Thursday, July 22, 2010

Wrestling in the Night

"…Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome…"
Genesis 32: 22-31

In the story that these verses are taken from, Jacob was returning to his family of origin, having lived in exile for betraying his brother. Both of his parents had died and his only brother had wanted to kill him because Jacob had used deceit to obtain the birthrights and power that came from holding the first-born position. In truth, those things were God's to bestow or not, not Jacob's to usurp. On the last night before he was to meet his brother, he was stressed because he didn't know what would happen. Was his brother longing for family since their parents’ deaths and looking forward to the reunion? Or with out his parent's in the picture would Esau decide to meet him with an army to take his life? 

He spent the night wrestling with "a man" whom we later learn was God. At the end of the night he was physically spent and grabbled on tight to the "person," exclaiming, he wouldn't let go until the person blessed him. The person who was the Lord responded with the blessing of changing his name from Jacob to Israel, from "Deceiver" to "Struggles with God and Prevails." The Lord then touched Israel's hip, leaving him with a limp to remind him of the striving he had done. 

Every sermon I have heard on this passage said that the wrestling represented prayer, which did not make sense to me at first. However, when I compared it to the scene of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane it seemed similar to the same type of deep, intense prayer Christ prayed in the Garden. There He didn't want to face God's wrath for our sin, not the pain of being separated from His father. At the same time He wanted to obey His Heavenly Father. Christ's wrestling prayer was so intense that drops of sweat tinged with blood dripped from His brow.

Jacob who strived hard with people, began to pray about his future meeting Esau. He was probably tempted to run, yet believed God was calling him home. He was most likely afraid for both himself  and his family. He also may have been overwhelmed with shame over his past actions and the grief he felt at not seeing his parents before they died. The wrestling Jacob did revealed to him that his real battle was not with his brother, but with his God. In His wrestling, he at first seemed to hold his own, but God in a single moment disabled him and Jacob's heart softened as his will became secondary to receiving God's blessings. This is the lesson God would have us take from this story.

God has brought this story alive for me in two ways. First was when I was a dean at a camp there was a girl who was struggling with some things the speaker said that mirrored her own experiences. Her pastor had given her godly advice she had needed to hear, but the idea of doing as he suggested upset her. She wanted to argue with him, but avoided him and refused to come to chapel instead. He asked me to find her and talk to her. So, she and I went for a walk and as I heard her story, I pointed out the love behind her pastor's words and that her real fight was with God, not the pastor. I told her about Jacob and suggested that she tell her youth pastor it was hard to hear what he said and that she had been afraid for the communication to continue. I also told her it was important that she get real with God and tell Him why she wanted her own will more than His. I suggested she wrestle with the truth of His Word until she could give her unmet needs to God and tell Him all the "buts" to which she was holding onto so she could get to the place she could express a willingness to allow God to change her heart. I told her I hoped she would yield to God quickly so she would not have to walk with the limp like Jacob did. For the first time that night she started laughing. I gently told her, "You know God loves you and that His plans are always good. Yet, you want to argue with Him about things that could very well destroy you. Don't make God give you a "limp" to prove to you that He is God and you are not. Remember He is the a process of molding you into His image and you can either yield to Him or resist Him. It is okay to wrestle when we are real and honest because intimacy with God can grow from that. However, the sooner we yield our will to His, the sooner we get to enjoy Him and His blessings and the less likely we will be left with a limp that reminds us of our strife." 

Another way God brought this story alive to me for me is through my own healing journey. I entered counseling for an eating disorder and found my intense fears of the disorder masked an intense fear of feeling emotions. I had buried pain of hurtful traumas deep and though my counselor took me to those dark places, the moment the feelings surfaced I pushed them further down with exercise and business. Then I suffered a severe fracture to my ankle and couldn't exercise or stay busy. The moment it happened, I had this strong sense it was from God.  and was housebound for a year. During that time I faced the fear of feeling and went to those painful places, finding God sufficient to meet me in the pain. I was able to reach a point that my forgiveness was from the deepest part of my heart and was no longer just an exercise of my will. I still physically limp and it does remind me of that year of healing I had sitting alone with the Lord, wrestling with His sovereignty over painful things and over the deeper level of forgiveness to which He called me. Out of the wrestling grew an acceptance of His sovereignty, a deeper faith, a deeper desire to know Him more and a new ministry.

God used Jacob's wrestling match to get him to the point of not wanting to win as much as he wanted to hold on tight to God so he could live a blessed and transformed life. Jacob wanted God's forgiveness, and God wanted Jacob's heart. When we experience ambivalence over wanting to do both our will and God's we, too, can cry from the depths of our souls, asking God to change us. Wrestling can come in the struggle of waiting on God and wanting what we want now. It can come from the ambivalence of wanting our way and His at the same time. It can come from knowing God's call on our lives and resisting it. It can come from wanting change and being afraid of it. It can come form wrestling with God over painful losses, over moving to new locations, or from giving up sinful relationships. It really is easier to honestly pour our hearts out to Him and ask Him to align our will to His to resist Him.

Finally, sometimes we have a wrong perspective of God, His commands, and His sovereignty. When we tell our children, "No," it isn't to deprive them. It is for their health, their wellbeing, and their safety. The same is true of God. The commands given in His Word are truly His loving protection and love over us. When we choose our own way, we remove ourselves from His protection and end up wounding ourselves emotionally, physically, mentally, or relationally. It doesn’t mean He won’t continue to love us or draw us back to Himself, but the harder we hold on to what is not of Him, the more likely we are to experience “injuries,” that result from walking in ways that we were never designed to walk.

Prayer: Father, you are so gracious to invite us to have a relationship with you and to give us the freedom to be real with you. You are God and You are sovereign. Help us to come to the place that your sovereignty is not something that we rebel and struggle against, but something in which we accept and rest, maybe even something in which we stand in awe! May it be something that causes us to cling to you all the more tightly. Amen.

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Several years ago I realized that I often sped through my Scripture reading and gave it little thought. Yet, when I had meaningful conversations with friends or family members I replayed them over and over in my head. One day it occurred to me, that if I thought more about what God says in his word that I would not only know more about Him, but I would come to know Him in a personal way. I would know more about His thoughts, His character, His intentions, His passions, and His actions. So, I began to take one verse at a time and think on it and then journal about it. At the time I was served as a volunteer in youth ministry and shared my “Thoughts on God” with those girls. For a while I have been rewriting and posting them on this blog. I have realized when I am in the Word or move through my day focusing on God's presence that I have wonderful opportunities to Meet God in the Everyday. The Everyday can include storms, blessings, hard things, scary things, exciting things...just any where, anyplace, any time. I hope that you will be able to engage with what I write with both your head and your heart. I also hope you will be challenged to love, trust, and know the God of the Scriptures. It is my prayer that as you read you will experience Him at a deeper level and share pieces of your journey in the comments. It is my desire that we form a safe community of believers who pursue the God who loves us radically, eternally, and without reserve. As a precious pastor once told me, "Don't forget, Wendy, God is Good!" I find myself compelled by His Goodness and His Love to share so others can know Him through all the ups and downs of life. Please feel free to dialogue back and to share how each passage impacts you. If if there is a passage you would like me to write on or if you would like to be a guest blogger, please let me know. I am just learning to navigate this blog and appreciate the kind comments you have made in the past...I promise I will even try to respond if you leave a note. If you are blessed please share the blog with friends!