I’m sure Jacob didn’t know what to do.  Esau drags Jacob up from the ground and roughly encircles him in an embrace.  And all the wondering, all the worry, all the anxiety and adrenalin of the past days bursts to the surface in sobs.

As I read this passage, I couldn’t help but remember Jesus story of two sons and a father; one son, duty bound to his role as the first born, stuck on the farm, going through the motions of his drudgery.  A second son, born with a rebel’s streak, boldly asking for his share of the estate before the father is dead, leaving for another country.  And the father, looking out everyday, waiting for his young son to return, and seeing him in the distance, shaming himself by running out to greet him.

In that story, the older brother is resentful, feeling entitled to more respect, and being angry when the father is moved to joy by his compassion for his younger son.

But the father in Jacob and Esau’s story isn’t here now.  Or more accurately, Isaac, isn’t here now.  But God, the Father, surely takes pleasure in seeing this reunion.

Jacob, perhaps accustomed to the wealth the years have brought, sets it all aside and lowers himself, lowers his pride.

Esau, entitled to be angry, maybe even to point of vengeance, sets aside his anger, sets aside his claim to revenge and reclaiming of his birthright, raises up his brother in an embrace.

And a new life, a new relationship is established.

I wonder if Jesus was thinking about this legacy when he told the story of the two brothers?  I don’t know.  Perhaps he was trying to tap into the cultural memory of strained relationships being rebirthed as new alliances.

There is no indication in the text that God has given Jacob any clues to how his fortunes will turn out.  In a previous passage, it says simply that he is to return to Canaan, and that for God, “I will be with you.”  This is the basis for Jacob’s hope.  Jacob didn’t know if or how God had communicated with Esau.  Jacob doesn’t know if Esau talks with God, fears God, cares about what God says.

He just knows what God says to him.  “I will be with you.”

So he goes.

Why?  Because Jacob has learned to believe God’s promises.  Jacob has learned to go where God says to go, and that God is there when he gets there.

God’s promise is the same to me.  He is already wherever I have to go.  He was already there when Esau rushed up to Jacob.  Jacob didn’t know if it would be an open hand or a closed fist.  But he knew that God was already there.

He had been there when he laid his head down to sleep.  He was there when he wrestled all night with the nameless man.  He was there when it was time to leave Laban.  And he was there when he met his brother.  So it is with me.
He is there when I set my pride down and approach my fears in humility, relying on the promise of God rather than the speculation of my strength.  He is there when I set my own ability, my own ambition, my own wealth and power aside as a gift for somebody else’s gain.

Have you ever looked up and seen what you fear approaching you?  Have you ever set your face to the ground, and waited on God as your greatest fear ran at you?  Only to be picked up in a great embrace?

God teach me to come to my fears open handed, on the strength of your promises, not afraid of what power or strength my fears may have over me, nor afraid for what my future has, but confident that  whatever it may be, my future is your future for me.  And that You are with me.

Genesis 27 :

6 Rebekah said to her son Jacob, “Look, I overheard your father say to your brother Esau… Now, my son, listen carefully and do what I tell you: 9 Go out to the flock and bring me two choice young goats, so I can prepare some tasty food for your father, just the way he likes it. 10 Then take it to your father to eat, so that he may give you his blessing before he dies.”

19 Jacob said to his father, “I am Esau your firstborn.

33 Isaac trembled violently and said, “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!”
 34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!”
 35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.”

It’s hard to make sense of this passage.  There.  I said it.  A few pages to the left, Rebekah’s seeming barrenness is broken when Isaac prays for her.  But then she has a really troubled pregnancy, and she prays to God seeking solace.  He reveals to her that the reason for her great discomfort is that twin boys are jockeying for position in her womb, and that they will be contentious rivals.  God reveals to Rebekah that contrary to the cultural standard of the day, the younger brother will rule and dominate the older.  And with that thought, when the babies are born, the younger brother follows the older, grasping onto his foot, signaling the usurpation that is to come.

Sometime later, after the boys have grown some, Esau comes in from a hard day of hunting, completely famished from his work.  Jacob, who has been preparing soup is home when Esau arrives and demands a portion of the stew Jacob has been making.  Shrewdly, Jacob offers to trade the food for Esau’s claim as first-born son- in short, the entirety of Isaac’s legacy and possessions, as well as the right to determine and decide in all matters as eldest son.  And rashly, Esau, not seeing the long-term value of his title as first-born, sells it for one bowl of soup.

But now- now we see Jacob and Esau’s mother conspiring.  She is eavesdropping on a pivotal conversation in Isaac and Esau’s life- one where Isaac indicates that he sees the end of his life approaching and wants to bequeath a blessing on Esau and effectively prepare him for Isaac’s eventual death and Esau’s ascension to head of the family.  So Rebekah schemes and tells Jacob to participate with her in deceiving the old man- a move which Jacob initially resists, but then appears to accept fully.

