wrestling with God no less

That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”

But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

The man asked him, “What is your name?”

“Jacob,” he answered.

Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.”

Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”

But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon.

Genesis 32:22-32

Jacob’s circumstances were ordinarily difficult and at times even dire thanks in large part to himself, but not without the help of a broken, “dysfunctional” family. He was given to taking matters into his own hands as if all depended on him. His mother Rebecca wasn’t any help here, since she set up the deceptive plot to steal father Isaac’s blessing intended for his favorite, Esau for her favorite, Jacob. She didn’t trust what God had told her before the boys were born, that the older would serve the younger.

Now Jacob was returning home after two decades away to meet Esau for the first time after Esau had been intent on killing his brother. Jacob was in trouble, or at least there was nothing he could do himself to assure a good outcome, unlike numerous other times in his life. Not that he didn’t go to great lengths to do so, and not in an altogether admirable way when you think about it.

But the night prior to that Jacob wrestled with the angel of God, considered a theophany, “a visible representation of God.” He had it out with God, and God with him in the form of a man who wrestled with him until daybreak, touching his hip socket, and putting it out of joint, which really had to be painful. And interestingly, Jacob walked around with a limp the rest of his life. I’m sure he had to keep learning over and over the lesson and truth given to him that night.

Hosea gives us an explanation of what happened:

In the womb he grasped his brother’s heel;
    as a man he struggled with God.
He struggled with the angel and overcame him;
    he wept and begged for his favor.
He found him at Bethel
    and talked with him there—
the Lord God Almighty,
    the Lord is his name!

Hosea 12:3-5

And I think this scripture implies that the very tendency in Jacob which kept him from faith became the means of at least a renewed faith, probably in his experience a new faith altogether.

What about us today? We seem to like easy answers. Just know this or that, or have some experience and everything will be okay. But scripture doesn’t seem to line up well with that idea. In the end of course all will be light and clear, and complete peace, joy, and love. But here and now, where we see through a glass darkly and know in part, we must continue on, which means we need to struggle on in faith. Yes, having it out with God so to speak, indeed a wrestling with God. That is where our faith can be rekindled, or perhaps even given spark for the first time. And where the needs that we are facing for our loved ones, and for ourselves can begun to be met. In and through Jesus.

 

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our part under trial: endurance

Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.

James 1:12

James tells us a bit earlier that the testing of our faith produces perseverance, or endurance. A big part of that testing is simply remaining faithful in the trial.

As someone once told me, struggling is the default or norm in which we live. That’s why it’s nice to get away from time to time on a vacation with no cares in the world. And while “there’s no place like home,” there are always concerns, sometimes big that can well weigh us down. And some of those can seem well over our head, unmanageable, and in need of divine intervention. Actually we want the Lord’s help, and need it, whether the trial seems big or small.

James’s readers were facing problems from those who were wealthy (James 5). And James in the more immediate context referred to “trials of many kinds.” What is important for us is to remain faithful, and be willing to endure. Endurance is not something in and of itself enjoyable. We would rather escape. Yes, we’re to persevere, but endurance might seem to hit James’s thought in this letter more squarely for me, though to persevere is involved in that, as well. It seems like patience, and hanging in their through the tough times with faith in God is the point here.

And we have another promise from another book of wisdom, considered the basic book of wisdom in scripture: Proverbs:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

In the midst of trials, we need to trust and obey. In submission to the One who will see us through to the end. In and through Jesus.

the beginning of finding the end

Hear my cry, O God;
    listen to my prayer.

Psalm 61

The beginning to finding the point of anything, probably not so much in terms of meaning, as in something of resolution, is to pray. The line above is the beginning of a great psalm, so formative for us in certain ways. It’s not long. Read it for yourself (the above link).

We must turn to God in prayer, and keep that posture of heart, mind, and life. We are usually struggling over something. That in itself is a help for us to turn with all our need to God.

We tend in our brokenness to want to solve life ourselves, or take in the latest popular advice. Instead, we need to turn to God, to the gospel. The Spirit speaks to the church.

We need to call out, and listen. And trust and obey. In and through Jesus.

keep on forgiving

Forgive us our sins,
    for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.

Luke 11:4a

Forgiveness is not something we withhold from others. We at least need to forgive everyone for whatever wrong they’ve done to us from our hearts. But there’s what I have called a functional forgiveness as well. Meaning that we forgive them only when they acknowledge their fault to us, being sorry that they did it. That kind of forgiveness is for their good. For some things, and especially concerning those in the church, people need to be held to a certain standard. And our Lord teaches us to do that (Luke 17:3-4; Matthew 18:15-20). But forgiving others from the heart includes both the functional forgiveness we extend, as well as forgiveness for all the other wrongs done to us, even by our enemies who might want to harm us all the more.

We might say that the functional forgiveness is primarily for the good of the other, the one who has sinned against us, while forgiving from the heart is not just for their good, but primarily for the good of the one who forgives. It’s a heart matter.

And being a heart matter to me suggests that it is more than functional, which we automatically do when someone acknowledges repentance to us. It is something we may well have to work through, in a heart by God’s grace of love, yes, forgiving them. But the wrong done to us may have been so bad, and perhaps the perpetrator is not even sorry they did it, that such forgiveness we may have to struggle through, and do again and again. God does this for us, and we need to do it for others.

