John Wesley was raised in a godly home. His father was a pastor. He studied ministry at Oxford University, and he even filled in for his father in the pulpit. But when he had a wretched experience serving as a missionary in a foreign country, he boarded a ship back to England feeling like a failure.
Nevertheless, shortly after that, something changed, and John was never the same again. What would change a failed religious man like John Wesley into a confident church leader?
In Genesis 28, Jacob experienced a similar transformation. You see, like John Wesley, Jacob had a family who knew and worshiped God, but Jacob himself lacked a real relationship with God. In Genesis 28, something happened that changed Jacob’s life. He had a real encounter with the real God.
After stealing the blessing from his brother by deceiving his father, Jacob followed his mother’s plan to protect himself from his brother’s revenge. This plan involved Jacob going away to his uncle Laban with the excuse of finding a bride, so Jacob set out on a 500-mile journey to find a wife (Gen. 28:10).
Imagine you’re Jacob. You’ve been instructed to make a long, difficult journey to marry a wife you’ve never met. What is more, you have a nonexistent spiritual life. In the previous chapters, we never see Jacob praying or worshiping. In fact, he only used the name of God in the midst of a lie (Gen. 27:20).
As Jacob traveled to Haran, God appeared to him in a dream and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (Gen. 28:13–14). The Lord promised all of this to someone who had just deceived his father and manipulated his brother, someone who had not previously acknowledged God. That, my friends, is grace. A real encounter with the real God comes when you comprehend that God’s grace has been bestowed upon you.
After Jacob woke up, he made a vow to God: “The LORD will be my God and . . . of all that you give me I will give you a tenth” (Gen. 28:21–22). This is evidence of a changed life. This is what happens when you have a real encounter with the real God.
John Wesley’s real encounter with the real God came through a band of Moravians who were sailing with him back to England. Their response to adversity pointed Wesley to the grace of God, and later on when he was alone, he acknowledged that grace in his life. Only God can change a failed religious man like John Wesley into a confident church leader and a fugitive like Jacob into a worshiper.
By Dr. Paul Nyquist, President of Moody Bible Institute
Dr. Paul Nyquist is the ninth president of Moody Bible Institute and featured speaker on Moody Radio’s program “Moody Presents.” With his theological training, pastoral heart and global focus, Nyquist is leading Moody to go across the globe, cultures and generations to equip people with the truth of God’s Word, using new technology, in an agile and innovative community. He and his wife, Cheryl, have been married for 30 years, have four grown children, and are proud grandparents of one child.