Jacob was a schemer, by his own cleverness he set about fulfilling for himself the pre-natal prophecies about him. I suspect that his mother, who seemed to favour him, had often whispered in his ears that he was destined for greatness. She too was a clever schemer. The apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree.
Years ago when I had the responsibility of organizing the “Thursday Night Meetings” at our National Office in Toronto, I decided that we should do an Advent series on Old Testament characters that in some way ‘prefigured’ Christ. I assigned one David, another Abraham, another Joseph and I gave my friend Bruce Jacob. A few weeks before he was to speak Bruce asked if he could instead speak about how Jacob was unlike Jesus. He could not find redeeming value in Jacob’s life.
As I look at Jacob I realize that he doesn’t exhibit a lot of Christ-like characteristics, and I realize that I exhibit a lot of Jacob-like character. Lately I was challenged to think about my strengths; what is the unique blend of gifts I bring to ministry. As I sought to honestly answer I decided that creative thinking is a strength. It took me many years to realize that all people do not make the same kind of ‘leaps’ that I make, in problem solving. This type of cleverness (which is quite different from academic intelligence) allows ‘sight’ of unique approaches to mission but like Jacob can so easily become self-centred rather than Christ-centred.
A careful study of biblical characters shows us the danger of self-centred use of gifts. Over and over we see ‘heroes’ of the Bible who exercise a ‘fleshly’ version of their gifts and we see often see tragic results. Samson learns to submit his strength to God. Simon Peter learns to submit his gifts to Jesus as does Saul of Tarsus.
Too often I can rely on Jacob-like cunning to accomplish God’s purposes. God will not share his glory with Jacob. It is not until he is broken (spiritually but also physically) that Jacob arises with a new name and God can use Israel for his glory!
Lately I have experienced some setbacks in ministry which have shaken my faith in my cleverness. This is, I am certain, a good thing! I am not about to give up on the use of creativity and even cleverness but these ‘gifts’ must be submitted to God. He gives ‘visions’ which he will accomplish in his own way. I cannot achieve his Kingdom purposes from clever methodology. I am convinced that the humble itinerant means of ministry which have been thrust upon us will be a much better means to Kingdom ends than clever ways ever could be.
Gifts are meant to be used and celebrated but they also are meant to be gratefully submitted to the Giver. Who are we most like? this is a good question to ponder today.