Like Jacob

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,’ 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. 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. 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.’”

Genesis 32:9-12

Jacob was a coward. When his mother hatched the plot to help Jacob steal Esau’s blessing, Jacob did not oppose for moral reasons; he only expressed concern out of fear of being caught. He then ran away when his brother began to plot his murder after the deception. Next, when Jacob finds himself in a polygamous marriage, he is bounced around by his wives, instead of lovingly leading his family. And when he desires to return to his father’s land, Jacob sprints away from his father-in-law, fearing that Laban would kill him.

In Genesis 32, Jacob is maturing in his walk with God, but he is still fearful. Now that he escaped his father-in-law, Jacob would eventually need to reunite with Esau in order to re-enter his father’s homeland. As Jacob feared, Esau seemed to still be angry at Jacob as evidenced by the 400 men traveling with him to meet Jacob. In response, Jacob divides his family, servants, and cattle into two camps, so that if Esau attacks one, the other can escape. This was an sinful act of fear rather than faith, a predictable action from Jacob.

But then Jacob does something else. He prays. Perhaps Jacob prayed before this, but it is his first recorded time of coming to God for aid. It’s a sign of Jacob’s inching maturity, but it is also a great prayer from which to learn. It is an honest prayer of belief and doubt, where Jacob is desperately clinging to faith in the midst of great fear. The man with a demon-possessed child fought the same battle when he prayed to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

We would do well to learn from the honesty of Jacob’s prayer. Take a moment then, if you will, to break down the prayer’s components with me, studying how we might continue to strive for Christ-like prayers.

1. Remember who God is.

Jacob opens his prayer by addressing its Recipient. Before we can ever pray effectively, we must first know to whom we are praying. Jacob lived in a time of vast polytheism, and praying to a god is quite different than praying to God. And he made this distinction by calling God by His holy name, the LORD. If we are not careful, we can easily fall into the trap of merely assuming that we are praying to the LORD, the God of Abraham and Jacob. Few people have carved out household gods today, so we think that the identity of God is presumed. Unfortunately, many pray to their own version of God instead of God Himself. They pray, but it is ultimately for their will to be done, not the will of the Father. In order to be certain that we are praying to the God (not our version of Him), we must submit our understanding of God to the Scriptures. Make a habit, therefore, of praying with the Bible open before you, allowing it to answer and guide your prayers to the Father.

2. Remember who you are and what God has done.

Next, in verse 10, we see Jacob acknowledging his dependence upon God and remembering God’s past provision. If remembering God’s identity is primarily important in prayer, remembering our identity is a close second. Jacob understood that he was the mirror opposite of God. The LORD is mighty in strength, but he was weak and frail. This is true for us as well. Until we recognize our utter dependence upon God, our prayers will never be effective, since we will continue to strive in our own strength.

It is also helpful to follow in the pattern of Jacob by remembering God’s previous provisions. Jacob left his father’s land with only his staff, and now he was able to divide his own household into two great camps. God had never left Jacob, but when preparing to meet his brother, Jacob needed to remember that truth all over again.

3. Ask for help.

Here is what we commonly think of as being prayer: asking God for help. As we have seen, prayer is more than making requests; however, bringing our supplications to God is certainly a crucial act of prayer. Unfortunately, it seems that on this matter we tend to fall into two errors, sometimes in the same prayer.

First, we treat God as our personal genie. This kind of prayer treats God as nothing more than a prayer answering machine. There is no real relationship. No true communication between God and us. We only talk to God in order to ask for what we need. Jesus answers this pitfall of prayer by giving us a model prayer to learn from. In that prayer, Jesus only spends one phrase asking for personal, physical needs. He gives the rest of the prayer to praying for God’s holiness, for God’s kingdom, for God’s will, for our forgiveness of sins, and for our deliverance from temptation. Bringing our daily requests before God is a crucial part of prayer, but it is still only a part of prayer.

Second, we can also trick ourselves into thinking that God does not want to hear our needs. As we consider God’s holiness and our sinfulness, it can be easy to wonder why the Almighty God would have time to listen to our miniscule needs, but that kind of thinking is entirely unbiblical. God desires for us to bring our needs to Him. Christ urges us to do so. And Paul gives a similar statement, “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (Philippians 4:6)

God is not our genie, ready to grant our wishes at any moment; rather, He is our Father, who takes great care and delight in hearing and answering our needs.

