It was only a dream, but it powerfully portrays the defining moment when God finds His own:

She she was in China, in an orphanage with her husband, looking for the child meant-to-be theirs.  They slowly passed through the midst of countless orphans, whose little faces gazed up at them from left and right. Then my daughter’s eyes fell on one little girl, crumpled on the floor before them. This little one was looking down, hiding her face. My daughter stopped.  Slowly, painfully the little girl lifted her face . . . drawing on all the courage she had, to behold for even an instant what her parents would look like if they had come-to-find her, to choose her to come home with them, to love her as their own.

My daughter saw heart-rending conflict between despair and furtive hope in the little girl’s eyes . . . and then the reason why. A shadow fell across half of the little girl’s uplifted face, softening but not hiding her disfigurement.  My daughter’s heart lurched, as she understood the little girl’s bravery — her daring — to hope for even a moment, before the certainty of rejection destroyed it. Compassion broke the floodgates of my daughter’s heart as the  passionate cry of recognition exploded from her soul . . . “MINE! You are MINE.” 

Upon awakening, my daughter sobbed in her husband’s arms. For a time after, she scanned internet sites of Chinese orphanages, looking for the little girl who might be waiting for her . . . but God has not given her any further leading. As vividly fresh in her memory as it was the night she dreamt it, my daughter does not yet fully understand the message of her dream.


But I understand what God is saying to me, through my daughter’s dream . . .

That little one crumpled on the ground, embattled, shadow falling upon her disfigurement, drawing on the last of her courage, daring to hope for just a moment even with the risk of unbearable rejection — is my daughter, is me, is you.

Something akin to that little girl’s embattled courage, knowing her disfigurement, marks the moment when God finds us — when His passionate recognition of us explodes in the thunder of His cry . . . “MINE!”


A story, a journey precedes the moment God finally finds us.

To be found” is a metaphor of the forever change wrought in us by God, so that we are no longer blind but see, no longer disoriented to Him but fully alive to Him, no longer having to live in the shadow and peril of loss far short of what should-have-been.  But that moment of reversal lies at the end of a journey for both of us. 

This journey begins with the divine dialogue streaming into our life

The divine dialogue is the ongoing conversation God is having with each one of us, whether we are aware of it or not.  It comes to us in the orchestration of our circumstances, in coincidences, in verses of Scripture that stand out to us, in the people and messages that God sends into our life, in dreams, in the thoughts that God thinks through our own. [1]  In the Old Testament we see the divine dialogue streaming to Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, Elijah, Daniel and a host of others creating the substance of their relationship with God . . .  We see evidence of this dialogue taking place with even the pagan kings Abimelech, Nebuchadnezzar, Neco and the Persian conqueror Cyrus.  In the New Testament it is everywhere: streaming to Saul on the Damascus Road, prompting the disciple Ananias to go pray for him (Acts 9:10), arresting Peter with the revelation of the man who has faith to be healed. Missionaries give testimony to how God has prepared a people group to hear the message they bring, in the months and years before they arrive. Accounts of Jesus appearing to Muslims in dreams and visions are coming out of Iran and other Muslim countries where the gospel is strictly banned. Both life and Scripture testify to this phenomenon of a divine dialogue taking place in our lives.

No matter where we are, the word of God will come to find us, to bring us from where we are to where we are meant-to-be.

Sometimes, the divine dialogue streams to us in our dreams . . . and we awake, knowing that the Lord was there. This was how the divine dialogue streamed to Jacob, summoning him to his own walk of faith with God — leading him forward to the moment of being found.


In the gathering darkness Jacob found himself alone for the first time in his life: without mother, father, brother or a place he belonged.  Life as he had known it had come to a decisive end, as he fled his brother’s rage. The air grew chill as the descending darkness slowly stole his sight, heightening his sensitivity to the encroaching sounds of the wilderness at night.

Jacob had sunk to shameful means, betraying both his father and his brother, whom he loved . . . in order to protect what he believed was owed him. Finding an ally in his mother, she was more than eager to take his side in a dysfunctional family, plotting how to usurp the blessing of his older brother. It was all history now. The family was torn apart. Esau’s raging grief tore Jacob up, making him feel sick inside. For a while the family skirted the issues, living on the surface, relating superficially. But when it became clear that Esau was waiting for revenge, Jacob was sent away on the pretext of finding a wife.

No matter how carefully Jacob and Rebekah forged their argument, attempting to justify what they had done, they would never find refuge or comfort against the unrelenting chill of their guilt, no matter how tightly they wrapped themselves in self-exoneration.

Wrapping his clothing tighter, drawing his knees in for warmth, Jacob laid his head upon a rock for a pillow that first night alone . . . his life, his future in shambles.

