I previously wrote that Christians aim to live a life that is centered on God, but you can also avoid one. I want to discuss this by looking at the life of Jonah so that you won’t avoid a God-centered life but cultivate one. You can avoid it for a...
This past year, my family went through a season of being uncomfortably uprooted and led in a direction of several unknowns. Through a series of events, it became clear that the Lord was asking us to make some major life changes, drastically affecting our comfort level, lifestyle, and future plans. And so, in his strength, we took steps of faith to follow where he led, despite the pain of letting go and fear of the future.
After we took this major step of faith, however, we were suddenly faced with the realization that our circumstances were actually worse than we had originally expected. In all honestly, I felt a little duped. I struggled to understand why it seemed we were obediently following God’s leading, only to realize that we were now facing new fears that we couldn’t have known about previously.
I struggled for a period of time, feeling as if God had asked us to make great sacrifices and trust his leading, only to feel as though he had led us into a worse situation than we had anticipated.
As I’ve been reflecting on this season, I’ve realized how much of my anger, flailing, and grumbling was based in fear and a lack of trust in God’s faithfulness and promises. In light of this realization, the story of Jacob’s life (the son of Isaac and Rebekah) came leaping off the page and spoke into my current struggle.
Where Jacob Turned
Jacob had fled for his life from his brother Esau after he had deceived his father into blessing him instead of his brother. Jacob worked for his Uncle Laban (a result of having been deceived by the man he trusted) for 20 years before the Lord commanded him, “Return to the land of your fathers and to your kindred, and I will be with you” (Genesis 31:3).
Jacob obeys the Lord, taking his wives, children, and livestock to begin the journey home (which I’m sure was no easy task!). However, as he nears his home, he receives word that Esau is approaching with 400 men by his side. Suddenly, Jacob is overcome with fear and distress over what his brother’s intentions may be towards him and his family.
Immediately, Jacob turns to the Lord in prayer, with words that are both incredibly wise and helpful for us as we bring our own fears before the Lord.
First, Jacob recalled who God was, what he had commanded, and what he had promised.
O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and your kindred, that I may do you good. (Genesis 32:9)
I don’t know about you, but I wonder if my first reaction would have been more along the lines of, “Lord, why did you lead me here if you knew my brother would come to threaten me and lives of my family!?” It’s easy to fly past the “who” and the “what” and immediately ask “why?”
However, Jacob did not immediately question God or accuse him of bringing trouble upon himself. He came to the Lord in prayer, reminding himself of who God was, the faithful God of his ancestors, and then recalling what God had commanded and promised.
When we find ourselves facing a threat to our lives, we can and should respond as Jacob did. Rather than turning to our own resources, we need to call to mind who God is, his commands, and his promises to us.
Second, rather than coming to the Lord with an entitled attitude, Jacob recognized and confessed his own unworthiness before the Lord.
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. (v. 10)
Jacob had rightfully recognized that it was only because of God’s faithfulness and steadfast love that he had received such blessing and wealth.
I admit, if I were in Jacob’s shoes, I may have been tempted to feel at least a little entitled to a peaceful return home. After all, Jacob had worked hard in an unfair environment for 20 years! I think I would have been tempted to cry out, “After all I have worked hard for and obediently done, why would you lead me where my life, my family, and all that I worked for would be threatened?”
I found this very convicting, as I recognized that much of my attitude towards the Lord in moments of fear or trial is based on the belief that, deep down, I believe I deserve to be protected from harm, blessed for what I’ve sacrificed, and rescued from that which produces fear in me.
However, as Jacob reminds us through his approach to the Lord in prayer, you and I deserve nothing but the wrath of God. It is only because of the gospel of Jesus Christ that he has provided a way for us to have nothing to fear. As children of God who are hidden in Christ, we are unable to be touched by anything outside of his perfect and sovereign plan, and we are eternally secure.
Isaiah 66:1-2 says,
Thus says the Lord: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
Rather than responding with an attitude of entitlement, questioning God’s character and faithfulness, or falling back on his own resources to save himself, Jacob responds with a humble and contrite spirit in the face of fear. When we recognize that everything we have, including our job, family, wealth, ministry, health, and every breath we breathe, is ordained and sustained by the Lord’s hand, it should lead us to no other response than a humble dependence on God in all circumstances.
While we will always battle a response of pride, resistance to that which threatens our comfort, and self-sufficiency to some degree, the Holy Spirit works to grow in us a humble and contrite spirit, increasing our ability to trust and rest in God’s protection and provision when circumstances perplex us and fear knocks on our door.
Third, Jacob brought his honest fears before the Lord and prayed for deliverance.
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 my children. (v. 11)
I find it incredibly helpful to learn from Jacob’s approach to his fear. Fear can be a powerful emotion and often tempts us to act rashly, rely on our own resources to protect ourselves, pridefully complain and grumble against the Lord, or become so paralyzed that we become useless.
However, the order of Jacob’s prayer gives great insight into how he rightfully brought his fear before the Lord. He responds to fear by calling on the name of the Lord, recalling his promises and commands, and admitting his unworthiness of God’s provisions. This aligned his heart with what was true, which allowed him to bring his fear to the Lord in a humble and dependent cry for deliverance.
Lastly, Jacob closes his prayer with reassuring himself again of God’s promise to him.
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.” (v. 12)
We need to know the promises of God, meditate on them, and constantly remind ourselves of them. When the storms of life come pounding down on us, or circumstances leave us feeling shaken, confused, or fearful, there is nothing more assuring and faith-anchoring than the promises we have been given in Scripture.
In the end, every moment of our lives, the good, bad, confusing, fearful, and heart-breaking, rests on God’s unshakable promises and are allowed by his sovereign authority.
Jacob had seen God’s incredible faithfulness both in his life and in the generations before him. Therefore, as the threat arose to derail what God had promised, he needed to remind himself of God’s power and faithfulness, bringing his fears and request for deliverance to God with honest humility, while anchoring himself again in God’s promises.
Where Will You Turn?
Oh, what an example Jacob has left for us in a world where there’s so much to fear! As believers, we need God’s Word to constantly realign our fears and trials with what we are promised. Just as Jacob showed us, we must respond to these fears by going to the One who is sovereign over them and also has the power to deliver, equip, and strengthen us in the midst of them.
As I look back with a clearer perspective on the season God led our family through this past year, I can see how he sought to take me to new depths of trusting him, beyond what I could understand at the time. Although the process was painful, he taught me to dig down and anchor myself more deeply into his Word, rather than trying to find peace and stability in my ever-changing surroundings. In the end, he did provide, protect, and show himself faithful…not necessarily in the ways that I initially hoped or expected, but in ways he knew I needed the most.
Friend, if our eyes are fixed on our circumstances and what we can understand in our limited vision, we will either be paralyzed by fear, tempted towards an attitude of self-righteous grumbling before the Lord, or driven to our own meager resources. But when we learn to pray as Jacob did, in the face of fear and all that threatened him, we can “confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:6).