Sunday, October 30, 2011

The upward cycle shown by Jacob (plus a paradox)

6 Wherefore, we search the prophets, and we have many revelations and the spirit of prophecy; and having all these witnesses we obtain a hope, and our faith becometh unshaken, insomuch that we truly can command in the name of Jesus and the very trees obey us, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea.
7 Nevertheless, the Lord God showeth us our weakness that we may know that it is by his grace, and his great condescensions unto the children of men, that we have power to do these things. (Jacob 4:6-7)
There is an inspiring cycle here that we can pick out. We are given many witnesses by scripture study, revelations, and prophecy (testimony of Jesus), which leads to hope (in Christ), which leads to unshaken faith, which leads to power through grace to command in the name of Jesus. I suspect those works, when we record them, then become more witnesses, which leads to more hope, more unshaken faith, and more power through grace, etc. and so on.

The works that Jacob describes are amazing—commanding the trees, or the mountains, or the waves of the sea. Yet it is certain these couldn’t be commanded unless there was a situation of very great need. I can’t help but try to imagine what kind of situations might have required these miracles.

There’s one more thing in these verses that is interesting and unexpected. After all these great works, the Lord shows Jacob his weaknesses so Jacob will know that the power to do those mighty works comes from the Lord. If this is also part of the cycle, it seems the more unshaken our faith in Christ becomes, the more we will be aware of our own weaknesses.

It’s not very pleasant to see our weaknesses, and if we’re used to relying on ourselves, it can be debilitating and discouraging. But it isn’t ourselves we are to trust in—it is God and Christ. It seems we are confronted with a paradox--unshaken faith brings a lower estimation of one’s own strength, yet also gives greater strength from God to accomplish His work!

I will give an example from my own life as a sort of allegory for how this plays out.

On Tuesday, Oct 18, I was in Bangkok on vacation with my husband and we had reservations to fly to Chang Mai. There was just one problem--I woke up feeling nauseous. I took two Pepto Bismol tablets, but after getting my shower, I threw them up again. Not a good sign. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time for me to be sick; we had our flight to catch. I prayed for the strength to do it and determined that I had to because I didn’t want it to become another missed flight like what happened four years ago. (Also, considering the weird things I had eaten the day before, we figured it might be intestinal culture shock rather than something contagious. Perhaps my English-speaking stomach bacilli were not playing nice with the new Thai-speaking bacilli?)

I didn’t know how I was going to get through it, but I went. I managed to get to the hotel lobby and then into the taxi. I found I couldn’t sit up; I felt too awful, so I lay on the seat with my head in my husband’s lap. We got to the airport and I had to get out. I couldn’t get to the check-in desk, so Devon checked us in and I sat outside on the sidewalk, bent over.

Poor Devon was very concerned about me and every once in a while asked if there was anything he could do or whether we should just stay in Bangkok. I worked very hard to not complain at all and just be determined to get to Chang Mai. (Was I stupid? Maybe. But sometimes I’m not the brightest bulb in the chandelier..) I just kept praying for strength.

When he got our boarding passes, it was time to get to the gate. I took several stops on the way, stopping to rest when I began to feel like I might faint. I went to the bathroom twice with diarrhea, and I kept hoping I wouldn’t mess my pants or throw up on anybody. Each time I had to move again, it seemed I had just enough energy to get through the next stage—just enough energy to get through security screening, (rest), then just enough energy to get to the gate, (rest) at which point I was so cold that I was really having a hard time. I kept getting the thought that I should put my long johns on, and finally I did. That made a big difference in my comfort level, even if I still felt terrible and weak. Then I slept until it was time to board.

We had to take a bus to the plane, and I had just enough energy to get on the bus. The bus was full and the only room that was left was in the stairwell, so I just sat down in the stairwell, leaned on my husband’s legs (he was standing), and phased out.

Then I had just enough energy to board the plane and find my seat, at which I sat bent over double pretty much the whole flight with my jacket’s hood over my head and slept. I couldn’t eat my flight food; I could only drink water.

Then I had enough energy to get off the plane and follow my husband as he wandered around the Chang Mai airport to find the exit. Devon declared that I looked like I was feeling a lot better. I did feel better, but I didn’t feel 100%. I felt so cold. Devon got me water and fruit juice so I could stay hydrated, and he arranged the taxi ride to the hotel.

We got up to our hotel room and I crashed into bed. The room seemed incredibly cold and damp. We could turn off the AC, but we couldn’t get heat. My feet were freezing and I kept getting chills. Eventually we pulled out my thermometer and found I had a 101 degree temperature. I took an Advil, Devon gave me a blessing, and then I slept like a log, rising occasionally to go to the bathroom and get a drink. In the morning, I felt 100% good again. Yaaaaaaay!!!

I look back on that experience and I wonder how I managed to get through that flight. I’m not the type of person that can “man up” and do something active in spite of sickness. I’m the type that will lay in bed past the end of the sickness just to make sure it is really gone.

At no part of that experience did I ever feel truly capable of continuing; it was only when I had to that I found myself with just enough energy to move to the next stage. I knew that was a physical manifestation of the grace of God.

I don’t recommend that you do anything like this on YOUR vacation. If you get sick, I beg of you, stay in bed where you belong. I’m sharing this just as an illustration of the point Jacob is trying to make. When we see our own weaknesses, it is as if we have discovered we are sick and can’t go anywhere. But the Lord calls us to do things anyway. We don’t have the strength to do it all at once. But if we rely on the Lord, He gives us grace (enabling power) to do it, little………little. Each time, we go as far as we can. We take it in stages. One step at a time. Maybe we never feel any more capable near the end, but we will accomplish what needs to be done, little……..little….. one day at a time….. until we will look back on our lives and marvel, “HOW did I DO that?!!” and testify that it was through the power of God and His great condescension to us that we were able to do His work.

When have you seen this in your life? How has the Lord helped you do what seemed impossible to you?


Curls said...

I had a very similar experience involving airplanes and not feeling well. And I too had just enough energy to do what was required.

Michaela Stephens said...

Curls, you have my profound sympathy.

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My consolation are with you.