We need to remember the example of our Lord on the cross when he prayed for his enemies, even for those who put him there, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). But we also need to be honest to ourselves and to God, that there will be times when we are once again struggling to forgive someone for the wrongs they have done, either real or imagined by us. Once again, it’s a heart matter. Psalm 51 is a great passage to read about heart change. We often sin, and actually probably always do, when others sin against us. So that confession to God will be necessary, and perhaps to the person who sinned against us, if we responded in kind against them, returning evil for evil. If we just harbored it in our hearts we need to confess such to God, and work through it. We do this on the basis both of God’s mercy to sinners (Luke 6), and because of the cross where we find that God reconciled the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them (2 Corinthians 5).

And we may have to keep forgiving someone again and again. If we’re repentant ourselves over our struggle to forgive, God’s grace will be present, as it actually already is, to help us so repent. God will help us, and if need be again and again, to forgive the wrongdoer. It will probably take us awhile, and maybe will be something we keep doing the rest of our lives. Even if reconciliation with them is not possible. We forgive them, and release them into God’s hands, praying for their salvation, and for God’s good will to be accomplished even in the midst of evil, or what is not good. All of this in and through Jesus.

finding the wealth in poverty

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5

Scripture and especially in the way of Jesus is full of paradox in which the normal order of things seems upside down. What works in the world isn’t at all what works in the way of the Lord. Unless somehow the world’s values are imposed on the church, which all too often is the case, and which we need to guard against both in our personal lives, and together, in the life and witness of the church. Of course that’s not to say that somehow we don’t try to connect with others in following Paul’s example of being all things to all people to by all possible means save as many as possible (1 Corinthians 9).

The way Jesus starts out the Sermon on the Mount is especially near and dear to me, since most all of my life I’ve really struggled internally. And scripture and especially the gospel does answer much of that struggle, for example the Lord gives us his peace in his presence in the Father’s love by the Spirit which is for all of us, for all who believe.

I find over and over again that accepting the struggle and hard places of life, instead of trying to find an answer past or around them is key for me. I find the Lord in those places, his strength in my weakness. I also have found again and again that the Lord meets me in the depths, in the hardest places. And that I shouldn’t be afraid of either pressure or even controversy, both inevitable even as simple followers of Jesus. But I am more than happy for those times which are relaxing and in which there doesn’t seem to be a care in the world.

The poor in spirit is an apt description of myself and my own spirit and spiritual state. But I find that’s where faith is born, and grows, and even thrives. Not in a world in which everything is awesome with high fives. But in a place of struggle which encourages humility so that we’re cast upon God.

I get in trouble when I am trying to find the spiritual secret to getting out of my mess. But when I accept the poverty, then ironically I find the Lord’s hand to help me to a place that seems more like Jesus, in him. Paul’s thought in Philippians comes to mind here:

I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death…

Philippians 3

Over and over again, we find this to be true in the witness of scripture, and in life. With that comes the danger of caving in, and not having the right attitude in the midst of difficulty. Instead we need to press on in faith, and learn to rest in Jesus and the Father’s love in him. Accepting poverty so that we might find true riches in and through Jesus.

stepping over the line

There are points in time when one needs to take a dramatic stand in regard to their faith. I’m not thinking at all about anything public, or what’s seen by others. In fact what is unseen impacts life far more often than what’s seen. I think of Jesus’s words about praying to the Father in secret, or giving to those in need (Matthew 6).

We can’t do this on our own. We need the Lord’s help by the Spirit to do what we can’t possibly do in and of ourselves. Yes, we need wisdom from God, as well. But a part of that wisdom is a radical faith which is willing to do what might make no sense to us, or to the world, but is in line with faith and the faith, with God’s will and the gospel.

I would like to think of this more in terms of community, and in Jesus we’re never apart from his body, the church. But I also have to think of it as an individual. We have our own burdens and experiences which in some way might be shared by others, but in no way can be lived out by them for us. God includes every one of us. We are in a mess, the mess of this world, living within the sphere of the influence, influx, and indeed even control of the world, the flesh, and the devil. So why should we expect an easy ride, or everything to be wonderful? As Jesus told his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.”

May God help us to know what lines we need to cross in our personal journey. And by faith, may we take that step, and press on. Always in and through Jesus.

true faith struggles, as well as rests

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4

Again and again and again, we have to apply the words of scripture. Wouldn’t it be nice if we only had to do it once, and then it would be done, complete? But not so in this life, though we do want to grow so that when the same problem comes to us, or we find ourselves in the same state of mind, that somehow it is better than before. That would be good, even though at times we seem to be worse than before.

My goal in life in part is to live by faith. Living by faith does not exclude struggle, or feeling at times lost, and perhaps even undone. It does mean that in whatever we’re experiencing, or facing, we do so in faith, which means taking the words of scripture, God’s word, to heart, choosing by faith to act on them. Such times are every bit as much a part of the faith life, as the times when we’re at rest and peace. All of this a part of our lives here and now in and through Jesus.