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Showing posts with label Wrestling with God. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wrestling with God. Show all posts

Monday, October 17, 2016

Wrestling with God, Part 3

Introduction 
            Jesus Christ changed Sara's life at Pleasant Grove United Methodist Church. Sara was deeply depressed, addicted to heroine, and on the verge of suicide. Jesus welcomed her with open arms through the people of our church and led her down the road to recovery. (Watch a video of Sara's testimony here.)
            I think about Sara’s story and how she wrestled—wrestled with depression, wrestled with addiction. It was a life or death struggle, but Sara did not wrestle alone. There were so many people who helped her wrestle or who wrestled on her behalf.  For the sake of time, I had to cut the footage of her testimony down to just over 4 minutes. There’s no way we could tell all the people who helped Sara—family members who stepped in and took care of Sara, rehab programs that intervened with professional help, people from other churches who were the hands of Christ to Sara, and so many others. All of these wrestled with God on her behalf. Who knows how many prayers were lifted up for Sara?
            Prayer is essential to the Christian life. It is not just part of the Christian life. It is the Christian life. Martin Luther said, “To be a Christian without prayer is no more possible than to be alive without breathing.” Prayer is powerful. It changes situations. It changes us. Most importantly, it draws us into God’s embrace.
            Today, we will finish our study of the fascinating Bible story of Jacob wrestling with God. We will consider how we wrestle with God in prayer and the effect it has. 
            As a young man, Jacob was incredibly deceitful and cheated his twin brother, Esau, out of his claim to the family blessing and inheritance. Esau was furious with Jacob and vowed to kill him. Jacob fled into exile where he lived for about 20 years. During that time, God blessed Jacob with wives and children and servants and wealth. And as Jacob matured, he realized he must face his brother Esau. He decided to return home—not knowing if Esau would offer mercy or retribution.

Genesis 32:22-32
22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. 23 After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.
24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
27 “What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”
28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”
29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.
“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.
30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. 32 (Even today the people of Israel don’t eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob’s hip.)

Review
            Jacob wrestled with God all night long. He was battered and bruised; his hip was torn out of socket and yet Jacob managed to hold onto God until God gave Jacob a blessing. The story reminds me of how we wrestle with God in prayer and the way it changes us, our circumstances, and—most importantly—how it draws us into God’s embrace.

Prayer Changes Us.
            Most people think of prayer as a way for us to ask God to change something. We ask Him to heal people who are sick. We ask Him to comfort those who’ve lost loved ones.  We ask Him to help us through difficult circumstance or for wisdom for tough decisions. This is called intercessory prayer and it is an important part of prayer, but it is not the whole of prayer or even the most important part of prayer.
            Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, theologian, poet, once said, “The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays.” 
            If we think of prayer in a spiritual sense as wrestling with God the way Jacob wrestled with God, what do we find? We find we are changed through prayer.  In the Bible story, Jacob was forever changed. His hip was torn out of socket. The Bible tells us he limped away from the scene. The encounter with God changed Jacob’s body.
            We also see that Jacob got a new name. He was no longer the “heel grabber” (which is what the name Jacob means); now he is Israel (the man who fights with God and men and overcomes). The encounter with God changed the core of who Jacob was.
            We also see Jacob received a blessing. We don’t know what the blessing was, but perhaps it was the encounter itself. From this day forward, Jacob need fear no man. He has wrestled with God, face to face, and won. Furthermore, the very holiness of God had rubbed off on Jacob.
            Prayer changes us. It changes our attitudes. It changes our thinking. It changes our spirit. It changes our mind. Sometimes, it even changes us physically. (Your knees might get a lot stronger if you are constantly kneeling in prayer!)
            William Law, a noted Anglican priest, once said, “There is nothing that makes us love a man so much as praying for him.”  You see, when you pray for someone, they may not change at all, but how you see them will definitely change. You will change and sometimes that is all that is needed.
 
