I want you to think of a time when you were afraid, really afraid, remember how you felt, how it hurt and then I want you to think about where God was in your life, or rather where did you feel he was? now remember coming out of that darkness into the light – where was God then?
Its sometimes good to look back and think about those times and remember and give thanks. We all have valley times as I like to call them, times when we feel we are walking alone through the darkest of valleys, with sharp steep slopes around us, no path in the distance, no light, no way out – trapped.
I think this is how Jacob must have felt at the beginning of this scripture. His brother hated him, he had a death threat hanging over him and he had had to leave his home and family and run away for fear of losing his life. He must have been confused, he must have been regretting his actions but most of all I think he must have been afraid. Perhaps he had never felt further away from God, by stealing his fathers blessing, his brother hated him, everything had gone wrong and his future was uncertain.
All alone he finds a place to sleep and uses a stone for his head and he falls into a deep sleep. In this deep sleep God comes to him and He re affirms his promise, the promise made to Abraham and to Isaac, the promise that Jacob would lead the people of Israel. Then God encourages Jacob and promises never to leave him:
15 What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.”
Not only does he promise never to leave him, but he promises to finish what he started.
I always find that when God gives me a scripture to preach on, he also gives me a scripture to encourage me. I have recently felt very much like Jacob. Alone and afraid, not sure where my path was or where it was taking me. I felt like I was at a dead end and that doors were closing. I was also facing an operation and this terrified me even more than been lost. Although I was very anxious I was sure of one thing and that was despite my fear I trusted that whatever the outcome, God would not fail me and he would not forsake me. As I prepared for the operation through prayer God gave me this scripture from 2 Corinthians:
“My grace is all you need. My power works best in your weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong."
I knew in my heart that God would handle the success of the operation for me because he had given me this scripture. As I read this scripture I decided that my prayer would be that whilst in hospital God would allow me to serve others to His glory. That was it - simple but from the heart.
God was with me that day, from the moment I woke. I could feel Him by my side and I found he had gone before me to pave the way. For example, one thing that did worry me was that the hospital had sent a letter saying Pete couldn’t stay with me in the holding lounge before the operation and I could face an eight hour wait to go down to theatre. But when we walked into the hospital at 7.30am I was first on the list and before I knew it I was walking down to the operating theatre with Pete, the next thing I knew I was lying on a trolley in recovery four hours later smiling - just smiling, basking in Gods goodness and love. I think the staff thought I was high on morphine. But I knew that He hadn't forsaken me, he hadn't left me.
But my prayer had been to serve, which at the time seemed impossible from a hospital bed with tubes and drips and an epidural which meant I couldn't move from the waist down. But our God is bigger than that, and so from that bed, unable to move, I was able to pray for the other ladies in the ward and the patients and staff in the hospital. I was able to give thanks to God for His blessing and in the night I could read scripture to the lady next to me who was in terrible pain and wanted to hear the psalms. I could listen to the pregnant nurse who had heartache with her boyfriend and I could encourage the girl in the bed opposite who was in terrible pain and far from home and loved ones. Because the heart can still love even when the legs can’t work and through this love God can speak to us and he can show us how to serve Him.
When the epidural and the tubes came out I could sit next to the lady next to me and hold her hand and pray for her. When I could shuffle round the ward with my Zimmer frame I could bring her cold compresses, I could hold hands, rub backs, make people laugh and I could love.
But the most remarkable part of this experience was the relationship I built with the girl in the opposite bed and her mother. Hanna had been in hospital for a month in terrible pain and the specialists couldn't find out what was wrong they had tried everything, she lived on morphine. We soon became great pals and she was fascinated by my prayer shawl which had been made for me by Zoe and Sophie’s Mum. She loved the idea of their prayers being wrapped around me bringing me comfort. She and her mother spent a lot of time talking to me and my family and they asked if I would pray for Hanna, of course I had been already. That night they tried a new pain relief. While she rocked in pain and cried I placed my holding cross in her hand and gently wrapped the prayer shawl around her shoulders. She slept for 12 hours, for the first time in a month she didn't wake up in pain through the night. Praise God.
When she woke I told her the prayer shawl was now hers and she was now the one wrapped in prayers. She never took it off and when the pain came again she would cuddle it....she tells me it hasn't left her side since.
