How Can They Believe?
That wasn’t so bad
Jacob finally meets his twin brother Esau. This meeting meeting had been potentially fatal, Esau had planned to kill Jacob (Genesis 27:41 - audio of this message). But after Jacob spent a night wrestling with God he was no longer afraid of anything, for he had learned that God was with him. With God on his side Jacob did not need to fear meeting with his brother Esau and his private army of 400 men.
Jacob now realized that all his fear and anxiety were for nothing. God protected him once again. Jacob, like many of us had worried and planned and schemed and in the end God took care of him. If only we could learn from this story to trust in God and stop worrying. We must learn to take Jesus’ words to heart.
“Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
- Matthew 6:31-34 NKJV
God is faithful
Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel.
- Genesis 33:18-20 NKJV
Jacob now had possessions, offspring and land in Canaan. What God had promised God provided. God was faithful. God is faithful. Jacob was now living in the land of Canaan with his wife and children and servants and herds. Everything turned out okay.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
- Romans 8:28 NASB
I could end the post here and this would be a good message. God is faithful, everything will be okay, trust and depend and lean on God and He will never let you down.
This seems like a good place to stop. Except I want to dig a bit deeper into how we can arrive at this place. How can I learn to trust. How can I know these truths deep in my heart in a way that my faith won’t fall apart the next time I face trials and tribulation?
It would be arrogant of my part to claim to know the answer to all those questions, but I believe that by asking the right questions I can at least begin to make progress in the right direction.
How do I arrive there?
How do I develop the faith that I need to have peace and trust and know that God is faithful and that everything will be okay?
When we looked at the story of Jacob in Genesis 32 we saw that Jacob wrestled with God. But how did he even know how to do that? Well, he was aware of God’s promises. He grew up in a God-fearing home. He undoubtedly had heard about what God had done for his father and mother and grandfather and grandmother.
Before we move further with the question of how Jacob arrived there, let’s take a moment to define “there.”
Then he erected an altar there and called it El Elohe Israel.
- Genesis 33:20 NKJV
El Elohe Israel literally means “God, the God of Israel.” This is what I mean by “there.” God is not referred to as the God of Abraham, Isaac, but rather as the God of Israel. Jacob had embraced his new identity in God and accepted God as his personal God, the God of Israel.
So my question is how do I get to experience that?
In my personal life it has been happening in stages. I grew up knowing the God of my father and mother, and the God of my grandparents since I had the privilege of growing up in a loving family that studied the Bible and taught it to my sister and I from a very young age. God has always been real to me, but He has gradually become more and more my God as I have gone through trials and tribulations. As I have wrestled with God and tried to understand Him in a way that was relevant to what I was facing in life. How did what I know about God fit with my personal experience, especially in moments of pain and anxiety? This is how God has continued to become more and more my personal God.
Our theology, everyone’s theology is shaped by both what we read/hear about God and by what we personally experience.
2 My brothers and sisters [C fellow believers], when you have many kinds of ·troubles [trials; testing], ·you should be full of joy [L consider it all/pure joy], 3 because you know that these troubles test your faith, and this will give you ·patience [perserverance; endurance]. 4 [L And] Let your ·patience [perserverance; endurance] ·show itself perfectly in what you do [have its full effect; finish its work]. Then you will be ·perfect and complete [mature and whole; or completely mature] and will ·have everything you need [L lack nothing].
- James 1:2-4 Expended Bible
Trials test your faith. This produces endurance which cause you to mature and lack nothing.
The way I see it, trials pave the path to complete trust in God.
Since realizing this I have been trying to approach trials as a great opportunity for God to grow my faith, and mature me, and perfect my trust in Him. It is a work in progress. But having this outlook has helped me rely on God more heavily to bring about His good pleasure in my life.
Though trials cause my faith to mature faith has to be there before the trial comes in order to grow. How does one go about getting the faith to begin with?
How can they believe?
How can people have faith in the Lord and ask him to save them, if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear, unless someone tells them?
- Romans 10:14 Contemporary English Version
In order for anyone to ask God for help they have to believe that God exists and that He is able and willing to help. How can they find out unless someone tells them?