4. Cling to God’s Word.

Jacob closes his prayer by clinging to God’s Word. The LORD promised to make Jacob’s descendants into a great multitude, so Jacob reminds God of His promise. This is important because it shows that Jacob’s faith in God was not unfounded. He was not merely wishing that God would protect him from Esau; instead, Jacob remembered God’s promise to him as the basis for his faith in God’s future protection.

Though today we may not encounter the audible voice of God nor His abundant financial provision as Jacob did, we have God’s promises laid before us on a daily basis in His Word. God may not promise us material riches, but “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) We may continually wrestle with our sin, but “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6) We may often be weary, but Christ calls, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28)

The promises for us in God’s Word are multitude. Cling to them. In the long night of the soul, latch onto the Scriptures and cry out to the Father. For God is honored and glorified by such desperate and needy prayers.


Meditate on Jacob’s prayer of desperation to God. Do you pray only to ask God for help? Do you avoid requesting anything of God? Consider how to correct either pitfall.

Pray through Jacob’s prayer outline: remembering who God is, remembering who you are and what God has done, bringing your requests to God, and clinging to His Word.


 

To the Father

Our Father in heaven,

Matthew 6:9b

Since prayer is, at its core, speaking to God, it is crucial that we first understand the God to whom we are praying. Out of all the various names or titles that Jesus could use in dialoguing with God, He chooses our heavenly Father. Jesus is, thus, setting a precedent for His disciples to follow that our primary relation to God is now as father and children.

This seemingly simple thought is actually one of the greatest benefits of the gospel in our lives. In the Old Testament, God was fatherly to His people; however, the references are fairly infrequent. When Jesus arrived on the scene, He used Father more than any other term for God (about 65 times in the Synoptic Gospels and 100 in John). Though the term for father, Abba, is not likely so informal as “Daddy” like some have suggested, there is still a distinct level of intimacy to it with God that is virtually unimaginable in the Old Testament.

Or to put it more plainly: by calling God His Father, Jesus showed a personal relationship with God.

As shocking as it might have been for Jesus to refer to God as Father, Jesus’ invitation to join Him in doing so is even more staggering. Christ goes from calling God His Father to calling Him our Father. This is only able to happen through the gospel, as Paul explains in Galatians 4:4-7:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

Or Paul offers a similar case in Romans 8:14-17:

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

The implications of this are a vast multitude; however, let us focus on the primary one—in Christ, we are loved and adopted by God as our Father. This fact should impact every aspect of our prayer lives. We pray to God knowing that He loves and has our best interests at heart. Even when He seems silent and when life is difficult, we know that He is fully sovereign and that He will work things out, ultimately, for our good (Romans 8:28).

Since Jesus and the Holy Spirit are fully God, it is completely right for us to pray to them as well; however, the normative pattern of the Scriptures seems to be that we should pray to the Father. Even when praying to the Father, this does not mean that the Son and the Spirit are sidelined; rather, true prayer requires Trinitarian aid. As the verses from Romans and Galatians above show, we cry out to the Father in prayer only because Jesus’ atoning death has made us into sons of God, and we can only pray to God as Father because “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts” “by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

We pray to the Father, knowing that Jesus stands as our high priest and mediator, with the Holy Spirit within us causing us to cry out to the Father.


Meditate upon the significance of God being our heavenly Father.

Pray to the Father with the full confidence of the gospel, knowing that you are adopted as His child in Christ.


 

 

A Life of Worship (Psalm 1)

SUGGESTED VERSES FOR MEMORIZATION & MEDITATION

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

OPENING THOUGHT

For all of humanity, life is worship. Every action, every breath, every word spoken all either worship God or worship something or someone else. There is no in between. We were created to be creatures of worship, and we never cease to adore and honor the object of our worship.

The first psalm in the Bible illustrates this idea well. It describes two types of people in the world: the righteous and the wicked (or we might also say, those who follow God and those who do not). We are told that the righteous are known and blessed by the LORD, while the wicked are destined for destruction and judgment. Obviously, we should aim to be counted among the righteous. But how do we know that we are one of the righteous? The psalmist urges us to look at the person’s lifestyle. Those who are blessed by God will be known for delighting in the Word of God and meditating upon it day and night.

