Monday, October 18, 2010

Wrestling with God

It was one of those nights where the minutes feel like hours. All Jacob could do was wait for his brother to show up. Sounds simple, but word was that his brother, Esau, was coming with an army of four hundred men. Yes, there was a score to settle. Jacob had done his brother wrong in two major ways. He engineered a trade—some bread and red soup in exchange for his brother’s birthright—and the more boldly deceitful action of stealing Esau’s blessing by pretending to be Esau! Needless to say, Esau was ticked. His plan was to wait for their father Isaac to die, then kill Jacob. Wisely, Jacob is sent away. Many things happen to Jacob during this time away.
God makes some amazing promises to this deceitful, crafty man—one key one being “I will protect you wherever you go”—even as Jacob finds out what it’s like to be on the other end of a deceitful scheme. That’s another story for another time.
Eventually; inevitably, Jacob and Esau are coming face to face again. Jacob gets the idea to send Esau a generous set of gifts to smooth things over. Then he finds out that Esau is coming with a four hundred man posse. Night falls. The “moment of truth” has almost arrived. Jacob wonders, “Will Esau try to kill me and my family?” He prays to God, calling to mind the underserved promises the Lord has made to him. And then, all there is to do is wait. The minutes seem like hours.
Suddenly, the sickening tedium is broken by an invader in the camp. A fight breaks out between Jacob and the assailant, and it is quite a match. The scuffle continues through the night, until the day’s first light. Who is it? Esau is the obvious suspect. Whoever it is, Jacob fights. And fights. And fights. Even after his opponent knocks his hip out of joint, Jacob keeps his grip on him. That’s a tough guy right there.
So why does Jacob put up this sort of struggle? He believes the promises God has made to him. He aggressively believes the promises God has made to him. Jacob puts up a fight because God said he was going to do great things through him, so much so that he’s lying there with a dislocated hip and still defending himself. In fact, Jacob’s faith is so aggressive that he says, “I will not let go unless you bless me.” Somewhere in the smackdown, it occurs to Jacob that he wasn’t wrestling with Esau or an assassin, but he was wrestling with God. With the day’s first light, it dawns on Jacob he’s going toe to toe with the Lord God of heavenly armies. The Lord God of armies changes Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning “one who struggles with God.” Incredibly, Jacob/Israel struggled with God and lived. And as Jacob/Israel limps away from this experience, he is reconciled with his brother, Esau.
Now, as wild as that story is, you might feel like it is pretty close to your experience. What I mean is, you might feel like you’re wrestling with God right now. That nighttime invader might come to you as an illness or an accident. Or you might feel God wrestling with you in an important decision. Maybe you’re wrestling through a difficult relationship or financial hardship. So often, as we’re struggling, we’re wondering, “Why? Why me? Why now?”
Maybe, just maybe, God is wrestling with you for the same reason he wrestled with Jacob. Maybe he wants to see if you will trust his promises so aggressively that you will stand up and fight. When things get rough, will you grab hold of God, saying, “I won’t let go unless you bless me?”
This aggressive faith would be impossible, if it were not for God’s habit of taking on human flesh in order to wrestle. God took on human form to put Jacob’s faith to the test. More crucially, God took on human form to wrestle again, and this time it was a death match. In our flesh, as one of us, Jesus would clash with Satan, get hammered by sin, and suffer hell on the cross. And it would kill Him. Looked like total defeat. Easter changed everything, turning the results of the loss inside out. Jesus’ bout with evil and his victory over it has huge repercussions for you.
It means you, like Jacob, are forgiven. Your sins do not negate God’s promises. His Word to you stands. You are blessed to be a blessing. Life in this world will often feel like a struggle, and life as a Christ-follower will often feel like a struggle with Him. Don’t shy away from that feeling. Hold God to His promises. Fight the good fight of faith. Don’t let go until He blesses you.

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