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.
- Romans 10:17 English Standard Version
Jacob was only able to wrestle with God because he knew something about God. Jacob could claim God’s promises because he had heard them. We need to hear/read about God in order to even know what God is all about, to know what He promises us and to know that we can count on Him to keep His word.
I have a mini-series on discipleship and the first post can be found here. I also have a post entitle Discipling. I understand discipleship to be a journey where you learn alongside someone else. It seems like in the western world we have tried to separate learning from relationships, we try to make it all about books and procedures and make it very cold and intellectual and sterile. While in the Bible and and other parts of the world we have the idea of an apprentice following a master around and learning in a relationship. We learn about God not just by reading but in a relationship. However, since we are unable to detect God via touch, sight, sound, smell, or taste, developing a relationship with God is a bit trickier.
In learning about God relationships are important. It is great if you can have a spiritual mentor, many long to be mentored. In an article from Forbes says that mentoring could be the key to keeping millennials from leaving their companies. I believe the same can be applied to faith. If you want to keep people from leaving the faith, mentor them.
Making it practical
Let’s keep this simple. First you have to make sure you are in contact with God. God is the source of everything you need in life. Spend time in His word. Above we mentioned a passage from James about how trials develop endurance. Here is what the next verse says.
But if any of you ·needs [lacks] wisdom, you should ask God for it [Prov. 2:6]. He is generous to everyone and will give you wisdom ·without criticizing you [without finding fault; ungrudgingly; Matt. 7:7].
- James 1:5 Expanded Bible
Ask God for wisdom and He will give it to you. He will help you understand His will and mentor others. Mentoring is also a great way to grow in your own faith.
5 Then Jesus went on to say:
Suppose one of you goes to a friend in the middle of the night and says, “Let me borrow three loaves of bread. 6 A friend of mine has dropped in, and I don’t have a thing for him to eat.” 7 And suppose your friend answers, “Don’t bother me! The door is bolted, and my children and I are in bed. I cannot get up to give you something.”
8 He may not get up and give you the bread, just because you are his friend. But he will get up and give you as much as you need, simply because you are not ashamed to keep on asking.
9 So I tell you to ask and you will receive, search and you will find, knock and the door will be opened for you. 10 Everyone who asks will receive, everyone who searches will find, and the door will be opened for everyone who knocks.
- Luke 11:5-11 Contemporary English Version
Notice that in this parable the person was asking for bread to give to his friend. Ask Jesus, and don’t be ashamed to keep asking for bread to give to your friend. Amazing things begin to happen in your life once you begin to seek spiritual growth in order to help someone grow as well, in order to disciple a friend.
Begin at home
Many of you are in different walks of life. If you have small children, if you are a parent or if you care for children, you are in a position of great responsibility. The child you care for can accomplish great things through the power of God if you take the time necessary to disciple that child.
When should you talk to your children about God and what He has done for you?
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-9 English Standard Version (bold mine)
Talk about God all the time. Don’t try to sit a child down and teach them theology, but rather be on the lookout for teachable moments. For opportunities to tie a spiritual lesson to something that happens in our daily lives. That is what Jesus did when He taught. He compared Himself to a vine, He talked about hidden treasures, and seeds, and flowers, and birds.
Let the children, the teenagers, the collegiates and young professionals know that walking with God goes beyond reading a book and worshiping on the weekend. Let your co-worker, neighbor, and family member know that your faith shapes every aspect of your life.
When you are spending time with God, reading His word, praying and allowing Him to fill your thoughts. When you are dying to self in order to allow Christ to live in you, in order to disciple a friend you will notice unprecedented spiritual growth. Spiritual growth will also be made accessible to those around you, as God works in and through you.
It is in this context of missionally driven spiritual growth that trials become an opportunity for growth. It is in this context that you begin to really wrestle with God. As we discussed last time, this is not something to be taken lightly. Jacob waked away with a limp, and you might also. But the limp was well worth it, because he walked away as Israel and erected an altar to His God. After the struggle and the battle, God became more real than ever before in Jacob’s life, and now he knew he could face anything with His God.
There he erected an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel.
- Genesis 33:20 ESV