By Rev. Kyle Norman, Crosswalk.com
How Awesome is this place
By Rev. Kyle Norman
“When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16-17)
Sometimes the most profound experiences of God’s presence occur within the ordinary places of over lives. God comes amid the regular and routine, catching us unawares. This is no truer than in the story of Jacob. One of the high points of his life with God is when he dreams of a ladder upon which the angels of God ascend and descend. Rising from his dream Jacob exults the presence of the Lord saying, “Surely the Lord is in this place!” He dedicates the spot to the Lord, and calls the place Bethel, meaning “The House of God”. Bethel becomes a recurring place of divine encounter throughout the Scripture.
Did Jacob simply happen to lie down in a thin place, a place where heaven and earth touch? Was his dream nothing more than blessed happenstance, a byproduct of resting near the stairway of the heavens? If we read the scripture this way, then we must assume that Jacob has the dream simply because he happened to lie down in the correct spot. The implication of this is clear; if we wish to have a similar occurrence, we must make our way to the appropriate location. God will come to us if we to rest in the correct place.
But what does this mean? Does God remain hidden behind secret doors and heavenly staircases? Does an encounter with God simply boil down to being in the right place at the right time – even if it’s by accident?
The account of Jacob’s dream testifies to the exact opposite. Jacob does nothing to bring about this dream, he is but a passive recipient. At the time of this encounter, Jacob had just swindled his brother out of his rightful blessing. What is more, the divine blessing which Jacob stole did not lead to immediate satisfaction. Instead, Jacob must contend with the murderous intent of his brother. When Jacob lies down that evening, he is not desiring divine communication; he is running for his life. Jacob lies down to rest in a very ordinary and routine way.
Similarly, Scripture goes out of its way to describe the place of Jacob’s resting as “a certain place” (Genesis 28:11). In fact, scripture records that the reason why Jacob lies in that place is because the sun had set. The place of Jacob’s dream is a random location; it is ordinary and nondescript. If Jacob had run more quickly or started his journey hours earlier, he would have rested in a place far from that location.
But the dream would have still happened because, in the end, the dream was not about where Jacob laid his head; it was about the presence of God. The dream testified to God’s gracious love toward Jacob, a love that is expressed despite his duplicity and deception. While we often title the dream “Jacob’s ladder,” the point of the dream isn’t about the ladder at all. Even the angels slip into the background when Jacob awakes. Instead, he rises with the knowledge that God is with him. The one who made him also sustains him. Surely the Lord is in this place. Surely this is the house of the Lord.
Intersecting faith and life:
The Lord’s house is the place where the Lord lovingly dwells, and that is around us and within us. Jesus promises to reside within the heart of those committed to him. “Those who love me will keep my word,” Jesus says, “and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). Like Jacob, the one who created us also sustains us. There is no place in our lives where we are outside God’s gracious presence. This means that each evening, regardless of where we place our heads, we rest within the presence of God.
Hear these comfortable words: Surely, the Lord is in this place. Every moment of your life, you are surrounded by the gracious presence of the Lord. When you retire for the evening, you rest your body and soul in the protective arms of Jesus. And when you rise, you waken to a day that will be lived in the context of his grace and mercy. You may not experience divine dreams such as Jacob did, but the reality of God’s presence is assured just the same. This is an awesome place. You stand at the gate of heaven.
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Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Romolo Tavani
The Reverend Dr. Kyle Norman is the Rector of St. Paul’s Cathedral, located in Kamloops BC, Canada. He holds a doctorate in Spiritual formation and is a sought-after writer, speaker, and retreat leader. His writing can be found at Christianity.com, crosswalk.com, ibelieve.com, Renovare Canada, and many others. He also maintains his own blog revkylenorman.ca. He has 20 years of pastoral experience, and his ministry focuses on helping people overcome times of spiritual discouragement.