The face of God
My idea of a classical movie is slightly offbeat. If I’ll enjoy the movie anytime and anyplace then it fits the profile. One of such movies is “The air up there”, in which Kevin Bacon stars as a college basketball coach who travels to Africa in search of the next Michael Jordan. The plot thickens with suspense when he has to go through a rigorous ritual to become one of the tribesmen. He goes through days of walking and climbing dodgy steeply mountain terrain. When he is about to give up, when doubt and uncertainty sets in, just at his breaking point, he gets to the summit of the mountain. At that point he dances and screams for joy. But in a brief moment in the midst of ecstasy he remembers a word the young man spoke to him: “you must give up a part of you to collect something bigger.” In response the coach, takes out his basketball championship ring (the only thing he bragged about; the thing he loved the most) and threw it away. I like that part of the story, because it reminds me of another story. It reminds me of another guy who had a life changing experience, which cost him more than he bargained for. He also had to give up something he valued to gain something worth much more. History will remember this man for this one experience. He was known as a swindler, a cheat, conman and regular wise guy going only one direction in life. Hebrews 11:21 tells us a little about this guy. “It was by faith Jacob as he was dying, blessed each one of Joseph’s sons. Then he worshipped as he leaned on top of his walking stick.” New Century Version
The walking stick…? My mind begins to wander…I begin to flip back the pages of my bible to where it all began, Genesis 47:
“…Then Israel worshipped as he leaned on the top of his walking stick.” New Century Version
I ask myself: “What’s the big deal about the stick?”. Jacob lived a colourful life; full of adventure but the writer of Hebrews chooses to remind us of the stick, which became a symbol of Jacob’s worship. To understand the secret behind the stick we must go back in time to witness the night it really began. It was the night at Peniel. The night Jacob wrestled with God. It was the night Jacob would give up his strength in order that God would prevail in his life. Before Peniel Jacob had done it Frank Sinatra’s style. But after Peniel Jacob would not take a step without his walking stick. Picture Jacob the morning after Peniel. See him walking through the neighborhood. The folks who knew him before Peniel would ask: “What happened to you?” If Jacob had one simple answer it would be “God touched me”. His body bore the mark of God’s touch.
I have a feeling Jacob knew God as a kid. Rebecca his mother was a godly woman and of the twins, Jacob was much closer to her. She probably took him to church along with her. When Jacob first ran away from home he gets to a place and falls asleep. He has a dream and as he wakes up he says to God:
“…Surely the Lord is in this place but I did not know it.” Genesis 28:16 New Century Version
He new about God but he did not know God. So he attempts to strike a bargain with God.
“Then Jacob made a promise. He said, ‘I want God to be with me and to protect me on this journey. I want God to be with me and to protect me on this journey. I want him to give me food to eat and clothes to wear so I will be able to return in peace to my father’s house. If the Lord does this thing He will be my God…and I will give God one-tenth of all He gives me.” Genesis 28:20-22 New Century Version
Does Jacob sound familiar? Reminds me of …me. How many times do I try to cut a deal with God? ‘Lord if you bless me I’ll…’ On Sunday we give God his due, and when we go from the pew to the workplace the next day it’s back to doing our own thing our own way.
That was Jacob’s style; but God must have smiled at Jacob that night. God wanted relationship but Jacob only offered religion. But Jacob had no idea that God had prepared Peniel, the night of destiny. That’s the exciting thing about walking with God, you’re not quite sure when the moment is going to be. I’m talking about the moment when God splits the heavens into two and reveals himself like you never knew him before. You thought you had God all figured out but at Peniel you discover him afresh. You thought you knew God, but when you begin to pursue Him desperately, at the point where you are at the edge of expectation, suddenly He reveals himself like fresh dew. Sometimes you’re going through stuff… the coach felt like giving up before he reached the mountain peak, Jacob was about to face the wrath of his twin brother Esau. You may be going through a storm, and the storm is making it hard to see God’s face, but just hold on and trust His heart because your Peniel is about to happen.
Jacob had a life changing experience; his life could not be the same again after Peniel. At Peniel not only did Jacob see God in a way he had never seen God before, he now saw himself the way God saw him.
“ But Jacob said, ‘I will let you go if you will bless me.’ The man said to him, ‘what is your name?’ and he answered, ‘Jacob’. Then the man said, ‘your name will no longer be Jacob. Your name will now be Israel, because you have wrestled with God and with people, and you have won.” Genesis 32:27-28 New Century Version
The man asked Jacob ‘what is your name?’ Jacob said “I’m Jacob, the thief, conman and swindler, surplanter from birth.” But the man says to him: ‘You’re no longer a loser; you’re now a winner. You are the prince of God. You are God’s man…’
Jacob not only discovered God, he also discovered who he was really born to be. The label and tags folks had placed on him from birth was gone, because at Peniel Jacob could his destiny through the very eyes of God.
As we seek God’s face daily with expectation we will know him better. And as we know him better, we will have a better understanding of who we are and why we are.
But Peniel will cost you. It cost Jacob the use of his hip; it cost him his strength. He had to give up his way in order to follow God’s way. I know you want Peniel but how badly do you want it, are you willing to pay the price? Peniel will cost you habits; it may cost you some friends. Some folks lose their jobs and the most priceless possessions they’ve got. They let it go because at Peniel we give up the mundane that we may kiss the divine. They’ve also come to realize that when they’ve paid the price, knowing the father is the ultimate reward. They see their purpose and destiny more vividly. Peniel is the place where you kiss His face and you survive it.
What’s God asking you to sacrifice in order to come up higher with him? Sometimes we hold on to relationships that are killing our relationship with God. We hold on to friends, habits and stuff that are killing us.
At Peniel one thing is certain: we must give up the lesser things in order to gain the ultimate price of the high calling.