Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Pay Attention

Jacob became angry with [Rachel] and said, “Am I in the place of God, who has kept you from having children?” (Genesis 30:1)

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows (James 1:17).

Since the day of his birth Jacob had been a trickster. The name Jacob means something like “heel grabber,” suggesting one who trips up or supplants another. Indeed, that was the story of Jacob’s life.

He had opportunistically swindled his brother Esau out of the birthright that belonged to the first born. Jacob cut a shrewd deal over a bowl of stew and walked away with what rightly belonged to Esau.

Later, posing as his brother, Jacob took advantage of his father’s old age and blindness. Jacob played the imposter and received the blessing from Isaac. Esau’s anguished plea to Isaac went unheeded. “Bless me too Father!” Too late. Crafty Jacob had received what could only be given once.

In Laban it seems that Jacob met his match: A deal for seven years of labor in return for Rachel, Leah slipped into the mix on the night of the wedding, seven more years of work for the younger good-looking Rachel. Jacob got what was coming to him.

But in the midst of his deceptive, scheming life and his dysfunctional marriage to two jealous sisters there is a moment when Jacob gets it right. A brief interlude of honest clarity is glimpsed in the middle of Jacob’s conflicted story.

In his anger over Rachel’s demand for a child Jacob confesses that he is not God. “Am I in the place God?” he shoots back at his whining wife. Implied answer: “No, I am not God.” There are things that only God can do. Creating life is one of them. Jacob knew his limitations.


We will never find God in the everyday while we’re trying to be God in the everyday. Our efforts to exercise sovereignty over our own lives blind us to the true Sovereign. Our inclination to manage and manipulate people and circumstances squeezes God to corners of our days. God is eclipsed by our unruly self.

In the New Testament, there is a variation on the name “Jacob” that shows up as “James.” In a short letter written by James we are reminded that every good and perfect gift comes from above. God is the giver of all that is decent and good and cherished in this life.

So we have Jacob: Acknowledging that he is not God, reminding us that we cannot be God. And we have James: Inviting us to pay attention and receive thankfully every good gift that God places in our lives.

This is a fair description of what it means to wake up every day and live a life of faith. Recognize that whatever this day brings, God is sovereign. As the clichéd wisdom puts it, “there is a God, and it’s not you.” You don’t have to play God today.

But you are asked to pay attention. Ultimately this is what it means to find God in the everyday. Stay out of the way, look carefully and listen closely. You are surrounded by good gifts – all of them coming from above.

With every new day, O Lord, teach me more of who you are and what you are doing. I relinquish my claim to your role in my life. Help me to trust you, to follow you obediently, to notice your presence in the everyday – today and always, in Jesus’ name. Amen.

1 comment:

tom said...

Hey, Mark

Read your post and was reminded of a piece I read for and used in my Ash Wednesday meditation yesterday. It is from Eugene Peterson, in The Contemplative Pastor:

"The assumption of spirituality is that always God is doing something before I know it. So the task is not to get God to do something I think needs to be done, but to become aware of what God is doing so that I can be respond to it and participate and take delight in it."

I used that in conjunction with Rowan William's recent lament that many church proceed from a thesis that "church" means "humans doing things," rather than God doing things in and through humans. Lord, these Anglicans and Methodists sounding positively Calvinst!