On putting the horse before the cart

You mustn’t put the cart before the horse, we often say to one another. Horses come first.

The problem is carts are easy to fix or change. But it takes years to train a horse – and even longer to re-train a horse.

The same is true in church life. Church structures and meetings matter. But what really drives a church is its people, and especially it leaders. And so we mustn’t put the cart before the horse. In other words, we mustn’t prioritise structures over people.

The problem is that, like carts, structures, programme and meetings are easy to change. They are within are control. Discipling a person take times. But this is what produces results in the long run.

Nor can we train a horse as we might fix a cart. (Perhaps this metaphor has run it’s course.)

You don’t disciple people through courses and programmes. You educate people through courses. And education is good. But education is not the same as discipleship. Discipleship is both formal and informal.

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The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 111 – Jacob renamed Israel

Reading: Genesis 32

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

Since Jacob’s dream at Bethel he has spent twenty years working for his uncle, Laban (31:41). They now agree to live apart setting up a stone that neither can cross (31:52). Jacob cannot go back. But ahead of him is Esau with 400 men. Terrified, he prays, claiming God’s covenant promises (9-12). He sends his family across the Jabbok river (marking the edge of the land of blessing – Deut. 3:16) while he remains alone.

During the night an anonymous man (who is none other than God himself) comes and wrestles with him. With just a touch he cripples Jacob at the hip. But Jacob has spent his whole life struggling for blessing and is not going to stop now. By daybreak he has acquired not only God’s blessing, but a limp and the new name, Israel – probably meaning ‘God fights’ or ‘God rules’. What are we to make of this?

1. Jacob maimed
This conflict brings to a head the battling and grasping of a lifetime. Jacob discovers that it is against God, not Esau or Laban, that he has been pitting his strength. God wants all of Jacob’s desire to win and acquire, but purged of his self-sufficiency. His faith triumphs once he clings to God alone. He does not let go because he could not. He emerges broken but blessed, his limp a lasting proof of the reality of the struggle.

2. Jacob named
Before God blesses Jacob he asks him his name (names in the Bible often reveal a person’s character). Jacob is forced into an act of confession. ‘I am grasper, deceiver.’ But now Jacob becomes Israel meaning he struggles with God. As he stands on the edge of the promised land he is given a name which, instead of expressing his guilt, expresses God’s grace towards him. Every time Jacob’s descendants hear the name ‘Israel’ it should remind them of this story and the assurance of God’s help. In all their trials, even when God seems to be fighting against them, he is ultimately on their side.

‘What was once exhibited under a visible form to our father Jacob, is daily fulfilled in the individual members of the Church’ (Calvin). God fights against us in our self-sufficiency (1 Pet. 5:5-6) to reveal what poor and helpless people we are, and to teach us that our strength lies in recognizing our weakness (2 Cor. 12: 9-10). Like Jacob, we are simply cripples who have been blessed.

Closing thought
Calvin says we should think of all the servants of God in this world as wrestlers. Might the term Quiet Time for daily prayer lead to an unhealthy quietism?

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