“I have learnt that Faith means trusting in advance – what will only make sense in reverse.” – Philip Yancey
I meet many Christians who, due to difficult circumstances in their lives, blame God for things not working out for them. They often end up lashing out at others or even their own family, overcompensating for their struggle with God. This breeds a low-level anger that many try to ‘manage’ – but it’s like a virus, it spreads and affects everything and infects everyone we come into contact with.
You have two choices here, you can struggle with and by yourself or you can struggle with God. In the Old Testament Jacob, after 22 years of running from his brother Esau, who he cheated out of his birthright, decides it’s time to return home (Genesis 32). Returning home is problematic though, as he hears that Esau is on his way to meet him with a force of 400 men. The scriptures say that Jacob was “very afraid and distressed”, an unusual phrase as the Bible doesn’t often tell us about people’s emotions.
Jacob becomes a whirl of activity. He dispatches emissaries with gifts of animals, hoping to placate his brother’s anger. He prays for protection. He divides his camp into two, so that if one is destroyed the other may survive. Jacob’s activity shows the kind of stress he is under.
It is then that the famous scene enacts itself: “Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak.” Who was the man? The text doesn’t say. The prophet Hosea said that Jacob wrestled with an angel. Jacob himself believed he was wrestling with God. He called the place Peniel, “the face of God”, saying: “It is because I saw God face to face, my life was spared.”
The idea in the narrative, is that if Jacob successfully wrestles with God then he can face his brother….in fact then he can face anything. Why wrestle with yourself or others when you can wrestle with God? You see the idea that the writer of Genesis is trying to reveal to us; is that the battle is an internal one first. First you have to deal with your soul, your emotions, your feelings and then the external falls into place. Notice I didn’t say fixed, just that the issues you face makes sense in the light of your struggle with God.
You may ask ‘what does it mean to wrestle with God?’ This really is my point….we often take our questions and struggles to the wrong place, namely to others, when we should take them to God. I have discovered over the years that God is not angered by my questions and struggles and that if I take them to Him – a calmness, an order returns to my life. It’s certainly not that all my questions get answered and all my problems magically disappear, but rather that God settles me, He calms my restlessness with fresh perspective.
It’s fear that often drives our restlessness as it was with Jacob. When we come to God, fear is dealt with. 1 John 4:18 reminds us: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” It reminds me of Roosevelt’s quote from 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression; “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. Don’t let fear drive the agenda of your life; come to God.
Jacob ends his struggle with the words “I will not let you go until you bless me.” Somehow, within every crisis lies the glorious possibility of a new start. I have found that the events that were the most painful or challenging, were also those that in retrospect, caused the most growth. They helped me to make difficult but necessary decisions. They forced me to ask who I am and what really matters to me – not just who I am, but WHOSE I am. They moved me from the superficial to a deeper place, where I discovered strengths I did not know I had, and clarity of purpose and an enlarged perspective, that I lacked up to that point. I have learnt to say to God in every crisis: “I will not let you go until you bless me.”
The struggle is not easy. Though Jacob was undefeated, he “limped” afterwards. Battles leave scars. Yet God is ALWAYS with us even when He seems to be against us. For if we refuse to let go of Him, He refuses to let go of us, giving us the strength not just to survive but to emerge stronger, wiser, changed – TRANSFORMED.
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