I spoke recently with a man who had seen God do amazing things, yet who kept trying to keep God out of his life. That prompted thoughts about what it is to encounter God.
Some people think that any evidence of God’s existence would immediately convince and convert people. Sadly that is not so. The very heavens declare the glory of God, yet people readily believe the stars came about by natural means.
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” Psalm 19:1
“What may be known about God is plain to people, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from His workmanship, so that men are without excuse.” Romans 1:19,20
Jesus told of a rich man who went into torment and pleaded for the beggar, Lazarus, to be sent back to warn the rich man’s brothers. The rich man was sure that if someone rose from the dead his brothers would believe. But Abraham said that if people have chosen to reject the Bible they will not be convinced even if someone comes back from the dead.
“If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Luke 16:31
The man I spoke with last week kept putting out challenges to God, saying something like, “If you are there then make this thing happen”. Multiple times what he man asked for happened, yet he would not believe and yield his life to Christ.
That reminds me of Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, whose life is recorded in the book of Genesis. Jacob had a vision of God at Bethel, when he fled from his angry brother. He heard God’s promise to bless him.
Jacob, whose name means ‘cheat’ or ‘supplanter’, did not believe all that God promised him. Jacob later had visions of God blessing his flocks of sheep and telling him to return home.
Yet in all that Jacob felt like an outsider, on the edge of God’s realm, not at the centre of God’s purposes. Part of the problem may have been Jacob’s personal ambition. He was the second son of twins, and was jealous to have the family blessing. Maybe he saw himself as outside that blessing, so an outsider to God.
When Jacob returned to the place of his first vision of God, he admitted that God’s promise had come true. God promised to bless him abundantly, but he was happy to just come back alive. When he returned he had such abundance it was divided up into two camps.
“I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I return as two camps.” Genesis 32:10
Jacob was encountering God yet again. He had seen visions of God and had promises from God. He then saw the outworking of the blessing of God. Yet there was still something not quite right in Jacob. He was still the grasping, desperate man, who felt outside the place of connection with God.
That could be like people growing up in a Christian home or going to church, but always feeling that others are closer to God than they are. It could be like people in the wider community who know there are others who claim to know God, but they feel like they could never have that connection.
It could be like people who have been in churches where the presence and power of God is often seen, yet in their heart they feel distant from God, as if there are hurdles and barriers within them.
God can invade our space in various ways at times, without us having the depth of encounter with God that is transformational.
Jacob finally had a life-changing God Encounter. Late at night, having packed his family and belongings across a stream, he was left alone. An angel of God came to him and began to wrestle with him. The wrestle went on all night until early light. Jacob clung to the angel, insisting that a blessing be given to him. The angel finally gave him a blessing from God.
The blessing was that he would be changed and his name changed to reflect that transformation. He would no longer be called ‘cheat’ and ‘supplanter’ (Jacob) but Israel, which means a Prince in God’s Sight, or God’s Prince. He was finally not on the outside.
Yet despite Jacob feeling on the outer he had always been in a central place in God’s plans. The distance was not from God, but from Jacob’s own internal condition. As long as he was out to get things for himself he was not relying on God or relating closely with God, as Abraham had done.
From the day he wrestled with the angel Jacob came to a special place with God. So too did the man I mentioned earlier, who had seen so much evidence of God’s reality, yet still held back from God.
One day the man’s wife was miraculously healed and stepped out a wheelchair, yet the man remained unconvinced. A preacher challenged him, asking, “What more will it take?”
The man realised that he had more than enough reason to believe in God and to allow Christ into his life. Yet, for some stubborn reason he kept demanding more.
Isn’t that what we find in people around us? They can see the miracles of creation but reject them. They see the evidence and hear testimony of God’s transforming and gracious blessing in people, yet dismiss it. They know there is no greater influence in the world than Christianity, yet they keep looking for something else.
It is as if their hearts are determined not to hear and not to believe.
There are also Christians struggling through a lifeless Christianity, struggling to keep what they believe are the right practices, pained by the rigour of a fruitless life, who keep dismissing the call to enjoy more of God. They hear testimony of others who rejoice in God and enjoy Christian life, yet they believe it is not for them. They discount and discredit evidence of miracles, and the wonderfully transformed lives of people touched by God. They may even resign themselves to the idea they are unworthy, or that struggles are their lot in life.
All the time God is ready to bless them, as He was with Jacob. There is salvation and there is the release of all Christ purchased for us, but so many won’t engage with the blessings right there and available for them.
If you are holding back from receiving Christ or from stepping into the fulness of what life in Christ has for you, let me ask you the question asked of that young man.
With all the evidence this world and God’s Word provides, and the living testimony of transformed lives, and all the ways God has reached out to you, since you have not yet responded, tell me “What Will it Take?”