Wrestling with God: Genesis 32:22-31. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.
Have you ever wrestled with God? Has there ever been something that you wanted to do your way so you struggled with God about it? Has there ever been something about your character, about who you were and how you did things, that needed to be changed? This is the story of Jacob.Have you ever gotten yourself into a situation as a result of your way of doing things? And then the jig was up and you had to face the music. There was no skirting around it. You had to face up to it. And you went to God for help to get out of this mess? This is the story of Jacob. God had an interesting habit of choosing people who were not very godly and doing great things through them. He didn’t choose people who already had it together. Instead he worked with them, and sometimes had to wrestle with them, to transform them. This is the story of Jacob.Jacob was born about 4000 years ago to a nomadic family in the Ancient Near East. He was a fraternal twin to Esau who from the beginning was physically stronger so that from the beginning, Jacob developed strength in a different way. He became tenacious and self-sufficient. Some would say he was the smarter one and would manipulate things to his favour, even if it meant deceiving his father and cheating his brother. Now, he was facing the music. He was going home after twenty years and his brother was coming to meet him with 400 men. Jacob was shaking in his boots. On the border of his homeland, he got his family and livestock in a safe place and stayed behind to try to wrestle a blessing out of God yet on his terms and not God’s. He spent the night hanging on in this wrestling match with God trying to procure a blessing with which to face his brother. It wasn’t so much that Jacob was prevailing in the wrestling match than God was allowing Jacob to wear himself out until he was ready for the real solution to the problem. What Jacob really needed was a change of heart. In ancient times, one’s name represented one’s character. Jacob’s name means Deceiver. Through this time of wrestling, God changed his name to Israel to describe this wrestling with God. And as a result, Jacob went forth a changed person. Now, he tried to take control again by asking for the name of his wrestling opponent but this was not granted. He was now ready to meet his worst fear, the brother from whom he had run in fear for his life, the brother whom he had deceived and cheated. As you read beyond our Old Testament Lesson today, you find that it was the brother Esau who showed grace to Jacob. In response to Jacob’s significant gift (perhaps a repayment of the inheritance that had been stolen) Esau said he didn’t need a gift. He was just happy to see his brother. He offered him help but in the end the two just went their separate ways with the relationship repaired. What about you? What is it about which you might be wrestling with God? We live in a culture and society that values independence and self-sufficiency. Our daughter used to often say, “I do it mine self.” And there is no question there is good to being self-sufficient and able to take care of yourself. Yet we can become too self-sufficient especially in regard to God and our church community. And when this self-sufficiency leads a person to live life in a way that is not within God’s ideal way for us, bad things happen, so that we end up in a wrestling match with God.People who have grown up in Christianity and spent most or all of their lives in a church environment are especially prone to independence and self-sufficiency from God. We have been at this for so long that we have forgotten what God did for us. We sometimes think we have everything under control as a result of what we have done. I heard someone call us inoculated Christians. We have just enough of the virus not to get the disease. If this is you, I encourage you to allow God to change you. Take advantage of regular practices like church fellowship and remembrance of what Jesus did for you to keep your dependency on him fresh and alive. Perhaps try something new and refreshing. Several of us have been spending time getting to know one another as we study the Bible together. There were many who after years in the church, had never really read the Bible or studied it. The most exciting part of this experience has been those who have said, “I’ve fallen in love with Jesus.” That’s a declaration of dependence on God. Or, maybe there is some sinful behaviour that is continuing in your life, one that you have become so used to that it is just the way you are. You justify it because others also struggle with it, yet you are not ready to turn it over to God for help. For many of us, the so-called big sins aren’t the issue. It’s the little sinful habits like gossip or lying that get us down. This is just another way we assert our independence from God, saying, "I know what's best. I'm in control."Or, maybe it's that you live your day to day life without considering God's ideal way for you. When you come against the challenges or even just the way you do your life and work, you try to figure it out on your own instead of having a conscious dependency on God. Now, I’m not saying you need to ask God for direction on every particular action. He has given us his wisdom to make those day to day decisions. Yet are you making those decisions with a conscious dependency on God. I have come to believe that prayer is less about changing God’s mind than changing my perspective and helping me express my dependency on God. Our New Testament lesson today tells us about Jesus’s followers trying to be self-sufficient. They had a problem. There were over 5000 people gathered to listen to Jesus and they weren’t leaving. The people needed some food to eat and perhaps a place to stay. They came to Jesus with their own solution. Let’s try to encourage them to go home. Then Jesus challenged them to feed the people. However, with only their resources, the task seemed impossible. Only when they depended on Jesus was their big problem taken care of. What is it for you? What are you wrestling with God about? Are you willing to let him prevail and change your name - to change who you are - to help you become more dependent on him and less on yourself? Are you willing to do life - all of life - relying on God to work things out and following his ideal way for you?Amen