Wrestling with God

I’m familiar with the story of Jacob wrestling with God. The striving, the seeming endlessness of the struggle . . . and the way God totally kicked Jacob’s butt with the legendary hip-socket move. I’m familiar with this story not just because I’ve read it several times, but because I’ve lived it.

Have you ever seen the way a son initiates a wrestling match with his dad – one tiny likeness testing and attempting to match the strength of his father? That’s me with God. Usually there’s a purpose to my striving – something I want and am willing to go after; other times, I think I just want God’s attention. But in full disclosure, I’ve often followed Jacob’s footsteps in Genesis 32: fearing something earthly and of limited power while struggling against the One who has already blessed me abundantly. What’s worse is that, while fixing my eyes on the “Esaus” in my life (some of them imaginary!), I’ve doubted His goodness and His love toward me. This has caused problems from time to time, but I find myself benefiting from something I’ve often failed to count on or consider: God’s a better wrestler than I am. He is more serious, more focused, more capable of endurance – and even more motivated to win the match. He also has some insanely creative moves. My salvation is not my weakness, but my weakness makes salvation accessible. In other words, my inability to live life without Him and my inability to prevail against Him actually equip me to grasp what God is offering and work out my salvation until my race is finished. My only hope to build lasting works in this life is to wholly devote myself to the instruction and discipline of the first and highest Creator.

But what about that fear? What if God calls me to something awful that would suffocate and crush me . . . something that would leave me defeated? I actually had a list of fears that I nicknamed “God’s no fly zone” because I tried to run interference on God every time the possibility of those things happening merely occurred to me. (The operative word there, in case you missed it, is tried.) Until recently, I was afraid of a handful of things such as having more than three kids (or having none at all); going on missions for more than a week (or going on foreign missions anywhere); settling into a church; etc. What if God called me to one of those things? What if those things were terrible and burned me in the long run?

But when Jacob met Esau, Esau embraced him. And the Lord very gently gave me to understand that whatever He calls me to – even the most intimidating things on my list – will be absolutely and utterly good. I don’t mean “good” in the abstract moral sense of the word; I mean the loving embrace that sets me free kind of good. The life giving kind of good. The kind of good that gets me up in the morning and pours into the beautiful people He’s placed in my life. If that kind of good is an option, I’m more than willing to forsake any mediocre plans I’ve made to follow His instead.

Not only that, but God is totally capable and desirous of placing His good ideas into the very core of my heart and making them grow into beautiful things that I long for and become equipped to pursue. God does this in different ways. Sometimes He plants these tiny little seeds and causes them to grow. Other times, He transplants these fully-fledged, fruit-bearing trees right into my garden. Whatever His method, I have this deep assurance that when the Lord says He knows the plans He has for me, He means that He knows them intimately, down to the minutest detail, and that those plans are good.

The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. He is ever lending generously, and his children become a blessing. – Psalm 37:23-26 (ESV)

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