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The Cost of Wrestling with God

Why we need to stop romanticizing this struggle—and start the real work of surrendering.

I still remember holding him in my arms after he had passed away. He was 19 days old, and a birth defect was the malady that raged against the life of my son. I wrestled with God till the very end, even blowing into my son's lungs after he had died, praying for healing. Wrestling.

God used this situation with my son to bring me to the end of myself and turn me back to Him, and He did it in such a profound way. Though He allowed me to wrestle with Him, to complain to Him, to be angry at Him, He nonetheless had His way because His way is always best. I'm not suggesting God does this in every pain; sometimes He has other purposes. It is much too beyond us to understand the full breadth of the purposes and sovereignty of God.

But oftentimes—not always, but often—He uses the hurt in our lives to bring us back to Him, to put us in our proper place, so that we cling to Him in our weakness and He shines through.

Genesis 32:22-32 gives a strange account of our patriarch Jacob and his wrestling match with God through the night. The thing to note first and foremost in this story is that it is terrifying. Terrifying in the fact that the Lord became something wholly different than anything Jacob had known before. At this point, at least, we can see the Lord was not wrestling with Jacob to have a good time; the Lord was Jacob’s opponent.

God uses the hurt in our lives so that we cling to Him in our weakness and He shines through.

Throughout the course of Jacob’s life, we see him having multiple enemies—particularly in Laban. Jacob anticipated his older brother, Esau, as an enemy and was completely frightened by him.

But the Lord? God was no enemy to Jacob. One can make the argument that Jacob viewed God as simply friendly, almost a benign figure whom Jacob could manipulate or turn to his advantage when things got difficult.

I wonder how many of us view God this same way?

The Lord is the great physician, the great healer of our souls. He's the provider, the resting place, our righteousness and our victory. He sent His only Son to die for us, and without a healthy fear of God, we can wrongly assume God is more for us than for Himself.

But God is more passionate for His glory than for ours. And, like Jacob, we often use God for our own gain in life and our own wants.

Now, in his wrestling with God, Jacob finally realized that God could not be used for his means. He discovered—quite suddenly—that the Lord is to be feared. Like Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia, He is terrible and He is lovely.

Perhaps this incident proved in the life of Jacob a true understanding, for the first time, that God is God and that Jacob was simply a child of the Most High. Jacob is shown to be profoundly changed in his life from that moment on, so much that his name changed, too.

Before the wrestling match, life’s circumstances had reduced Jacob to helplessness. He needed God to intervene. The eleventh hour had arrived, and God had not delivered him. It was a crisis of faith, and Jacob was at his wits' end.

I’m sure many of us have felt this way before, when all hope seems lost. Perhaps it comes after a great victory or a terrible event.

Enter God into the mess of our lives.

The Lord is not a God to be manipulated but a God to be worshiped.

We find in Genesis 32 that this Man wrestled with Jacob, not the other way around. We have to realize by this passage that the Lord was the instigator of the wrestling. Jacob no doubt was not in the right frame of mind to wrestle! James Montgomery Boice states:

“It is not that Jacob was seeking God so earnestly that when God, as it were, got close to him, he grappled with him and refused to let him go until he blessed him. It is true that Jacob later begged for a blessing. But at the beginning it is not Jacob who seeks God to wrestle with him; rather, it is God, who comes to wrestle with Jacob to bring him to a point of both physical and spiritual submission.”

The Lord is not a God to be manipulated but a God to be worshiped.

A.W. Pink writes:

“Jacob was not wrestling with this Man to obtain a blessing; instead, the Man was wrestling with Jacob to gain some object from him. As to what this object is the best of the commentators agree—it was to reduce Jacob to a sense of his nothingness, to cause him to see what a poor, helpless and worthless creature he was; it was to teach us through him that all important lesson that in recognized weakness lies our strength.”

That’s one of the main points we see in this wrestling with God. Weakness is broken into submission, and submission is where there is strength—submission to God’s leading and God’s control, realizing that there’s nothing stronger or more determinant that this.

The Lord of the universe, the One whose handiwork formed the heavens and starry host, is perfect in every way. He does no wrong. Regardless of how we see the circumstances played out, He does no wrong. Regardless if we are injured deeply, He does no wrong. He alone is the sovereign Lord, and He alone has His will done and accomplished.

If we were smart, then the sooner we submit, the better.

God will always win the wrestling match; if we were smart, then the sooner we submit, the better.

In the upside-down Kingdom, where to be poor is to be rich, to mourn is to be comforted, we see the profound reality of the Gospel in Genesis’ account of a wrestling match. Having come into contact face to face with the Lord of hosts, with the ever patient and faithful One, we see at long last a broken and contrite spirit humbled to the core. We see a man dependent upon God, rather than dependent upon himself. We see in Jacob a picture of a man renewed by the power of God, now remade in His own image, finally surrendered to the will of God for his life. We see in no small measure great faith worked out.

It is beautiful to behold indeed; it is something we all must surrender to. To find our lives, we must lose them.