When I left the ward tears were shed by us all. I told Hanna it was her job to love everyone now and as I was wheeled out of the ward I gave thanks to my Lord who had allowed me in my weakness to serve His lambs. Two days later Hanna finally went home, she is now pain free and back at work. We are in daily contact and she recently texted me after reading my testimony about my time in hospital on my blog and said:
“I am overwhelmed by your strength and encouragement to others. Having you in my life makes me feel safe, knowing that your trust and belief in God is so strong gives me encouragement and I now know we are never alone”
I wanted to share this testimony for two reasons, firstly to honour Gods faithfulness and goodness, and secondly to illustrate how Jacobs’s story was my story and my story can be your story. You all know me, I'm nothing special, I’m not one of the biblical giants like Jacob, but God didn’t forget His promise to Jacob and he didn’t forget his promise to me did he? My experience in hospital was his way of encouraging me and showing me that I can still serve him if I have the heart to do so. He showed me that with the heart of Jesus beating inside us we can do anything - even from a hospital bed filed with tubes. Two years ago he asked me to feed his lambs and follow him. This has become my hearts desire. Every time I think of my time in hospital I am over whelmed by the blessings that my Lord showered on me and the encouragement he gave me in my walk with him. He had not forgotten me, he had not forsaken me.
So back to Jacobs story, to those valleys, those times in our lives in which we feel forgotten and alone. Back to my original question, where is God at those times? Jacobs dream tells us, He is right there, beside us. He is behind us to catch us should we fall beside us as we walk with Him and in front of us to show the way. We are never alone in the valleys, we are never alone in the light – we are never alone. There are times when we feel alone, times when we cry out when we feel God has forgotten us, forgotten his promises, when we doubt Him when we have barely any faith left. We all feel like this at times, and so did all those amazing people in the bible, all of them, without exception.
I’m reading an amazing book called ‘Velvet Elvis’ by Rob Bell, the American Pastor who makes the Nooma DVD’s. He says:
‘The Bible is a collection of stories that teach us about what it looks like when God is at work through actual people. The Bible has the authority it does only because it contains stories about people interacting with the God who has all the authority.’
These men and women encourage us because of their experiences with God, and these experiences can be our experiences. Because they are people just like us, the only difference is that they lived a long, long time ago, but they had failings like us and they made mistakes like we do, but – and this is the important part, they had a relationship with God, they had an experience with God and through this experience they were transformed. God worked through them, he brought them through the valleys, he never left them and he used their pain to restored them.
Standing on the word of God, is living these scriptures, knowing them breathing them, letting them permeate our very soul, living them and knowing them, because this is living with God, this is God infusing our lives, this is God knowing us and in this relationship this is us knowing Him. When we are in the valleys He is there watching over us, we know this because it says in Psalm 121:
I look up to the mountains — does my help come from there? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth! 3 He will not let you stumble; the one who watches over you will not slumber.
God has made a commitment to each and every one of us, no one in this church is more important to him than another, he has committed to be with us all, always, and he will not let our feet stumble. When Jacob felt alone in the dark God gave him an amazing dream, a ladder reaching up to heaven with angels and God seated at the top. Were the angels just moving up? No they were going up and down the ladder because God was showing Jacob that he is connected with mankind. When we feel everyone has turned against us God hasn’t, the ladder shows this.
(Slide) I have fallen in love with this artist, Seiger Koder he is a German priest and I find his pictures are so moving so inspirational. This painting of Jacobs dream sums up the message I wanted to share with you today.
In his painting the angels are represented as large hands, Gods hands. Those hands are ready to hold us, guide us and comfort us. He will hold us in our time of need just as he held Jacob, Just as He held me. There are no exceptions. When I was in my darkest times two years ago God gave me some scripture from Hebrews 13 which I constantly come back to, which I stand on and live with:
“I will never fail you. I will never forsake you. That is why we can say with confidence; the lord is my helper so I will not be afraid. “
At the end of the scripture Jacob places a stone upright in memory of what happened to him. To remind him of what God did for him, so he could remember when he found himself in valley times again, that God was with him and would always be with him. God did not forsake him and God did not fail him. Jacob gained a new understanding as a result of his hardships he gained a new relationship with God and the stone he laid would remind him of that, and the vow that he makes that he will follow God. The stone becomes a place to worship God. As we come to a time of prayer I want you to take the stones which you were given at the start of the service. These stones can mark the times that you knew God was with you. Put them somewhere in your home or garden as a reminder of when God has blessed you, and when you find yourself in a valley visit your stone and remember Gods promise, remember that God is also saying to you:
“I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. “