Jacob’s Dream (Genesis 28:10-22)

Jacob’s Ladder by Darius Gilmont

Jacob left the town of Beersheba and started out for Haran. At sunset he stopped for the night and went to sleep, resting his head on a large rock. In a dream he saw a ladder that reached from earth to heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down on it.

The Lord was standing beside the ladder and said:

I am the Lord God who was worshiped by Abraham and Isaac. I will give to you and your family the land on which you are now sleeping. Your descendants will spread over the earth in all directions and will become as numerous as the specks of dust. Your family will be a blessing to all people. Wherever you go, I will watch over you, then later I will bring you back to this land. I won’t leave you—I will do all I have promised.

Jacob woke up suddenly and thought, “The Lord is in this place, and I didn’t even know it.” Then Jacob became frightened and said, “What a frightening place! It must be the house of God and the gateway to heaven.”

When Jacob got up early the next morning, he took the rock that he had used for a pillow and stood it up as a place of worship. Then he poured olive oil on the rock to dedicate it to God, and he named the place Bethel. Before that it had been named Luz.

Jacob solemnly promised God, “If you go with me and watch over me as I travel, and if you give me food and clothesand bring me safely home again, you will be my God. This rock will be your house, and I will give back to you a tenth of everything you give me.” (Contemporary English Version)

“Dreams are impartial, spontaneous products of the unconscious psyche, outside the control of the will. They are pure nature; they show us the unvarnished, natural truth, and are therefore fitted, as nothing else is, to give us back an attitude that accords with our basic human nature when our consciousness has strayed too far from its foundations and run into an impasse.

Carl Jung, Collected Works, Vol. 10

Not all unconscious dreams are the same, any more than all conscious experiences are alike.

Some dreams are not much more than a thing which occurs while we’re sleeping; they’re akin to the tedious or pedantic things we do while awake. Yet, other dreams are loaded with symbolic significance and have complex patterns of organization and relating.

However, all dreams which we carry with us into conscious waking – no matter whether mundane or extraordinary – are telling us a similar message: “Hey! Pay attention to this!”

In other words, our unconscious brains are usually aware of what we need more than our conscious minds; and dreams become the vehicle by which our unconscious alerts our conscious selves of something we need to focus upon.

Jacob’s Ladder by Ben Avram

Jacob needed to pay attention to something that he was not consciously aware of. Before his dream, Jacob had left home at the behest of his aging father. Mom and Dad wanted Jacob to have a good wife, so they sent him off to a specific place to find one.

Now, mind you, Jacob was a mama’s boy; he stuck close to home and was attached to his mother. Off on his first outing away from familiar confines, Jacob would have been understandably anxious and fearful. Although he had the blessing of his parents, Jacob’s unconscious self knew he also needed the blessing of almighty God.

So, the Lord showed up in a dream. To Jacob’s credit, he paid attention by acknowledging the importance of the dream. Jacob also made the Lord a promise that he would give back a tenth of anything and everything he acquired because of God’s blessing.

I wonder: How many times do you and I fail to acknowledge that the Lord’s presence is in the very place we are? Maybe our dreams are trying to tell us something – that the God of all things, including dreams, is with us in our own particular place and situation.

It can be frightening to be in a new place or new situation that you’ve never been in before. Yet, there is no place any of us can go where God is not already there.

You have looked deep
into my heart, Lord,
    and you know all about me.
You know when I am resting
    or when I am working,
and from heaven
    you discover my thoughts.

You notice everything I do
    and everywhere I go.
Before I even speak a word,
    you know what I will say,
and with your powerful arm
you protect me
    from every side.
I can’t understand all of this!
Such wonderful knowledge
    is far above me.

Where could I go to escape
from your Spirit
    or from your sight?
If I were to climb up
to the highest heavens,
    you would be there.
If I were to dig down
to the world of the dead
    you would also be there.

Suppose I had wings
like the dawning day
    and flew across the ocean.
Even then your powerful arm
    would guide and protect me.
Or suppose I said, “I’ll hide
in the dark until night comes
    to cover me over.”
But you see in the dark
because daylight and dark
    are all the same to you. (Psalm 139:1-12, CEV)

The Lord is with you. Your dreams have already confirmed it.

O God, give me strength for this day, and not to turn coward in the face of difficulty or duty. Let me not lose faith in other people. Keep my heart pure and caring, free from all ingratitude or meanness. Open wide the eyes of my soul so that I may see the good in all things. Grant me today a new vision of your truth; and for tonight, may the Lord Jesus be in my dreams so that I might awake again and serve him in joy and gladness, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Pay Attention to the Word (2 Peter 1:16-21)

For we did not follow cleverly devised stories when we told you about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ in power, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.

