Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely theLordis in this place—and I did not know it!” (Genesis 28:16)
One of our family’s favorite things to do in the evenings is to go on walks around our neighborhood. Our son is almost two, and we started the walks when he was younger because it was amazing how if we put him in this stroller and went for a walk, all was well in his little world regardless of how fussy he may have been in the house.
I remember a period of time before his first birthday, while he was still taking multiple naps during the day and staying up a later at night, when we would walk for a couple of miles almost every evening. Sometimes if my wife had been home with him all day, it was a good way for her to have a break and for me to have some time with the little guy, so most nights we could easily be out walking for 45 minutes.
I always love watching his reactions during the walks. During that time last year, he was just starting to wake up to the world around him, so it was fun to see his fascination when he would see animals or neighborhood kids, or even just how he would get mesmerized leaning his head out of the stroller and watching the pavement go by underneath.
My favorite part, though, was at the end of the walk as I would push the stroller back into our driveway and walk back around in front of the stroller to open our garage door. When he saw me, he would get a very surprised look on his face that said, "What? You were here?"
He was so wrapped up in the things he saw in the world around him that he thought he was just out for a drive alone in his stroller. He had completely forgotten that I was with him.
It’s easy to laugh at the story with a baby, but it's a good image of how ignorant we often are of God's presence with us. Jacob was running for his life when, at no place in particular, he encountered God for the first time in his dream of the stairway to heaven. His reaction when he awoke was fear and astonishment at the realization that God was there with him even though he had been completely unaware. As some of the older translations say, "Surely the Lord is in this place. And I knew it not!" It was as if he had been asleep for his entire life and finally awoke to see the world as it really is.
A.W. Tozer wrote about the difference that this made for Jacob, and it would make for all of us, if we would just know that God is with us. InThe Pursuit of God, he says,
"If God is present at every point in space, if we cannot go where He is not, cannot even conceive of a place where He is not, why then has not that Presence become the one universally celebrated fact of the world? ... Jacob had never been for one small division of a moment outside the circle of that all-pervading Presence. But he knew it not. That was his trouble, and it is ours. [People] do not know that God is here. What a difference it would make if they knew."
As the father of a one-year-old, it did not bother me that my son "knew it not" that I accompanied him on his walks. I still enjoyed the time with him, but I realized that it was something that he would grow out of. Yet what if he never did? What kind of father-son relationship would we have if he always remained surprised to find out I was present? We could never interact with one another; he would not know me; our relationship could only consist of me observing him.
Isn't it the same with our Father? The Scriptures paint a picture of a God who is present, with us right here, right now, who desires to interact with us and be known by us. While most of us may not have an experience like Jacob's, we can still wake up to God's presence with us. We need to find ways to consistently set and re-set our minds on how the world really is: pervaded by God's gracious presence.
"The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge." (Psalm 46)