Please note: Part One will be a devotion from scripture. Part Two will be a journal entry based on that scripture.
And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, "We came to your brother Esau, and he is coming to meet you, and there are four hundred men with him.”
Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.
What can I say? There are times when fear wins.
I lose balance and perspective. I try to reason it out but I can’t. I can’t think straight. Like someone kicked me in the stomach so hard I can barely breathe. Like someone tossed me out of the boat in a storm and I’m doing everything I can to keep my head above water.
On this particular night, I can’t sleep. I wonder why it’s harder at night.
I go to our guest room in the early morning hours. I take my Bible, my journal, and a pen – old trusted friends. I kneel at the side of the bed and stare out the window at the streetlamp. My heart is racing. My mind spinning, the scene of this afternoon playing over and over again in my head, all out of proportion -- like me. I know to come here. On my knees. Before the Lord. There’s nowhere else to go.
Why does it hurt so much?
Earlier today, I was in a meeting. One of the men, a man of influence, well-respected in the secular and Christian community, lashed out at me. In front of others. It wasn’t his first time. We all know this about him. He’s a complicated man – brilliant, affable, funny at times. But cross him and out comes a self-centered, oppressive bully who dominates people with his anger.
I handled the moment, by the grace of God, when it happened.
But not tonight. All I can feel is fear coursing through my veins. I can’t stop my heart from racing. My palms are wet. There’s dryness in my mouth and a cry to God that is deep in my soul begging for help.
Fear – as far back as I can remember. Why is it always fear?
+ + +
I think of all the people like me tonight. People living in fear because somebody dominates them – a drunken family member, an abusive boss, an obsessed friend, a caretaker forgetting us in our old age -- anybody with power to enslave the soul.
I think of people half way around the world where war rages in their streets. Where the government steals any hope to find security, peace, and basic human dignity.
I think of children trying to sleep in homes where fear reigns.
+ + +
Some years ago, as a young clergyman, I was at the bedside of a dying saint in his late eighties. He had long served the Lord. He’d known Him since the days of his youth. He’d spent years in the Scriptures. He knew them. He taught them.
But here, in his final days, I saw what I didn’t want to see. He was afraid, almost panicked, and I didn’t understand it. How can a man so full of faith be so full of fear?
It made me wonder if I’ll ever be free of it.
+ + +
I look at the clock radio beside the bed – 2:32. Hours to go before daybreak. I turn on the light and open my Bible and journal. For some time, I’ve had the sense the Lord wants me at the Jabbok with Jacob, this man after God’s heart, pitch my tent, settle in, and let this narrative of Genesis 32 wash over my soul – slowly, deliberately.
For here Jacob, like me, wrestles with fear bigger than himself.
This exercise is the first of my disciplines. When fear attacks, I come to Scripture and prayer. I know, by His design, the Father has given us access to Himself by His Spirit through His Son (Eph. 2:18) Here I can be with Him. I can pray. I can cry. I am not alone. This, of all privileges known to the human race, is the highest.
But I know, too, I’m not to go it alone. I know this about fear – I can’t handle it. Fleshly pride mixed with the devil’s counsel always urges us to keep up image. Be strong. Be courageous. Say, ‘I’m fine!’ when I’m not. The Lord has designed us to be in community – His community. I won’t go it alone. Come morning, I will talk about this with my wife. I will tell trusted friends in Christ.
But for now, I come here to Genesis 32. With all my heart, I believe “man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt 4:4, Deut 8:3). I need His word, by His Holy Spirit, to comfort and feed my soul.
I will make this my study over the next weeks ahead. I will ask the Lord to help me engage this text so that what happened to Jacob in this passage can – and will – happen to me. Fear will not have my soul. Real courage will rise. Faith will come, sent from heaven above, to give everything I need to face all that is soon to come.
I believe that. So here I am. At the Jabbok. On this night like no other night.
The wrestler and me.
“Weeping may last for the night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”