We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (New International Version)

The Bible is a set of living documents. It breathes with a revitalizing and reliable message about Jesus Christ.

Rather than being merely an ancient book to be displayed as some sort of museum artifact on a coffee table, Holy Scripture has demonstrated amazing resilience of use and pertinence throughout the ages.

Millions of people have discovered it’s riches; and have found the Bible’s message of knowing Christ and him crucified, died, risen, and coming again as their hope and salvation. Indeed, God’s Word to people is a gracious revealing of God to humanity so that all persons may reconnect with divinity.

The earthly ministry of Christ had eyewitnesses and earwitnesses. The witness above all witnesses was the Most High who audibly affirmed Jesus with a voice from heaven:

“This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.” (Matthew 3:17, NLT)

Baptism of Christ, by Vitaly Melnichuk, 2009

Christianity is a religion of the book. Scripture unites us with believers across the world and throughout history. The Bible is to the Christian what weights and barbells are to a bodybuilder. 

The people of God need Holy Scripture, God’s Word, in order to spiritually grow and become mature. Christian character formation cannot truly occur apart from the continuous repetitions of reading the text of Scripture, and letting it build strength into the muscles of the soul.

Scripture is a powerful unifying force within the life of God’s people. We may not all explain every Bible verse in exactly the same way (hence the many different Christian traditions) but believers share a common desire to honor, apply, and obey God’s Word. Ultimately, a passion to listen, talk about, and apply God’s Word brings believers in Jesus together, rather than separates us. 

Perhaps because the average American household today has at least three or four Bibles, we take for granted the availability of God’s Word. It is always at our fingertips, on our smartphones and computers. Yet, because it is always present and available, we may let the busyness and business of life keep us from paying attention to it. 

A commitment to reading and listening to Holy Scripture ought not be done quickly or mechanically, and certainly not half-heartedly. For the Word to penetrate and seep into our souls, we must take the time to listen carefully and slowly.

A first century rabbi, Akiva, once noticed a tiny stream trickling down a hillside, dripping over a ledge on its way toward the river below. Below was a massive boulder. The rock bore a deep impression. The drip, drip, drip of water over the centuries had hollowed away the stone. Rabbi Akiva commented, “If mere water can do this to hard rock, how much more can God’s Word carve a way into my heart of flesh?”

Water flowing over a rock, all at once, leaves it unchanged. It is the slow but steady impact of each small droplet, year after year, decade after decade, that completely reforms the stone.

O how we desire quick answers to our questions! Yet we must take the time to prayerfully listen and reflect on God’s Word and allow it to do it’s work on us and in us. Truth is revealed over many days, months, and years. Big splashes aren’t usually God’s way of doing things. Instead, the slow drip of careful study, contemplative prayer, and meditative reflection, day after day, year after year, shapes us and spiritually forms us into the likeness of Christ.

Thus, a patient, humble, and teachable spirit is necessary. Sometimes the Bible is not apparently relevant. We oftentimes need others to help us and to encourage one another to stick with reading and learning, even when we aren’t sure about what it is saying. 

Rightly interpreting Scripture happens in community, both in present local churches and small groups and in the community of saints who have gone before us. It doesn’t occur in isolation.

Always an appropriate response to hearing God’s Word is to address and the problems of others and the issues of our day. That’s because God is not just concerned about you and me, but about other people, as well. 

What do you suppose would happen if we all committed to carefully reading and listening and meditating, even memorizing God’s Word on a daily basis? Would it transform our worship? Make a difference in our relationships? Change how we do life together?

Attention, people of God and of the Book! God is our God, the One and only!

Love the Lord your God with your whole heart:

Love God with all that is in you; love the Lord with all you’ve got! 

Write these foundational commands I’ve given you on your hearts. Get them inside of you. Then, get them inside your children. 

For this to happen, talk about God’s Word at home when you are eating supper together and when you are working or playing with each other. Start your day with God’s Word when you get up in the morning and end your day with God’s Word when you go to bed at night. 

Put God’s Word on your refrigerator and your car’s dashboard; have it on your smartphones and let it be available to you anywhere and anytime. Use every opportunity you have to incessantly chatter about God’s Holy Word.

(Deuteronomy 6:4-9, contemporary paraphrase)

Pay attention to the Word made flesh and the written Word proclaimed. It makes all the difference.

Our Great Physician, Your Word is like alcohol – when poured on an infected wound, it burns and stings, but only then can it kill germs. If it doesn’t burn, it doesn’t do any good. 

Father, we are all hungry baby birds this morning. Our heart-mouths are gaping wide, waiting for you to fill us. A cold wind seems to have chilled us. Wrap us in the blanket of your Word and warm us up. 

Lord, we find your Word like cabbage. As we pull down the leaves, we get closer to the heart. And as we get closer to the heart, it is sweeter.

