Monday, March 10, 2014

Wrestling With God

Jacob Wrestles the Angel
Rembrandt Harmensz 1659
Normally I don't like to spend my time on My Heart sharing what I've heard from another author or speaker; I try to just write the thoughts that God has placed on my heart as I meditate on His Word or experience life as He gives it to me.  But today I want to share with you something that I received  from my church's senior minister, a concept that has wedged itself in my mind and won't leave me alone.

He was preaching from the book of Genesis, and took us to chapter 32, to the verses that describe the night Jacob wrestled with an unnamed man. Many scholars believe this man to have one of three possible identities: God Himself, the Pre-Incarnate Christ, or one of God's angels.  We honestly can't tell beyond a doubt who he was from the Scriptures, but we know that whoever he was, he was not of natural origins.  This man, indeed, was a supernatural being.

But really, that's not important to what I'm wanting to say.  What IS important is this: "Then the man said, 'Let me go, for it is daybreak.'  But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me."  (Genesis 32:26)

"God looks for perseverance in the face of adversity," I wrote in my notes as the minister spoke.  And then in the margin I added, "Don't give up until the blessing comes."

And while this wasn't the direction the minister was going, I added underneath my note in the margin, "How can I apply this to my marriage?"  In fact, as I rolled the idea around in my head this afternoon I wondered how I could apply this to several areas of my life.  Am I really holding onto God -- beseeching Him through prayer, holding on through faith -- and refusing to let go until He blesses my life?

I've always considered my approach toward God as needing to be... respectful, I guess.  Or maybe a bit passive. Ask Him politely for the things I need and wait to see what His answer is.  I learned as a child that asking for something over and over doesn't necessarily get the same result as it did for the persistent widow in Luke 18.  My children have learned the same from me that I did from my parents: begging for something usually eliminates any and all possibility of actually receiving the desired object or privilege.

And so I approach God with that in mind: ask Him once and then wait, otherwise my requests only serve to annoy Him.

But maybe God's nerves are not so easily trampled.  Or maybe holding on and refusing to let go until we receive His blessing isn't the same thing as a child begging his parent for a new toy.  

You see, Jacob didn't wrestle with God for something small or cheap.  He was asking for God's blessing.  He was asking for God to speak new purpose into his life.  He was asking to be changed.  It was not a simple request, nor did he make it easily.  

No, Jacob made the request (more like a demand, really) after hours of physically wrestling with... whomever it was he was wrestling.  It wasn't as easy as bowing his head in prayer and asking; no, he had to fight for it.  He held on with all his might, and in the end he received exactly what he asked for.

No longer would he be Jacob the heel-grabber, Jacob the deceiver, the trickster.  From that day on he would be known as Israel, one who persevered with God.  He would no longer be known for his weakness, but for his strength.  And it was only as a man who persevered with God that he would become the father of a great nation.


Jacob did not persevere with God without great cost to himself:  "When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man."  (Genesis 32:25)

Jacob, now Israel, received the blessing he sought, but he walked away from the fight injured and limping.

The lesson for us: holding onto God, refusing to let go until He blesses us, will not be an easy task.  It's going to be utterly exhausting and it's going to hurt.

What part of your life do you need to hold on to God for, refusing to let go until He blesses it?

Maybe it is your marriage.  Or maybe it's your children.  Or maybe you're desperate for God to bless your life with a clear purpose.  Whatever it is, is it worth persevering?  Is it worth exhausting yourself as you clench your fists around God's ankles or wrists and refuse to let go?  Will you allow Him to touch you in a way that is painful, that leaves you scarred for life, if it means you will receive His blessing?  Are you willing to walk away from this experience limping, but with new purpose in each step?

My understanding of perseverance was changed today.  My concept of what it means to petition the Lord has been completely turned upside down.  I realize that I've been asking Him to bless my life, expecting that blessing to come all neatly wrapped in a little package with a pretty little bow on top.  I've been asking Him to shape my marriage, to transform my children, to bring purpose to my life, expecting to be able to watch from the sidelines while He does all the work.

What I learned today is that it's time for me to get out on the mats and start wrestling.  It's time for me to invest my blood and sweat and tears, and even after a long night of fighting, to hold on with all my might until the blessing comes.

And then, like Israel, I will be able to limp away a new person, God's blessing shining on me like the dawn of a new day.

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