Prayer Changes Our Circumstance
            Prayer definitely can change us, but sometimes God change our situation when we pray.  Sometimes, God heals people who are sick because we pray.  Sometimes, God provides wisdom to make a tough decision because we pray.  Sometimes, God makes a problem go away because we pray.
            Back at the beginning of August, I realized I needed to delegate some important ministry responsibilities at the church to other capable people. I had been doing these tasks out of necessity, but now it was time to give the responsibilities to others.  Two responsibilities in particular were taking up time that I needed to devote in other areas—leading the praise band and coordinating the sack lunch program. I began to pray that God would provide the right people to lead these ministries; and I prayed they would say yes as soon as I asked them. Within two weeks God answered my prayers for both and changed my situation.
            One day, God nudged me and said, “You know, Susan Cooksey would be the perfect person to coordinate that sack lunch program. She loves kids, loves teachers, and has been really committed to packing sack lunches over the last year. And she’s smart! She knows how to do this and could do a much better job than you’ve been able to do.” So I asked Susan and she didn’t even hesitate. She said, “Yes,” and jumped right in. It’s been going so well. She’s even figured out a few ways we can encourage the teachers with special gifts throughout the year.
            The other answered prayer, was that David Crawford agreed to lead the praise band and he’s been doing a great job! You might not realize how much work goes into the praise band. We rehearse about 5 hours for every one-hour service we lead. But David probably puts in several more hours than that picking out music, coordinating rehearsals, and handling technical stuff. He does a fine job and he was an answer to my prayers in August!
            John Wesley said, “God does nothing but in answer to prayer.” A shocking statistic was shared at the OneCry Revival in September. It was said that the average American Christian spends less than two minutes per day in prayer. Two minutes. Does that sound off?  How much do you pray?
            I do know this: in just about any given church, the prayer meeting is the least attended service. You may find 150 people in worship, but only 4 or 5 will come to prayer meeting.  (By the way, we have a prayer meeting at at Pleasant Grove UMC at 9:00 AM every Sunday. I would like you to join us. And I have a special introductory offer for you. Try it for one month, free!)  I wonder how many blessings we miss out on, how much trouble we have to face, how much more difficult life is simply because we do not pray for God to change our circumstances?  So pray!

Prayer Draws Us Into God’s Embrace
            Wrestling is an intimate sport. It’s very real, very humbling, very personal.  It’s honest. It doesn’t matter how much experience you have, what rank you are, what championship titles you’ve won. When you are grappling with another person, all that stuff goes out the window. All that matters is what works, what doesn’t, and who submits their opponent.  And it is very humbling when someone with less experience or who is smaller or weaker beats you—as sometimes will happen.
            Wrestling is very humbling. It’s hard to be dignified when you are straining with all your might to grapple another human being. Your legs and arms are all tangled up; your bodies are pressed together; you sweat all over each other. You know how that person smells, whether they took a bath or washed their clothes—and they know it all about you too.
            And I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Pastors get gas just like everybody else. And sometimes, when your wife cooked tacos for dinner, and then you go to jiu-jitsu and start fighting for your life with another person who is grabbing you and pressing down on top of you with all their weight. And you are straining with all your might not to get choked or arm-barred or crushed to death… Let’s just say, things slip out… And you can’t always control when it happens or the volume at which it happens… So you just have to let go of your dignity.
            Now, when we come to church, we try real hard to maintain our dignity. We dress up nice; we watch what we say, how we act, what kind of “image” we present. Maybe we should be less concerned about all those things. Maybe we should take off our masks and just be who we are.
            In prayer, it’s much like Jacob wrestling with God. It’s not about being dignified. It’s about letting it all hang out in a no holds barred grappling match with God. Pour your heart out to God in prayer. Don’t worry about “keeping up appearances;” God already knows everything about you anyway. Just concentrate on going after God with all you’ve got!
            Do you realize the privilege of prayer? Of wrestling with God in an embrace so intimate you can smell Him, taste Him, feel Him embracing you?  Do you realize how that encounter can change you? To have the sacredness of our Holy God rubbing off on you as your arms and legs and body entangle with the Divine and God struggles to wrestle sinful behaviors, attitudes, and ideas from your soul? When we pray to God, really pray, it draws us into His most intimate embrace.
 
