As we journey with Jacob we witness his growth; He moves from striving to establish himself to learning to prayerfully wait on God. His story reminds us to allow God to use our own seasons of waiting to shape and form us for His glory.
For three tense days, I waited in the hospital while a surgeon made careful preparations for a risky surgery to save my life. This time was needed to assemble the best team and eliminate as many variables as possible; the wait was excruciating, but it was necessary for my good.
While we waited, my husband and I hoped for the best and prepared for the worst. We also did one more thing: We prayed. We prayed weak, humble prayers admitting our fears and gripping tightly to our faith in God. That may seem contradictory, but reading about Jacob’s second stressful moment in the desert assures me that it is not.
The first time Jacob camped in the desert, he was fleeing for his life, running away from Esau’s anger (Genesis 28). This time, in Genesis 32, he’s walking straight into a potentially deadly encounter with his brother. The first time, Jacob didn’t trust God, and his modus operandi was deception. This time, he has a budding trust relationship with God, and his MO is changing; he’s becoming more forthright. While still a work in progress, he’s learning what it means to be a dependent child of God and to take steps of faith despite his fears.
It’s his response to the news that Esau is coming—with four hundred men—that reveals this maturing faith. Jacob is initially “in great fear and distress” (v.7), but instead of returning to his old tricks, Jacob’s first response is to pray. He prays a simple, genuine prayer recalling God’s promises, confessing his dependence on God, and specifically requesting God’s action on his behalf. Then, Jacob prepares. He methodically separates his herds, sending a large number ahead as a gift, with a humble message honouring Esau. His elaborate gifts reveal a heart ready to reconcile with his brother and a willingness to do what is within his power to make that possible.
Jacob prays, prepares, and then he waits, spending the night alone in the camp while everyone else sets out to meet Esau. In past moments of stress, Jacob has taken impulsive action to secure God’s blessings and establish himself (Genesis 27:5-29); this time, he is patiently confident. He trusts that God has heard his prayers and will take care of him, no matter the outcome of his meeting with his brother.
Learning to trust God with our fears doesn’t happen overnight. Like any new skill, waiting well takes practice, and while we may not always get it right, with time, our faith grows. Paul David Tripp writes, “Waiting is not just about what I get at the end of the wait, but about who I become as I wait.” Waiting three days for my surgery revealed what was in my heart: a lot of fear and a lot of faith. The wait also produced in me a deeper reliance on God. I learned to come near to Him for comfort and to place my fears in His hands. When I was back in surgery nine months later, that deeper reliance on God was visible to others. The anesthesiologist, who had been with me in the first surgery, placed his hand on my shoulder and said, “You’re different. You look more at peace.”
Life will inevitably bring seasons of waiting. Jacob’s wait reminds us that waiting provides space for the transformative work of the Holy Spirit to take place in our hearts. Seasons of waiting can be great opportunities to partner with God in the strengthening of our faith—if we allow them to be.
Reflect on your own seasons of waiting. What has God taught you in them? Which of these lessons do you need to hold onto in your present places of waiting?