Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” – Genesis 28:16
This is a beautiful realization! It may sound like a pretty simple statement to us, but it represents a huge leap forward in the development of Jacob’s theology. Before this, he assumed that Yahweh was just like one of the other territorial “gods” or “goddesses” that were worshipped in his day. He assumed that Yahweh was limited by boundaries or geography or that his presence was confined to “holy places.” However, in this moment, Jacob encounters Yahweh in a place that he didn’t expect. Jacob was surprised by God. Have you ever been surprised by God? I am continually surprised by God, but I want to suggest that my surprise says something about what I really believe about God’s presence. Let me explain by starting with some questions.
Where do you expect to encounter God? Do you expect to encounter God at church? You can find him there. Do you expect to encounter God out in nature? You can find him there. What about at work? Do you expect to encounter God there? How about watching a movie? Or having drinks with friends? Or doing the dishes? Or taking care of a loved one? The truth that I want you to hear today is this: You can encounter God anywhere, because God is everywhere!
This may sound like a simple observation. You might even expect God to respond, “Well, duh… Of course, I’m in this place! I’m in every place! And by the way, don’t call me Shirley.” (Ok, maybe not the last part… you’re welcome Airplane! fans.) However, I don’t think that most of us really believe that we can encounter God anywhere. I know that because we only expect to encounter him in a few places. We are not that much different than Jacob.
The funny thing that I’ve learned is that when we expect to encounter God, we have a much better chance of encountering God. For years I took hundreds of High School students to camp. Early in the week, we would always ask students why they came to camp. Many of them would be completely honest with us and tell us that one of their main reasons for coming was so that they could reconnect with God. They knew that they weren’t living for Jesus, and they knew that they were in need of an encounter with God. And the funny thing is, that by the end of the week, most of them actually encountered God at camp! Go figure? They expected to meet God at camp and they actually met God at camp.
Maybe, we have the same problem as Jacob. Maybe, we don’t really know what he figured out all those years ago. Maybe it is time to start expecting God to show up, even in the mundane. Maybe, if we started expecting to encounter God anywhere, we might actually encounter him everywhere.