If you were to get in a conversation with someone it probably wouldn’t be long before one or the other of you was talking about how busy and hectic your life was. This is especially true if you have children in school. Perhaps you’re life includes,
- school activities
- household chores
- doctor’s appointments
- project deadlines
- phone calls to return
- meetings, rehearsals and classes
- errands to run
- people to see
- information to master
It is not only in the church where it is hard to get people to make a commitment. Get a half dozen people together and try to plan some activity at a time when everyone will be able to attend. You’ll find out how complicated lives are. But it is not just our schedules that are hectic. Life is hectic. Information rushes at us from all directions. Everything is urgent. Every demand needs to be addressed now. We find it hard to sit still. And even harder to still our racing minds.
It seems surprising that we could find help for this contemporary dilemma in a book such as Genesis. Times are certainly different than they were then. Yet, in the passage before us we see Jacob in the midst of trying and hectic times. He recently left his job with his father-in-law, was reconciled with his brother after 20 years, had his daughter raped and his sons have just massacred an entire town make his family persona non grata everywhere. In our text we see Jacob trying to center his life once again. And the steps he takes to accomplish this are the same steps we can seek to apply to our own lives.
RETURN TO THE PLACE OF PAST BLESSING
God appeared to Jacob in his time of greatest weakness and failure and instructs him to return to Bethel. It is at Bethel that Jacob had his first real encounter with God. It was at Bethel that Jacob was first told about God’s plan to bless Jacob and his family. It was at Bethel that Jacob first built a monument to the Lord. So, it is back to Bethel that Jacob is told to go.
This is a good principle for our lives as well. When we begin to feel overwhelmed by life we need to return to the blessings and the place of blessing in the past. This is one of the reasons I encourage couples to video tape their wedding. That tape then becomes a way to “return to Bethel”. Watching the tape reminds us of those hopes, dreams and joys that led us to marriage. This is especially important when life has become difficult and we have forgotten the love we once felt.
We need to learn to think differently. If we were as good at remembering the good times in our life as we are are replaying the hurts, we would be so much better off. We are prone to nurse a grudge and forget a kindness. We dwell on a failure but dismiss a victory. And as a result, things get distorted. When our spiritual lives begin to feel stale and unfruitful, we need to take a trip back to Bethel,
- remember the day you met Christ and how your life changed because of Him
- recount the circumstances and people that God used to lead you to His grace
- re-read a book that stirred your soul
- compare who you are (by God’s grace) with who you used to be
- walk through the church and remember special times you have had in the various rooms
- review some of your favorite passages of scripture
- recall the spiritual teachers and leaders that have impacted you (I like to let my eyes browse over the books on my shelves and think of the way God has used these authors to teach and mold me).
Looking back . . . gaining perspective is only one step in the process but it is a valuable step and an important step.
GET RID OF WHAT HINDERS GROWTH
Jacob not only returned to the place of past blessing, he also purified his life. He got rid of the garbage that had accumulated.
- Genesis 35:2-4 (NIV) So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.
We know that Rachel had taken the family gods from her father Laban, but there were more gods than this. Over the course of time they had perhaps picked up these “harmless” things from the nations around them. But they weren’t harmless at all. Truth is, each of these items moved the people away from God an “inch” at a time.
It is easy to think that we don’t have a problem with idols today. But if that’s what you think . . . you’re wrong. Anything that takes our attention away from God, Anything that causes us to give less devotion and worship to God, Anythingthat has more influence in our life than God does . . . is and idol! There are many kinds of things that stand between us and the Lord.
- Idols of Personal Power . . .(obsession with work, advancement, making money, being controlled by issues of material gain)
- Idols of Pleasure . . . (governing our life by “what is enjoyable, pleasurable, or feels good”. It is allowing our feelings and emotions override God’s direction; it can be a habit, a recreational activity, a relationship)
- Idols of Undue Influence . . .(giving the television, a personality, a philosophy the position of influence that belongs only to God in our lives.)
