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 is returning to his home of origin after living in exile for betraying his brother. Both of his parents had died since he left and his only brother had wanted to kill him because of the betrayal in which Jacob had used deceit to obtain the rightful position and power of his older brother. These two things were God’s to choose to give or not give, not Jacob’s to steal. On the last night before he comes face to face with his brother he realizes he has no idea what will happen the next day. Will his brother be longing for family since their parents’ deaths and welcome him, or will he meet Jacob with an army of men to kill him? He spends the night wrestling with “a man” whom we are later told is God. At the end of the night when he is about spent he holds on tight to the "person" and says he will not let go until the person blesses him. The person is the Lord and He responds with a blessing. Apart of the blessing is a change of name from Jacob to Israel, from "Deceiver" to "Struggles with God and Prevails." He then touches Israel’s hip and leaves him with a limp.

Every sermon I have heard on this passage has said that wrestling is representative of prayer, which did not make sense to me at first. However, when we look at the scene of Christ praying in the Garden of Gethsemane it very well could be what the wrestling meant. Christ wanted to live, yet obey His Father by going to the cross. His prayer was so intense that drops of sweat tinged with blood dripped from his face! Jacob, who had plenty of strife with people, may have sat down to pray about seeing Esau the next day. Should he return home or run again. Was he afraid, ashamed, worried, or angry? Maybe the wrestling match revealed to Jacob that his real battle wasn’t with his brother. He had always really been striving against God and his sovereignty. In His wrestling, he appears to have been able to hold his own. Yet, he was shown that God could disable him at any moment that He chose to. We also see that somehow in his spending time wrestling with the Lord, Jacob's will became secondary to receiving the blessing of God. I think that is the lesson that God would have me take from this story.

God has brought this story alive to me a couple of times. The first was when I was working at camp and a girl was struggling with some things the speaker said because they mirrored her own experiences. Her pastor had given her godly advice and she knew she needed to heed it and yet the idea of doing so had left her tremendously upset. She wanted to argue with him, but instead avoided him and refused to come to chapel. He asked me if I would go and talk to her. We went for a walk and as I heard her story I pointed out the love in what the pastor had said and pointed out 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 even more important that she get real with God and confess to 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. I even suggested she tell God all the "buts" she was holding on to and then expressing her choice to do His will letting Him change her heart in the process. I told her that I hoped that she would submit 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 told her, "You know God loves you and that His plans are good, and yet you want to argue with Him about things that could be very destructive for you…don't make God give you a "limp" to prove to you that He is God and you are not." We both laughed. We must remember He is in a process of molding us into His image and we can either be pliable or wrestle. I believe it is okay to wrestle some, because it is real and honest and intimacy grows out of it. However, the sooner we submit the sooner we get to enjoy his blessing, and hopefully that will be without a limp.

Another way that God has brought this story alive to me is through a healing journey I have been on. I entered counseling several years ago for an eating disorder. The intense fears of my disorder were essentially masking an intense fear of feeling my emotions. I had been through several hurtful things and had just buried them. Even though my counselor took me to those places and the feelings would begin to arise I would push them down with business, especially at church. I ended up suffering a severely broken ankle and the moment it happened, I had this strong sense it was from God. I ended up being house bound for almost a year and during that time I faced my fear of feeling and went to those painful places and amazingly found 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, not just an exercise of the will. I still have a limp, but it reminds me of that year of healing I had with the Lord. I did wrestle with Him over the things that had been so painful, wrestled with Him over feeling or not feeling, and wrestled with Him over the deeper level of forgiveness that He was calling me to. Out of that year of wrestling grew an acceptance of His sovereignty that had allowed such painful things to occur. Out of that year, grew a deeper faith, a deeper desire to know God, and a deeper sense of intimacy with my heavenly Father.

Think about it like this. God, in His wrestling match with Jacob got Him to the point of not so much wanting to win as much as he wanted to hold on tight to Him and be blessed. In an everyday sense in my personal time with the Lord I equate wrestling to the frustration experienced in confessing sin I want to do and wanting to be like Christ. I find myself crying out from the depths of my soul and asking God to change me more quickly. For me, wrestling comes in the struggle of waiting on God or in the ambivalence of wanting my way and His at the same time. For others, it comes in the form of God trying to move them to answer His call on their life. For some, it is in the form of not wanting to change and God getting their attention. For some, it is wrestling with God over a critically ill relative, moving to a new location, or giving up unhealthy friendships. Where are you this week? Are you wrestling with His will? If so, wouldn’t it be easier to honestly pour your heart out to Him and ask Him to align your will with His? If You keep wrestling, you, too, could end up with a limp.

Finally, I think sometimes we get a wrong view of God, His commands, and His sovereignty. I had five kids and now six grandchildren and I love them. When I tell them “NO” it is not to deprive them of something they really want. It is for their health, their well being, and their safety. I think the same is true of God. The commands given in his word are truly his protection and love over us. When we choose our own way, we can 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 will experience “injuries,” that result in limps!

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!