–Daily Prayers of Haitian Christians, translated by Eleanor Turnbull (1924-2020) missionary to Haiti for over 50 years

Lord, Have Mercy (Mark 10:46-52)

“Christ Healing the Blind Man” by Robert Hodgell

Then they came to Jericho. As Jesus, his disciples, and many people were leaving Jericho, a blind beggar named Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, was sitting by the road. When he heard that Jesus from Nazareth was passing by, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The people told him to be quiet. But he shouted even louder, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Jesus stopped and said, “Call him!” They called the blind man and told him, “Cheer up! Get up! He’s calling you.” The blind man threw off his coat, jumped up, and went to Jesus.

Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see again.”

Jesus told him, “Go, your faith has made you well.”

At once he could see again, and he followed Jesus on the road. (God’s Word Translation)

“I’d like to live my life so close to the bottom that when the system collapses I don’t have far to fall.” Dorothy Day

This is one of my very favorite stories in the entirety of Holy Scripture. And I will tell you why….

Because Jesus listens with ears of mercy

Jesus was headed to Jerusalem and had a lot on his mind and his heart. He knew what was coming, that his passion and death awaited him. No one would fault Jesus for not hearing a blind man shouting. But Jesus was listening so that he might hear someone just like the needy blind man. Rather than being distracted and lost in his head, Jesus was just the opposite – being attentive and aware of the humble folk right in front of him.

The Lord is always and continually listening for honesty and vulnerability. His ears of mercy are specially tuned, even today, for those who cry out to him from a place of genuine openness and humility.

Because Jesus speaks with words of mercy

Once Jesus listened, he responded by asking a question. I am impressed with Jesus throughout the Gospels. Christ gave people the gift of choice. He acknowledged people and respected them by not simply and indiscriminately healing, as if he were some fix-it guy. Jesus Christ bestowed on the lowliest of people the human dignity of choice by empowering them to answer a question.

Whereas everyone around Bartimaeus was looking down on him, both literally and figuratively, Jesus granted him the gift of dignity and basic human kindness – which are gifts we can all bestow on one another.

Because Jesus pays attention with a divine appointment of mercy

Our Lord took the time to heal blind Bartimaeus. Jesus could have simply healed him without even stopping his journey. He could have just waved his hand and the man would be healed. What’s more, Jesus could have even started a healing factory where everyone with a need got healed: bring ‘em in, move ‘em out, and keep the line moving!

Jesus was doing more than giving sight; he was giving a man the blessing of time and personal attention. The Gospel is never impersonal, which is why we ought to resist being non-relational in ministry to others. Christian ministry isn’t simply about meeting a need; it’s about blessing other people with the gift of relationship.

Coptic Church icon of Christ healing the blind man

Because Jesus reaches out with the touch of mercy

Jesus touched the man’s eyes (included in Matthew 20:29-34). He didn’t have to do that. The Lord of all most certainly could have healed without touching. In fact, it most likely may have been downright gross. A lot of people had eye diseases with runny pussy eyes in the ancient world.

Because the blind man didn’t listen to the crowd

I really love that! Maybe it’s the rebel in me. I just believe it is such a beautiful thing whenever someone refuses to be shamed by another and embraces their need. That is exactly what the blind man did. He not only refused to give-in to peer pressure, but he also responded to them by shouting all the louder. May his tribe increase!

Blind Bartimaeus teaches us that, when we know Love is there, we can freely acknowledge our needs, our wants, and our pain. With Jesus, who is Love incarnate, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks around us; there is no pretense, no propping up a false self to present for others to see. The true self is able to express what is really on the inside.

Because the blind man could actually see

In truth, Bartimaeus already had sight – not physical sight but spiritual eyes which could see better than anyone else in the crowd. One of the great ironies throughout the Gospels is that the sighted crowd seems to never see who Jesus really is, while blind folk see Christ clearly for who he is: the Son of David, the rightful king, the Savior of all.

It matters not how much faith one possesses; but it very much matters in whom that faith is placed. A thimble-full of faith is enough to move mountains, whereas a water tower full of misplaced faith in someone else cannot even provide a single glass of refreshment.

Because the blind man followed Jesus

Throughout the healing ministry of Jesus, there were plenty of persons who simply walked away and went about their lives after receiving what they desired. Yet, Bartimaeus, now given the gift of physical sight, immediately started following Jesus on the road.

This account feels a lot like my own testimony of experiencing the love of God in Christ and not ever wanting to leave it. So, I’ve been following Jesus for over forty years, still profoundly grateful in my heart for the One who loves and heals.