Invitation
Prayer is your way to wrestle with God like Jacob wrestled with God.  Through prayer, God changes us, changes our circumstances, and draws closer to Him.  I hope you will make prayer a top priority of your life.  What do you need to pray about?  Who do you need pray for?
I would like to invite you to write a prayer to God now.  Would you share a prayer in the comment section below?  Simply write a prayer about whatever is on your heart.  Pray for your family, your community, your church, your pastor, your children, whatever.  God will hear you and change you, maybe even change your situation, but He will definitely draw you into a closer relationship with Him when you pray.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Wrestling With God, Part 1

Introduction
            Have you ever wrestled?  When I was a young kid, my older brother used to like to wrestle with me.  Of course, he was 8 years older, so it wasn't much competition.  However, he always let me do well enough so it was still fun for me.  I used to wrestle with my kids when they were younger in much the same way.  We would wrestle on the bed and I would tickle them and it was fun for us all; I had to be careful, though, not to hurt them since I'm was so much bigger and stronger.
            One of the most fascinating stories in our Bible is the story of Jacob wrestling with God.  Can you imagine? A mortal man wrestling with the Creator of the universe?  It's almost unthinkable!  This is one of the pivotal stories of the Bible. It is where the name Israel comes from—the name of God's chosen people and the name of the country we know even today as a key player in our world’s geopolitical power struggles.
            As we study this intriguing passage over the next few weeks, we will consider the ways we wrestle with God and the effect it has on us, on our circumstances, and on the people around us.  I invite you to read the blog each week as we study this story together.

Genesis32-22-32
22 During the night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two servant wives, and his eleven sons and crossed the Jabbok River with them. 23 After taking them to the other side, he sent over all his possessions.

24 This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break. 25 When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 “What is your name?” the man asked.

He replied, “Jacob.”

28 “Your name will no longer be Jacob,” the man told him. “From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.”

29 “Please tell me your name,” Jacob said.

“Why do you want to know my name?” the man replied. Then he blessed Jacob there.

30 Jacob named the place Peniel (which means “face of God”), for he said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.” 31 The sun was rising as Jacob left Peniel, and he was limping because of the injury to his hip. 32 (Even today the people of Israel don’t eat the tendon near the hip socket because of what happened that night when the man strained the tendon of Jacob’s hip.)

Key Points
            Let's begin by pointing out a few key elements in this story.  First of all, you need to understand the larger narrative of Jacob's life and relationship with his twin brother Esau.  There was a great sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau and it was fueled by their parents favoritism.  Their father, Isaac, favored Esau, but their mother, Rebekah, preferred Jacob.  Jacob was a cunning man and he found a way to trick Esau out of the family blessing and inheritance.  It infuriated Esau so much he vowed to kill Jacob.  Jacob had to run for his life to a foreign land.
            Well, years went by and Jacob grew up and grew wealthy with wives, servants, children, and possessions.  He decided it was time to finally face his brother Esau.  He began the journey home, not knowing if Esau still wanted to kill him.  And that's where we come to the strange story in Genesis chapter 32.  Jacob has sent all his possessions across the Jabbok River and he is all alone on the other side of the stream.
            There is a great element of fear in the story.  There is the fear of what Esau might do.  There is the fear of the darkness of nigh and it is terrifying that a strange “man” attacks Jacob.  A deadly struggle ensues that seriously injures Jacob.  And thenperhaps the most terrifying element of allwe find out the "man" is actually God.
            We know the “man” in this episode is God for several reasons.  First of all, the “man” himself claims Jacob has "fought with God".  Second, Jacob renamed the place “Peniel” at the end of the story (Peniel means “face of God”).  Third, Jacob said, “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”” (Verse 30)  As strange as it is, the story clearly indicates God—in human formis the man who wrestled with Jacob.
            But it gets even more strange because Jacob wins!  Jacob must have been an incredible wrestler, because the passage plainly says the “man” (who was God) realized He would not win.  That's incredible!  How can a man win a wrestling match with God?
            Well, in a sense, Jacob was a wrestler all his life—the Bible says he came out of his mother’s womb grasping the heel of his twin brother Esau.  His name, Jacob, literally means “heel grabber”.  Still, how can any mortal wrestle with God and win?
            Jacob didn’t actually "win".  He just sort of fought God to a stalemate.  Jacob managed to hold on to the point that God couldn’t get away.  Even when God dislocated Jacob’s hip, Jacob would not let go.  It may be that God realized the only way he could win the match was to kill Jacob or hurt him so grievously he might as well be dead (and God didn’t want to do that).  God also knew the sun was going to rise soon and Jacob would be able to see God’s face in full light.  It has been said that no one can see God’s face a live.  God’s face is so glorious a sinful human being cannot endure the pure, sinless, glorious face of God in its fullness.  Such a sight would overwhelm and consume anyone without the protection of Christ’s atonement.  (Since Christ had not yet atoned for our sin on the cross, Jacob was without protection and unable to look upon God's face in the full light of day.)
            Yet Jacob was determined hang on to God until God blessed him.  He was even willing to risk death to receive God’s blessing.  Time was running out.  Every minute that passed brought the rising sun closer to the horizon; God’s face became more and more visible in the growing light.  There was no more time for God to wrestle.  For Jacob’s own safety, God needed Jacob to let Him go and so God gave Jacob the blessing he wanted.  That’s pretty amazing!

