There I stood face to face with a young man whose eyes told the story of so many others and in many ways even my own. I was working at a retail store when a conversation took place between us about faith in God through Jesus Christ. It was a discussion that he and I both were clearly interested in. He began to express, with despair in his eyes, that he had given up on the hope of a transformed life because there were some unhealthy habits that he couldn’t seem to conquer despite years of trying. Before he left the store he expressed to me in a hopeless tone, “I tried to be a Christian but after not being able to stop… I gave it up.” Although this interaction happened several years ago I still remember it like it was yesterday. It’s not that he didn’t want to change, he just didn’t understand that there is a process to it.
The first message that Jesus preached was on the subject of repentance (Matthew 4:17). It was the same message that John the Baptist was known for preaching (Matthew 3:2) and we can hear it echoing from Genesis to Revelation. To repent, in this context, means to change our minds from being enemies with God to being friends with God and this is His desire for all humanity. Many of us know what it’s like to wrestle with a habit or tendency that we want to change but question if change is even possible. The reality is that there is a process to transformation.
Desire + Decision + Environment + Experience = Transformation
I think the life of Jacob is a beautiful example (Genesis 25-33). Jacob was the younger twin brother to Esau, both sons of Isaac and Rebecca. Esau was favored by their father and Jacob was favored by their mother. Jacob was groomed to be what some may call a ‘mother’s boy’. The type who matures late, if he ever matures at all, because he’s been protected from the hardships of life that help develop a boy into a man. Please note the following:
Jacob preferred to stay indoors so he may have been a stranger to physical labor and outdoor work. He was also described as being a quiet person & mild tempered. (Gen.25:27)
Jacob showed interest in investments and gaining what he could when he responded to his hungry brother’s request for food with ‘let’s make a deal! I’ll give you this bowl of food if you give me your birthright.’ (Gen.25:29-34)
Jacob was directed by his mother to deceive his father into giving him the blessing that was due to the older brother (this may reveal his mental & emotional dependance on his mother and inability to think for himself). (Gen.27:5-29)
What we learn about Jacob, whose name means ‘deceiver’, is that he was far from the kingdom of God and in desperate need of transformation. After he succeeded at deceiving his father he was sent from his home town to escape the wrath of Esau. I call this ‘the process of transformation’.
While away from home and the dominant influence of his mother Jacob made a decision to trust in God for himself.
After meeting his uncle Laban and his beautiful daughter Rachel, Jacob agreed to work seven years as a servant to Laban for his daughter’s hand in marriage.
Jacob was deceived by Laban and given the older, less attractive, daughter as a wife and had to work another seven years for the daughter he really wanted.
After fourteen years of being away from home Jacob received instructions to return.
While on his way home Jacob pondered over what would happen if Esau was still angry with him and tried to kill him. He sent his brother gifts and separated his family in two to spare some of them of being hurt if his fears were realized. While alone, Jacob wrestled with God until he had peace to go forward.
In conclusion, Jacob learned humility, responsibility, integrity, faith and patience through the experiences he had while away from home with his uncle Laban. His name (which represents his character) was changed to Israel which means Prince with God! Transformation doesn’t come by only praying (asking for it) but also by experiences which serve to chisel away the habits and tendencies that have become a part of our characters. The change happens as we do the things that are in harmony with the transformation we desire and sometimes we’re the last to know that the transformation has taken place.
We are the workmanship of the living God being changed day by day but transformation is a process that requires various experiences to be completed.