This psalm places great emphasis upon how we ought to live our lives. Will we be known for only spending time with and taking counsel from people who reject the LORD? Or will we be known for being men and women who delight in the Scriptures? Worship and our daily life are intricately connected because we give time to that which we adore and esteem. If we love the counsel of the ungodly, we will give our time to them. If we love God, we will then delight in His Word.

Read verses 1-2 and discuss the following.

  1. The psalm states that the blessed man (aka the follower of the LORD) does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, does not stands in the way of the sinner, nor sits in the seat of the scoffer. Why is it unwise for Christians to constantly take advice from non-Christians? What are some avenues in your life (such as television or music) through which you might receive ungodly counsel?
  2. Next, we are told that the blessed man delights in the God’s law and meditates on it day and night. Do you delight in reading the Bible? Do you meditate (or think deeply) about the Scriptures day and night?

Read verses 3-4 and discuss the following.

  1. The psalm continues to differ between the righteous and the wicked by describing both. The righteous are likened to firmly planted trees that bear fruit and do not wither away, while the wicked are like chaff that blow away with the wind. What makes the Christian able to stand firm regardless of life’s circumstances?

Read verses 5-6 and discuss the following.

  1. The psalmist concludes that the wicked will not stand in the judgment or the congregation of the righteous. Both of these likely refer to the final judgment and the communion of the saints in heaven. How is church today a picture of how heaven will be? Why would the wicked not enjoy heaven even if God allowed them to enter?

ACTIONS TO CONSIDER

  • Commit to memorizing at least verse two of this psalm. Try to think about it throughout the week, praying for the LORD to give you delight for His Word and for help to meditate upon it.
  • Consider the ungodly counsel that you receive daily and how you can more predominantly rely upon the Word of God.

3 Bible Reading Fails

If there is any topic that I am passionate about, it’s the Bible. I love to study the Scriptures because I find the Bible to be the most fascinating book on earth. I mean, we believe that it is the literal word of the God who created everything in existence. How can that not be endlessly exhilarating!

Given the important nature of the Bible, there is often a significant push to get people to read it, and we formulate numerous strategies for doing so. We create study Bibles to help us understand it better without having to crack open a commentary or consult a clergyman. We develop mobile apps to make reading convenient and accessible. We urge finding at least five minutes a day, hoping that something will stick to the soul. We desperately resolve to read it all when January rolls around, only to quit with a shameful whisper to ourselves that Leviticus makes no sense.

To be clear, none of those things are bad ideas, but with a great deal of focus upon getting people to simply read the Bible, we should also ask whether there is a right or wrong way to do so.

Well, jumping straight to the heart of the matter, we can easily read the Bible in an unbiblical fashion. In order to avoid this, let us look at some ways that we can fail at reading the Bible.

1. We Fail to See the Point

I would be willing to guess that lack of comprehension is one of the main reasons that many Christians find it difficult to read the Bible. To be fair, it is quite difficult to enjoy something when we know very little of what it’s about. Luckily, the Bible gives us a fairly simple answer as to what the entire point of it is: Jesus.

In John 5, Jesus finds himself speaking with a large crowd of Jews. During this discussion, Jesus tells them,

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.[1]

Jesus knew that He was speaking to group of people that highly valued the Bible. They believed it to be the Word of God. They believed, as Jesus said, that they could find the path to eternal life in the Scriptures. On the surface, they appeared very orthodox.

But Jesus claimed that they missed the entire point.

They failed to see what the Bible is all about. They failed to see Jesus in the Scriptures, so they failed to correctly read the Bible. Jesus states, in no uncertain terms, that the Bible is about Him. By bearing witness to Christ, all of Scripture points toward Christ. Jesus Christ is the end and aim of the Bible. It is entirely about Him.

