James Thornton is a friend of mine; we attend a Bible study together, and we work out at the same fitness facility. One day I mused to James, a captive audience on the treadmill, “Isn’t it frustrating, the fact that we learn so many important things late in life, things that would have made life so much better had we only known them sooner?” A seasoned smile spread across his face as he slowly shook his head. “No,” he replied, “it tells me God has more things for me to do here, so He’s still working on me. He’s teaching me new things for a reason.” James was right: God never stops molding us for our good and equipping us for His purposes.
Through a life of strife, Jacob shows us the reality that coming to love and trust God takes time, and being transformed into His image, even longer. It is not natural to set aside our will for God’s ways, rather it is the tireless work of His Spirit that changes us through lifelong care. This is to the glory of God and to our favor, for it illumines the depth of sin from which we have been saved and magnifies the beauty of His patience and grace. “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance,”1 wrote Peter. The pace of change that frustrates us as being painfully slow, whether in us or in those we love, is to God quite purposeful—He molds each of us at a tempo that turns us safely to Himself.
To Jacob, God had been the God of his fathers, but not his own. So God waited as Jacob, over time, suffered under the consequences of his own decisions and limited power. Having run from Laban and now toward Esau, both of whom he had cheated, Jacob began see what truly mattered—the futility of his ways and the character of a holy God. “O God of my father Abraham, God of my father Isaac … I am unworthy of all the kindness and faithfulness you have shown your servant … Save me, I pray … for I am afraid.”2 God remained true to His promises, and after Jacob had reconciled and found favor with his two adversaries, he set up an altar3 and named it not after the God of his old name, Jacob [“deceiver”], but the God of his new name, Israel [“he wrestles with God”]. The God of his fathers was now the God of Israel, too.
Father, I confess you transform me not on my timeline, but yours. You know what you’re doing in me, and what you’re doing in me is good. Thank you. Be my God, and help me rest in you as you transform me into the likeness of your Son. In His name, I pray. Amen.
1 2 Peter 3:9
2 Genesis 32:9-11
3 Genesis 33:20