- Idols of Superstition . . . (when we have to carry a “lucky something”, when we have to observe a certain ritual, we are bowing to the idol of superstition).
I know I have not come close to exhausting the list. Anything that has more influence in our life than God does (the market, the weather, the television, our co-workers, fellow classmates) is an idol. Idols keep moving us away from God.When we move away from God we move away from righteousness (or right living before God) stability, wisdom, peace, contentment; in short, we move away from the things we are longing for.
HONOR GOD WITH YOUR WORSHIP
Chuck Swindoll tells this story,
- When I was overseas, I was working with a man who was under great stress and pressure. His ministry was in great part to the soldiers, who happened to be on the island of Okinawa by the thousands — in fact, it might be safe to say tens of thousands.I went to his home one evening to visit him, and his wife said he wasn’t there but he probably was down at the office. The office was downtown in a little alley off the streets of the town. It was a rainy night. I decided that I would get on a bus and travel down to be with Bob. His wife had mentioned his stress and pressure, so I expected to find the man folded up in despondency, discouragement, and depression, and just ready to finish it off.I got on that little bus and I walked down the alley about a block and a half and I turned right, down a little smaller alley, to a little hut. As I got away from the street noise, I heard singing, “Come, Thou fount of every blessing,/ tune my heart to sin Thy grace.” And then the next stanza, “Prone to wander–Lord, I feel it,/ Prone to leave the God I love.”Quietly I eavesdropped on his private praise service. I saw a man on his knees with his hands toward heaven giving God praise, with his Bible on one side and a hymnal on the other side.The remarkable thing is that the pressure he was under did not leave for perhaps another two weeks, it seems. But that praise service alone before God absolutely revolutionized his life. [The Tale of the Tardy Ox Cart p. 627, 628]
I share this illustration because we see a similar thing with Jacob. We expect to see a man stressed by his circumstances but as we get close to him we see him engaged in a moving act of worship.
- Genesis 35:14 (NIV) 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. Jacob called the place where God talked with him, Bethel.
Do you see the logic here? When we want to be centered in our living we need to gain perspective by returning to Bethel, to get rid of the stuff that hinders our walk with God, and then we need to focus on God. And that is really what worship is about.
Generally we think that worship has to do with prayers, readings and hymns. We have trouble distinguishing worship from a worship service. Now, don’t get me wrong . . . I think worship often does take place during a worship service . . but it is not the worship service. True Worship is like a romantic evening in that your focus is totally on pleasing and adoring the one you love. Worship is being lost in wonder with God! True worship is really not about us . . . it’s about God.
John R.W. Stott once admitted the truth that many of us have felt but failed to confess: “The think I know will give me the deepest joy – namely, to be alone and unhurried in the presence of God, aware of His presence, my heart open to worship Him — is often the thing I least want to do.” We may find worship difficult, but it is also one of the most (if not THE most) profitable activities we can engage in.
- Worship forces us to stop and remember the greatness of God
- Worship helps us see clearly and it silences the competing voices around us
- Ted Malone, who had a morning radio show told of an Idaho Shepherd who wrote: “Will you, on your broadcast, strike the note “A:? I’m a sheepherder way out here on a ranch, far away from a piano. The only comfort I have is my old violin. It’s all out of tune. Would you strike and “A” so that I might get in tune?Malone honored the request. Later he received a “thank you” note from the distant shepherd saying, “Now I’m in tune.” That’s what personal and public worship does . . .it helps us get “in tune.”
- Worship puts life in perspective. It are reminds us that the eternal is more significant than the temporal.
- Worship brings courage to our soul. By spending time with God we are reminded that God loves us and that He is working for our benefit. We are reminded that we belong to a Great God.
- Worship softens us in our relationships with others. As we ponder our own forgiveness we are made more willing to forgive the sins of those who have hurt us.
I believe corporate (or Sunday morning) worship is important for all of these reasons. But worship should not be confined to Sunday morning. We need to intentionally take time out of our lives to look up and ponder heaven throughout the week. Personally, I find this sanctuary to be a great place to meet with God. I like to come in here and just sit frequently. For others of you, it may be a hillside somewhere, or under a tree, or out in the starry night. Find an “altar” and meet with God there.