Back home, his mother fell asleep in her tent, enduring the severe loneliness of her own irredeemable loss: irreconcilably distanced from her only husband and Esau, wondering if she would ever be received with love by them again . . . wondering if she would ever see her beloved Jacob again.  [2]

It was then that the divine dialogue streamed afresh into Jacob’s life:

He came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place. He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants. “Your descendants will also be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and in you and in your descendants shall all the families of the earth be blessed. “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

So Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on its top. He called the name of that place Bethel . . . Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me on this journey that I take, and will give me food to eat and garments to wear, and I return to my father’s house in safety, then the Lord will be my God. “This stone, which I have set up as a pillar, will be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.”

Gen 28:11-22, NASU


Did God find what He had come searching for?

Two moments stand out in Jacob’s life, book ends, marking the beginning and the culmination of God finding what He was searching for.

  • The first moment is here, at Bethel, where God comes to Jacob with the redemptive promise of all that He wants to do and be for him — even with the mess that Jacob has made of things.  He is calling forth a response from Jacob: to walk in faith with Him.  And Jacob does begin that walk haltingly. But Jacob is so hopelessly audacious in his deal-making, so self-exonerating, so cock sure of his ability to pull things off, far from being broken, seemingly unaware of the stink of his flesh polluting who he is at heart  . . . that he informs the God of his fathers, Who has so graciously come to him, that if He brings him home safe and sound, well then, maybe He (the God of his fathers) will become Jacob’s God as well.  Hey, he is even willing to give back a tenth of what God gives to him!

The Word has come, but it has not yet found what it is searching for.


  • The second moment is Peniel: another dark night when Jacob is totally alone: beside the river Jabbok, having sent his family, servants and droves of animals ahead of him, knowing that Esau is marching toward him with 400 armed men. Jacob is fully aware that he is about to face the justly deserved consequences of his shoddy behavior. No more skirting the issues. At Peniel, God comes to Jacob as a “man” who wrestles with him all night long, exhausting him, until the moment when He demands that Jacob tell Him his name. . . And in shock of realization, he answers, “Jacob — supplanter, schemer, trickster, swindler! “ (Gen 32:27, Amplified Bible )

This “man” who spends the whole night wrestling with Jacob — contending with Jacob — is actually contending for him: purposely bringing him to this moment of confession.

It is no coincidence that all of the years since he left his family, Jacob has suffered on the receiving end of his father-in-law’s same swindling scheming nature. The divine dialogue has been addressing what is wrong in Jacob by giving him eyes to see it from the other side. But not until the scariest most vulnerable night of his life, facing the consequences, does Jacob become agonizingly aware of the stink of his fleshly self.

In that moment of truth at Peniel,

the shadow softening but not disguising Jacob’s disfigurement,

God found the object of His longing.

In that moment of truth, when Jacob lay crumpled on the ground, embattled, knowing his disfigurement . . . God found the one He was searching for . . . not Jacob, but Israel. 

And God marked the significance of finding the one He was searching for, claiming Him as His own,  by giving him a new name..

He was no longer “Jacob”, but “Israel” — contender with, prince of God.


What is Scripture telling us?

Our journey to being found will be very much like the story God paints here.

At our Bethel, God will come to us with His gracious redemptive promise — seeking ground in us to give rise to faith — drawing us into a walk with Him, where He proves His presence and provision in our lives.

But it is Peniel, where we are brought to the end of our self, where the divine dialogue wrenches our soul, fully exposing our sin, indisputably convicting us of what we’ve justified before — making it impossible for us to remain comfortable with it any longer.

Conviction and penitence mark the moment when God finds 

the one He is looking for.

He has not come to find our carnal natural man (Jacob) but the spiritual man (Israel), who alone is capable of what the carnal man is not.

  • In Jacob, the potential of everything God wanted to do and be for him was at risk of being lost.
  • In Israel, the potential of everything God promised, planned and purposed would be realized.
  • The difference in their potential is staggering.


Next week we will see how Jacob journeyed forward from Peniel a changed man, but how he would bounce back and forth between his two identities for the rest of his life — not unlike us.

In my own life vast tracts of my soul bare the mark of Jacob and not Israel. In those places God has not yet found what He is searching for.  The new man does not breathe or walk there, because in that place I have not yet come to Peniel . . . where the Holy Spirit’s convicting work opens my eyes to my condition. That tract of my soul shrinks from the exposure that would cause me to know my disfigurement. I am so averse to the Holy Spirit’s conviction that I keep walking blind and numb to all my Jacob ways . . . stumbling because I have so little grasp of His compassion.

Oh, that He would bring my Jacob ways to Peniel!  That I would have the courage to lift my face, knowing that shadow softens but cannot hide my disfigurement. That I would dare to believe, crumpled at His feet, lifting my eyes for just the barest moment of hope, to hear . . .  the thunder of His passionate cry . . .  owning me.

[1] See the article God Thinks His Thoughts Through Our Own, September 22, 2011 from Book I, How We Understand What God is Saying to Us Now

[2] Genesis 27

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  1. Seth Barnes says:

    The way you communicated what the child in the dream felt put a lump in my throat – it was perfect and immediately reminded me of this story:

    God is always asking us to care about his orphans, we just have to learn to listen.

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