If the entire Bible is meant to point to Jesus as God and savior, their failure to see Jesus as such meant they failed to truly understand the Scriptures. Being the Word of God, the Bible is supposed to reveal God to us, to teach us about His will and character. Yet God was standing before them in the flesh, and they failed to recognize Him. They missed what the Bible was actually saying because they were too focused upon obtaining eternal life, which is a more subtle form of self-focus. They were so concerned about finding their path to heaven that they missed the focal point of heaven itself standing before them.

Likewise, far too many people approach the Bible as a self-help guide or as though the whole thing is a book of proverbs with nuggets of wisdom for everyday life. Though the Bible is certainly helpful and provides wisdom for life, the overall point of the Scriptures is Jesus. When we read the Bible, the first and most important question that we should ask is: How does this point to Jesus, or what does it reveal about Him? We must approach the Scriptures as being Jesus-focused, not self-focused.

2. We Fail to Remember Its Value

Common sense tells us that we will not waste time upon things that are not considered valuable. Even when we binge watch Netflix or YouTube, we do so because we esteem the entertainment highly—even if we later look upon that time as being wasted. We give our time to that which we treasure.

I think, therefore, it is fair to say that our time given to reading the Word correlates highly with how we view its worth. If we give it little of our time, we value it little. If it receives much of our time, we then revere it much.

But how much should we value the Scriptures?

2 Timothy 3:16-17 provides for us with this statement on Scripture:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

All Scripture comes from the breath of God. This means that God has spoken all Scripture, and it is the Word of God because He said it. The value of the Bible, therefore, falls upon the worth of God because words bear the weight of the one that speaks them.

Let us then consider God briefly. In Genesis, we are told that God created everything by speaking it into existence. Atoms, kangaroos, and quasars all came into being by the power of His word. That is our introduction to God. He says, “Let there be”, and there is. At the sheer authority of His voice, nothing becomes something. In fact, the immense majesty of God’s being is so vast that there exists a word it: holy. God’s holiness means that He is completely unique, unlike anyone or anything in existence. He is distinct and set apart. There is no one like Him.

And this God chose to speak to us. We do not need to wish for God to speak to us because He already has. The same God whose words created the universe inspired the prophets of old to write His words down for our benefit. If that does not tell us the value of the Scriptures, nothing will. The Bible is the Word of God. Do you remember that when you read it? Do we cling to them as being “the words of eternal life”?[2]

3. We Fail to Memorize and Meditate Upon It

This is certainly the odd man out on this list. It is fairly easy to understand how the Bible is all about Jesus and how much we should value it as the Word of God, but are memorization and meditation really that important? I believe that the biblical answer is yes. Therefore, let us view a few Scriptures concerning memorization and meditation upon the Bible:

I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. (Psalm 119:11)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1:8)

You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 11:18)

I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart. (Psalm 40:8)

But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16)

The emphasis of the above Scriptures is certainly upon the memorization and meditation of the Word. The call to memorize is implicit but clearly understood. Storing the Word in our hearts can only be done by willfully committing the Scriptures to memory. Likewise, we are only able to meditate upon the Bible day and night if we have it stored in our minds for 24/7 access.

The Bible’s urge for meditation is a different animal. Though meditation upon the Word is more blatantly stated, it is far less understood, in general. Often a discussion of meditation conjures up mental images of Buddhism or some other form of non-Christian religious practice, and few ever imagine that Christians should meditate. This is likely because most people view mediation as a means of introspection or self-realization, but this is not so with biblical meditation. Christian meditation seeks primarily to understand and ponder the Scriptures. Meditating on the Bible is to let its words roll around in your mind, thinking about the truths that it contains. I would argue that meditating (or thinking deeply, to put it another way) upon the Bible is crucial to our reading of the Scriptures. Reading the Bible without meditating on what was read is like chewing a piece of gum twice before spitting it out—much of its value is wasted because we do not give it sufficient time.

The End of the Matter

I am certainly not saying that these are the only ways that we can read the Bible incorrectly. Surely there are many men and women who could point out plenty of things that I missed. My point, however, is not to be all encompassing; rather, it is to help us (myself included) read the Scriptures as they are meant to be read. We do both God and ourselves injustice when we do not strive to understand His Word. May we be able to cry out with the psalmist, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”[3] If we have a longing to know God more, we will long to know His Word more as well.

[1] John 5:39-40

[2] John 5:68

[3] Psalm 42:1