“Know that 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.” — Genesis 28:15

Jacob was in a tough spot. Sleeping on the bare earth and using a rock as a pillow, he was on the run after taking his brother Esau’s birthright and blessing.

Jacob’s family had enough internal drama to keep a reality show going for seven or eight seasons. Isaac, the father, carelessly gave his blessing to the youngest rather than the oldest twin. Rebekah played favorites between her two sons, pushing Jacob to deceive his father. Esau started it all by following his appetites instead of his family responsibilities, selling his birthright to Jacob for a pot of stew.

But during Jacob’s flight from home — right in the middle of his mess — God appeared in the night and showed him a glorious vision of angels coming and going from heaven. God promised to never leave Jacob, granting him the very land where he slept.

There were no “if’s” in God’s promises. The Lord was not a typical parent who says, “If you clean your room, I’ll let you watch TV.” God sought out Jacob even though Jacob had not earned God’s gracious blessings.

This gift of undeserved grace feels backwards. Most people think that God’s favor comes because of something they do right. Since they (wrongly) think that God only comes to the righteous, they try to hide their messy lives from God. Maybe they have a temper, or drink more than they should. Perhaps they have cheated — on their taxes, on their spouse, or both. That’s when people listen to Satan — whose name means “accuser” — lie to them and say that God is not on their side. Ashamed of their behavior and feeling unworthy, many people believe these lies and turn away from God.

Jesus came to turn that around. He came to preach that our mistakes are not enough to cancel out God’s love. Jesus constantly found people on their worst days and called them back to God. Consider the apostle Nathanael. When Nathanael first heard about Jesus, he said, “What good can come from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). Nathanael was prejudiced and narrow-minded — not exactly the qualities you would look for in an apostle. Yet Jesus stood with him and promised to show him angels ascending and descending, just like Nathanael’s imperfect ancestor Jacob.

Don’t let your past performance get in the way of accepting God’s gracious presence in your life today. It is true that you don’t deserve it, but that’s the point. Accept the gracious, undeserved gift of God’s power and presence, then let God clean up the mess.