November 4, 2012

People never change?

Jacob and his brother had a serious falling out, so serious that Esau was determined to kill Jacob and Jacob knew it. After years of separation, they were about to meet again…

And Jacob lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, Esau was coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two female servants. And he put the servants with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on before them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother. (Genesis 33:1–3)

Today’s devotional focuses on the first sentence in this passage and tells me not to go looking for trouble. If I do that, I’m apt to find it. Instead, I should look higher — to God who helps me in all my troubles. While this is always a good idea, the devotional author takes this line out of context and fails to mention what happened next.

But Esau ran to meet him and embraced him and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. (Genesis 33:4)

After this tearful reunion and after Jacob introduced his family to his brother, they parted again, but Jacob had experienced the power of God to change lives, not just his own but the attitude of his brother.

I must admit that I get miffed when Christians say, “People never change.” Duh. The Bible is filled with stories of transformations. God is in the business of making all things new as He regenerates sinners and sanctifies those He loves.
One more example of this is the prodigal son that Jesus described. He took his inheritance, left home and fell into a degenerate life. Then “he came to himself” and started talking to himself, “How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!”

And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ (Luke 15:20–21)

The young man changed. So do all who decide they are sick of their sin and respond to the salvation call to follow Jesus Christ. How can anyone say that people do not change?

Granted, Jacob was a little slower than most. He was a stubborn, self-sufficient person (whom I can relate to) but God had God made him this promise…

Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you. (Genesis 28:14–15)

Even with that promise, when Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming he prepared for the worst. It almost seems like he did not connect the promise with real life. He had to see the change in Esau, but even then he may not have interpreted the promise God keeping him from harm from his brother.

Maybe that is the problem with others who think people never change. They forget the promises of God. But before I go on a rant about their failure to believe, I must admit that I am also guilty. I have several people on my prayer list that seem unchanged. Their failure to be different makes me doubt that God is hearing my prayers. Duh.

Perhaps the problem is where I am looking. In my pride and self-centeredness, I (and others) tend to put eyes on that “old self with its practices” instead of remembering God’s promises. We could notice and be thankful for evidence of Him at work instead of seeing the same old, same old. 

Besides that, if it takes me forty years to learn just a few lessons, how can I expect instant transformations? While these do happen (not everyone is as slow and stubborn as I am), all of us need a lifetime to learn how to put on “that new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:9–10) 

Lord, Your promises to hear and answer prayer have not changed. Why should I give up on those I pray for and whose lives yet show no evidence of change? Why should I be like Jacob who met Esau filled with fear instead of the confidence that comes from believing what You promised? Why cannot I be more like the father who watched and waited for his son to change and come home? Lord, sometimes I believe. Forgive my unbelief.

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