Jacob’s prayer at Beersheba

by Josh Reese

It was a few degrees below zero one morning back in late January, cold enough to freeze my nose hairs. It was my day off, and I was sitting by the glowing fire of the woodstove in our home. The Packers had lost the NFC Championship game the day before, and it made me ponder the letdown of these rural Wisconsin people I love and pastor...as a Bears fan. What an eclectic community we are, so varied in our affiliations, ranging from football to family to politics. We are faithful in many ways, but also flawed in just as many. In this we are a lot like the people of God we read about in the Old Testament.

As I return to Genesis and the stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, I am struck by their profound flaws amidst deep faith. In particular, Jacob’s journey unfolds in a sequence of three prayers: a youthful prayer of bargaining in Genesis 28:20-22 at Bethel, a more mature prayer of humility in Genesis 32:9-12 at Peniel, and finally a brief prayer of surrender in Genesis 46:2 at Beersheba. In the end Jacob simply yields to God in a simple prayer, “Here I am.” I sympathize with the old Jacob in his fragility and honesty. He is messed up, and loving Joseph more than his other sons, his family is divided. Yet God uses him and deepens his faith as a leader for this infant nation.

It makes me think of the flaws in this Northwoods family of faith, with polarized politics, divisions over how to address the pandemic, and many other differences that have surfaced over the past year and a half. When I compare God’s people in Genesis with our small town church, I realize we are as flawed as they were. But we are also faithful.

At key moments in memorable places Jacob trusted God, as he fled from his home, as he returned, and as he traveled to Egypt. God clearly encouraged him all three times, and Jacob trusted the Lord, as he moved from bargaining, to humility, and at last to surrender. I want to trust the Lord like that.

Recently I have been cataloguing and reviewing my old journals from the last 30 years. Shabby spiral-bound notebooks with curled cardboard covers and ruled sheets with scribbled script. Youthful prayers and benign comments fill the pages, but I am grateful to chart a measure of deepening faith and even a few of my own Beersheba moments…as I journeyed from home to college, as I met and married my wife, as we moved and grew and endured and found our identity in Christ and as a family. The reminders are there. God has led us in the past, in spite of our flaws, and he will lead us again through faith in his Son.

Have you had any such moments in your life? I know I am grateful for those occasions in my life where God clearly showed up. As we reflect and seek to mend the divisions in our families of faith, I am prayerful that we remember those moments in our past, that God can be trusted in spite of our flaws, as we journey forward together through faith in Christ.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace, for loving us and using us in spite of our flaws. We want to be faithful but we know we are broken. Please heal our families of faith, and heal the divisions in our country. Keep us sensitive to your presence and open to more Beersheba moments in our own lives. In Jesus name, Amen.