Maybe Rebekah never told Isaac about the Lord’s prophecy to her during her pregnancy.  Maybe Esau and Jacob never told the old man about the soup.

Or maybe they did.  Maybe Isaac had learned of the prophecy, knew about the soup.  But didn’t get it.  Maybe he knew that God wanted to use Jacob, but Isaac wasn’t all the way onboard.  Maybe someday we’ll actually know.  Till then, we just have “maybe’s”.

I don’t see a moral here.  I don’t see a lesson to be learned really.  Nothing that I can apply to my life in order to be a better, happier, more productive person.  If anything, I see scheming, distrustful, and manipulative personalities working overtime here.

But I see something else- God said Jacob would be the greater.  Circumstances were stacked against it, but it happened.  It was impossible, but it happened.  So I can see that even when God appears to be making impossible promises, promises that my every experience with our reality denies feasibility to, they still happen.

Are you an Esau?  Men crave the affection and approval of their dads.  Most of them probably have it, but really struggle to see it, or believe it.  Their inability to see their father’s love for them drives them to great lengths, possibly even to the degree that their desire for their father’s approval (or anybody else’s I suppose) becomes their highest pursuit, their greatest good thing- an idol.

Or maybe you’re a Jacob, craving power, never satisfied with what you have.  Maybe you always want one more thing.  Or maybe you think that the only way you can “be something” is by stealing what belongs to somebody else.  Maybe you don’t think you have value, just being you.

Esau showed himself to be rash, and careless.  He was quick-tempered.  Maybe he failed to really throw himself on the strength and mercy of God to be cared and provided for.  

Jacob was easily tempted to do things he knew was wrong.  He was inclined to being opportunistic.
Perhaps these qualities are what showed God how things would be, that he would say the younger would be served by the older.  God’s intimate understanding of Esau’s character and rash behavior, as well as his understanding of Jacob’s quick thinking, and devious nature would somehow create this cultural abnormality, where the younger brother presides over the older.  I don’t really know.

But I know that I can completely trust what God says.  He is not fickle, and he’s never ever misguided.  The only real mark on his character that can be spoken of has to be the company he keeps.

Genesis 24:

12 Then he prayed, “LORD, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. 13 See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. 14 May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”
 15 Before he had finished praying, Rebekah came out with her jar on her shoulder.

Sounds like a match made in Heaven, eh?  Do we bend God?  Do we have the power to affect God’s will?  Is prayer the easy button?  

What’s the point of prayer?  If we can affect God’s will, is He really sovereign and reliable?

In Genesis 24, there are many stars.  There’s the aging Abraham pleading with a chief servant to go back to his family’s land and find a woman for Isaac, the child of the Promise.

We have Abraham’s chief servant, who appears to know God, and appeals to him with prayer, but doesn’t seem to really own his relationship to God, always naming him with deference to Abraham, as God of my Master.

Then there’s the beautiful woman who we learn is Rebekah.  Generous, attractive, and hospitable.

God seems to be playing an offstage role.  Frequently mentioned, never really seen.

But we have this highly detailed prayer.  We have Rebekah, showing up “before he finished praying,”  as though cued from off camera.  Was she prompted by God, to appear with the jar and her manners, because the servant prayed?  Did she suddenly and inexplicably feel the urge to grab her jar and hurry to the well?

Or did God move in the servant to pray his prayer to match God’s intention of bring Rebekah and Isaac together?  Maybe the prayer didn’t tune God into what the servant wanted.  Maybe the prayer tuned the servant into what God wanted.

I wonder if by submitting to God in a moment of need, God answered the need not by having an answer to the prayer, but by giving the prayer he had an answer for.  Maybe the prayer was the answer!  Would the servant have recognized Rebekah as Isaac’s future wife had he not prayed so specifically?

I have been taught over the course of my life that prayer was a lever that I pulled when I needed something.  I think of a slot machine.  You win some and you lose some.  Come up cherries and bang, you got it.  If you were good, cherries.  If you were bad, mixed bag.  No dice.

But I’m learning that it’s not just a requisition box.  It’s more than a jackpot.  It’s more like a two-way comm’s device.  Now it’s more like a police sting, with an operative and a control system.  Think “24”.  Jack is on the inside, with the earpiece, and Chloe is hacking NSA and satellites and altering the reality for Jack.  And then she tells him what she’s doing so he makes the right choices.

Prayer is a way to align ourselves to the way God desires His creation to operate.  He made it to work this way, and not as much that way.  Through prayer we open our will to instruction through inquiry.  And through prayer God directs our inquiry to instruct us.  And, I think, by praying in obedience, God’s Spirit communes with our own, and mystically, our will, our needs, our voice- becomes, morphs, transforms, from our will to His will, from our perceived needs to His given provisions, from our broken wills to His perfect words.  Our minds join more cohesively with His.