Top Comments

Jonathan Ford

7

Jonathan Ford commented…

Great article. I would add that it is by and through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to submit and ultimately elevate Him to his rightful position in our lives. He will not stop wrestling with his children until we submit even if it means we are miserable for a very long time. The Holy Spirit insists on being our god, ruler of our desires and motivator of our actions regardless of circumstances. As children, bought with a price, He will not let us keep other gods before him. I have been a Christian for 25 years and after 35 years of wrestling with God I finally realized that the Holy Spirit would not let me find security, identity and purpose outside of Himself. Jesus sits at the right hand of the father and he sent the Helper to us in his absence. Many of us do not know the Holy Spirit on a first name basis because our theology of Him is flawed from ignorance or worse yet perverted by false teaching. In short, we need to talk about him more. He is the invisible elephant in the room at bible study. When speaking of practicing Christian disciplines we must talk about the Holy Spirit for it is by Him and through him that we are enabled to live out the call of Christ in our lives. Christians struggle with sin more than we ought because we, like Israel did in the Old Testament still worship other gods. We worship the god of fear because we do not believe that the Holy Spirit is strong enough to accomplish God's purposes in our lives. We worship the god of control because we don't want to surrender to the Holy Spirit for fear of what he might call us to. The sad part is that His call is not to extremes. He simply calls us to worship Him in every circumstance. We may be afraid of giving up our search(worship) of comfort, identity and security but we must not worship that fear and allow it to rule in our lives. The call for the sinner is repentance; the call of the Christian is worship through the Holy Spirit manifest in obedience. The identity crisis of the church will only be resolved by reforming our theology of the forgotten mysterious member of the Trinity.

Caleb Davis

1

Caleb Davis commented…

I love this! My only issue is that when you submit based on knowledge, it's not a binding submission. True submission happens when there is nowhere else to go and nothing left to lose. You don't usually get to the deepest pits because you are smart, but because you get beat up.

5 Comments

Caleb Davis

1

Caleb Davis commented…

I love this! My only issue is that when you submit based on knowledge, it's not a binding submission. True submission happens when there is nowhere else to go and nothing left to lose. You don't usually get to the deepest pits because you are smart, but because you get beat up.

linda

1

linda commented…

Great article...one to take to heart. Desperately needed today is the realization that we love and worship a Holy God! And as Oswald Chambers writes...we have to lose our claim to our right to ourselves. I'm so thankful I have a loving God who will seek me out to bring me to Himself!

Pamela Payne

1

Pamela Payne commented…

Dan, I can always count on you to bring life and truth to the challenging chapters of Scripture, Dan. You walk it out in front of us with humble dignity and it just makes sense. Thank you

Luke Pinneø

1

Luke Pinneø commented…

I like this... and this story of Jacob is one of my favorites. I think however, especially when considering the 'cost' of wrestling with God, that the verses which precede the wrestling match are equally if not more important. Jacob, in his wealth, in his seeking his brothers forgiveness, before crossing the river himself sends all, everything he owned across before him... family, animals, all... he separated himself from 'things'... "so jacob was left alone", and here he wrestled. Here he called Peniel, because he 'saw God face to face, and yet his life was spared'. His life was changed, and now rejoined with his 'stuff', now limping with a bad hip as he approaches his brother, his spirit is prepared for what awaits.

Jonathan Ford

7

Jonathan Ford commented…

Great article. I would add that it is by and through the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to submit and ultimately elevate Him to his rightful position in our lives. He will not stop wrestling with his children until we submit even if it means we are miserable for a very long time. The Holy Spirit insists on being our god, ruler of our desires and motivator of our actions regardless of circumstances. As children, bought with a price, He will not let us keep other gods before him. I have been a Christian for 25 years and after 35 years of wrestling with God I finally realized that the Holy Spirit would not let me find security, identity and purpose outside of Himself. Jesus sits at the right hand of the father and he sent the Helper to us in his absence. Many of us do not know the Holy Spirit on a first name basis because our theology of Him is flawed from ignorance or worse yet perverted by false teaching. In short, we need to talk about him more. He is the invisible elephant in the room at bible study. When speaking of practicing Christian disciplines we must talk about the Holy Spirit for it is by Him and through him that we are enabled to live out the call of Christ in our lives. Christians struggle with sin more than we ought because we, like Israel did in the Old Testament still worship other gods. We worship the god of fear because we do not believe that the Holy Spirit is strong enough to accomplish God's purposes in our lives. We worship the god of control because we don't want to surrender to the Holy Spirit for fear of what he might call us to. The sad part is that His call is not to extremes. He simply calls us to worship Him in every circumstance. We may be afraid of giving up our search(worship) of comfort, identity and security but we must not worship that fear and allow it to rule in our lives. The call for the sinner is repentance; the call of the Christian is worship through the Holy Spirit manifest in obedience. The identity crisis of the church will only be resolved by reforming our theology of the forgotten mysterious member of the Trinity.

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