THE JACOB AT BETHEL PRAYER - My Prayers in Fitzroy Service 19.7.2020


John O'Donohue

“One of the most beautiful gifts in the world is the gift of encouragement. When someone encourages you, that person helps you over a threshold you might otherwise never have crossed on your own. 

There are times of great uncertainty in every life. Left alone at such a time, you feel dishevelment and confusion like gravity. 

When a friend comes with words of encouragement, a light and lightness visit you and you begin to find the stairs and the door out of the dark. 

The sense of encouragement you feel from the friend is not simply her words or gestures; it is rather her whole presence enfolding you and helping you find the concealed door. The encouraging presence manages to understand you and put herself in your shoes. 

There is no judgment but words of relief and release.”


I love this quotation from the late Irish poet and mystic John O’Donohue’s Eternal Echoes. It is so inspirational in its idea and so simple in the pragmatic outworking.

I found it on Facebook, posted by my friend Rosie McKnight, less than an hour before I was to record a Sunday sermon. Most weeks there seems something on social media that clicks with the thread of the sermon. Here it was.

I was preaching on Jacob’s encounter with God at Bethel. Jacob is a man on the run for his life, vulnerable, disorientated, alone and wondering what is next. I, of course, found some resonance with our Coronavirus Times.

I mentioned in my sermon how Bruce Springsteen during a concert in The Point, Dublin introduced the song Jacob’s Ladder that he covered on the Seeger Sessions album by telling the crowd that “Jacob was a messed up son-of-a-gun who fell into the grace of God”. That pretty much describes all of us. The Gospel in a nutshell. I was excited to hear Bruce exegete on Genesis 28!

So, back to the John O’Donohue encouragement quote. If you are familiar with Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending then John could almost have it in mind when he says, “When a friend comes with words of encouragement, a light and lightness visit you and you begin to find the stairs and the door out of the dark”. 

Encouragement is not preached on a lot. It seems to be down the pecking order to grace, love, mercy… O’Donohue sees it as an outworking of all of those things.

There is nothing more encouraging than being seen… recognised… loved… God encourages us that we are not useless, not alone, not forgotten, not unlovable, not purposeless. He encourages to find our way to a new beginning in his love. 

God reminds us that he created us, he came to earth to live among us and find us, he went to the cross to deal with all our brokenness and injustice and was raised to life to conquer all our weaknesses. He poured out his Spirit into us so that we humans could be the dwelling place of God. He ascended to rule over all things. 

That is all pretty encouraging! I believe that Jacob experienced that encouragement. 

I also believe that we are called to be conduits of that encouragement. Many of us down these Coronavirus Times have known that “door out of the dark when we received a text or a social media message, a phone call or even a letter. I know our lives have been energised so much by such encouragement. 

Let us live out God’s love and grace and mercy by being encouragers. You don’t need to be an appointed church leader, leading theologian or musically gifted. It is as easy as “I was thinking about you” and it makes a huge impact on the soul.


Watch the entire sermon and service from Sunday July 19, 2020 HERE


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