Notice what happened as a result of Jacob returning to Bethel; eliminating the idols from his life and worshipping God.
- Then they set out, and the terror of God fell upon the towns all around them so that no one pursued them. (Genesis 35:5)
Do you see the significance of this? All the surrounding towns were indeed horrified by what the sons of Jacob had done to the people of Shechem . . . but they did not dare to touch them because God caused his terror to fall on them. As Jacob sought the Lord, the Lord protected Jacob and his family.
Strength for Difficult Times
God also gave Jacob strength for some very difficult times. In the final verses of this chapter we read about Jacob having to bury a Favorite nanny in Deborah, his beloved wife Rachel after she gave birth to Jacob’s twelfth and final son; and his father Isaac. Faith does protect us from much but does not shield us from all heartache. Jacob knew the pain of loss.
He also knew the pain of betrayal. We also read in these verses that Jacob’s firstborn son has a sexual liaison with Rachel’s maid. . . the mother of some of his brothers! This is a horrible sin.
We can only guess what Reuben was thinking. He may have wanted to make Bilhah detestable to Jacob so that he would turn to Reuben’s mother, Leah. Or it may have been Reuben’s attempt to assert his position as the rightful heir. But no matter why Reuben did what he did, it was a painful time for Jacob. And it cost Reuben as well. When Jacob is ready to die he brings his sons to him one at a time for their blessing. Jacob says to Reuben,
- Reuben, you are my firstborn, my might, the first sign of my strength, excelling in honor, excelling in power. Turbulent as the waters, you will no longer excel, for you went up onto your father’s bed, onto my couch and defiled it. (49:3,4)
Now it is certainly possible that all these trying times are tacked onto the end of this chapter simply because the author is trying to tie up loose ends. But I suggest these words are written here because God wants us to view our walk with Him realistically. God does not promise us a life free of difficulty. What the Bible does tell us is that God will walk with us and bring us through the hard times.
Renewed Sense of God’s Blessing
- Genesis 35:11-13 (NIV) And God said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and increase in number. A nation and a community of nations will come from you, and kings will come from your body. The land I gave to Abraham and Isaac I also give to you, and I will give this land to your descendants after you.” Then God went up from him at the place where he had talked with him.
The centering of Jacob’s life was valuable because it allowed Him to know God’s blessing with a new freshness. There is nothing that strengthens us more in life than the sense of God’s closeness. We need to know that we are not alone. We need to remember that we belong to the Father. We need to be encouraged by the fact that “He goes to prepare a place for us.” The greatest value of centering our lives comes from being able to walk with God in new freshness.
Two final thoughts,
Everyone of us needs to take time to center our life. Just as a laborer must take time to sharpen and care for his tools; and just as a car needs to have it’s wheels aligned and it’s timing adjusted, so we need to realign our live periodically. We need to regularly return to Bethel and regain perspective.
We cannot serve God AND . . . God does not share His position with anyone. We sometimes think that God should be pleased with the fact that we give Him ANY time. But to think this is to misunderstand God. Since He deserves our best time and finest effort, anything less than that is an insult to His being. When we allow anything to usurp His position in our lives we are effectively cutting ourselves off from our source of life and joy.
So let me ask some final questions,
- Does life feel out of control? Do you feel like all you do is run from one thing to another?
- Do you feel that you are spiritually dry? Are you going through the motions with no sense of joy?
- Are you in the midst of a personal crisis? Perhaps you have important decisions to make but everything seems muddled and confused.
- Does life seem bland to you? You view each day as “a new battle” or view life as a burden you have to bear.
If so, you need to center your life. You need to return to your personal Bethel, you need to clean out the idols and garbage, and you need to seek the Lord. Every one of us gets weighted down at times. There is no sin in this . . . it is human. The question is not whether life is hectic . . .the question is whether you will face this hectic life alone or wrapped in the strong and wonderful arms of Jesus.