We do not manipulate the circumstances to fit our desires, our desires are purified and tested to fit the purposes of God for our lives.

I think this also frees us from what we’ve been taught about how we pray, and what constitutes prayer.  Fold your hands, close your eyes, bow your head, and repeat after me: Dear God, in Jesus Name, Amen.  But we live in a stream of communication with God.  He is Transcendent, but He is Immanent.  The more we commune with His written words, the more we subject ourselves willfully and with discipline to His authority through the authority of our teachers and mentors in life, the more readily we are able to discern His voice in theirs.  Our prayer is the actions of our submission.  I think this is what James, the brother of Jesus, meant when he said that faith without works is dead.

Works are the motion of live faith.  Submission to God’s Spirit is the action of man at prayer.

God sets us up to pray.  He puts us in the place, and then says, pray, so I can speak.  Pray so you can hear.  I will give you the right question, and I have the perfect answer.

This is my experience of God.  He desires to set us up to sail.  Our failure slows us down, puts us into a headwind.  Sometimes it will capsize the boat.  This is not God’s will.  But he will teach us to better heed him through those events, causing “all things to turn out for good” for those whom He loves and who seek His face.  He is not cloy, nor is he uninterested.  My problem is more that my ears get stopped up by my voice rather than His.

Maybe Rebekah is standing right in front of me and I’m looking for the wrong thing.

Have you ever found yourself looking for one thing, and then finding the right thing after a careful prayer?

Maybe you already know this, but I homeschool Boy#1. We’re about half-way though kindergarten. You know, the truth of the matter is the hardest part about homeschooling is just picking which of the bo-zillion curricula you’re going to use.

We went to a seminar for homeschool educators and there was of course, a vendor’s hall, and numerous demos during the seminar. But I only needed a few minutes hearing about one mom’s experience with My Father’s World and I was a slobbering pile on the floor.

What I loved about it was how it managed to make a comprehensive and interesting collection of lessons to teach a child how to read and write, and every lesson tied back to the promises of God in Jesus using illustrative passages of scripture each week from both the Old Testament and the New.

This week, we are discovering about the letter “e.” “E” like for elephant. So there’s a flashcard, and a smaller, business size card- both with a drawing of an elephant, and a short phrase that the child memorizes. Then throughout the week, as we learn about elephants, we will come back to this card, and see the letter, see the elephant, and then recite the memorization phrase.

Aside from their tremendous size, and apart from their huge, ivory tusks, elephants are characterized as having amazing memories. So Monday’s lesson incorporates as much encyclopaedic information you can present about elephants, and a brief written “moral,” composed to help the teacher wrap the beauty of the elephant, and it’s amazing memory into a faith-component. The phrase this week?

“When I see an elephant, I remember all the wonderful things God has done for me.”

So what?

The thing is, what do you do then? So I asked him. “Tig (named after the bouncy tiger from 100 acre woods), what do you do when somebody does something wonderful for you?”

“I thank them.”

“Okay. How?” Silence. Eyeballs. He’s apparently used to my method of questioning. This is the part, I guess, where I explain what I’mreally getting to. So being his mother’s son, he’s not going to waste anymore time “playing.” His eyeballs and flat expression speak: “Okay- I’m ready.”

In an effort to change up my M.O. (I hear that variety is good for keeping kids interested), I stare back at him. (I know, it’s just delicious, isn’t it?).

“How do you thank someone?”

“I say “thank you,”

“AWESOME!” I reply. But he’s not buying it. He’ll just wait till I’m done. It’s like he can hear the words lining up in my brain. “But you know what? God doesn’t want us to simply look at him and say “thank you!”” He says that doing His will pleases Him. That having a heart like his is more important that manners!”

How do we “remember”? Is remembering strictly a cognitive act? Is it something in our minds? Remembering is tied to action in the bible. Jesus said that when we eat and drink in communion, that we would be remembering him.

The meal they sat to eat that night was itself a remembering. The Passover meal, when they remembered the bread of their affliction, their slavery and suffering in the house of slavery, in Egypt.

When we are baptized, we sacramentally remember Jesus’ death, and his resurrection. And we take part in it.

And when we feed the poor, and speak for the voiceless and oppressed we remember that we were once poor- though dressed in society’s finest, our hearts were wretched.

When we live in our homes with compassion and forgiveness for those who cross us the most, for those who routinely take the most from us, and offer the least in return (at times, I’m saying) then we remember how we have taken and not returned in kind.

How do we remember? How do we thank?

“When I see a sinner, I remember that I have been forgiven, and still need to be.”

“When I see a blind man, I remember that I am a led man.”

“When I am cursed, I remember that I once cursed.”

“When I see a drowning man, I remember that I myself have but my face above the water.”