A Lesson for Us
            There is a lesson in this for us.  How badly do you want God's blessing in your life?  How far are you willing to go?  Jacob was willing to risk death for the blessing. How about you?
            We say we want God to bless us. We say we want Jesus to save us and be our Lord. But how far are we willing to go?  Are you willing to pray regularly?  Are you willing to read your Bible everyday?  Are you willing to attend a church with other believers and learn how to live as a Christian?  Are you willing to be held accountable by others on the same spiritual journey (and hold them accountable as well)?  Are you willing to love others and serve as Jesus did?  Are you willing to make sacrifices for your goals as a Christian (sacrificing your time, your pride, your energy, your resources...)?  How far are you willing to go for God's blessings in your life?
            I don’t mean that we must do something to earn God’s blessing or to win salvation. We cannot do anything to earn it. It is given freely by God’s grace.  However, blessings come to those who are determined, not those who could care less.  And the Truth is, becoming a Christian—a follower of Christ—will change you permanently.  Jesus said it is like being “born again.”  Just like Jacob limped for the rest of his life due to his encounter with God, you will be permanently changed if you become a follower of Christ.
            There is another lesson here.  God’s wants to be directly involved in your life. He doesn't stand off at a distance; He get's up close and personal.  I have been learning Brazillian Jiu-Jitsu for over 2 years.  People like to joke that their pastor does Karate, but BJJ is not punching and kicking.  It is more like wrestling than Karate.  I have invited my wife to come try it out she won't do it.  She says it's gross.  I guess she may be right.  Jiu-jitsu is very strenuous and you're soon drenched in sweat, but not just your own sweat; it's everyone else's sweat too.  You see we are rolling around on the mats dripping sweat all over each other.  It's up close and personal work.
            Now think about that.  God wrestled with Jacob all night.  They were rolling around in the dirt together sweating and bleeding all over each other.  God was willing to get Jacob's sweat and blood and maybe even tears all over Him.  You see, God doesn't stand off at a distance.  God wants to be directly and intimately involved in Your life.  Are you willing to wrestle with God?
            As God wrestles with you, He may push you to your limits and test your determination.  All of this helps you grow.  It might hurt and it may even leaving you limping, but God will always keep you safe. Remember, He was willing to let Jacob win in order to save Jacob’s life.  We see an even greater example of God's protective nature in the New Testament.  Jesus shows just how far God will go for our benefit. Jesus (who was God incarnate) sacrificed his own life on the cross for our sake. God was willing to die so we can live.
            There is one last lesson I want to point out today.  No matter what you are wrestling with there is hope.  You don't have to win; you just have to hold on to Jesus long enough for the blessing to come.  So take courage today.  Whatever you are facing, don't give up.  Cling to Jesus.  Don't let go. Just hang on until Jesus give you the blessing.



[i] Paraphrase from Luke 2:9-11