Because one lowly non-descript blind man made a difference

I don’t think Bartimaeus ever set out to change the world. And yet, he did. Here we are reading his testimony all these millennia later. One person, becoming a simple follower of Jesus and living a life of discipleship, changes a crowd from being a group of shushing church ladies to a robust throng of worshipers.

One individual makes a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of David, heal me, a broken person.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of Man, help me, a lost and lonely individual.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, Lord have mercy on my love-starved soul and grant me your peace.

Amen.

Proverbs 4:1-9 – Pay Attention to Wisdom

Listen, children, to a father’s instruction,
and pay attention so that you may gain discernment.
Because I hereby give you good instruction,
do not forsake my teaching.

When I was a son to my father,
a tender, only child before my mother,
he taught me, and he said to me:
“Let your heart lay hold of my words;
keep my commands so that you will live.
Acquire wisdom, acquire understanding;
do not forget and do not turn aside from the words I speak.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will guard you.
Wisdom is supreme—so acquire wisdom,
and whatever you acquire, acquire understanding!
Esteem her highly and she will exalt you;
she will honor you if you embrace her.
She will place a fair garland on your head;
she will bestow a beautiful crown on you.” (New English Translation)

Pay Attention to Instruction

Once, when I was a kid growing up on the farm, I was playing hide-and-seek with my brother and got lost in a cornfield. The stalks were taller than me, and I couldn’t jump up and try to see over them. I started to panic.

Then, I got my wits about me and looked straight up into the sky. Even though I was only seven or eight years old, I had looked up at the sky a bajillion times in my short lifetime. My dad had taught me how to read the sky and the weather above us. Fortunately, I had listened well and paid attention to all those times we looked up together.

I knew that the position of the sun in the bright blue sky would give me a fixed point of direction. Once I did that, I walked in the direction I was certain would take me out of the cornfield, trying not to let fear take hold of me. In no time at all, I was out. I lost the game of hide-and-seek. But I didn’t care.

Wisdom is personified in the book of Proverbs as a sage woman and a discerning counselor for whom we must hear and heed her advice. 

In the Old Testament, wisdom is the practical daily application of knowledge and understanding. It’s the ability to take the knowledge of God and use it in everyday life in a way that leads to human peace, contentment, and flourishing. There are two important aspects to wisdom. 

Pay Attention to Knowledge

First, the individual must possess some body of knowledge. If we are ignorant (without knowledge) then we have no ability to exercise wisdom. More than once, I rescued cousins and friends from the cornfield while playing hide-and-seek, because they didn’t have the same understanding of the sky that I did.

So, it’s absolutely imperative for us to actively seek understanding. It’s not going to simply drop into our lap. We must purposely strive to look up and see the Son, to view life from God’s perspective, and to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. 

To gain wisdom, we must become readers, listeners, and devoted learners. Why? Because without books to read, without spiritual directors to consult and listen to, and without adopting the humble posture of learning from others, we will never realize wisdom.

The telltale sign of one who fails to read, listen, and learn, is that they continually opine on everything with no evidence to back up their opinions, no insight into the human condition, and no grace in their language. In the book of Proverbs, such as a person is labeled the “fool.”

Pay Attention to Behavior

The second aspect to wisdom is that the individual must use the acquired knowledge to have good behavior and to live well. 

Knowledge by itself, apart from actual practical use, only produces puffed-up pride (1 Corinthians 8:1). The reason for accumulating understanding is to use it for the welfare of others, for the benefit of the common good. 

We have quite enough preening peacocks in this world who have answers for every earthly problem under the sun. This world needs much less of them, and more of those who seek the humility that comes from biblical wisdom. As the Apostle James in the New Testament once put it, we must be doers of the Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

Wisdom is realized whenever there is learning that has come through both the head and the hands. Proverbs is a very good place to begin constructing a life of wisdom. Reading one chapter a day, for one month, will get you through the entire book. 

Make a wise plan to carefully go through Proverbs sometime this spring or summer. You’ll be glad you did. And so will those around you.

Pay Attention to Prayer

God of all wisdom, save me from pride and arrogance, and take me to the place where Christ’s humility is center stage, where I’m lifting up clean hands and a pure heart to you.

Spirit of discernment, take me to the place where I’m no longer looking with panic or anxiety at the cornfields and situations I face, but look up to you, where I can see clearly, and my decisions are flooded with your bright light, truth, and justice.

Jesus, teacher of all that is right and good, I submit to your instruction and humbly seek to live into your words and ways. I keep my ears open to receive your counsel, my heart open to receive your eternal wisdom, and my eyes open to see your risen and ascended glory.

Just, right, and wise God – Father, Son, and Spirit, the God whom I serve – know that I love wisdom. I desire it more than money, fame, or power. Help me to use biblical common sense, spiritual savvy, and Scriptural discernment so that I might learn the good and the beautiful. Amen.